Ether - One Wilshire




If the Berlin Wall symbolized the division of the world by the superpowers during the Cold War, the Bomb guaranteed that division. By promising massive nuclear retaliation if the Soviet Union were to invade Europe, the United States ensured that the continent and world remained divided.

Beyond its brute firepower, the Bomb possessed the singular ability to erase an enemy. While burning had been a common means of disposing of humans since prehistory, vaporizing them so that nothing would be left behind was unprecedented. At Hiroshima, for the first time, people were transformed into pure energy, leaving behind only an occasional shadow recording the force of the blast. After the Bomb, matter’s permanence would no longer be assured.

The Bomb spawned its own hysterical logic of accumulation and virtuality. Nuclear weapons became ever bigger and ever more numerous in order to assure not just destruction, but complete overkill. Overkill evolved into Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD), a guarantee that the surplus of nuclear exchange would thoroughly destroy both sides. By the 1970s, it was rumored that the Soviet Union had deployed a cobalt-salted bomb in East Berlin, a doomsday weapon whose location was purely symbolic as its intense radioactivity would have extinguished life on Earth if detonated. In contrast, American scientists developed the neutron bomb, an enhanced radiation device that would produce massive short-term radioactivity while minimizing blast damage and fallout, preserving more objects while killing more people.

The massive buildup of the Bomb, easily the most expensive undertaking in human history, was a proliferation of objects precisely at the time when they were becoming obsolete. In the virtual world, the Cold War became hot over and over again through software games in the computers both sides developed to wage simulations of nuclear battles. In the computer, the destructive potential of the warheads would be endlessly tested, adjusted, and retested. Militaries came to rely on the results of these tests as not just “scenario plans” but as victories and defeats themselves. In Orwellian fashion, however, defeat was victory: annihilation in the computer gave generals grounds to argue for further weapons development. Plausible truths regarding the strength of the enemy became more valuable than actual figures. Thus, both the “Bomber Gap” and the “Missile Gap” were convenient fictions, agreed upon by the Soviet and American military to make the former appear more threatening and to help the latter gain support for more weaponry.

The Cold War ensured the shift from the material world to the virtual. Even though the Soviet Union outproduced it in the end, the United States won because it understood that the nature of production changed from physical objects to a virtual system of networks. If the dawn of the bourgeois era is marked by the development of the metropolis and the proliferation of objects, our own period begins with the emergence of the posturban realm and the economic dominance of immaterial production. Today the physical is secondary to systems of computation and communication.

Under threat of the Bomb, the concentrated, vertical city of congestion gave way to the dispersed, horizontal decongested field. During the Second World War, the Allied air offensive ground the Nazi war machine to a halt by hitting concentrated centers of production. Understanding that the United States was vulnerable to similar attack, after the first Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949 and the entry of the United States into the Korean War in 1950, defense analysts at the National Security Resources Board began to advocate the dispersal of new industries. By removing industry, and later management, from the city, planners hoped that target zones would be minimized. The nation, in their words, would be “protected in space.” Urbanity as the product of concentrated structures and physical connections was replaced by an urbanity constituted through a system of dispersed virtual links.