The FOB as Heterotopia (True War Stories)

Hi everyone, I have a chance to revise and expand this post for print publication, so I’ve taken the original down while I work on it. Let’s see what happens, and when circumstances permit I’ll repost the original or the expanded version.

By all means though, check out the graphic-memoir first-person stories recounted in the excellent True War Stories: Tales of Deployment from Vietnam to Today, edited by Alex de Campi and Khai Krumbhaar. 

True War Stories

True War Stories: Tales of Deployment from Vietnam to Today. Edited by Alex de Campi and Khai Krumbhaar. Z2 Comics, 2020.

Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias.” 1967. PDF

4 thoughts on “The FOB as Heterotopia (True War Stories)”

  1. Perhaps the military as a whole could be called a heterotopia. It’s not a place, persay, but could be understood as a string of places, like beads, what with bases, air strips, ships and what have you strung about and interconnected around the globe. Your explanations of heterotopia as a place that changes your consciousness, places where the power of society bears down upon you, made me think of basic training, and of the military lifestyle on any base anywhere. Once you put on that uniform, you’re changed—right? You’re inducted. You’re legally something else, perhaps morally and spiritually something else, too. You’re a soldier. So, maybe not just FOB’s, or the big air-stripped logistics-hub bases, but the military as a whole manages to create its own heterotopic society. Just a thought. Nice post! 😀

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment–Foucault seems pretty adamant that heterotopias are physical spaces, but many commentators have extended the concept to include institutions and institutional processes. And the presence of “discourses” in the Wikipedia entry points to how critics have proposed various online realms constitute heterotopias, too. The term is loosely defined and seemingly endlessly expansive, and a real point of contention is whether heterotopias are net positives or negatives: do they liberate or ensnare?

  2. I’d never heard the term before but it fits for every deployed air base where I was stationed. Different rhythms of life, gym rituals, food rituals, mortars and rockets, and the added surreality of taking off and flying around and coming back.

    What really hit me was this: “where I was blissfully but also worrisomely free of responsibility and even ability to do much of anything except wait.” Manas AB filled that space for me when I was leaving AFG. No longer flying, but not yet home. Former SSR with no imminent threat. Beautiful trails to run on, snow-covered mountains in the distance. How I picture limbo or the bardo. Still one of the strangest weeks I’ve ever spent, unlike all other heterotopias. I still think about drinking my three rationed Baltika-9’s and waiting to go home.

    1. Thanks Eric–my three stays in Manas also made a big impression on me, too, especially the last one coming out of Afghanistan at the end of my deployment. I have about half-a-dozen anecdotes that in a minor-key way speak to how an ominous calm prevailed that contrasted sharply with the tension and high-stakes felt downrange. I should write about that some day, or even better discuss over a beer with you–especially since as an Army dude General Order #1 still applied for me on Manas and I couldn’t drink there.

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