This essay examines the rise of the honeybee as a tool and metaphor in the U.S. “war on terror.” At present, the largest source of funding for apiary research comes from the U.S. military as part of efforts to remake entomology in an age of empire. This funding seeks to make new generations of bees sensitive to specific chemical traces—everything from plastic explosives, to the tritium used in nuclear weapons development, to land mines. Moreover, in an explicit attempt to redesign modern battlefield techniques, the Pentagon has returned to the form and metaphor of the “swarm” to combat what it takes to be the unpredictability of the enemy in the war on terror. At the same time, honeybee colonies are collapsing. Rethinking material assemblages of bees and humans in the war on terror, this essay moves beyond the constrained logic and limited politics of many epidemiological investigations of colony collapse. Honeybees are situated within a more expansive understanding of the role of and consequences for the animal in modern empire building.
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