Good Kill

good-kill-poster-415x600Early in this blog’s short history I talked about the opening sequence in Andrew Niccol‘s Lord of War (2005) and what its opening sequence – the ‘life of a bullet’ – had to say about the global arms trade.

Now Niccol is back with Good Kill (2014), which was previewed at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month:

In an air-conditioned shipping container somewhere in the Nevada desert, a war is being waged. Behind a door that reads “YOU ARE NOW LEAVING THE USA,” five flight-suited US Air Force officers operate drones that hover above “zones of interest” in the Middle East. At the press of a button, tiny targets viewed on computer screens vanish in plumes of smoke, as in a videogame. “I blew up six Taliban in Pakistan today,” Major Thomas Egan (Ethan Hawke) tells a convenience store clerk. “Now I’m going home to barbecue.”

So far, so familiar; there is no shortage of similar presentations of drone warfare in pop culture more generally (I’m thinking in particular of Omar Fast‘s video 5,000 feet is Best and George Brant‘s play Grounded).

There’s a thoughtful review of Good Kill from the Guardian‘s Henry Barnes here:

Cinematographer Amir Mokri (director of photography on Lord of War, Niccol’s satire on the international arms trade) shoots the Vegas desert in a harsh, sterile light. The Las Vegas suburbs, shot from the sky, look as dusty and alien as the places Egan sees on his monitor. It plays into Egan’s isolation. He is distant from his wife (Mad Men’s January Jones) and drinks too much since he lost his flying privileges. He’s got the creeping feeling that drone warfare is cowardly and misses the fear of being in danger. “We’ve got no skin in the game,” he says. His wife says she’s glad to have him home with the kids. Egan zones out and stares at the sky.

Niccol creates an atmosphere that is airless and dull, an unusual tone for a modern war film, but one that fits the subject matter perfectly. That would have been enough, but the director feels the need to make his polemic on drone warfare plain. He sets up the team as an ethics debate meet. On one side is Egan and Suarez (Zoë Kravitz), a young female recruit with a conscience. On the other are two knuckleheads with kill boners. They ridicule the idea that they’re doing anything but protecting their country from terrorist threat. Niccol’s script goes too far in singling them out as the idiots. Kravitz’s character, more left-wing and articulate on post-9/11 military mandate, also comes across as one-dimensional.

Good Kill

The Telegraph‘s Robbie Colin caught an earlier screening at Venice, and was more impressed:

Niccol’s film … is a searching, timely drama about the dehumanising effects of waging war at a distance – the way that guilt can still stain at 11,000 miles, far outside the blast zone of blood and rubble. It looks again at one of the central themes of his script for The Truman Show: the intoxicating, corruptive power of the God’s-eye view.

As Egan’s eyes scan the monitors, he sees with astonishing clarity the faces of the men – and sometimes, unavoidably, the women and children – he is about to execute. Over time, he gets to understand their daily routines, watching them eat, stroll and sweep. The difference is this story isn’t science-fiction, but you’re left with the sickening sense that it should be.

You can also find an interesting roundtable interview with Niccol and Hawke recorded at TIFF here: thanks to Robert Bridi for the tip.

One last thing: I haven’t seen the film yet, but from the reviews and trailers I have seen it seems that, as in so many other registers, popular culture continues to be preoccupied with what happens in Nevada – and what happens on the ground is left shrouded in so many shades of grey.

Redlining

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I’ve posted about maps of this summer’s Israeli assault on Gaza before (see also here), and in the light of those discussions Max Blumenthal‘s testimony before the Extraordinary Session of the Brussels Tribunal on Gaza this past week was exceptionally interesting.  He arrived in Gaza on 15 August, at the start of yet another ‘humanitarian ceasefire’, and recorded testimony from residents from several of the areas destroyed by the Israeli military.

In Shuja’iyya Max and his colleague Dan Cohen discovered a map abandoned by the Israeli military in an ammunition box:

IDF Map Gaza

Over at Alternet, Max reads this map with the aid of Eran Efrati, a veteran of the Israeli army.  Over the last five years Eran has been conducting interviews with Israeli soldiers – since Operation Cast Lead, in fact – and as part of his investigations into the vicious attack on Shuja’iyya he had this to say to Amy Goodman:

‘… in the morning, families are starting to come back into their neighborhood, civilians looking for family members they left behind and looking for them under the rubbles…. People [are] going around the neighborhood and screaming names of family members, looking for them—obviously unarmed civilians. The soldiers are in the house, looking ahead. At that time, they decide to do an imaginary red line in the sand. Our officers tell them they had to do an imaginary red line to determine if they’re in risk or not. And whoever will cross this red line will be a risk for them, and so far, they can kill him. Of course, that’s not something new. It happened in 2009 and in 2012. But this time, this imaginary red line was drawn very, very far from the house. Snipers were sitting on the windows waiting for orders.’

eran efrati

The map Max and Dan found provides further evidence of these ‘red lines’; Max again:

The map you are looking at offers an indication that not only were individual soldiers able to devise their own “invisible” red lines, there was an explicit policy to transform areas of central Shujaiya into free-fire zones where civilians could be killed simply for being present.

In orange, in the upper center of the map, the phrase, “Tzir-Hasuf,” or “We cleared it out,” appears. All homes along this road were destroyed. In fact, most of the homes in the entire area displayed on the map were razed to the ground.

In the upper-right-hand corner of the map, inscribed in red Hebrew letters, you can see the phrase, “Hardufim.” This is code invoked over army radios to indicate soldiers killed in combat. According to Efrati, the phrase was used during Operation Cast Lead to delineate areas where Palestinian civilians could be killed. It appears this line was drawn in Shujaiya after the Golani Brigade lost 13 soldiers during clashes on the evening of the 19th — when “Hardufim” was heard blaring across Israeli army radios — before they occupied homes in Shujaiya the following morning, when the now notorious videotaped execution of 22-year-old Salem Shamaly occurred.

Zizek on Disposable Life

Zizek on Disposable Life

I discussed the History of Violence project’s Disposable Life series when it was first announced here.  Introducing the series, the Project’s Director Brad Evans explains:

“Mass violence is poorly understood if it simply refers to casualties on battlefields or continues to be framed through conventional notions of warfare. We need to interrogate the multiple ways in which entire populations are rendered disposable on a daily basis if we are to take seriously the meaning of global citizenship in the 21st Century”.

Nine videos have been produced so far, and you can access the first eight here; the latest comes from Slavoj Zizek:

For Zizek, the issue of ‘disposable lives’ in the contemporary period does not simply relate to some small or invisible minority. According to the new logics of global capitalism, the vast majority of the worlds citizens (including almost entire Nations) are deemed to be worthless and superfluous to its productive needs. Not only does this point to new forms of apartheid as the global cartography for power seeks to police hierarchies of disposability, it further points to a nihilistic future wherein the aspirations of many are already being sacrificed.

You can access the video through the links above or directly from vimeo here.  Not my favourite theorist or commentator, but worth watching not least for the one-liner about Sloterdijk (at 4.06 if you’re really busy).  What he takes from Sloterdijk is this:

‘”global” means there is a globe which is not all-encompassing, it’s a globe where from within you think it’s endless, all encompassing, you see it all, but no, it excludes…’

I agree with Brad’s framing of the project – impossible not to, I think – but once you start to imagine the global in these (un)exceptionable terms,  both conventional and unconventional modes of warfare start to seep back in to the discussion.  For on those now radically dispersed and discontinuous battle spaces whole populations are being rendered disposable on a daily basis.

Angry eyes

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As part of my project on Militarized Vision I’ve been drawing together my work on two air strikes in Afghanistan in which the full motion video feeds from UAVs played a central role.  The first was an air strike in Uruzgan on 21 February 2010, which was carried out by two combat helicopters but mediated by video and commentary from a Predator and other eyes in the sky (the most thorough press account is by David Cloud here).  The second was a  ‘friendly fire’ incident in the Sangin valley on 5 April 2011 when a Predator strike claimed the lives of two US Marines (you can find an excellent summary account by David Cloud and David Zucchino here).

The two reports I’ve just cited were published in the LA TimesCombat by Camera series, but a close reading of the two official investigations – thousands of pages obtained through FOIA requests – inevitably shows that the stories were more complicated than the tag-line implies.  Still, for all the differences there are some remarkably close parallels between the two, and these have prompted me to revise (in radical ways) the analysis I originally offered in “From a view to a kill” (DOWNLOADS tab).

Searching for a title for the presentations I’m giving on this in October and November, I half-remembered a song called ‘Angry Eyes’.  When I tracked down the lyrics (by Kenny Loggins) I literally could not believe my eyes.  He obviously wasn’t writing about the US Air Force (or the Israeli), but it requires no great leap of the imagination to switch from love to violence:

Time, time and again
I’ve seen you starin’ out at me.

Now, then and again, I wonder
What it is that you see

[Chorus:]
With those Angry Eyes.
Well, I bet you wish you could
Cut me down with those Angry Eyes…

You want to believe that
I am not the same as you.
I can’t concieve, oh no,
What it is you’re tryin’ to do

[Chorus]

What a shot you could be if
You could shoot at me
With those Angry Eyes…

You tried to defend that
You are not the one to blame.

But I’m finding it hard, my friend,
When I’m in the deadly aim
Of those Angry Eyes.

So the presentations (here in Vancouver, and in Zurich and Bergen) will be called “‘Angry eyes’: militarized vision and modern war”.  As the image implies, there’s more to this than full motion video displays, and I’m also going to try to say something about the genealogy of what Paul K. Saint-Amour calls ‘optical war’ (and its distance from the corpographies of ‘boots on the ground‘).

More on all this later, when I’ve finished the essay that I am presently spinning off the presentations with the same title; it’s the last thing I have to do for “The everywhere war” (I hope).

Boots on the ground

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One of the most shop-soiled phrases of the past several weeks and months is “boots on the ground” (or the lack of them).  You can find historical and contemporary discussions from the US military here and here, but the most recent – and recurrent – instance is President Obama’s insistence that, whatever else the United States will do in Iraq and Syria to counter the aggressive advance of the Islamic State, it won’t involve “boots on the ground”.  The reasons are not difficult to discern, and they involve the substitution of “boots on the ground” for “bodies in bags” (on which, see the American Friends Service Committee exhibition, “Eyes Wide Open“: also the Burning Man version here).

But they also involve an extraordinary (but, again, by no means unprecedented) restriction of what constitutes armed combat.  Mark Landler has a very good discussion of this in the New York Times:

American advisers could be sent to the front lines alongside Iraqi and Kurdish troops, and could even call in airstrikes, without directly engaging the enemy. It is a definition rejected by virtually every military expert.

“Calling in airstrikes is just as much combat as firing a rifle at someone,” said John A. Nagl, a retired lieutenant colonel who served in a tank battalion in Iraq and helped write the Army’s counterinsurgency field manual. “What that guy really is doing is painting a house with a laser designator that results in that house being vaporized.”

The American advisers are armed, and if they are shot at by the enemy, they are authorized to return fire. In a close combat advisory role in a city, experts said, the American troops would tell Iraqi commanders which house to hit, how much ammunition to use in an assault, and how to organize medical evacuation for their troops…

“If you’re trying to deploy a military effect on the ground, you’re in combat,” said Paul D. Eaton, a retired Army general who helped train Iraqi troops and is now an adviser to the National Security Network. “You may not be in direct combat, but it’s a combat mission.”

There are also not very muffled  echoes of Vietnam and the US Military Assistance Command.

This is very much on my mind, because I’ve been busy finishing the long-form version of “The Natures of War”, and in the process radically re-working my discussion of the ground war in Vietnam.  This has given me a new insight into what “boots on the ground” means – with an emphasis on the “ground”, or what my good friend Gastón Gordillo prefers to call terrain – and here is an extract (I’ll post the full draft next week, which will include the references and the footnotes).

***

GI Vietnam LIFE

Then as now the scale of support involved in combat operations meant that many soldiers never left their bases – in Vietnam the ratio of support to combat troops was roughly 10 to 1 [this is the ratio cited by most historians, but the US Army prefers a much lower “Tooth to Tail” ratio: see here] – but those that did had to carry their world on their backs. On a long patrol they might be resupplied by helicopter, but that could never be guaranteed. In addition to a rifle, most men carried at least 60 pounds: multiple quart canteens of water (at least two and sometimes as many as eight: ‘There is never, ever enough water’) and canned C-rations; ammunition and grenades; and a poncho or half-shelter which doubled as a stretcher or a shroud if they were hit. In addition, radio operators carried a PRC-25 field radio, which weighed 23 pounds, and spare batteries, while mortar crews lugged a firing tube and base plate weighing around 40 pounds, and their bearers carried four mortar rounds (which added 32 pounds of dead weight to their load). This mattered because, as one newly arrived lieutenant soon realised, ‘the jungle would exact a toll for every ounce I carried.’ ‘We dumped everything we didn’t absolutely need,’ one GI explained, but still the rucksack frame and webbing rubbed and cut so ‘our waists and shoulders were covered with “saddle sores” that were kept raw by sweat and dirt and cartridge belts and packs.’ Everyone, he said ‘was in a constant world of hurt.’

Combat Infantryman Vietnam

It was just as tough on the legs. Tim O’Brien translates the equipment list – ‘the things they carried’ – into its impact on the lower body:

‘We walked along. Forward with the left leg, plant the foot, lock the knee, arch the ankle. Push the leg into the paddy, stiffen the spine. Let the war rest there atop the left leg: the rucksack, the radio, the hand grenades, the magazines of golden ammo, the rifle, the steel helmet, the jingling dog-tags, the body’s own fat and water and meat, the whole contingent of warring artefacts and flesh. Let it all perch there, rocking on top of the left leg, fastened and tied and anchored by latches and zippers and snaps and nylon cord. Packhorse for the soul.’

Soldier in paddy field An Thi S Vietnam- Jan 1966Skinner

O’Brien was describing a patrol moving through rice paddies, and these imposed their own burdens on soldiers. Out in the open they were vulnerable to attack or sniper fire, and they avoided the dikes which were often mined or booby-trapped.

‘Instead, we struggled through the sucking mud of the paddies. The banks of the streams were especially treacherous. Each step through the soft muck was torture, and every few steps a man would sink in mud up to his crotch. The gnarled roots of the mangroves could twist an ankle or a knee in a second. The putrid stench of rotting vegetation permeated the stifling humid air, and canteens were emptied quickly.’

‘The water in these pestilential miasmas was stagnant, muddy and fetid,’ explained one lieutenant, ‘with all kinds of flotsam, including mosquito larvae and water buffalo faeces applied as fertiliser’. Beneath the murky water lurked the menace of punji stakes made of split bamboo that could pierce a boot and put a soldier out of action; worse, the wound could become infected from the dung-laden water, and air evacuation was often imperative. Then there were the leeches: ‘When we reached the other side of the rice paddies,’ the lieutenant continued, ‘my men dropped their pants and burned the already engorged leeches off their ankles and penises with lit cigarettes; even the non-smokers carried cigarettes for this purpose.’

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In the Central Highlands soldiers had to fight their way through triple-canopied jungle and up thickly forested mountain sides. Like their comrades in the paddy-fields, they learned to avoid the beaten track. They rarely used trails, which were notorious for mines and booby-traps that, as Philip Caputo explained, turned ‘an infantryman’s world upside down’:

‘The foot soldier has a special feeling for the ground. He walks on it, fights on it, sleeps and eats on it; the ground shelters him under fire; he digs his home in it. But mines and booby traps transform that friendly, familiar earth into a thing of menace, a thing to be feared as much as machine guns or mortar shells. The infantryman knows that any moment the ground he is walking on can erupt and kill him; kill him if he’s lucky. If he’s unlucky, he will be turned into a blind, deaf, emasculated, legless shell.’

He might have been talking about the cyborg natures of the Western Front or the Western Desert, but in Vietnam’s guerrilla war there were few fixed minefields beyond the Demilitarized Zone. Base perimeters were systematically mined by the US and its allies, and the North Vietnamese often mined clearings that could be used as helicopter landing zones. But it was the transience of mining by the North Vietnamese Army and the Viet Cong – its improvisational, opportunistic nature – that was so threatening. ‘The NVA were so good at moving mines around that they would put the minefield out at dusk along a patrol route and take it in before dawn’ so that ‘you could clear one area and there would be mines there the next night.’ Booby-traps could be anywhere: ‘They hang from trees. They nestle in shrubbery. They lie under the sand.’ Denied the trails, soldiers had to hack a path with their machetes or Ka-Bars or more often, to muffle the sound of their painfully slow progress, they threaded their way between the trees and the choking vines:

‘Up ridges, down ridges, over ridges, wading through rocky streams, hacking at jungle growth, breathing in and hopefully breathing out some of the constant bugs that continuously swarmed around our heads, watching our skin as it quickly deteriorated from the numerous bites, scrapes, cuts, tears, thorns, and other abuses of the environment that attempted to beat our bodies into submission. The clothes and boots forming the inanimate part of our body protection were quickly drenched with sweat, dirt, mashed bugs, and the mixed blood and juices from both the bugs’ bodies and our own.’

In the Highlands they encountered other cyborg natures. Devastating Arc Light strikes by B-52 bombers produced a surreal, cratered moonscape whose blasted terrain was even more difficult to negotiate than pristine rainforest:

‘The jungle had been torn to smithereens by the big bombs. Trees had been ripped from the ground forming an abatis of twisted, interattached splintered branches, vines, and roots that was more impenetrable than the worst the natural jungle had to offer.’

US Soldier Wearing Helmet with Message

The craters would be ‘littered with huge pieces of bomb shrapnel’ and unexploded bombs that had not burrowed into the soft earth: their ‘green shapes that protrude menacingly from the red dirt add yet another facet of terror for us to deal with.’ It was impossible to avoid the deep craters: ‘They are too congested; the muddy holes sap our strength as we slide down into their depths, wade through the stagnant green rainwater and then climb fifteen feet up to the slope to the opposite rim.’ If the bombs had found their target then the patrols faced more than a physical barrier, because the bomb field would also contain decomposed corpses, animal and human, and body parts. Delezen continued:

‘[T]he heavy smell of death is around us and is growing stronger as we move. Soon I discover that the source of the overpowering stench is a shallow bomb crater positioned along our path; the crater was probably gouged into the earth by a five hundred pound bomb. There is a naked leg sticking out of the dark hole; on the foot is a rubber sandal made from a discarded truck tire. It looks as though the crater is moving … the movement is rats. In the dusk it looks like a blackish gray carpet covering the mangled, bloated bodies that the grunts have thrown into the hole. The bottom of the hole is full of large maggots that create the illusion that the crater is shimmering. I determine that there are at least twelve enemy bodies that lay intertwined in the crater. The huge rats are snapping at each other as they feed on the dead soldiers; this has to be the entrance to hell itself. The smell is overwhelming; it is so strong that I can taste it.’

B-52s and long-range artillery were not the only means of ravaging the land. It was also impregnated with the residues of napalm and other chemical toxins, and long after an air strike these could still irritate your eyes, make you gag and burn your skin. They also turned any vertical movement into a dangerous glissade:

‘[T]he mountain that we are now climbing has been attacked by countless sorties of Phantom jets delivering “snake and nape.” The splintered, tortured tree trunks are black and charred from the napalm and the oily gel that did not ignite has mixed with the red mud, turning it into a texture similar to axle grease. My pack and ammo belt are waterlogged and have picked up extra weight from the greasy mud.

‘The mud has clogged the lug soles of our jungle boots and it is difficult not to slip; we know that if we lose our footing we will end up at the bottom of the mountain. I use my weapon to climb, digging the stock into the mud as a brace while I grab the next bomb-blasted tree trunk. The oily napalm has lubricated the entire mountain, it has soaked into the burned trees; we have to grasp each splintered trunk in a hug. The black M-16 no longer resembles a rifle; it is encased within a shapeless red blob of sticky mud. After a while, I have to use my Ka-Bar to climb with. I stab the earth ahead and then pull myself up; the deep, soft mud soon renders this effort useless.’

***

 There’s much, much more, as the full post will show, but I’ve said enough to convey some of the ways in which “boots on the ground” are involved in my developing interest in corpography and war.  This extract also raises two other issues that I can’t develop in any detail in the essay.

red-plateau-memoir-north-vietnamese-soldier-john-edmund-delezen-paperback-cover-artThe first turns on the parallel experience of the National Liberation Front [the ‘Viet Cong”] and the North Vietnamese Army.  The Americans assumed that their enemies were creatures of the jungle (in more ways than one), but many of them were recruited from towns and cities and had little or no experience of the rainforest and no idea of the privations that jungle warfare would impose on them.  This is made clear in Truon Nhu Tang‘s A Viet Cong memoir, which is widely cited, but the best and most directly relevant account that I know is the truly remarkable collaboration between John Edmund Delezen and Nguyen Van Tuan, Red Plateau, which describes a North Vietnamese battalion ‘comprised of boys from towns and farms and most knew very little about the forest-enshrouded mountains’.  I cite Delezen in the extract above – his Eye of the tiger is one of the very best personal accounts I’ve read – but his collaboration with his erstwhile enemy is just as compelling.  Here is Nguyen Van Tuan’s inventory of the things carried by the NVA:

‘As dark nears we once again move onto the path and begin our trek south, I curse my pack; if not for this burden I would move effortlessly. Each pack contains an extra uniform and one pair of pajamas, a rain-sheet, a ground cloth, a shovel, ammunition, grenades, explosives, a small medical kit, B-40 rockets for the RPG crews or boxes of machine gun ammunition for the  crews and toilet articles which are for the most part extremely minimal. In addition to this loaded pack, we each carry our individual weapon with ammunition vest, knife and canteen of water. The heavy weapon crews and mortar teams suffer worse…much worse, the load they carry is unimaginable….

‘When we pause to fill canteens from a stream, we try to rearrange the loads we are burdened with; it is a futile task, there is no relief, each arrangement brings its own torment. The loads we bear begin to increase as the supplies carried by those who fall prey to fever and those who carry the litters must be redistributed; our packs remain things that we continue to curse.’

The second issue is the genealogy of “the things they carried”, and Tom Atkinson (really; not quite “Tommy Atkins” but close enough) has provided an extremely interesting visual reconstruction of what he calls “Soldiers’ Inventories” here (you can also find more here and here).  His 13 images extend from the Battle of Hastings (1066) through the Somme in 1916 and the Battle of Arnhem in 1944 to Helmand in 2014 (shown below), though since this is an inventory of British soldiers there’s no trace of Vietnam.  (Interestingly, though, a common complaint from US soldiers and especially Marines in Vietnam was that much of their equipment was outdated and derived from the Second World War – including, on occasion, their canned rations).

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Here’s the key for a close-support sapper, Royal Engineers, Helmland Province, 2014:

1 Silva compass – used for basic navigation and fire control orders
2 Karabiner – used for securing kit and equipment to the vehicles
3 Osprey body armour shoulder and neck attachments – the armour increases protection but can be very restrictive so these parts are detachable depending on the threat assessment
4 Osprey body armour; can be fitted with pouches to carry everything from ammunition, water, first aid kits and grenade or with plates and protective attachments (as shown)
5 Notebook
6 Warm weather hat
7 Spare clothing including underwear trousers, UBAS (Under body Armour Shirt) and normal shirt
8 Dog tags
9 A desert issued belt
10 Beret – used for repatriation ceremonies, vigils and large parades
11 Shemagh – to soak up sweat and also a dust guard
12 Gloves
13 Sandals – issued kit, as soldiers may need to run for cover even while showering
14 Boots
15 Multi tool
16 Washkit
17 GSR – general service respirator
18 A housewife – a basic sewing kit; a soldier has to repair his own rips and tears on the ground
19 Socks, scarf, wristwatch
20 Camel pack – drinking water pack
21 Cooker and mug and tea making kit
22 Rations – quantity will depend on the task but soldiers normally carry about 24 hours worth
23 First aid kit including the (black) tourniquet and (grey) first field dressing
24 Ballistic protection – used to protect the groin from IED blast
25 Knee pads – offer protection to a soldier whilst “taking a knee” from the heat of the ground or rocky areas
26 Sleeping bag with an inflatable roll mat
27 Camera, cigarettes
28 Radio – BOWMAN Radio system (HF, VHF or even SAT Comms), daysack could also be fitted with ECM (Electronic counter measures)
29 Personal role radio – used for line of sight communications within a small patrol
30 Magazine
31 Envelopes
32 Mine extraction kit fitted with a mine prodder, instruction and mine marking kit
33 Weapon cleaning kit
34 Holster
35 Pistol – used as a second weapon system and in confined spaces or where a “long” weapon is unsuitable. Sig and Glock have mostly replaced the Browning 9mm calibre
36 Bar mine – anti-tank landmine
37 Head torch – can be fitted with coloured lenses for more tactical situations
38 Bayonet and bayonet scabbard
39 SA80 A2 fitted with a desert hand guard, upgraded flash eliminator and bipod, all issued for Afghanistan and a SUSAT sight system. It is 5.56 calibre and is here issued with 6 magazines which can hold 30 rounds each
40 Ballistic eye protection – normally goggles or sunglasses
41 Mk 6 Helmet fitted with Helmet mounted night vision systems
42 iPad – personal effect for down time
43 Poncho

I’ll leave the least word to Karl Marlantes, whose splendid Vietnam novel Matterhorn I’ve recommended before.  This comes from his What it is like to go to war (2011), and in so many ways returns us to where I came in:

I am not saying that the infantry today has it easy. Certainly the communications with home have changed, but the field conditions, such as filth, cold, heat, fatigue, and lack of sleep, have not changed since the infantry was using rocks. However, the trend is clear. Robots are already being deployed for fighting in cities. And soon they will be able to be controlled from Nevada.

International Conference of Critical Geography in Ramallah, 2015

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7th International Conference of Critical Geography, ‘Precarious Radicalism On Shifting Grounds: Towards a Politics of Possibility’ in Ramallah, Palestine, 26-30 July 2015.

The sense of revolutionary times triggered by recent events such as the Greek revolts, the Indignados and Occupy movements, as well as the Arab uprisings and the Idle No More protests in Canada, has been gradually overshadowed by a wave of virulent and violent responses by both state and global powers. Although these and other struggles have captured our imagination, an anxious feeling of being in a permanent state of crisis seems to have taken over as we observe an increase in and normalization of socio-economic and spatial inequalities and political repression against the population. This regression, which takes the form of a rise on authoritarianisms, revanchists’ responses, encroachment of fundamental rights, precarity of subsistence, social relations, employment, or the consolidation of populist right wing and fundamentalist movements, is to a large extent eclipsing and undermining the political space and fundamental work of individuals, communities and movements around the world. It certainly is a precarious time for radicalism. This grim landscape inevitably raises crucial questions about the current moment and its prospects. Are we witnessing and experiencing a fundamental historical shift? If so, how are we to interpret this transition? Or can these times be transformed into a moment of political possibility by reconsidering and/or expanding existing paradigms as well as by reconnecting solidarities and struggles?

The aim of the 7th International Conference of Critical Geography (ICCG 2015) is to provide an inclusive venue for the discussion of these and other themes that examine the geographies of critical social theory and progressive political praxis. Despite the significance of the issues at stake, we hope to create a fun, engaging and friendly atmosphere that welcomes a wide array of scholars, activists, artists, organizers and others interested in critical socio-spatial praxis. The conference will be held in Palestine, a rich context for critical geographers and others to observe first hand, learn about, and engage with the human, political and economic geographies resulting from more than a century of European settler colonialism and US imperialism. Palestine is however much more than the ‘object’ of imperial, colonial and capitalist forces. It is a place that stands at the heart of the recent Arab uprisings as an inspiration drive to the popular struggles that have profoundly shaken the Arab World and beyond in ways yet difficult to anticipate. Palestine will undoubtedly be an ideal site from where to pursue the mission and commitment set forth in the ICCG’s statement of purpose – that is “developing the theory and practice necessary for combating social exploitation and oppression”.

Ramallah

Deadline for submissions is 1st December 2014. We invite you to submit paper abstracts and encourage proposals for populated panels, roundtable discussions, or sessions with alternative formats that address the proposed conference themes. As indicated in the application form, we ask that you include (a) information on which conference theme your panel or paper addresses; (b) title of your paper or session; (c) a brief bio (max. 100 words) of each participant with contact information, institutional affiliation, and any titles you would like placed in the program; (d) an abstract (max 500 words). Please take into consideration that proposed activities should fit into the 90-minutes time-slots.  Full details here.  Space is limited to 250 participants.

Conference themes:

1 | Imperial, Colonial, Postcolonial and Anti-colonial geographies

2 | Articulations and spaces of capitalism

3 | Migration, Mobility and Displacement

4 | Nature, Society and Environmental Change

5 | Mapping Bodies, Corporeality and Violence

6 | Critical “Development” Geographies: perspectives from the Global South

7 | Geography and matter / materiality

8 | Remaking Space through Ideology, Culture, and Arts

9 | Knowledge Production, Education and Epistemic Agendas

The conference complies with the Palestinian Call for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.

The architecture of violence

I’m late coming to this – partly because I’m just back from Finland, and partly because term is upon us….

Rebel architecture

Here is an excellent short documentary from Al Jazeera featuring Eyal Weizman on ‘The architecture of violence‘, explaining the ‘slow violence’ of architecture in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and the evolution of urban warfare.

9781844678686_Hollow_Land-131a036e4e5db107ee8520dcea0ea32eIt also documents the trajectory of Eyal’s work, from the brilliant Hollow Land through to forensic architecture (as he says ‘the crime was done on the drawing-board itself’).

It’s the third episode in Al Jazeera‘s Rebel Architecture series.  Film-maker Ana de Sousa explains:

Until recently I would look at images of these ruins and see nothing more than potent monuments of destruction. Traces of lives eliminated or chased away. But they are more than that. Making The Architecture of Violence with the architect Eyal Weizman has shifted my gaze, taught me to look at buildings and ruins as objects that bear witness to events and that can speak to us – we just need to know what questions to ask them.

From the moment we started developing this series, the idea behind Rebel Architecture was to look beyond so-called starchitecture – beyond the architectural ostentation of technological feats, and towards a more socially aware, though still creative architecture serving the people on the ground. But it was also to use architecture as a way of exploring different environmental, social and political realities around the world. While many of the documentaries in our series have looked at how architecture – the design and construction of physical structures – is being used by architects to respond to rapid urbanisation, pollution, limited resources or natural disasters, The Architecture of Violence is a different kind of film.

When I came across the work of Eyal Weizman, I realised that there was a completely different way of using architecture and of being an architect. Weizman’s work lies at the intersection of architecture with politics, violence, conflict and human rights. As an Israeli architect opposed to the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, he fell foul of the Israeli architectural establishment early in his career, and was forced to explore alternatives to “building buildings”. Our film looks at how architecture can be used to interpret, protest and resist, in Weizman’s case, the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.

I’ve embedded the video from YouTube below, but if you have difficulty accessing it clink on the link above, which will take you directly to the original on Al Jazeera.