Only in and through the struggle do the internalized limits become boundaries, barriers that have to be moved. And indeed, the system of classificatory schemes is constituted as an objectified, institutionalized system of classification only when it has ceased to function as a sense of limits so that the guardians of the established order must enunciate, systematize and codify the principles of production in that order, both real and represented, so as to defend them against heresy; in short, they must constitute doxa as orthodoxy.
-Pierre Bordieu, Outline of a theory of practice
One of the defining characteristic of my hometown was always the Air Force base. Military bases in general do a lot to change the character of a place. They are places of both order and recklessness, classic (though maybe he would say too literal) depictions of Tim Cresswell‘s in place/out of place scenario where what is inside the barbed wire, tall lights and fences is in, is ordered, is surveilled, is financially injected. What is out is disordered, suspect, not be to let in. The boundaries of militarized space are, we are told, above all others, are not porous.
And yet, in both California and Hawai’i where I have lived, the in slips out in the form of drunken sailors and belligerent army thugs in Jeeps with pockets full of roofies, going out for some R&R, maybe a little tussle with the locals. They are like little political terror camps, making sure the locals know the government is that close. Then they escape to their little military islands where they are supposedly untouchable.
Trevor Paglen, a fellow geographer stateside, has been taking people on trips to photograph “secret” military installations for many years. His dissertation work photographing these locations was a huge inspiration to my PhD. Trevor was the first the start visually penetrating these spaces and looking at his photographs, I thought “what would happen if we escalated the virtual infiltration into a physical one?” If the in can go out, the boundary is porous, despite all claims to the contrary and that means the out can go in as well. So we did. And what we found was shocking.
These photos are from an abandoned hospital on March Joint Air Reserve Base, a location with no address somewhere between Riverside and Moreno Valley, California. It used to be a full Air Force Base for 78 years until 1996 when Clinton cut the operations budget and a quarter of the 6-square mile base went derelict almost overnight.
The empty corridors seemed endless, piles of desks and chairs the only things to be seen turn after turn. But as we moved into more discrete levels of the hospital, we began to find rooms full of artefacts, including some very expensive equipment.
We were all enjoying the opportunity the play with expensive medical equipment. We were also enjoying the fact that everything was so well preserved in the building. Likely an effect, I assume, of being located on a military base. I mean, who would be stupid enough to go in there right? The lingering question in all of our minds though was this – why would the military leave all of this behind? We received part of the answer in the next room.
The building was apparently being used for urban warfare training. The idea is to create places that emulate different urban environments to train for hostile situations in those environments. Some places, like this room above, clearly had staged scenes with fake blood. In other places, it was not as clear whether the scene was “staged”.
Sometime after returning home, I was astounded to find an article in the local paper, the Press Enterprize (PE), which detailed plans to build an $80 million medical facility on the base called March LifeCare. I wonder if taxpayers are aware of what happened to the last medical investment on this base? I wonder if taxpayers know that while “Donald Ecker, managing partner of March Healthcare Development, is said to want ‘to move on a breakneck speed’ on the project” (by the way he stands to make 2.2 million on the deal according to PE) there is a derelict hospital across the street being used for wargames? I wonder if any of the patients of this “old” hospital know that their x-rays are laying around in there?
Clearly I was not the only thing out of place here.
March Air Reserve Base is a minimum security base in a rather decrepit state. Still, with an abandoned military prison now explored as well as a partially active base, it makes me wonder – how porous are these boundaries? And more importantly, what the fuck are they doing with our money in there? I call for the in to be outed!