The Army, the Nation, Nuclear Annihilation

The Army, the Nation, Nuclear Annihilation

The Anthony D. Smith Fellowship Seminar is given by the 2023 Fellow, Jack Matlack, on ‘The Army, the Nation, Nuclear Annihilation: Constructing ‘Western’ identity in German-American NATO training exercises of the Cold War’. Join us in person in room PAN9.05 at the London School of Economics, or join us on Facebook or YouTube. Members will receive a link to join on Zoom.


Beginning in the Cold War, joint training exercises between the German and US armies involved tens of thousands of soldiers, colliding in imaginative play of plausible WW3 scenarios on the open fields and farms of West Germany. Proceeding from the reports and recollections of the two officer corps, I contend that ‘Western’ identity in the military context of NATO exercises was not principally the product of Christian conviviality, shared democratic ethos (Winkler, 2007), or civilisational public rhetoric (Jackson, 2006). Rather, I call attention to precise military tactics and operational assumptions employed by both armies to construct mock war. By interrogating the underlying logic of training exercises, I argue that the army as the ‘people in arms’ (Moran and Waldron, 2003) embodied the German and American nations through their (re)enactment of World War 3. When the US Army trained in defending Germany, the American nation incrementally embraced the identity of the preponderant superpower (Bavaj and Steber, 2015). Conversely, mock war  compelled Germans, for the first time in the 20th century, to surrender national notions of self reliance. Both nations adopted the standpoint of shared security and the ‘coupling of fates’ as an essential pillar of the Atlantic pact. Through the recurring rehearsal of exercises, ‘Western’ identity emerges in this context as synthetic, ultimately channeled through lenses of German and American national identity.

About Jack

Jon-Wyatt ‘Jack’ Matlack is a PhD student at the GSOSES and a doctoral researcher at the Leibniz ScienceCampus at the University of Regensburg. He received the 2023 Anthony D. Smith Visiting Fellowship at LSE IDEAS for his research proposal, “Maneuvering Westward”, concerning training exercises of the US Army and German Army in the Cold War.

For more information about the Anthony D. Smith Visiting Fellowship, please visit