Andrew Bickford (Washington, D.C.)

War, Water, and the Supersoldier

Militaries have long realized that the human body is in many ways the ultimate limiting factor to warfare in terms of being "weak" and "fragile;" military planners and researchers have long desired to overcome this weakness and fragility through various means. One of the major points of weakness and fragility in the soldier is hydration, and the challenges water presents for the soldier on the battlefield. When we think about water and warfare, we generally think about the macro level interactions between them, with water as the cause, battlefield, or possible future impetus for war and conflict. However, we seldom think about the connections between water, war, and the biology of the soldier, the impact of water on the individual soldier, and what it means to keep a soldier hydrated while in the field, in terms of both logistics and performance. A key component of my current research project – examining how the U.S. military is developing new forms of psychopharmaceutical and biomedical enhancements for U.S. soldiers – is on hydration, and the water requirements of the soldier to stay healthy and effective in combat. In my talk, I'll examine and discuss the US military's plans to develop biomedical performance enhancements and interventions intended to manage and mitigate the impact of water on the individual soldier, and how planning and logistical issues around water supply are being met with designs and imaginations about "skin-in" performance enhancements focused on changing and enhancing the biology of the soldier to deal with the military's water problem.