Society for Cultural Anthropology
Oral Presentation Session
One of the primary ways Americans understand the impacts of contemporary war is via the combination of care, threat, and pathology by which the people who fight wars are characterized. This paper examines drunk driving by US soldiers and military veterans as one revealing site of this figuration of war-related mental and social disorder. It is based on ethnographic fieldwork in a veteran treatment court, a specialized civilian court that works with military and veteran offenders whose crimes of drunk driving, along with drug use, theft, and assault, are presumed to be rooted in war-related trauma. Norms of military life come together with the domestic American landscape to constitute the drunk driving soldier or veteran as an almost inevitable expression of post-war pathology but also as an urgent site of care, therapeutic intervention, and special solicitude. With this dilemma in mind, I posit automobility itself as a key domain for exploring tensions and contradictions within practices of veteran care. The privileged care extended to law-breaking veterans on the road suggests that even in the midst of the routine activity of driving, soldiers and servicemembers are not “safe”—for themselves or others—in a home where they actually seem not to belong. And at the same time, the routinized violence, “normal accidents,” ramified inequality, and individualizing governance of American automobility (Beckman 2004, Lutz 2014, Packer 2006) reveal uncanny links between everyday domestic practices and threats supposedly limited to war zones and closed institutions.