Visualising the invisible

The latest issue of Wired has a simply schematic map of ‘an invisible but vast war zone’ created by cyberattacks:

Cyberattacks mapped

Every month, it seems, a mammoth cyberattack sponsored by a nation state comes to light. In recent years, more than 20 countries have announced their intent to launch or beef up their offensive cyber capabilities. The result is a burgeoning digital arms race that presents a major threat to the security of our data.

But they are very late to the game (and there are also many internal threats to ‘the security of our data’: think NSA or GCHQ).  In October 2013 Google Ideas in collaboration with Arbor Networks launched an interactive map of daily Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks that attempt to make an online service unavailable by overwhelming it with traffic from multiple sources :

Digital attacks 29 September 2015

According to Arbor Networks,

Attackers build networks of infected computers, known as ‘botnets’, by spreading malicious software through emails, websites and social media. Once infected, these machines can be controlled remotely, without their owners’ knowledge, and used like an army to launch an attack against any target. Some botnets are millions of machines strong.  Botnets can generate huge floods of traffic to overwhelm a target. These floods can be generated in multiple ways, such as sending more connection requests than a server can handle, or having computers send the victim huge amounts of random data to use up the target’s bandwidth. Some attacks are so big they can max out a country’s international cable capacity.  Specialized online marketplaces exist to buy and sell botnets or individual DDoS attacks. Using these underground markets, anyone can pay a nominal fee to silence websites they disagree with or disrupt an organization’s online operations. A week-long DDoS attack, capable of taking a small organization offline can cost as little as $150.

I discussed these, and connected them to militarised cyberattacks in ‘The everywhere war’ [DOWNLOADS tab].

The site provides an illuminating typology of attacks – TCP connection attacks that attempt to use up all available connections; Volumetric attacks that use up bandwidth; Fragmentation attacks that send a flood of TCP or UDP fragments to a victim, overwhelming their ability to re-assemble the streams and severely reducing performance; and Application attacks that target applications.

There is also an instructive gallery of major attacks:

Gallery of major attacks

And in 2014 another internet security company, Norse, released a live stream of origins and targets of attack; I’ve pasted a screenshot below but there is also a YouTube video here.

NORSE Digital attacks

The image above — which looks like Missile Command on steroids — shows just a snippet of hacking attempts around the world, the countries from which they originate, and the countries that they are attacking.

In reality, the attackers are hitting what Norse calls honey pots — special traps designed to detect unwanted network intrusions by hackers. It’s important to note that the location an attack comes from isn’t necessarily its true origin, as hackers can make an attack look like it’s coming from one place when it’s really coming from another.

You can find a list of other cyber attack maps at CTF365 here.

The blue sky of Hiroshima


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.


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).


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).


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).


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.


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.

Inhumanitarian mapping

It’s strange how things sometimes come together – or collide and crash.  Two weeks ago I wrote about satellite imagery and ‘remote violence’, and over the summer I discussed several projects that mapped Israel’s military assault on Gaza and its people,  including the Gaza Crisis Atlas produced by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (which makes extensive use of hi-res satellite imagery).

The links between those two posts are obvious enough, but today I have something altogether different in my sights.  ‘Judge Dan’ (Dan Smith), who blogs for Israellycool, has used the Gaza Crisis Atlas to construct a series of maps to geo-wash Israel’s military campaign.

Working from the data in the Atlas, Smith produces four maps to disaggregate the severity of destruction (the four levels, increasing from left to right, are based on OCHA’s own assessment):

DAN SMITH Gaza-Damage-Points-Vertical-All

His conclusions from this exercise are the following:

The attacks are in no way “random” or “indiscriminate”. One can clearly see the spatial distribution of the damage in several aspects. We find 8,952 of the 12,433 total points (72%) are within a 3 KM buffer abutting the border with Israel. The main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.

That the most intensive damage was caused to the area where the tunnels naturally originated is thus perfectly understandable. Furthermore, of the 4,441 destroyed structures, 3,481 of them (78%) are within the 3 KM buffer, as are 2,531 of 3,303 (77%) of the lowest intensity damage (simple craters), which are mostly strikes on rocket launchers and tunnels.

Most of the attacks are grouped around certain neighborhoods or villages, such as Shuja’iyya, Johur ad-Dik, Sureij, and Khuza’a. These were probably the result of the ground operations that took place in dense urban areas also within the 3 KM buffer that housed multiple tunnel entrances and shafts, as well as launch sites for mortars and rockets.

Smith then takes the Israeli military’s map of ‘terrorist infrastructure’ in Shuja’iya and overlays this on what he calls ‘OCHA’s damage points’: ‘the correlation is uncanny.’

Smith’s next manoeuvre is to sweep aside OCHA’s focus ‘on the civilian aspect’ because it ‘misses the big picture’ (really – or perhaps Israelly): ‘the overall intensity of the strikes’.  So he constructs a kernel density map or a ‘damage intensity heat map’:

It now becomes very clear that most of the damage was caused to 5 locations right on the border with Israel. The rest of the Gaza Strip was, for the most part, undamaged. The main population areas of Gaza city, Jabaliya, Khan Yunes, Rafah and Deir el-Balah were disproportionately undamaged (sic).

DAN SMITH Gaza-Damage-Heatmap-Vertical2

He continues:

If we do a rough estimate of the damage area, it is once again clear the vast majority of the Gaza Strip was unscathed. With a fairly generous estimation that a damage point has a 25 meter radius – the footprint of a house, or the blast radius of a bomb – the total damage area of the 12,433 impacts was in the order of 15 KM2. The land area of the Gaza strip is 360 Km2. In other words, less than 5% of the land was affected.

There’s a follow-up post on ‘damage clusters’ here, but in this commentary I’ll focus on Smith’s ‘big picture’.  I take the basic points to be these:

(1)  Smith’s approach makes an appeal to the supposed objectivity and even facticity of the map (and, by extension, the satellite image), but there is a substantial body of scholarship that goes back 25 years and underscores the multiple ways in which mapping is an exercise in the production of power.  For a depressingly relevant example of the ways in which maps can speak power to truth, taken from Israel’s attack on Gaza in November 2012, see my discussion here (scroll down to the maps).

(2)  Appealing to the map and its manipulations as the single source of authority is designed to disavow the testimony of witnesses on the ground: precisely the point sharpened by Andrew Herscher in his timely critique of ‘Surveillant witnessing’ (see my discussion here) and a far cry from the incorporation of photographs in (say) the Gaza War Map.

(3) Smith’s methodology reduces Gaza to an object space of structures and buildings, craters and points; he constructs a kernel density map (more on this in a moment) but provides no population density map that would at least gesture towards the people killed, wounded and traumatised by the Israeli offensive and who are wholly absent from his account.  Here, by contrast, is a map I posted previously showing deaths in Gaza to 6 August:


The Gaza Crisis Atlas focuses on damage to buildings and infrastructure because it is a tool directed explicitly towards reconstruction, so the same criticism doesn’t apply (particularly if you look at OCHA’s work more generally, including the information it provided for the map I’ve just reproduced). But if we are to limit ourselves to gazing on structures from space, UNOSAT’s analysis of satellite imagery provides a sharp reminder that these buildings included schools and hospitals (see also here and here); the report also provides a telling comparison between the intensity of destruction in 2009 and 2014:


(4) Smith prefers to construct his own generalised map of damage density using kernel density estimation, a smoothing algorithm that converts point data into a continuous surface.  I discussed the way in which the US military uses this technique in ‘Seeing Red’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and what I said there bears repeating:

The maps are known for their dramatic visual impact, and the desired message can be engineered into the production process. One of the most influential handbooks on KDE is published by the US National Institute of Justice and describes how to map crime ‘hot spots’…  The authors of the NIJ handbook acknowledge that ‘map production is an iterative process’ and that ‘the first map produced is very rarely the one presented to the target audience.’ They continue: ‘The intended message should also be seen as the driving force behind what the map should look like’ (US National Institute of Justice, 2005: 26, 33).

So let’s turn to the rest of Smith’s message.

(4) Smith justifies the pattern of destruction shown on his maps by claiming that ‘the main objective of Operation Protective Edge was to find and destroy dozens of terror tunnels dug from Gaza into Israel.’  In fact, the stated objectives of the Israeli assault changed throughout the campaign.  The attacks were supposedly sparked by the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers – in the West Bank not Gaza – and as the mission was ratcheted up so their central objective changed: according to the IDF the aim was to put an end to Hamas rockets being fired into Israel (for a radically different view, see Graham Liddell‘s more general discussion at Mondoweiss here).  The rhetoric of ‘terror tunnels’ came later.  And while Smith is right to draw attention to the swathes of destruction to the east of Gaza’s central spine, he never addresses the human consequences of successive Israeli expansions of this so-called ‘buffer zone’ until it covered more than 40 per cent of Gaza: see my post here for more details.

(5) Towards the end of his analysis, Smith concedes that destruction is not punctiform.  Bombs are not ‘pinpoints’ (cf. Nathan Guttman‘s report on Smith’s work and ‘the pinpoint accuracy of Israel’s strikes’), not only because they rarely land exactly on target but also because their blast radiates outwards from the point of impact.  But Smith’s ‘fairly generous estimate that a damage point has a 25 meter [82 feet] radius‘ – is in fact a serious underestimate that at the very least halves the blast radius of a 155 mm shell.  Here is Mark Perry‘s report that I cited previously, which includes testimony from senior US military officers about the shelling of Shuj’aiyya:

Artillery pieces used during the operation included a mix of Soltam M71 guns and U.S.-manufactured Paladin M109s (a 155-mm howitzer), each of which can fire three shells per minute. “The only possible reason for doing that is to kill a lot of people in as short a period of time as possible,” said the senior U.S. military officer. “It’s not mowing the lawn,” he added, referring to a popular IDF term for periodic military operations against Hamas in Gaza. “It’s removing the topsoil.”

“Holy bejeezus,” exclaimed retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard when told the numbers of artillery pieces and rounds fired during the July 21 action. “That rate of fire over that period of time is astonishing. If the figures are even half right, Israel’s response was absolutely disproportionate.” A West Point graduate who is a veteran of two wars and is the chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation in Washington, D.C., he added that even if Israeli artillery units fired guided munitions, it would have made little difference.

Even the most sophisticated munitions have a circular area of probability, Gard explained, with a certain percentage of shells landing dozens or even hundreds of feet from intended targets. Highly trained artillery commanders know this and compensate for their misses by firing more shells. So if even 10 percent of the shells fired at combatants in Shujaiya landed close to but did not hit their targets — a higher than average rate of accuracy — that would have meant at least 700 lethal shells landing among the civilian population of Shujaiya during the night of July 20 into June 21. And the kill radius of even the most precisely targeted 155-mm shell is 164 feet. Put another way, as Gard said, “precision weapons aren’t all that precise.”

(6) Finally, let’s take Smith’s central claim that ‘less than 5% of the land [of Gaza] was affected’ – and reverse it.  If Hamas were to say that less than 0.00005% of Israel had been hit by its rockets – to be fair, it’s a difficult calculation to make because Israel has never fixed its borders and so it’s not possible to determine its area – and that the rest of Israel was ‘disproportionately undamaged’, would Israelis have simply shrugged them off?


Missing maps

Missing Maps ProjectA postscript (of sorts: a postpost?) to my previous discussion of the use of satellite imagery by humanitarian organisations.

Today’s Guardian includes a notice by Chris Michael of the Missing Maps project, an open, collaborative venture between Médecins sans Frontières, the American Red Cross, the British Red Cross and the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) to map what MSF calls ‘the most crisis-prone parts of the developing world.’

It is, says Michael, ‘nothing less than a human genome project for the world’s cities.’  Less hyperbolically, mapping is of vital importance in any emergency, and MSF’s experience in providing medical aid after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 alerted the organisation to the importance of accurate and reliable geo-locational data.

HOT Ebola

The base will be satellite imagery but, unlike HOT’s existing disaster response mapping [see its response to the Ebola epidemic in West Africa (above) here and here], the new project is intended to be pre-emptive.  And in case you are wondering what’s wrong with Google Maps, the answer is: a lot.  Michael again:

Crowdsourcing … gives the open-source project an advantage over Google Maps, which is engaged in its own effort to build proprietary maps for cities in Africa and the developing world. By harnessing the aggregated individual acts volunteered by everyday people, Missing Maps can make its scope truly planetary. Google has similarly been asking people to voluntarily flesh out Google Maps, following criticism that the company was ignoring places where there was no advertising money to be made. After all, there’s no Starbucks in a slum. And Google Maps is, like the rest of Google’s projects (whatever their current openness and freedom of use), privately owned and subject to fees at any time they might choose to start charging.

“The point of the project is that the maps will all be open source,” says Missing Maps coordinator Pete Masters. “It will be illegal for anyone to charge anyone to [have access to] – meaning local people will have total access to them, not just to look at, but to edit and develop.”

That idea more than any other has fired the imaginations of the people in unmapped places, says Gayton. “It’s legally impossible for someone to steal it, to close off and own the data. It’s created by genuine volunteer labour, and belongs to everyone. And the question everyone asks me is: ‘Why?’ They couldn’t believe it.”


To give you an idea of what is envisaged, the image above juxtaposes a hand-drawn MSF map in Katanga (DRC) with a map of Lubumbashi (DRC) made by local university students and others (see below) supported by the Humanitarian Open Street Map team.


I’ve borrowed both images from MSF, and you can find more information about the project and how to get involved from MSF here, via the project’s wiki here, and on Facebook here.

I realise that there’s nothing new about participatory mapping: have a look at Map Kibera, which has successfully put a marginalised zone of Nairobi on the map and morphed into an interactive community information project.

Map Kibera

And there are risks and dangers in being ‘put on the map’ too.  The OpenStreetMaps community has produced constantly evolving maps of Syria, for example [follow the link for some animations], and while I don’t dispute Eric Fischer‘s claim at Mapbox that ‘this data is of vital importance to humanitarian workers on the ground’, I suspect it’s also valuable to others on the ground – and, for all I know, in the air too.

But even if you don’t want to or can’t get involved in Missing Maps, reading this project alongside parallel ventures by MapAction (which this year alone has had field teams in Iraq, Liberia, Paraguay, Serbia and south Sudan), together with other established work in participatory mapping and GIS (like the Rainforest Foundation‘s Mapping for Rights project) and counter-mapping and counter-cartography is highly instructive.



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.

Destructive Edge

In a previous post on ‘The Death Zone‘, I suggested readers compare Israel’s extended ‘buffer zone’ in Gaza by following the line of the main highway, Saladin Street.  Hugh Naylor has followed that route on the ground – what he calls ‘Desolation Road’ – and his report is accompanied by an interactive map showing some of the vast panorama of destruction:

Screen Shot 2014-08-08 at 10.01.01

I’ll have more to say about the caption – about the Israeli military’s targeting in Gaza – shortly.  The Guardian has just published a graphic by Nadja Popovich showing the UNRWA-run schools sheltering refugees (many of them from the expanded ‘buffer zone’) that were struck by the Israeli military:

Gaza schools hit by Israeli military

 Amnesty International reports growing evidence that health facilities and workers were deliberately targeted by the Israeli military:

Testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance workers who have spoken to Amnesty International paint a disturbing picture of hospitals and health professionals coming under attack by the Israeli army in the Gaza Strip, where at least six medics have been killed. There is growing evidence that health facilities or professionals have been targeted in some cases.

Since Israel launched Operation “Protective Edge” on 8 July, the Gaza Strip has been under intensive bombardment from the air, land and sea, severely affecting the civilian population there. As of 5 August, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, 1,814 Palestinians had been killed in the Gaza Strip, 86 per cent of them civilians. More than 9,400 people have been injured, many of them seriously. An estimated 485,000 people across the Gaza Strip have been displaced, and many of them are taking refuge in hospitals and schools.

Amnesty International has received reports that the Israeli army has repeatedly fired at clearly marked ambulances with flashing emergency lights and paramedics wearing recognizable fluorescent vests while carrying out their duties. According to the Palestinian Ministry of Health, at least six ambulance workers, and at least 13 other aid workers, have been killed as they attempted to rescue the wounded and collect the dead. At least 49 doctors, nurses and paramedics have been injured by such attacks; at least 33 other aid workers were also injured. At least five hospitals and 34 clinics have been forced to shut down due to damage from Israeli fire or continuing hostilities in the immediate area.

Hospitals across the Gaza Strip suffer from fuel and power shortages (worsened by the Israeli attack on Gaza’s only power plant on 29 July), inadequate water supply, and shortages of essential drugs and medical equipment. The situation was acute before the current hostilities, due to Israel’s seven-year blockade of Gaza, but have been seriously exacerbated since…

Amnesty International is aware of reports that Palestinian armed groups have fired indiscriminate rockets from near hospitals or health facilities, or otherwise used these facilities or areas for military purposes. Amnesty International has not been able to confirm any of these reports. While the use of medical facilities for military purposes is a severe violation of international humanitarian law, hospitals, ambulances and medical facilities are protected and their civilian status must be presumed. Israeli attacks near such facilities – like all other attacks during the hostilities – must comply with all relevant rules of international humanitarian law, including the obligation to distinguish between civilians and civilian objects and military targets, the obligation that attacks must be proportional and the obligation to give effective warning. Hospitals and medical facilities must never be forced to evacuate patients under fire.


The report includes detailed testimony from Palestinian paramedics and ambulance crews who describe the extraordinary difficulty and danger they faced in attending to casualties from Israeli shelling (see also my post on ‘Gaza 101‘, the emergency number for Gaza, and the update here).  Not surprisingly, Israel has rejected Amnesty’s claims and denied targeting hospitals, but when Netanyahu’s spokesperson, Mark Regev, explained that ‘What we’ve had to do on a number of occasions is to hit terrorist targets in the immediate vicinity of hospitals and things like that, where they’ve abused them,’ he failed to address the violations of international law summarised in the last paragraph above.

There’s more.  B’Tselem, now back on line, is also providing detailed testimony from Gaza, including (so far) two ambulance drivers, Rami ‘Abd al-Haj ‘Ali and Ahmad Sabah.  Here is an extract from the first statement (all testimonies are linked to B’Tselem’s interactive map):

B'Tselem map Beit HanounOn Friday afternoon, 25 July 2014, I was working at the medical emergency call center in Beit Hanoun. At around 4:30 P.M., we received a call reporting injured people in al-Masriyin Street in Beit Hanoun. We asked the International Red Cross to coordinate our going there. About 15 minutes after we received the call, we got authorization and an ambulance headed over there with paramedics ‘Aaed al-Bura’i, 25, Hatem Shahin, 38, and driver Jawad Bdeir, 52. The team didn’t make it to the wounded people. Soon after they reached the street, they reported back that a tank had fired at them and they were injured. They asked for another team to come and rescue them.

The call center coordinated the arrival of another team with the International Red Cross and got authorization to go rescue the injured team. I drove the second ambulance, and there were two medics with me – Muhammad Harb, 31, and Yusri al-Masri, 54. The street is only about 200-300 meters from the call center, so we were there within minutes. When we reached the entrance to the street, we were surprised to see three tanks and a military bulldozer in the street, about 100 meters away.

Suddenly, with no warning, they opened heavy machine-gun fire at us. The bullets penetrated the ambulance. I tried to turn the ambulance around to get out of there, but the steering wheel must have been hit. Suddenly, I felt sharp pain in my leg and realized I’d been hit by a bullet or shrapnel. Then the windshield shattered. Because I couldn’t turn the ambulance around, I decided to try reversing. They kept firing as I backed up, until we got far enough away. When they stopped, I managed to turn us around and head back to the center.

On the way there we met Hatem Shahin, one of the paramedics from the first ambulance. He’d been hit by shrapnel in his shoulder and leg. He told us that a shell fired from a tank had hit the front part of the ambulance. He said he’d managed to get away but the other paramedic, ‘Aaed, had been hit. He told us that after he ran away from there, he saw the tank fire another shell at the ambulance, completely destroying it. He thought ‘Aaed must have been killed, but we didn’t know for sure.

The next day, on Saturday, a ceasefire was declared from 8:00 A.M. to 8:00 P.M. An ambulance team went to the spot and found ‘Aaed’s body in the burnt ambulance.

To put all of this in context, the BBC has mapped the deaths of 1,890 Palestinians – ‘mostly civilians’, as its accompanying chart shows – killed during the Israeli offensive to 6 August.  As you can see, Palestinians were killed ‘right across Gaza’ – not only in the expanded buffer zone shown on the map, though the carnage in Beit Hanoun and Shejaiya is clearly visible – with high concentrations also produced in the killing grounds of Gaza City and Khan Younis:


Finally, in case you’re puzzled by the title for this post: Israel’s attack on Gaza is codenamed Tzuk Eitan in Hebrew, meaning ‘Firm Cliff’ or ‘Resolute Cliff’.  According to Yagiv Levy, ‘The operation’s name signals the power, commitment and resilience of the Israeli people.’  But the official English-language version, ‘Protective Edge’, was changed ‘to give it a more defensive connotation’ (really). As Steven Poole explains, ‘the bombing was supposedly “protective”, though not of those bombed’. All of this is of course in line with the designation of the Israeli military as the ‘Israeli Defence Forces’.

I decided I’d prefer to use a version that provides a more accurate rendering of what has happened – in Hebrew, English or Arabic.

‘The land of rotting men’

No man's land

Noam Leshem and Alasdair Pinkerton have embarked on a fascinating new project, Re-inhabiting No Man’s Land: from dead zones to living spaces here:

Nearing the centenary of the First World War, this project explores the ongoing relevance of no-man’s lands in the 21st century. Rather than merely empty, divisive spaces, the project considers the material substance of no-man’s lands, their changing social-cultural meaning and their relevance as productive political and geopolitical spaces.

As a figure of speech, No-Man’s Land is applied to anywhere from derelict inner-city districts and buffer-zones to ‘ungovernable’ regions and tax havens. But what is no-man’s land? What are the conditions that produce it? How is it administered? What sort of human activities do no-man’s lands harbour? These are the questions that prompt us to think about the no-man’s lands not as dead zones, but as living spaces.

WWI consulting a map

News of this arrived from Noam just as I finished the long-form version of Gabriel’s Map: cartography and corpography in modern war, which you can now find under the DOWNLOADS tab (scroll down).  Most of the essay is about the First World War on the Western Front (I explain the title at the start of the essay; it comes from William Boyd‘s Ice-Cream War and, in particular, the First World War in East Africa, and the title of this post comes from Edward Lynch‘s Somme Mud: the experiences of an infantryman in France, 1916-1919), but I also end with these reflections on the 21st century:

In this essay I have been concerned with the First World War but, as we approach its centenary, it is worth reflecting on the ways in which modern warfare has changed – and those in which it has not. Through the constant circulation of military imagery and its ghosting in video games, many of us have come to think of contemporary warfare as optical war hypostatised: a war fought on screens and through digital images, in which full motion video feeds from Predators and Reapers allow for an unprecedented degree of remoteness from the killing fields. In consequence, perhaps, many of us are tempted to think of the wars waged by advanced militaries, in contrast to the First World War, as ‘surgical’, even body-less. These are wars without fronts, whose complex geometries have required new investments in cartography and satellite imagery, and there have been major advances in political technologies of vision and in the development of a host of other sensors that have dramatically increased the volume of geo-spatial intelligence on which the administration of later modern military violence relies. All of this has transformed but not replaced the cartographic imaginary.

And yet, for all of their liquid violence, these wars are still shaped and even confounded by the multiple, acutely material environments through which they are fought. In Sebastian Junger’s remarkable despatch from Afghanistan, he notes that for the United States and its allies ‘the war diverged from the textbooks because it was fought in such axle-breaking, helicopter-crashing, spirit-killing, mind-bending terrain that few military plans survive intact for even an hour.’ If that sounds familiar, then so too will Kenneth MacLeish’s cautionary observations about soldiers as both vectors and victims of military violence:

‘The body’s unruly matter is war’s most necessary and most necessarily expendable raw material. While many analyses of US war violence have emphasized the technologically facilitated withdrawal of American bodies from combat zones in favour of air strikes, smart bombs, remotely piloted drones, and privately contracted fighting forces, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan could not carry on without the physical presence of tens of thousands of such bodies…

In consequence, the troops have had to cultivate an intrinsically practical knowledge that, while its operating environment and technical armature are obviously different, still owes much to the tacit bodily awareness of the Tommy or the Poilu:

‘In the combat zone there is a balance to be struck, a cultivated operational knowledge, that comes in large part from first-hand experience about what can hurt you and what can’t… So you need not only knowledge of what the weapons and armor can do for you and to you but a kind of bodily habitus as well – an ability to take in the sensory indications of danger and act on them without having to think too hard about it first. When you hear a shot, is it passing close by? Is it accurate or random? Is it of sufficient caliber to penetrate your vest, the window of your Humvee or the side of your tank?’

In the intricate nexus formed by knowledge, space and military power, later modern war still relies on cartographic vision – and its agents still produce their own corpographies.

The notes contain various references to No Man’s Land in the First World War, though I’m increasingly interested in what lies on either side.  One of the reasons so many commentators seem to think that ‘war among the people’ is a recent development is that the imagery of the Western Front draws the eye again and again to No Man’s Land, but behind the front lines on either side were farms, fields, villages and small towns where people continued to live and work amongst the shelling, the gas attacks, and the billeted troops.

As usual, I’d welcome any comments/criticisms/suggestions on the (I hope near final) draft of the essay: an extended version will appear in War material.

Eternal Harvest

Many readers will know the remarkable work that’s been done to reconstruct the US bombing of Cambodia during the ‘Vietnam’ War: I’m thinking of Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan‘s ‘Bombs over Cambodia’ which appeared in The Walrus in 2006: available here and here.

The still-incomplete database (it has several “dark” periods) reveals that from October 4, 1965, to August 15, 1973, the United States dropped far more ordnance on Cambodia than was previously believed: 2,756,941 tons’ worth, dropped in 230,516 sorties on 113,716 sites. Just over 10 percent of this bombing was indiscriminate, with 3,580 of the sites listed as having “unknown” targets and another 8,238 sites having no target listed at all. The database also shows that the bombing began four years earlier than is widely believed—not under Nixon, but under Lyndon Johnson. The impact of this bombing, the subject of much debate for the past three decades, is now clearer than ever. Civilian casualties in Cambodia drove an enraged populace into the arms of an insurgency that had enjoyed relatively little support until the bombing began, setting in motion the expansion of the Vietnam War deeper into Cambodia, a coup d’état in 1970, the rapid rise of the Khmer Rouge, and ultimately the Cambodian genocide.

US bombing of Cambodia

The contemporary significance of these air strikes includes, of course, what Rob Nixon calls the ‘slow violence’ of the unexploded ordnance that still haunts the Cambodian landscape today.  But they also have implications for recent bombing campaigns in Afghanistan, as Ben and Taylor discuss in ‘Roots of U.S. Troubles in Afghanistan: Civilian Bombing Casualties and the Cambodian Precedent’  here, and for today’s cross-border (though rather less covert) drone strikes in Pakistan, as Henry Grabar argued last year in The Atlantic here.

Eternal HarvestThe conflict in Vietnam spilled across into Laos too, and a new book by Karen Coates (with photographs by Jerry Redfern) documents the effects of this even more shocking campaign in depth and detail: Eternal Harvest: the legacy of American bombs in Laos.  The short animation below, just 98 seconds of your time, prepared by Jerry for Mother Jones, shows each bombing run:

The nearly 600,000 bombing runs delivered a staggering amount of explosives: The equivalent of a planeload of bombs every eight minutes for nine years, or a ton of bombs for every person in the country—more than what American planes unloaded on Germany and Japan combined during World War II. Laos remains, per capita, the most heavily bombed country on earth.

There’s a much longer version at vimeo here, which comes with this rider:

This video shows the US Air Force bombing campaign in Laos, from 1965 to 1973. The data comes from the website of the National Regulatory Authority of Lao PDR (NRA), which oversees UXO clearance in that country. They received the data from the US Embassy in Vientiane in 2000, from records originally created by the Department of Defense and stored at the National Archives.

The NRA data sets include information on the number and types of aircraft flown, types of bombs dropped, target conditions and after-action reports. For this graphic, only the dates, latitude and longitude, and the number of bombs dropped per mission are used.

The US Air Force began bombing Laos in June 1964. Many branches of the US, Thai, Lao, South Vietnamese and other forces also conducted aerial missions. But this graphic reflects only bombing missions noted in the NRA data, which show US Air Force missions beginning on October 1, 1965.

There’s much more information, plus photographs from the book, at the website that accompanies the book.

COVER MAKER 5.5X8.25.inddIf you want a quick overview of the geography of bombing Laos, Peter Larson also has a useful survey which includes some helpful maps here; he’s constructed his own animation here.

‘Animation’ is hardly the verb for such appalling carnage, I realise; the classic English-language account giving voices to the survivors (and victims) is Fred Branfman‘s brilliant Voices from the Plain of Jars: life under an air war, first published in 1972 and republished last year with an introduction by Alfred McCoy and available as an e-book.

When war comes home

After the US invasion of Iraq there were all sorts of artistic interventions that sought to bring home to Americans what was happening in Baghdad.  I described some of them in ‘War and peace’ (DOWNLOADS tab), noting that many of them seemed to take their cue from Martha Rosler‘s double photomontage of ‘Bringing the war home’, in which she re-staged first Vietnam and then the Iraq war in American domestic interiors:

Captives are paraded around gleaming kitchens on leashes, combat troops stalk in living rooms, while beyond the drapes fires flicker, a grieving woman slumps on the deck, and an Army patrol files by. Domestic critics have frequently noted the interchange between security regimes inside and outside the United States; they insist that the ‘war on terror’ ruptures the divide between inside and outside, and draw attention to its impact not only ‘there’ but also ‘here’. But Rosler’s sharper point is to goad her audience beyond what sometimes trembles on the edge of a critical narcissism (‘we are vulnerable too’) to recognise how often ‘our’ wars violate ‘their’ space: her work compels us to see that what she makes seem so shocking in ‘our’ space is all too terrifyingly normal in ‘theirs’.

Several projects made cartographic transpositions or mash-ups: superimposing the bombing of Baghdad on San Francisco (Paula Levine‘s Shadows from another place) or Boston (Alyssa Wright‘s Cherry Blossoms), for example, or choreographing a situationist tour of Baghdad in Brooklyn.  I’ve been more hesitant about these interventions; I know that these three projects were linked to – and in the last case depended on – ground performances, and I know too that it’s possible to undo the abstractness of conventional cartography, to turn it against itself (here I’m thinking of elin o’Hara slavick‘s brilliant Bomb after bomb).

WRIGHT Cherry Blossoms

I’ve now seen a different cartographic transposition that dramatizes the firebombing of Japan during the Second World War by juxtaposing a map of the United States with a map of Japan.  Almost as soon as the war was over there were several visualizations of a nuclear attack on US cities.  The image below comes from Collier’s Magazine in 1950, for a cover story called ‘Hiroshima, USA’; you can access the original here and read more here.  But projects like these still deflect the critical gaze from the horror of what happened there to the horror of what might happen here.  Indeed, that was precisely the point, as Joseph Masco shows in his brilliant essay, ‘”Survival is Your Business”: Engineering ruins and affect in nuclear America’, Cultural Anthropology 23:2 (2008) 361-98; reprinted in Ann Laura Stoler (ed), Imperial debris: on ruins and ruination (Duke, 2013).


The problem is redoubled in the case of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, because those two hideous mushroom clouds have so often blocked our view of the firebombing of Japanese cities that preceded the two nuclear attacks.  Here the work of David Fedman and Cary Karacas on bombing Japan is indispensable, not least for its illuminating discussion of the central role of cartography (see Cary’s bilingual historical archive here).

In fact in 1945 the United States Air Force produced a map in which the earlier bombing campaign was projected on to a map of the United States:


And this was the starting-point for Alex Wellerstein‘s remarkable intervention, whose critical force comes precisely from its juxtaposition (rather than simple superimposition) of the two maps: what happened in Japan is visibly there, magnified rather than marginalized through the map of the continental United States.  In fact, when you click on the interactive a line appears linking an American city to its equivalent target-city in Japan:



Hiding in the pixels


For more on the role of forensic architecture in the analysis of drone strikes, which I discussed earlier this week, see Rebecca Chao‘s report – including an interview with Eyal Weizman – at TechPresident here.  The report includes an interesting qualification about the limitations of satellite imagery:

The drone analysis videos are not only evidential, however. They are also instructional. “These videos,” says Weizman, “do three things. We undertake the investigation while telling viewers how we do what we do and in the end we also reflect on how confident we are about the results.”

The purpose is to teach human rights activists or journalists how to conduct their own forensic architectural investigations. For example, the highest resolution satellite imagery comes from private American companies that cost $1,000 per image, which Weizman says is relatively affordable since an analysis would usually require just two: one right before the strike and one after.

There are certainly limitations to the data they obtain, however. With satellite imagery, for example, even the highest resolution images degrade to a pixel that translates to 50 cm by 50 cm of actual terrain. This means that a drone could easily hide undetected in one of those pixels, says Weizman…. [It] also hides the damage caused by drone strikes. When asked if this an uncanny coincidence, Weizman explains, that while there is prerogative for states and militaries to maintain an advantage, that pixel is also proportioned to hide a human and the private companies issuing such data are cognizant of privacy issues. Even so, this allows countries to deny drone strikes, says Weizman, because drones are beyond the threshold of detectability in the available satellite imagery.

And while I’m on the subject of architecture, the Guardian reports that on 19 March the Royal Institute of British Architects called for the suspension of the Israeli Association of United Architects from the International Union of Architects for its complicity in the construction of illegal settlements in occupied Palestine: what Israel consistently calls ‘the facts on the ground‘.  And those dismal ‘facts‘ aren’t hiding in the pixels.