Militarization

When I listed Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson and Gustaaf Houtman‘s mammoth reader on Militarization last summer, forthcoming from Duke and now out this month, there was no list of contents available; Roberto has kindly written to tell me that now there is:

Introduction / Roberto J. González and Hugh Gusterson 1
Section I. Militarization and Political Economy
Introduction / Catherine Lutz 27
1.1. The U.S. Imperial Triangle and Military Spending / John Bellamy Foster, Hannah Holleman, and Robert W. McChesney 29
1.2. Farewell Address to the Nation, January 17, 1961 / Dwight D. Eisenhower 36
1.3. The Militarization of Sports and the Redefinition of Patriotism / William Astore 38
1.4. Violence, Just in Time: War and Work in Contemporary West Africa / Daniel Hoffman 42
1.5. Women, Economy, War / Carolyn Nordstrom 51
Section II. Military Labor

Introduction / Andrew Bickford  57
2.1. Soldiering as Work: The All-Volunteer Force in the United States / Beth Bailey 59
2.2. Sexing the Globe / Sealing Cheng 62
2.3. Military Monks / Michael Jerryson 67
2.4. Child Soldiers after War / Brandon Kohrt and Robert Koenig 71
2.5. Asian Labor in the Wartime Japanese Empire / Paul H. Kratoska 73
2.6. Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry / P. W. Singer 76
Section III. Gender and Militarism
Introduction / Katherine T. McCaffery 83
3.1. Gender in Transition: Common Sense, Women, and War / Kimberly Theidon 85
3.2. The Compassionate Warrior: Wartime Sacrifice / Jean Bethke Elshtain 91
3.3. Creating Citizens, Making Men: The Military and Masculinity in Bolivia / Lesley Gill 95
3.4. One of the Guys: Military Women and the Argentine Army / Máximo Badaró 101
Section IV. The Emotional Life of Militarism
Introduction / Catherine Lutz 109
4.1. Militarization and the Madness of Everyday Life / Nancy Scheper-Hughes 111
4.2. Fear as a Way of Life / Linda Green 118
4.3. Evil, the Self, and Survival / Robert Jay Lifton (Interviewed by Harry Kreisler) 127
4.4. Target Audience: The Emotional Impact of U.S. Governmental Films on Nuclear Testing / Joseph Masco 130
Section V. Rhetorics of Militarism
Introduction / Andrew Bickford 141
5.1. The Militarization of Cherry Blossoms / Emiko Ohnuki-Tierney 143
5.2. The “Old West” in the Middle East: U.S. Military Metaphors in Real and Imagined Indian Country / Stephen W. Silliman 148
5.3. Ideology, Culture, and the Cold War / Naoko Shidusawa 154
5.4. The Military Normal: Feeling at Home with Counterinsurgency in the United States / Catherine Lutz 157
5.5. Nuclear Orientalism / Hugh Gusterson 163
Section VI. Militarization, Place, and Territory
Introduction / Roberto J. González 167
6.1. Making War at Home / Catherine Lutz 168
6.2. Spillover: The U.S. Military’s Sociospatial Impact / Mark L. Gillen 175
6.3. Nuclear Landscapes: The Marshall Islands and Its Radioactive Legacy / Barbara Rose Johnston 181
6.4. The War on Terror, Dismantling, and the Construction of Place: An Ethnographic Perspective from Palestine / Julie Peteet 186
6.5. The Border Wall Is a Metaphor / Jason de León (Interviewed by Micheline Aharonian Marcom) 192
Section VII. Militarized Humanitarianism
Introduction / Catherine Besteman 197
7.1. Laboratory of Intervention: The Humanitarian Governance of the Postcommunist Balkan Territories / Mariella Pandolfi 199
7.2. Armed for Humanity / Michael Barnett 203
7.3. The Passions of Protection: Sovereign Authority and Humanitarian War / Anne Orford 208
7.4. Responsibility to Protect or Right to Punish? / Mahmood Mamdani 212
7.5. Utopias of Power: From Human Security to the Presponsibility to Protect / Chowra Makaremi 218
Section VIII. Militarism and the Media
Introduction / Hugh Gusterson 223
8.1. Pentagon Pundits / David Barstow (Interview by Amy Goodman) 224
8.2. Operation Hollywood / David L. Robb (Interviewed by Jeff Fleischer) 230
8.3. Discipline and Publish / Mark Pedelty 234
8.4. The Enola Gay on Display / John Whittier Treat 239
8.5. War Porn: Hollywood and War, from World War II to American Sniper / Peter van Buren 243
Section IX. Militarizing Knowledge
Introduction / David H. Price 249
9.1. Boundary Displacement: The State, the Foundations, and International and Area Studies during and after the Cold War / Bruce Cumings 251
9.2. The Career of Cold War Psychology / Ellen Herman 254
9.3. Scientific Colonialism / Johan Galtung 259
9.4. Research ni Foreign Areas / Ralph L. Beals 265
9.5. Rethinking the Promise of Critical Education / Henry A. Giroux (Interviewed by Chronis Polychroniou) 270
Section X. Militarization and the Body
Introduction / Roberto J. González 275
10.1. Nuclear War, the Gulf War, and the Disappearing Body / Hugh Gusterson 276
10.2. The Structure of War: The Juxtaposition of Injuried Bodies and Unanchored Issues / Elaine Scarry 283
10.3. The Enhanced Warfighter / Kenneth Ford and Clark Glymour 291
10.4. Suffering Child: An Embodiment of War and Its Aftermath in Post-Sandinista Nicaragua / James Quesada 296
Section XI. Militarism and Technology
Introduction / Hugh Gusterson 303
11.1. Giving Up the Gun: Japan’s Reversion to the Sword, 1543–1879 / Noel Perrin 305
11.2. Life Underground: Building the American Bunker Society / Joseph Masco 307
11.3. Militarizing Space / David H. Price 316
11.4. Embodiment and Affect in a Digital Age: Understanding Mental Illness among Military Drone Personnel / Alex Edney-Browne 319
11.5. Land Mines and Cluster Bombs: “Weapons of Mass Destruction in Slow Motion” / H. Patricia Hynes 324
11.6. Pledge of Non-Participation / Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright 328
11.7. The Scientists’ Call to Ban Autonomous Lethal Robots / International Committee for Robot Arms Control 329
Section XII. Alternatives to Militarization
Introduction / David Vine 333
12.1. War Is Only an Invention—Not a Biological Necessity / Margaret Mead 336
12.2. Reflections on the Possibility of a Nonkilling Society and a Nonkilling Anthropology / Leslie E. Sponsel 339
12.3. U.S. Bases, Empire, and Global Response / Catherine Lutz 344
12.4. Down Here / Julian Aguon 347
12.5. War, Culture, and Counterinsurgency / Roberto J. González, Hugh Gusterson, and David H. Price 349
12.6. Hope in the Dark: Untold Stories, Wild Possibilities / Rebecca Solnit 350

You can read the introduction here (scroll down).

A swarm of drone books

From the University of California Press in February, Thomas Stubblefield‘s Drone Art: the everywhere war as medium:

What happens when a drone enters a gallery or appears on screen? What thresholds are crossed as this weapon of war occupies everyday visual culture? These questions have appeared with increasing regularity since the advent of the War on Terror, when drones began migrating into civilian platforms of film, photography, installation, sculpture, performance art, and theater. In this groundbreaking study, Thomas Stubblefield attempts not only to define the emerging genre of “drone art” but to outline its primary features, identify its historical lineages, and assess its political aspirations. Richly detailed and politically salient, this book is the first comprehensive analysis of the intersections between drones, art, technology, and power.

 

Caren Kaplan on the book: ‘”Do representations of drones that circulate in contemporary media reinforce or subvert the logic of distance warfare? Stubblefield takes a brilliantly nuanced approach in a text replete with stimulating examples to argue that ‘drone power’ in such media is always ‘distributed and elusive’ yet open to reimagination and, therefore, critique.”


From the same publisher in March, Joseba Zulaika‘s Hellfire from Paradise Ranch: on the front lines of drone warfare:

In this intimate and innovative work, terror expert Joseba Zulaika examines drone warfare as manhunting carried out via satellite. Using Creech Air Force Base near Las Vegas as his center of study, he interviews drone operators as well as resisters to the war economy of the region to expose the layers of fantasy on which counterterrorism and its self-sustaining logic are grounded.

Hellfire from Paradise Ranch exposes the terror and warfare of drone killings that dominate our modern military. It unveils the trauma drone operators experience, in part due to their visual intimacy with their victims, and explores the resistance to drone killings in the same apocalyptic Nevada desert where nuclear testing, pacifist militancy, and Shoshone tradition overlap.

Stunning and absorbing, Zulaika offers a richly detailed account of how we continue to manufacture, deconstruct, and perpetuate terror.

Contents:

Prologue: Slaughterhouse 359

1: The Real: Home of the hunters

2: Fantasy and the art of drone assassination

3: Drone wars returning from the future

4: Trauma: the killer as voyeur

5: Resistance: a harsh and dreadful love

Epilogue: Obama’s Troy: Kill me a son

Joseph Masco on the book: “Hellfire from Paradise Ranch details how the drone revolution has moved the politics of terror into an entirely new techno-political domain. We should all be grateful to Joseba Zuilaika for once again analyzing the politics of terror and seeing its revolutionary import — war always comes home. His account of drone warfare is required reading for anyone attempting to understand U.S. militarism in the 21st century.”

Coming from Rutgers University Press, also in March, Katherine Chandler‘s Unmanning: how humans, machines and media perform drone warfare:

Unmanning studies the conditions that create unmanned platforms in the United States through a genealogy of experimental, pilotless planes flown between 1936 and 1992. Characteristics often attributed to the drone—including machine-like control, enmity and remoteness—are achieved by displacements between humans and machines that shape a mediated theater of war. Rather than primarily treating the drone as a result of the war on terror, this book examines contemporary targeted killing through a series of failed experiments to develop unmanned flight in the twentieth century. The human, machine and media parts of drone aircraft are organized to make an ostensibly not human framework for war that disavows its political underpinnings as technological advance. These experiments are tied to histories of global control, cybernetics, racism and colonialism. Drone crashes and failures call attention to the significance of human action in making technopolitics that comes to be opposed to “man” and the paradoxes at their basis.

Contents:

Introduction
1          DRONE
2          American Kamikaze
3          Unmanning
4          Buffalo Hunter
5          Pioneer
Conclusion      Nobody’s Perfect


Coming from Oxford University Press in May/June, Michael J. Boyle‘s The Drone Age: how drone technology will change war and peace:

Over the last decade, the rapid pace of innovation with drone technology has led to dozens of new and innovative commercial and scientific applications, from Amazon drone deliveries to the patrolling of national parks with drones. But what is less understood is how the spread of unmanned
technology will change the patterns of war and peace in the future. Will the use of drones produce a more stable world or will it lead to more conflict? Will drones gradually replace humans on the battlefield or will they empower soldiers to act more precisely, and humanely, in crisis situations? How will drones change surveillance around the world and at home?

This book examines how unmanned technology alters the decision-making and risk calculus of its users both on and off the battlefield. It shows that the introduction of drones changes the dynamics of wars, humanitarian crises and peacekeeping missions, empowering some actors while making others more vulnerable to surveillance and even attack. The spread of drones is also reordering geopolitical fault lines and providing new ways for states to test the nerves and strategic commitments of their rivals. Drones are also allowing terrorist groups like the Islamic State to take to the skies and to level the playing field against their enemies. Across the world, the low financial cost of drones and the reduced risks faced by pilots is making drone technology an essential tool for militaries, peacekeeping forces, and even private companies. From large surveillance drones to insect-like micro-drones, unmanned technology is revolutionizing the way that states and non-state actors compete with each other and is providing game-changing benefits to those who can most rapidly adapt unmanned technology to their own purposes.

An essential guide to a potentially disruptive force in modern world politics, The Drone Age shows how the mastery of drone technology will become central to the ways that governments and non-state actors seek power and influence in the coming decades.

Contents:

Chapter 1: The Drone Age
Chapter 2: Automated Warfare
Chapter 3: Death from Above
Chapter 4: Eyes in the Sky
Chapter 5: Terrorist Drones
Chapter 6: The All-Seeing Drone
Chapter 7: Dull, Dirty and Dangerous
Chapter 8: The New Race
Chapter 9: The Future

For Sama

For Sama – see my posts here and here – is now available on YouTube:

Sama is the daughter of the film-maker Waad al-Kateab and her husband Hamza, a hospital doctor and one of 32 who remained in East Aleppo.

For Sama was shot in East Aleppo; it begins in the early days of the rising against the Assad regime and focuses on life in and around two hospitals during the siege.

‘Sama’, we are told,

‘means the sky…. the sky we love, the sky we want… without airforces, without bombing… the sky with sun, with clouds, with birds…’

After their original hospital was destroyed in an airstrike – one of the doctors killed was Muhammad Waseem Maaz, who had delivered Sama (see also here and the slides for Death of the Clinic under the TEACHING tab) – they were able to move to a building ‘designed to be a hospital’ but never used and ‘not on any maps so the Russians and the regime wouldn’t know where to bomb…’

It would be the last hospital left functioning in East Aleppo, treating almost 300 patients a day.

‘Even when I close my eyes I see the colour red.  Blood everywhere.  On walls, floors, our clothes.  Sometimes we cry blood.’

 

Corporeal War

This conference in Florence next year looks very interesting:

Spaces of War: Corporeal War, May 21st-22nd 2020
Deadline for abstracts: 10th January 2020

Building on the success of our 2018 international conference ‘Spaces of War: War of Spaces’, the Editors of the Media, War and Conflict Journal are holding our second conference at Accademia Europea Di Firenze, Florence, Italy in May 2020.

Alongside traditional papers, the expected conference programme will include film screenings and methodological workshops on Digital verification; Visuality/photography; The archive; Performance that are designed to facilitate the development of new ideas, networks and/or research proposals through dialogue with practitioners.

Conference Themes

In 2018 we were motivated by a feeling that broad theses on the transformation of war in new media environments was distracting attention from the richness of detailed work being conducted on specific cases. Macro theorisations were ignoring the varieties and intricacies of spaces through which war was being waged. That conference drew together a new generation of researchers in the field of war and media, and led to the forthcoming Spaces of War book due for publication by Bloomsbury in 2020.

But what emerged and gave meaning to the temporal and spatial dimensions of those dynamic, ever evolving spaces was the overarching theme of bodies and the profoundly corporeal, embodied nature of war and its relationship to space.

For the 2020 conference, we invite contributions that explore the intersections of body and space in the field of war and media through two broad themes:

Bodily Presence/Absence: How can research illuminate how bodies occupy, inhabit and live through and in spaces of war? When and how are bodies made visible in spaces of war, whose bodies (civic, military, technologized etc) and why? What are the implications of bodily presence and absence in relation to the transformative properties of the space? What are the consequences of post-bodily inhabitation?
Embodied Participation: How do media and digital technologies alter and shift the affective, sensory, mnemonic qualities of space? How are bodies, and the corporeal reality of war, transformed by spaces and visa versa? What are the consequences of our engagement with spaces of war for ourselves, others and the space itself?
Drawing on these broad themes and questions, the conference will showcase exciting new research in this field while pinpointing the emerging puzzles and lines of enquiry we face at the intersection of bodies, media, space and war.

We are interested in scholarly and practice contributions that speak to these themes through a range of topics across various spheres and powers relations.

While the main theme of this conference is the corporeal nature of war and its relationship to space, we also welcome papers dealing with any aspect of media, war and conflict.

Please submit an abstract of 250 words with author affiliation and brief biog to Sarah Maltby: s.maltby@sussex.ac.uk by 10th January 2020

Panel submissions are welcome. Panel proposals should include no more than 4 papers in total, a short description (200 words) together with abstracts for each of the papers (150-200 words each including details of the contributor), and the name and contact details of the panel proposer. The panel proposer should co-ordinate the submissions for that panel as a single proposal.

Registration Open: 24th January to 27th March 2020

Bombing Britain

Ages ago, as part of my research on bombing, I drew attention to Bomb Sight  a remarkable digital mapping project that provided a detailed spatial inventory of the Blitz in London in 1940-41.

At long last there is the equivalent for the U.K. throughout the war: the digital platform War, State & Society has hosted a zoomable and searchable map (see screenshot above) produced by Laura Blomvall showing 32,000 German air raids on the United Kingdom between September 1939 and March 1945.  The first air raid of the war was 80 years ago today – 16 October 1939 – when the Luftwaffe attacked the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh.

Laura’s accompanying open-access essay is here.

An extract (referring to the map above):

When digitally mapped, the density and spread of pinned locations communicate in seconds the scale of devastation these volumes document over thousands of pages. Viewing the data in a single-color heat map format, the entire United Kingdom appears dyed in intense red, with the South East looking like an intense scarlet lake. When the heat map measures numbers of casualties instead of numbers of air raids, the picture changes to show different patterns of numerical density: Belfast, which did not show as a hot spot for air raids, shows as a hot spot for casualties; the county of Kent, a zone of heavy aerial bombardment in the first heat map, disappears as a significant location for casualties next to cities like London, Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, Glasgow, and Bristol. In some ways, the correlation between numbers of casualties and urban centers with dense populations seems hardly ground-breaking. However, as a tool for communicating instantaneously what [Juliet] Gardiner called “the macabre taxonomy of war” – a ranking of British cities by casualty numbers – Bombing Britain is unique and unparalleled.

The exception to the exception

There is a stunning report (including an extended video) in today’s New York Times providing detailed evidence of Russian jets systematically attacking four hospitals in Syria in just twelve hours on 5/6 May 2019.

As regular readers will appreciate, this is a fraction of the total number of attacks on hospitals and clinics by Russian and Syrian aircraft – see my analysis in ‘Your turn, doctor’ here,  ‘Death of the Clinic’ here and a stream of subsequent posts.

There have been other attempts to attribute culpability in the past – I’m thinking here of visual analysis by bellingcat and Forensic Architecture, for example – and, as the NYT notes, ‘recklessly or intentionally bombing hospitals is a war crime, but proving culpability amid a complex civil war is extremely difficult, and until now, Syrian medical workers and human rights groups lacked proof.’  What distinguishes this (brilliant) investigation is the incorporation of flights logs and intercepts of radio communications from the Russian Air Force that for the first time clearly and unambiguously show that these air strikes were deliberate, systematic and relentless attacks on known hospitals.

Here is the first attack analysed by the NYT; I’ve grabbed the images from the accompanying video..

Nabad al Hayat had been attacked three times since it opened in 2013 and had recently relocated to an underground complex on agricultural land, hoping to be protected from airstrikes.

At 2:32 p.m. on May 5, a Russian ground control officer can be heard in an Air Force transmission providing a pilot with a longitude and latitude that correspond to Nabad al Hayat’s exact location.

At 2:38 p.m., the pilot reports that he can see the target and has the “correction,” code for locking the target on a screen in his cockpit. Ground control responds with the green light for the strike, saying, “Three sevens.”

At the same moment, a flight spotter on the ground logs a Russian jet circling in the area.

At 2:40 p.m., the same time the charity said that Nabad al Hayat was struck, the pilot confirms the release of his weapons, saying, “Worked it.” Seconds later, local journalists filming the hospital in anticipation of an attack record three precision bombs penetrating the roof of the hospital and blowing it out from the inside in geysers of dirt and concrete.

The staff of Nabad al Hayat had evacuated three days earlier after receiving warnings and anticipating a bombing [which is how journalists came to be on site to film the strike].

Another attack – detailed in the accompanying video – was on the Kafr Zita Cave Hospital (see also here).

As I’ve explained elsewhere, spaces of exception are not confined to the camp (as Agamben and others claim); war zones are also spaces in which particular groups of people are knowingly and deliberately exposed to death by removing the legal protections that would ordinarily safeguard them.  But these are not legal ‘black holes’ either.  The removal of those protections is itself (in part) the product of legal manoeuvers and, in the case of Syria, sleight of hand: Assad’s counterterrorism laws criminalised all medical aid to the opposition.  That legal armature extends beyond domestic legislation: international humanitarian law and other quasi-legal formularies (including Rules of Engagement) are supposed to afford a modicum of protection to civilians.  But throughout, hospitals and clinics are supposed to be ‘exceptions to the exception’: attacks on them, their staffs and patients are explicitly proscribed under IHL.

I’m bringing all these materials together – from attacks on hospitals on the coast of France and the Western Front in the First World War through Afghanistan (here and here) and Syria – in a major new essay: more soonest, though like most of my essays these days it threatens to metamorphose into a small book….

That essay will also elaborate the claims set out in the summary image above.  One of the crucial points to sharpen, I think, is that the exception often appears earlier in time and distant in space from the enclosed contours of the camp or even the war zone that has replaced the traditional ‘battlefield’.  I’m thinking here (in the case of the camp in the Second World War) on the systematic denigration of the Jews, the restrictions imposed on their life and movement in occupied cities, the roundups and detentions (see my lecture on occupied Paris under the TEACHING tab), their confinement to ghettoes: all of this in advance of their brutal transportation to the death camps hundreds of miles distant.  If we don’t draw attention to those preliminary steps – if we fail even to recognise them – then it will be too late: the gates of the camp will clang shut.

What has this to do with hospital attacks?   Quite simply:  if the preliminary de-certification of hospitals and doctors in opposition-held areas is allowed to pass unchallenged, if we fail to contest the claim that these are ‘so-called hospitals’ and ‘so-called doctors’ (a familiar tactic of the Assad regime and its apologists), if we fail to respect medical neutrality,  then the exception to the exception will vanish: hospital attacks will have been normalised.

Underground medicine

In my work on attacks on hospitals in Syria I’ve drawn attention to the remarkable Central Cave Hospital (see also here and here) – and to what it says about a war when hospitals have to be excavated deep into the ground in a desperate attempt to protect them from airstrikes.

That hospital – formally, the Al Maghara (Dr Hasan al Araj) Hospital – was excavated in the side of a mountainside at Kafr Zita in Hama and opened in October 2015.  The Syrian-American Medical Society had originally proposed to build the hospital in the heart of the city, but local residents feared that doing so would turn them into targets for airstrikes.

Yet going outside and underground provided only limited protection: the hospital was repeatedly targeted by Russian and Syrian aircraft (see here and here and the videos shown by Jake Godin on Twitter here).

But as Saving Lives Underground noted (in a report co-produced with SAMS, dated May 2017), there were other cave hospitals in Syria.  Compared to basement hospitals, the cave hospital is

‘a more effective protective model, in which medical facilities are built into caves carved into the side of a mountain. This model provides reasonable protective measures, but has limited feasibility as it can only be constructed in environments that contain mountains. It requires securing the entrance to the hospital, creating an emergency exit, and ensuring ventilation, but is a comparatively inexpensive model as it relies on the existing base structure of the mountain. This model has proven to be effective when designed properly and laid out with attention to details… The largest cave hospital in Syria is the Central Cave Hospital, which is 500 – 600 meters large, contains three operating rooms, and houses a range of services…’

(The most expensive model involved ‘building a new, completely underground facility. A hospital is built several meters below the surface, has a thick, reinforced concrete frame, and is covered by protective ground backfill to create the additional layer of safety. The advantage of this model is that it can be replicated anywhere with few modifications because of its standard design. However, as it involves the construction of a completely new structure, it is the most expensive model and requires the longest time to completion.’)

So there have been other cave hospitals.  Now the Toronto International Film Festival features a new documentary by the co-director of the award-winning Last Men in Aleppo, writer-director Feras Fayyad, called The Cave.  This was shot at another Cave Hospital in East Ghouta between 2016 and 2018 (for background, see my posts on the siege of Ghouta here and here).

Here is the Q&A with the cast and crew at TIFF:

The Cave should be shown in theatres in the fall, and (as you can see from the trailer below) is co-sponsored by National Geographic and will appear in its new documentary line-up:

The Cave follows another documentary on the work of doctors, nurses and patients under siege in Assad’s (and Putin’s) Syria, For Sama: see my notice here.

Like For Sama it too draws attention to the multiple ways in which gender and patriarchy play out in these desperate circumstances.  The Cave is run by a woman, Dr Amani Ballor, and one reviewer notes: ‘When one man shows up to get medicine for his wife, he lectures the staff that women should be “at home with the family,” not running a hospital. “We voted twice,” says a male doctor on staff. “She won both times.”’

Or again, in a detailed review of the film, Eric Kohn writes:

What makes this determined young woman tick? Speaking through a voiceover that guides the narrative along, Amani recalls growing up under “a racist and autocratic regime,” and how the war drove her to “respond to the terrible reality” through her work. At one point, a male relative of one of her patients confronts her, demanding a man be in charge. When one of Amani’s peers comes to her defense, the showdown serves as a keen snapshot of the doctor’s struggle on several fronts. Beyond encapsulating the city’s devastation, “The Cave” is an implicit critique of a war-torn society still at the mercy of antiquated values. Even in this desperate moment, her selfless acts face backlash from stern traditionalists. With nothing to lose aside from the hospital itself, Dr. Amani has no qualms about speaking her mind. “This religion is just a tool for men,” she says.

Writing in Variety, Tomris Laffly describes Dr Amani working with two other women, Dr Alaa and a nurse Samaher, as a vital thematic arc of the film:

In the end, it is the feminine camaraderie and understanding that stands tall as the backbone of the film and perhaps even the entire operation. Despite having their physical safety incessantly threatened — above the ground, there is nothing but a wasteland of a city nearly flattened by bombs — and capability repeatedly questioned by male patients, the trio of women somehow manages to carve out an alternative space for themselves. In that, they criticize religion as an enabler of falsely perceived male superiority and work side-by-side with male colleagues as equals, even if their parity comes as a consequence of the desperate aboveground circumstances.

Much to think about here, clearly: another of the essays on which I’m still working, converting these various posts into long form (and always, so it seems, into very long form!), recovers the genealogy and the geography of hospital attacks in modern war – from the bombing of hospitals on the Western Front in the First World War (there’s a preliminary version here, but I’ve since done much more work) right through to the US bombing of the MSF Trauma Centre in Kunduz (see here and here) and the continuing attacks on medical care in Syria.  I’ll do my best to keep you posted.