Troubled Waters at Camp Lejeune: Rethinking the Authority of the American State

This thesis explores the water contamination crisis at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina from the early 1950s to the signing of House Resolution 1627, “Honoring America’s Veterans and Caring for Camp Lejeune Families Act of 2012” by President Barack Obama in 2012. For nearly three decades after the initial discovery of water contamination in October of 1980, efforts to resolve both an environmental and health crisis stalled at military, state, and federal levels. Federal and state regulations, duplicate reports by private and public agencies, and conflicting scientific studies regarding the contamination source and its effects on human health all failed to resolve the Lejeune crisis in a timely manner. As years went by, evidence of birth defects, cancer clusters, and other illnesses began to mount, leading to the political controversy surrounding Camp Lejeune’s water. The responses, or lack thereof, from military, state, and federal institutions revealed a major flaw of the modern American state and its conduct of civil-military relations, ultimately contributing to the inexcusable neglect of service members and their families at Camp Lejeune: the American state suffers from a lack of centralized authority. From an institutional perspective, the Camp Lejeune crisis was not just an environmental disaster and a tragic event for thousands of military personnel and their families. The incompetence surrounding the response to the water contamination at Camp Lejeune reveals a blatant example of the complications that arise when multiple military, civilian, and other government agencies encounter circumstances that require a response, but the various agencies are simultaneously obstructed from taking action because of a lack of expertise in the bureaucratic structure that links civilian and military spheres.