Viewfinders

Hiroshima

Two short, accessible essays on bombing that appeared in the New York Times recently; they resonate with my work on the genealogies and geographies of aerial violence, and they are both beautifully composed and immensely suggestive.

First, Teju Cole on ‘The Unquiet Sky‘:

A view from a great height is irresistible. It is twinned with the ancient dream of flight. For millenniums, we have imaginatively soared above our material circumstances and dramatized this desire in tales from Icarus to Superman. Things look different from way up there. What was invisible before becomes visible: how one part of the landscape relates to another, how nature and infrastructure unfold. But with the acquisition of this panoptic view comes the loss of much that could be seen at close range. The face of the beloved is but one invisible detail among many.

The essay closes with a reflection on two aerial photographic projects, the collection of drone-shot images exhibited at Dronestagram and James Bridle‘s reconstruction of drone-strike imagery at Dronestagram:

The two Dronestagrams, the sanguine and the melancholic, add to our ever increasing archive of possible landscapes. Imagine all those pictures stitched together into a single image. In this ideal aerial view, neither the pervasive violence nor the sometimes cloying prettiness would be visible. Conquest and sentimentality would both be irrelevant. In other words, the image might be like the ‘‘blue marble’’ photograph of Earth, taken from the Apollo 17 spacecraft in 1972. It is our world, serene and self-contained, seen in one glance. It is not a view that excites us into plans for bombing our enemies, for it includes us as well. It is a view that reminds us of how mighty we are, how fragile, how delicately connected and how beautiful.

Actually, I don’t see the ‘blue marble’ photograph in that way at all: as I argued in Geographical Imaginations, this is the global North inspecting the global South (it was, after all, shot from a NASA platform).  But Teju’s penultimate sentence is key, and it intersects with thoughts suggested by the second essay.

87286100064510LSecond, then, Paul Saint-Amour‘s ‘Waiting for the bomb to drop‘.  Spiralling through some of my favourite authors, Paul ends with a reflection on Roy Scranton‘s ‘Learning how to die in the Anthropocene‘ (see here and here too), which he suggests may be the equivalent of Virginia Woolf‘s ‘“Thoughts on Peace in an Air Raid” for our day’:

[I]n scaling up from one person to all humanity, we pass through a middle range — the social and political, Woolf’s home turf — where both connections and distinctions between people come into play. Yes, we are all at risk in climate change. But like our exposure to military violence, that risk is distributed unevenly. It falls disproportionately on those with the least protection from extreme weather, rising sea levels, hunger, drought, disease, displacement and the conflicts that can arise from all of these. Simply put, it falls most heavily on the poor.

With philosophy’s help, I am prepared to tell myself, “I must learn how to die.” I may even be ready to say to humanity, “We as a species must learn how to die.” But it is a different thing altogether to say to another person, “Because of how I live, or because of actions undertaken in my name, you need to learn how to die more than I do. And you must bear, more than I do, the cognitive and emotional burdens of a life lived in the shadow of imminent death.” This is what the rich are saying every day to the poor. It’s what whites in the United States and elsewhere are saying every day to people of color. It’s what citizens of drone states are saying to those a hemisphere away, under the drones.

Warning: Graphic Content

Following my last post on ‘The blue sky of Hiroshima’, I’ve received several e-mails from readers wondering at the size of the blast radius from ‘Little Boy’ (15 kilotons) shown on the image from NUKEMAP; there’s another one below, which shows the blast radius from ‘Fat Man’ (21 kilotons) originally detonated over Nagasaki and here projected on to Vancouver (for a critical note on these projections, by the way, see my original post).

Fat Man Vancouver NUKEMAP JPEG

If, like my correspondents, you are surprised at the ‘small’ size of the radii: you are right (though don’t ignore the numbers on the right…). Several years ago Maximilian Bode created this infographic to show the exorbitant increase in the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons since those two bombs were exploded over Japan 70 years ago:

1-nuclear-bomb-power

Many of today’s warheads are much smaller – the missiles carried on Trident, for example, are around 100 kilotons.   But that’s small comfort.  If you want to know how many nuclear warheads there are in the world today, this chart from the Nuclear Notebook produced for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists will give you a rough idea (the interactive version is here):

Nuclear notebook JPEG

And finally Ehsan Rezaie has produced this video for Orbital Mechanics which plots (‘animates’ doesn’t seem the appropriate verb somehow) every nuclear detonation from 1945 on; you can also access this on Vimeo if the embed doesn’t work: search for ‘Trinity’:

The blue sky of Hiroshima

1946_08_31_001_CV1__xx_KA-880-1

It’s the bleakest of anniversaries – the bombing of Hiroshima 70 years ago today – and there is no shortage of commentary (see, for example, here and here).  John Hersey‘s book-length essay on Hiroshima, which filled most of  the 31 August 1946 issue of the New Yorker and has been republished online here.

At exactly fifteen minutes past eight in the morning, on August 6, 1945, Japanese time, at the moment when the atomic bomb flashed above Hiroshima, Miss Toshiko Sasaki, a clerk in the personnel department of the East Asia Tin Works, had just sat down at her place in the plant office and was turning her head to speak to the girl at the next desk. At that same moment, Dr. Masakazu Fujii was settling down cross-legged to read the Osaka Asahi on the porch of his private hospital, overhanging one of the seven deltaic rivers which divide Hiroshima; Mrs. Hatsuyo Nakamura, a tailor’s widow, stood by the window of her kitchen, watching a neighbor tearing down his house because it lay in the path of an air-raid-defense fire lane; Father Wilhelm Kleinsorge, a German priest of the Society of Jesus, reclined in his underwear on a cot on the top floor of his order’s three-story mission house, reading a Jesuit magazine, Stimmen der Zeit; Dr. Terufumi Sasaki, a young member of the surgical staff of the city’s large, modern Red Cross Hospital, walked along one of the hospital corridors with a blood specimen for a Wassermann test in his hand; and the Reverend Mr. Kiyoshi Tanimoto, pastor of the Hiroshima Methodist Church, paused at the door of a rich man’s house in Koi, the city’s western suburb, and prepared to unload a handcart full of things he had evacuated from town in fear of the massive B-29 raid which everyone expected Hiroshima to suffer. A hundred thousand people were killed by the atomic bomb, and these six were among the survivors. They still wonder why they lived when so many others died. Each of them counts many small items of chance or volition—a step taken in time, a decision to go indoors, catching one streetcar instead of the next—that spared him. And now each knows that in the act of survival he lived a dozen lives and saw more death than he ever thought he would see. At the time, none of them knew anything.

It’s worth comparing this with the opening scene of Kamila Shamsie‘s brilliant novel Burnt Shadows which imagines the second atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki three days later.  Given the map I reproduce below, it’s also worth reading her short essay on the effect of using Google Earth to ‘map’ the bombing here; and since Nagasaki too often disappears from critical view, try Susan Southard‘s recently published Nagasaki: life after nuclear war (Viking/Penguin, 2015) – you can read a long extract here and here.

Nagasaki-Cover

For a brave attempt to bring the the two bombings into the same narrative frame, see Paul Ham‘s Hiroshima Nagasaki (2012/2014): there’s a helpful review essay by H. Bruce Franklin here, and The Atlantic has just published an extract, ‘The bureaucrats who singled out Hiroshima for destruction’ here.

Joyce C. Stearns, a scientist representing the Air Force, named the four shortlisted targets in order of preference: Kyoto, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Kokura. They were all “large urban areas of more than three miles in diameter;” “capable of being effectively damaged by the blast;” and “likely to be unattacked by next August.”… Tokyo had been struck from the list because it was already “rubble,” the minutes noted…

Captain William “Deak” Parsons, associate director of Los Alamos’s Ordnance Division, gave another reason to drop the bomb on a city center: “The human and material destruction would be obvious.” An intact urban area would show off the bomb to great effect. Whether the bomb hit soldiers, ordnance, and munitions factories, while desirable from a publicity point of view, was incidental to this line of thinking—and did not influence the final decision.

(You’ll have to read the extract to see why Kyoto was eventually removed from the list).

hiroshima-nagasaki

For subsequent analysis, a good place to start is Alex Wellerstein‘s Restricted Data: the nuclear secrecy blog, which includes a series of excellent posts on sources and visualizations, on the Manhattan Project and what happened at Los Alamos, and most recently an essay which asks ‘Where there alternatives to the atomic bombings?‘ and gives lots of background to those terrible events.

Among Alex’s visualizations is NUKEMAP, which simulates the dropping of ‘Little Boy’ on other towns and cities.  Here is downtown Vancouver (for a discussion of airbursts, see Alex’s post here).

Little Boy VANCOUVER JPEG

Elsewhere, there’s a special issue of Critical Military Studies on the anniversary, and all the articles are open access:

The most modern city in the world: Isamu Noguchi’s cenotaph controversy and Hiroshima’s city of peace: Ran Zwigenberg
Unbearable light/ness of the bombing: normalizing violence and banalizing the horror of the atomic bomb experiences: Yuki Miyamoto
Remembering nukes: collective memories and countering state history: Stefanie Fishel
Contested spaces of ethnicity: zainichi Korean accounts of the atomic bombings: Erik Ropers
Hiroshima and two paradoxes of Japanese nuclear perplexity: Thomas E. Doyle II
Re-imagining Hiroshima in Japan: elin o’Hara slavik
Memory and survival in everyday textures – Ishiuchi Miyako’s Here and Now: Atomic Bomb Artifacts, ひろしま/ Hiroshima 1945/2007: Makeda Best
Nagasaki Re-Imagined: the last shall be first: Kathleen Sullivan

There’s also a special issue of Thesis Eleven, (August 2015: 129 (1)) edited by Brad Evans and Keith Tester in association with the Histories of Violence ‘Disposable Life’ project; articles include:

Susan Neiman, Forgetting Hiroshima, remembering Auschwitz: Tales of two exhibits
Keith Tester, Hiroshima: Remembering and forgetting, everything and nothing
Michael J Shapiro, Hiroshima temporalities
Maja Zehfuss, (Nuclear) war and the memory of Nagasaki: Thinking at the (impossible) limit
Hiro Saito, The A-bomb victims’ plea for cosmopolitan commemoration: Toward reconciliation and world peace
Arne Johan Vetlesen, Post-Hiroshima reflections on extinction
Henry A Giroux, Hiroshima and the responsibility of intellectuals: Crisis, catastrophe, and the neoliberal disimagination machine

I have just two things to add.  The first is to draw attention to the firebombing of Japanese cities that preceded Hiroshima and Nagasaki (Alex compares them in an interesting commentary here and provides a series of compelling comparative interactives here: I’ve pasted an example below, and provided a short commentary here).

firebombs-usa-interactive-600x321

In fact, as my quotation from Paul Ham reveals, Hiroshima and Nagasaki were targeted precisely because they had been left alone during the previous attacks and would provide effective laboratories to test the effects of nuclear blasts.  On the firebombing campaign, see the painstaking work of Cary Karacas and his colleagues here (my commentaries on the project are here and here; see also their essay on the firebombing of Tokyo and its legacy here); their website includes both a Hiroshima archive and a Nagasaki archive.

Second, I’ve emphasised the comparative effort to ‘bring the war home’, to imagine the effects of Little Boy and Fat Man on other cities around the world.  There are obvious dangers in such an exercise – is our capacity for empathy so limited than we have to rely on a sort of critical narcissism: ‘imagine if it happened to us‘? – but perhaps the most significant objection is that such cartographic conceits can erase not only the bodies incinerated and maimed (through the very abstraction of cartography) but also the racialization of these unmarked bodies.  In the characteristically thoughtful introduction to his new book, Tense Future: Modernism, Total War, Encyclopedic Form (2015), Paul K. Saint Amour writes about ‘traumatic earliness’ – about the sense of anticipation, foreboding or bukimi that gripped the people of Hiroshima in the months before their collective deaths: that ‘uneasy combination of continued good fortune [escaping the firebombing] and expectation of catastrophe’.  But the ground had already been prepared in the United States, not only scientifically – the endless calculations, calibrations and experiments at Los Alamos – but also culturally.

Victory_through_air_power_xlg

Michael Sherry‘s The rise of American Air Power: the creation of Armageddon (1987) and Paul Williams‘s Race, ethnicity and nuclear war (2011) are indispensable here – and there’s a sharp, contemporary commentary from Arthur Chu here –  but a vivid example is provided by Alex de Seversky‘s Victory through Air Power (1942) and, in particular, its celebration in Walt Disney‘s film version released in 1943.  For Disney, there was not only ‘a thrill in the air’ but an exuberant delight at death and destruction on the Japanese ground.  You can watch the whole thing below (or on YouTube) but to see what I mean start at 1.07 and watch right through the bombing to the anthropomorphism of the American eagle and the Japanese octopus that follows it.  There’s also a short commentary by Henry Giroux here.

Note: My title is taken from this poem by Yukiko Hayashi; if you click on nothing else, please click on this.

The Platform Edge

I should have drawn attention to these two further, vital resources in my post on Black Friday, Israel’s assault on Rafah during ‘Operation Protective Edge‘.

Gaza Platform INTRO SCREEN

First, Forensic Architecture‘s wider collaboration with Amnesty International (in association with the Al-Mezan Centre for Human Rights/Palestinian Centre for Human Rights) has produced The Gaza Platform:

The Gaza Platform is an interactive map of attacks by Israeli forces on Gaza between 8 July and 26 August 2014.

It enables its users to explore a vast collection of data, collected on the ground by the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR), as well as Amnesty International, during and after the conflict.

Produced through a year-long collaboration between Forensic Architecture and Amnesty International, the Gaza Platform is a new gateway to this precious, first-hand information: it not only gives access to a large quantity of otherwise dispersed data, but helps make sense of it.

The Gaza Platform is the most comprehensive public repository of information about attacks carried out during the 2014 Gaza conflict to date. At the time of its launch on 8 July 2015, it featured over 2,750 individual events, recording the deaths of more than 2,200 people, including 1,800 civilians and 600 children. As a digital interface, it enables access not only to text reports, but also to photos, videos, audio recordings and satellite imagery documenting the war – all in one place.

It is important to note that the Gaza Platform does not provide a complete record of the impact of Israeli attacks during the 2014 conflict. It does not cover every single attack that took place during the conflict, but only those for which a report is available. Therefore, the total number of casualties presented in the Gaza Platform falls short of the one recorded by the UN across the entire conflict.

However, the Gaza Platform does more than provide overall figures and statistics about the conflict. Each death is linked to a specific event, for which all available details and context are given, thus providing the granular details of each individual event recorded. It also helps to reveal trends by making links between dispersed individual events and detecting patterns of attacks across the 50-day time span of the conflict, thereby contributing to an assessment of the conduct of Israeli forces and its conformity or otherwise with the provisions of international humanitarian law (the laws of war). As such, the Gaza Platform is a tool aimed at uncovering the truth about the attacks on Gaza and contributing to accountability efforts for crimes under international law committed by both sides during the 2014 conflict, the third such conflict in six years.

According to Doug Bolton writing in the Independent:

Phillip Luther, the Director of Amnesty International‘s Middle East and North Africa programme, said it “has the potential to expose the systematic nature of Israeli violations committed during the conflict.”

He added: “Our aim it for it to become an invaluable resource for human rights investigators pushing for accountability for violations committed during the conflict.”…

Francesco Sebregondi, the director of the project at Forensic Architecture, said the map “exploits the power of new digital tools to shed light on complex events such as the latest war in Gaza.”

“It enables users to move across scales, from the granular details of each incident to the big picture of the overall conflict, by revealing connections between scattered events.”

I’m not going to link to them, but the hysterical response from apologists for the indiscriminate violence of the Israeli assault on Gaza shows that the Gaza Platform has hit a nerve: as it should.

Incidentally, there’s a short article in today’s Guardian about the ongoing transformation of humanities research: the growth of the ‘digital humanities’,  ‘tech-savvy’ analysis of large data sets, collaborations with non-academic professionals, and a determination to show how ‘research can benefit society’.  The Gaza Platform isn’t mentioned, but it surely exemplifies exactly what the author has in mind.

BLUMENTHAL 51 Day War

Second, Max Blumenthal‘s coruscating chronicle of The 51 Day War: ruin and resistance in Gaza, out now from Verso.  As Juan Cole put it, ‘Max Blumenthal audaciously takes in-your-face, on-the-ground journalism into the realm of geopolitics.’  You can find Glenn Greenwald‘s interview with Max at The Intercept here:

What shook me the most was how well I was treated in the rubble. How after interviewing families who would tell me about witnessing their neighbors being destroyed by a missile, that they would beseech me to have lunch with them. I didn’t even know where the lunch would come from. They would chase me down after denouncing my government and insisting that the Obama administration was no better than Netanyahu, and hand me sweets, and tell me that they see a clear difference between the American people and the American government. I mean, that kind of treatment showed me how impeccable the character of these people was, even as they were facing their own immiseration and ruin.

That was kind of deceptive, because I started to adjust, in a weird way, to being in the rubble with these people. Then the bombing started again, and then I had to deal with the terror of night after night of bombings, and naval shelling throughout the day, and drones swooping closely overhead, searching for targets. And I became shell-shocked. So I couldn’t have even imagined going through 51 days of that, especially as a child under the age of seven.

We have to recognize that the Gaza Strip is a ghetto of children. The majority of the people in the Gaza strip are under age 18, and a substantial percentage of those under 18 are under the age of seven, which means they have known nothing in their lives but these three atrocious wars, which have left almost 20 percent of the entire area of the Gaza Strip in ruins.

What’s on those children’s mind? What kind of lives can they have? Can they ever be normal as they go through life without therapy, without relief, without recourse and without justice, with continuous traumatic stress disorder?

(In)human Terrain

humanterrain3

It’s been an age since I looked at the US military’s attempt to ‘weaponise culture’ in its counterinsurgency programs (see ‘The rush to the intimate’: DOWNLOADS tab), but Roberto Gonzalez has kept his eyes on the ground – or the ‘human terrain’ (I’ve borrowed the image above from Anthropologists for Justice and Peace here).

In a special report for Counterpunch a month ago, Roberto noted the demise of the Human Terrain System:

The most expensive social science program in history – the US Army’s Human Terrain System (HTS)–has quietly come to an end. During its eight years of existence, the controversial program cost tax payers more than $725 million…

HTS supporters frequently claimed that the program would increase cultural understanding between US forces and Iraqis and Afghans–and therefore reduce American and civilian casualties. The program’s leaders insisted that embedded social scientists were delivering sociocultural knowledge to commanders, but the reality was more complex. HTS personnel conducted a range of activities including data collection, intelligence gathering, and psychological operations. In at least one case, an HTS employee supported interrogations in Afghanistan.

The program also served a more insidious function: It became a propaganda tool for convincing the American public–especially those with liberal tendencies–that the US-led occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan were benevolent missions in which smart, fresh-faced young college graduates were playing a role. It appeared to demonstrate how US forces were engaged in a kinder, gentler form of occupation. Department of Defense photos portrayed HTS personnel sitting on rugs while drinking tea with Afghan elders, or distributing sweets to euphoric Iraqi children. Here was a war that Americans could feel good about fighting.

The program had its critics, inside as well as outside the military, and US Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) eventually confirmed that HTS had been terminated on 30 September 2014.  In his report, Roberto traces the rise and fall of HTS, and attributes its demise to US troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, the fall from grace of the ‘new’ counterinsurgency’s champion David Petraeus, the incompetence of many of the HTS teams, and – crucially – to the precipitate shift from ‘cultural’ to geospatial intelligence.

The last, impelled by the desire to substitute air strikes for ‘boots on the ground’ and to rely on computational methods rather than human intelligence, is the key: as Oliver Belcher put it in his PhD thesis on The afterlives of counterinsurgency, “It’s algorithms, not anthropology, that are the real social science scandal in late-modern war.”

I’ve been exploring this shift in my ‘Dirty Dancing’ essay – in relation to the American production of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan as a space of execution, a code/space in which data surveillance and computational methods are activated to assert an extra-territorial claim over bodies-in-spaces – but it’s become clear to me that this continues to rely on (and in some respects even extends) the weaponisation of culture.  It’s an appropriate metaphor: after all, weapons are inherently dangerous, they can be misdirected, they do misfire and they can cause grievous harm far beyond their intended target.

In a follow-up post on ‘Re-making the Human Terrain’, Roberto says as much:

GONZALEZThe gaps in military knowledge that HTS claimed to fill still remain. The desire to weaponize culture is as old as dreams of counterinsurgency, and such dreams do not die easily.

It would be premature for those concerned about the militarization of culture to breathe a sigh of relief. The needs of empire—especially an empire in denial—are far too great to ignore cultural concerns. HTS’s sudden death can obscure the fact that elements of the program continue to survive, though in distinct and sometimes unrecognizable forms. The basic idea behind HTS—to equip the military with cultural expertise for battlefield operations—has not been eradicated. If anything, the concept has firmly taken root.

He traces its off-shoots through the development of a Global Cultural Knowledge Network – which I can’t help seeing as the cultural version of the Bombing Encyclopedia of the World – and the role of private corporations in providing ‘human terrain analysts’ to support US special operations (see also Max Forte here on what I think of as the Military-Academic-Industrial-Media complex: MAIM).  Interestingly, Whitney Kassel – who is adamant that ‘shuttering HTS will almost certainly be a mistake’ – notes that ‘the National Defense University conducted a detailed study of HTS [summarised in JFQ] in late 2013 and recommended that the function be moved and permanently housed at U.S. Army Special Operations Command … which has the lead for irregular warfare and other Army functions that make the most frequent use of sociocultural knowledge.’

Roberto also provides a more detailed analysis of the US military’s investment in socio-cultural modelling and (this is truly vital) predictive forecasting in two linked essays on ‘Seeing into hearts and minds’: Part 1 is ‘The Pentagon’s quest for a social radar’, Anthropology Today 31 (3) (June 2015) 8-13 and Part 2 is ‘‘Big data’, algorithms, and computational counterinsurgency, Anthropology Today 31 (4) (August 2015) 13-18.

Social Radar JPEG

The second part is most directly relevant to what I’ve been working on because it describes the conceptual development of so-called ‘Social Radar’ (see image above: ‘sensor systems for the 21st century‘; see also here) and the morphing of the NSA’s Real Time Regional Gateway for Iraq – which integrated data surveillance from multiple sources and domains with visual feeds from drones – into Nexus 7 in Afghanistan.

Similar fusion systems have surely been working across the border, and in his Unmanned: drones, data, and the illusion of perfect warfare (2015) William Arkin provides a fascinating glimpse into other genealogies that have produced what he calls ‘the Data Machine’:

ARKIN UnmannedToday, the Data Machine doesn’t care where it is fighting. It doesn’t matter whether targets are hiding in Hindu Kush caves or in villages of the Fertile Crescent. Nor does Predator care, or Reaper, or Global Hawk, or any other of our other aptly and awkwardly named all-seeing eyes. In fact, they don’t care about anything: they are machines. But the men and women … behind the entire Machine also don’t care, for every place is reduced to geographic coordinates that flash across a screen in seconds. Nations, armies, and even people are reduced to links and networks.

Loitering drones and geolocating weapons just need the data. Everyone needs the global information grid and the Internet—or, more precisely, an internet. Actual battlefield geography and culture have become immaterial. The node and the network sentry become the determinant and the provocateur of action—all the way to the edge of the world, anywhere.