Anatomy of a soldier

I’ve drawn attention to Harry Parker‘s spellbinding Anatomy of a Soldier in an earlier post; here at the AAG in San Francisco I may even be speaking about it tomorow – we’ll see.  (I’m supposed to be speaking about something else altogether but it’s in a session on’ Objects of security and war’, so I’m half-way through a new presentation, ‘Object lessons’).

Channel Four has posted an interview with the author at the Imperial War Museum on YouTube:

And there’s another interview with the BBC here.

Industrialised war

Bombs falling on Montmedy and marshalling yards

As I work on the text of “Reach from the Sky”, I’ve been revisiting the role of Edward Steichen in the development (in fact, the industrialisation) of air photography on the Western Front.  As I noted, all too briefly, in ‘Gabriel’s map’ (DOWNLOADS tab), Steichen commanded the photographic division of the American Expeditionary Forces. He organised the 55 officers and 1,111 men under his command into what Paul Virilio described as ‘a factory-style output of war information’ that ‘fitted perfectly with the statistical tendencies of this first great military-industrial conflict’.

Steichen 5th Photographic section at work on Western Front

The classic source on Steichen’s assembly-line methods of reproduction (and much more) is Allen Sekula‘s essay, ‘The instrumental image: Steichen at war’, in Artforum 14 (1975) 26-35 [see also the image above]:

The establishment of this method of production grew out of demands for resolution, volume, and immediacy. No method of reproduction but direct printing from the original negative would hold the detail necessary for reconnaissance purposes. Large numbers of prints from a single negative had to be made for distribution throughout the hierarchy of command. In addition, the information in prints dated very rapidly. Under these circumstances, efficiency depended on a thorough-going division of labor and a virtually continuous speedup of the work process. Printers worked in unventilated, makeshift darkrooms; 20 workers might produce as many as 1,500 prints in an hour, working 16-hour shifts.

Analytically the essay has never been surpassed, but now there is a new book that fills in the biographical details of Steichen’s service during the First World War: Von Hardesty‘s Camera Aloft: Edward Steichen in the Great War (Cambridge, 2016):

Von Hardesty Camera AloftEdward Steichen (1879–1973) played a key role in the development of photography in the twentieth century. He is well known for his varied career as an artist, a celebrated photographer, and museum curator. However, Steichen is less known for his pivotal role in shaping America’s first experiments in aerial photography as a tool for intelligence gathering in what may be called his “lost years.” In Camera Aloft, Von Hardesty tells how Steichen volunteered in 1917 to serve in the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). He rose rapidly in the ranks of the Air Service, emerging as Chief of Air Photography during the dramatic final offensives of the war. His photo sections were responsible for the rapid processing of aerial images gained through the daily and hazardous sorties over the front and in the enemy rear areas. What emerged in the eighteen months of his active service was a new template for modern aerial reconnaissance. The aerial camera, as with new weapons such as the machine gun, the tank, and the airplane, profoundly transformed modern warfare.

Here is the table of contents:

Foreword: taking the camera aloft
1. War and exile
2. A new life in the military
3. Over there
4. The world of air observation
5. Taking charge
6. Over the front
7. War and photography
Appendix: life at the cutting edge: the photo sections.

The book includes stunning reproductions of photographs (from which I’ve borrowed the annotated image of the Photographic Section above): you can see a selection from the book here.  Other Steichen aerial imagery from the period is here and here.

As you’ll be able to see when I’m finished, I’m no less interested in Steichen’s work during the Second World War, and in particular the various photographic projects he directed in the Pacific that captured – and celebrated – the masculinism and homosociality of modern war (here the work of Horace Bristol is especially revealing).

But right now it’s the industrialisation of aerial imagery that is capturing my attention.  It’s a commonplace that the First World War was industrial warfare on the grand scale, of course, but often our attention is distracted by the killing machines and mechanisms themselves – the gas, the tanks, the aircraft – and we lose sight of the assembly-line logic that animated the slaughter not only during but also before and after.

LOBLEY Reception of wounded at 1st CCS, Le Chateau October 1918

You can see it in Steichen’s production line, but there are countless other examples.  Last summer I was working in the Friends’ Library in London, recovering the role of the Quakers in providing medical care on the Western Front as part of my research on casualty evacuation, when I encountered this extraordinary passage that speaks directly to the relentless motion of the killing machine (see also my ‘Divisions of Life’ here).  It’s a medical orderly’s account of loading an ambulance train, written some time in 1915:

Down in a hedged field at the end of the straggling mining village lies the casualty clearing station, some two-score large tents… Since midday the [casualty] clearing station has been full to overflowing, but still an endless line of motor ambulances moves down along the crowded road from the fighting line, through the village and into the muddy field. It is night now, starless and dark as pitch, and a lashing rain is driven hard in your face before a bitter and rising wind; but still the cars are discharging their pitiful loads in dreary succession when the train is brought into the siding which serves this desolate little camp.

day2day-amb2

From the train itself you can scarcely see anything of the clearing station tonight; only the headlights of the cars as they turn in through the gate, and a few hurricane lamps flickering here and there. Near one end of the train, at the wooden footbridge which crosses the stream separating the camp from the railway track, there stands a powerful acetylene flare, casting a circle of vivid light on the deep mud of the path. Save for three or four feeble oil-lamps on the ground beside the long darkened train, this is the only light at the loading place. A few moments of uncertain waiting, and the first stretcher comes down, its weary bearers slithering and stumbling in the watery mire. As you watch the flare you see them emerge suddenly from the utter blackness beyond into the fierce glare of the light; they halt for a moment, while a cloaked officer standing on the bridge raises the waterproof sheet which protects the wounded man’s face from the beating rain; a name is given and noted; the covering is dropped over the head, and the bearers move on again, seeing to vanish as if by magic as they pass with their burden out of the light into the enveloping blackness. A pause, another stretcher enters the circle of light; the same words pass, the same motions, and it too move son, blotted out as suddenly as it appeared. Watching this time after time, you feel as if a picture were being cast on a screen and flashed off, over and over again: for there is something cruelly mechanical about it all.

(c) Rosenstiel's; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Urry

 

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY

LANCASTER UNIVERSITY

I’ve just heard that John Urry died unexpectedly last Friday: I’m so desperately sad.  We first met when we edited Social relations and spatial structures together as part of Macmillan’s Critical Human Geography series; an invitation to extend the conversation between sociology and human geography, it appeared in 1985, but we kept in touch ever since.  He was a joy to work with.  I remember rattling up to Lancaster on a succession of small trains from Cambridge and receiving the warmest of welcomes: good beer, creative conversation and lots of laughter.  I last saw him two summers ago when I was in Lancaster for a conference on drones; one evening we sat in his gorgeous house sipping wine and having the loveliest and liveliest of times.

In between those book-ends (in fact before them and after them too) John produced some of the most imaginative work in the social sciences: books that were brimful of ideas – I never thought of it as Theory-with-a-capital-T and I doubt that he did either, though his grasp of classical and contemporary social theory was truly remarkable – that were drawn from an ever-expanding intellectual imagination fed by the widest of reading and reflection, but which never lost sight of the pressing substance of what he was thinking about.  These were wonderfully accessible, provocative, insightful books – his work with Scott Lash on disorganized capitalism and his own studies of tourist culture and the tourist gaze, mobilities, climate change, and most recently on off-shoring.   There was a tremendous clarity to John’s writing but also a humbling modesty; he was never strident, but it was impossible to put down one of his books – or reluctantly end a conversation with him – without thinking you had never seen it like that before and that you now had a lot more thinking of your own to do.

If you’ve never heard him, here he is in 2014:

John had an extraordinary gift for enlarging people’s political and intellectual horizons without lecturing or hectoring; his writing was splattered with references, but never in that showy, superficial ‘look how up-to-date I am’ way – instead they were generous acknowledgements of his debt to others and bibliographic gifts to his readers.

In (too) brief, he was a gorgeous man, the very model of a critical scholar and a generous human being.  We still have his words but the realisation that there will be no more of them fills me with a sense of rootless desolation.

Remote sensing

Harris BLUE BOOK.img008

As a supplement to my previous post on mapping the bombing of Germany in the Second World War, I thought I should draw attention to Lauren Turner‘s report on the maps RAF Bomber Command had drawn to show the effects of its raids on individual cities.  I described the construction of target maps in ‘Doors into nowhere’ (DOWNLOADS tab); these maps were compiled for the Blue Books kept by Arthur Harris as chief of Bomber Command (above). In the summer of 1943 Harris ordered the preparation of a large book (which eventually extended to several volumes) which would show the “spectacular” results of the bomber offensive. “After each attack on a German city,” he explained, “the area of devastation was progressively marked with blue paint over a mosaic of air photographs of the city as a whole”. Harris was immensely proud of this “inventory of destruction,” as Tami Biddle calls it, and showed it to all his prominent visitors (see also here for a short discussion of how blind Harris was to the strategic significance of his campaign).

Here, for example, is Cologne in November 1944:

_85959916_cologne_976

The dark blue shows the area destroyed or badly damaged: you can also find more information about the damaged city in my post on the geometry of destruction here (which includes an early target map).

Lauren’s report for the BBC includes similar maps for Berlin and Dresden.

Crossing the Ts

photo_76050_landscape_650x433

As part of the Chronicle‘s Scholars Talk Writing series, there’s a lovely interview with Deirdre McCloskey here and much to think about.  For example:

Given the many differences you point out in Crossing about how Donald and Deirdre think, felt, and interacted in the world, surely there were changes in your prose style when you transitioned. Can you say something about gender and writing, and how your crossing affected your prose?

I do not want to be accused of essentialism. But as a first- and third-wave feminist (not second wave — e.g., the startlingly transphobe Germaine Greer), I note differences. It’s hard for me to judge, true, because when I read my earlier stuff I’m reading it philosophically for the argument, not rhetorically for the style. The big item I reckon is the style of argument. I still write always with an argument, which might sound male — unless you met my mother, from whom I learned how to argue! But the arguing is less relentless now, more diffident, as arguments should be if you are interested in the actual truth and want to establish it together with your reader.

As a young man I was proud of crushing an opponent in my writing — as though on my high-school football team (of which, by the way, I was co-captain). Now I am trying to make common cause with the reader, and trying also to be truthfully gentle with the “opponents.” It came naturally — not as Rule No. 15 in How to Be a Woman. My joke, though, is that I can’t tell whether any improvement is because I became a woman (within the limits, alas, of biology and life history) … or because I finally grew up.

Base Nation

VINE Base Nation

Matt Farish‘s perceptive view of David Vine‘s BaseNation – ‘a distressing and tremendously helpful resource for grappling with the global geography of the American armed forces’ (see also here, the map here [also shown above] and the interactive map here) – is up at the LA Review of Books here.

Base-Nation1-243x366The Baseworld that was pieced together during and after World War II undoubtedly represented “a qualitative and quantitative shift,” but it is noteworthy that a place like Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, once dubbed the “western edge of civilization,” is today both a heritage landscape and an active Army facility, including, of course, the military’s most prominent prison. As historians have noted, the movement of men and motifs from the “Indian Wars” to overseas conflicts like the Philippine-American War (1899–1902) was direct. “Now that the continent is subdued,” the California-based Overland Monthly announced in 1898, “we are looking for fresh worlds to conquer.”

In the 21st century, the perverse demand for “total defense” has produced an increasingly diverse roster of base types, from Germany’s Kaiserslautern Military Community (including the massive Ramstein Air Base), home to an 840,000-square-foot mall, to the small, often secretive “lily pads” that typify the Pentagon’s role “in at least forty-nine of the fifty-four African countries. It may be operating in every single one.” By limiting the number of troops in place — sometimes replacing them with “pre-positioned” weapons and matériel — and encouraging closer ties with other national militaries, lily pads present a different sort of challenge for opponents of military presence.

But Matt – I think properly refuses the distinction between ‘domestic’ and ‘extraterritorial’:

Vine’s decision to focus almost exclusively on “extraterritorial” sites is practical, but it is also political, even as the division implied by this word is unsustainable. The benefits of its retention seem meager: it allows Vine to advocate for a return of “troops and base spending back to the United States,” “stemming the leakage of money out of the U.S. economy and ensuring that economic spillover effects remain at home.” Despite the stupendous number of dollars at stake — tens if not hundreds of billions, annually — I still wonder if Vine’s heart is really in this argument, or if he would prefer to emphasize the “twenty-first century form of colonialism” he documents in places like Guam, and the restitutions that might result from demilitarization. But even on this charge, he follows the same path, claiming that the condition of Guam or Puerto Rico hinders “our country’s ability to be a model for democracy.” For followers of popular political speech, this is familiar prose. But it is still a fictional aspiration, all the more frustrating because it seems to be the result of authorial or editorial pragmatism. It falls apart as soon as we consider varieties of ongoing military colonialism and environmental injustice in the American Southwest, for instance.

David has promised to donate all proceeds from Base Nation ‘to nonprofit organizations serving military veterans, their families, and other victims of war and violence.’

Deadly animation

IWM Strategic bombing campaign 14 December 1941

IWM Strategic bombing campaign 12 August 1944

Britain’s Imperial War Museum has produced a striking animation of the ‘strategic bombing campaign’ in Europe during the Second World War:

If the YouTube link (above) doesn’t work in your region, try this.  I can’t find any version on the IWM website – this version originates with the Daily Mail here – but an interactive version will be available to visitors at the reopened American Air Museum in Britain (at IWM Duxford) from the weekend.  The first bombing mission by the USAAF took place on 29 June 1942 against the Hazebrouk marshalling yards.