Disaggregating Disasters


In the years since the September 11 attacks, scholars and commentators have criticized the emergence of both legal developments and policy rhetoric that blur the lines between war and terrorism. Unrecognized, but equally as damaging to democratic ideals—and potentially more devastating in practical effect—is the expansion of this trend beyond the context of terrorism to a much wider field of nonwar emergencies. Indeed, in recent years, war and national security rhetoric has come to permeate the legal and policy conversations on a wide variety of natural and technological disasters. This melding of disaster and war for purposes of justifying exceptions to ordinary constitutional and democratic norms is particularly apparent in governmental restrictions on the flow of its communications in disasters, as limitations on information flow that might be warranted when there are thinking enemies (such as in times of war) are invoked in disaster scenarios lacking such thinking enemies. The extension of wartime transparency exceptionalism into nonthinking-enemy disasters—reflected in both legislation and official rhetoric—risks the illegitimate construction of enemies by government, the unwarranted transformation of public spaces into war zones from which the public can be more easily excluded, and the inappropriate reliance on notions of the “fog of war” to justify communication failures and overbroad access restrictions. Only by consciously disaggregating dissimilar forms of emergencies and removing the rhetoric of war from disaster decisionmaking can the government make appropriate determinations about the provision of information in times of community or national crisis.

About the Author

Lisa Grow Sun and RonNell Andersen Jones are Associate Professors of Law, J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University.

By uclalaw