Learn to love the bomb
Mike Daisey tells you everything about Homeland Security you're (rightfully) afraid to ask.
Mike Daisey, the iconoclastic New York monologuist known for his hybrid style of exhaustive research and improvised stand-up (which he usually performs sitting down), makes his Chicago debut in October. His play about Sam Cohen, father of the neutron bomb, and the evolution of the Department of Homeland Security is called If You See Something, Say Something. We ask him why he chose the topic and, of course, his answers scare the bejesus out us.
Time Out Chicago: Your show explores Sam Cohen’s career. Is he more important than Oppenheimer?
Mike Daisey: No, but one of the reasons I’m interested in him is he represents very much the story that’s forgotten. The mythology of the Manhattan Project, which I devoured as a child, ends in 1945. The bombs are dropped on Japan, America wins and a nation celebrates. The story is obliterated after that. Many people aren’t aware that Los Alamos, those humble labs where Cohen worked, is now the center of the greatest weapon laboratories in the history of the world.
TOC: So what happened after the Manhattan Project?
Mike Daisey: When the Department of War was changed to the Department of Defense, we took a very interventionist tack across the world with an incredibly active military. It’s the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address. So my show ties that empire-building to this era. Things have not actually changed very much. What appeared to be a very radical shift after 9/11 has really built up over time.
TOC: Who’s the highest-ranking person at Homeland Security who was willing to talk to you?
Mike Daisey: The highest-ranking people I spoke to would only speak off the record. But fairly high up. And don’t forget that the Department of Homeland Security has over 200,000 employees now. The wisdom of that is really questionable, since one of the few things all security experts agreed on after 9/11 is that nimbleness would be key. So it’s a very strange response, except it’s not so strange when seen through the lens of bureaucracy.
TOC: Can the next President downsize Homeland Security?
Mike Daisey: I don’t think so. That phrase alone, “I’m going to downsize Homeland Security,” sounds like political suicide. One of the problems is that one of the ways politicians show that they’re dedicated to something is by adding funding to it. [The next President] won’t be able to truly reverse anything on the level it needs to be reversed, which is on the lowest level, which is where the vast majority of money is spent. It’s not spent on personnel and it’s not spent on training. It is instead spent on the most ludicrous things, a few of which I mention in the show. The craziest, most expensive projects. Have you heard about the Taser bracelets?
TOC: Um, no.
Mike Daisey: This is a bracelet that every airline passenger would have to put on as they come through [security]. It contains all your biometric data. It can track you with a GPS. You wear it and it has a Taser built in so that at any moment, anyone who has a control box can Taser you, the passenger. And this idea was floated by a defense contractor. Big money. Even if you set aside the privacy implications, even if you set aside the idea of treating everyone like a criminal until they prove themselves otherwise, it’s such unbelievably shitty security. How long is it going to be before someone is able to get ahold of a control box and incapacitate everyone on an airplane?
TOC: That’s unbelievable.
Mike Daisey: Isn’t it? If I hadn’t read the memos posted online that actually showed them saying, “Yes, this is a good idea,” I honestly wouldn’t believe it myself, because it’s so fucking stupid.
Daisey gets indignant at the MCA Oct 10–12.
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