Mapping violent conflict

The Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research has published its Conflict Barometer for 2013:

Violent conflicts 2013 HEIDELBERG

The full report can be downloaded here; it includes a detailed explanation of methodology and sources, many more maps, and a series of detailed regional surveys.

There are, of course, many other projects that attempt to monitor the macro-geography of armed conflict that also make their databases available for research, including the Correlates of War project (data from 1816 on), the Armed Conflict Dataset maintained by UCDP/PRIO (see also here; data from 1946 on) – both these are global – and the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED) which provides a much more detailed, sub-regional mapping and claims to be ‘the most comprehensive public collection of political violence data for developing states.’  I’ve pasted an example of their sub-regional mapping below; the original is here, along with others for the DRC and Zimbabwe, while maps plotting the activities of Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other conflicts are available here and here.

ACLED_Infographic_Al-Shabaab-Activity-Map-721x1024

I also greatly admire the Event Data on Conflict and Security (EDACS) produced by Sven Chojnacki and his colleagues in Berlin, and the disaggregated analyses they provide.  Like ACLED, this also includes a remarkably detailed time-space analysis of violence in Somalia:

CHOJNACKI Somalia

You can find out more about the project from the special issue of International Interactions 38: 4 (2012) on Event Data in the Study of Conflict.

Mapping Aleppo – and more

Mapping Aleppo

I’ve posted about mapping the war in Syria and its spillover effects before (see here and here), but most of these projects cover a wide area with varying degrees of reliability.  Now News from Laleh Khalili of a report from David Kilcullen‘s Caerus Associates (with the American Security Project) on the civil war in Aleppo, “Mapping the conflict in Aleppo, Syria”, which provides a much more fine-grained view of what is happening on the ground.  You can download the report here or view the interactive version via First Mile Geo here, and you can read an account of the project from Wired‘s Greg Miller here.

Caerus has also joined with the Pentagon’s Center for Complex Operations to produce a special supplement of PRISM (vol.  4, 2014) on the Syrian conflict, which includes an essay by Kilcullen and Nathaniel Rosenblatt on ‘The Rise of Syria’s Urban Poor: Why the War for Syria’s Future Will Be Fought Over the Country’s New Urban Villages’; the whole issue is available on open access here.

These interventions are important and interesting for several reasons.

First, the report is based on exacting local fieldwork.  Acknowledging that local people in conflict zones develop vitally important stocks of local knowledge as a means of survival, the report also accepts that this ‘information-rich environment remains analytically poor.’  For that reason, the field teams ‘provided training and cloud-based tools to help local actors collect locally understood knowledge about their conflict for rigorous analysis.’

From September 16, 2013 to January 6, 2014, we collected four types of information: a monthly survey of perceptions among 560 residents in Aleppo’s 56 neighborhoods, biweekly location and status data for bakeries (a key indicator of humanitarian conditions due to the centrality of bread in the Syrian diet), biweekly location and status data on security checkpoints (a key indicator of security, territorial control and public safety conditions), and a monthly neighborhood-level assessment filled out by our enumerators. These four data streams not only allowed the research team to detect and visualize shifts in the environment in near-real time, but also provided an extremely rich source of insights on the geo-social dynamics at play. All field research was conducted in Arabic.

First Mile Geo notes that it will make the data available to organisations ‘for responsible use’: see Open Data here.

KILCULLEN Out of the mountainsSecond, Kilcullen’s analytical argument (he is described as ‘Principal Investigator’ for the Mapping project) is, naturally enough, fully conformable with the thesis he develops at length in his latest book, Out of the mountains: the coming age of the urban guerrilla (2013); the report reveals the grisly details of contemporary siege warfare and urbicide – central themes in the book, where Kilcullen notes the work of  Steve Graham and Eyal Weizman – and gestures towards a future ‘feral city’ (how I hate that phrase) broken into multiple fiefdoms where gangs and militias exact violence and provide rudimentary services to the residents:

‘The inability of opposition groups to aid residents of neighborhoods they control suggests Aleppo – and Syria as a whole – will become a mosaic of small, intersecting fiefdoms, each providing assistance to its respective neighborhood without regard to macro-level concerns for national governance and reconciliation. Growing warlordism may be particularly acute in Aleppo, where economic rent-seeking opportunities will attract armed gangs who will attempt to seize control of its neighborhoods. These “conflict entrepreneurs” will have little incentive to end a conflict from which they derive power, prestige, and profit. Even in the event of peace, Aleppo’s strategic location will help these actors establish roots for illicit networks that may endure well beyond the present conflict. Moreover, as a non-capital city, Aleppo will not benefit from national government attention. Instead, Aleppo’s future may resemble that of similarly conflict-plagued second cities in the Middle East, such as Mosul in Iraq or Benghazi in Libya. These cities are plagued by warlordism and dominated by illicit economies. They have quickly become safe havens enabling terrorist networks to plan, recruit, and launch attacks.’ 

I’ve posted about Out of the Mountains here, when I promised an extended commentary: Laleh and I will be working on a joint examination of Kilcullen’s larger thesis in the near future, so watch this space. We already have Mike Davis‘s thumbnail view:

‘Although an enemy of the state, I must concede that this is a brilliant book by the most unfettered and analytically acute mind in the military intelligentsia. Kilcullen unflinchingly confronts the nightmare of endless warfare in the slums of the world.’

Here, incidentally, it’s revealing to read Kilcullen’s theses alongside Neil Brenner‘s ‘Theses on urbanisation’, Public culture 25:1 (2013) 85-114, which makes a series of suggestive proposals – but from which war is strikingly absent.  So Kilcullen’s thesis certainly demands serious scrutiny, particularly by those who think that the future of war is somehow encapsulated in the drone.  In my previous note, I joined Geoff Manaugh in being sceptical about the ‘aerial-algorithmic’ interventions that attracted Kilcullen in a series of talks based around the book, but ‘Mapping the conflict in Aleppo’ reveals a much more substantial interest in ‘the facts on the ground’, local actors and local knowledge.  (And here a good counter-text would be the brilliant work of AbdouMaliq Simone; see also his blog, Villes-Noires, here).  So, as I say, watch this space.

First Mile Geo ALEPPO

But there’s a third reason this matters.  I’ve been reading and thinking about Jeremy Crampton, Sue Roberts and Ate Poorhuis‘s ‘The new political economy of geographical intelligence’ – a fine essay in the Annals of the Association of American Geographers 104: 1 (2014) 196-214 – and I’ll be returning to this in the next day or two.  They emphasise the importance of satellite imagery in the production of US geospatial intelligence, whereas I’ve been developing a different (though related) argument about  the importance of satellite communications for the ‘everywhere war’.  In both cases, there is an intimate relation between ‘milsat’ and ‘comsat’, the military and commercial sectors, which will come as no surprise to those who’ve been plotting the extending contours of the military-industrial complex.

Those contours have snared all sorts of other institutions, of course, which is why James Der Derian talks about MIME-NET (the military-industrial-media-entertainment network) and I’ve talked about MAIM-NET (the military-academic-industrial-media network).  The role of universities in the development of military capabilities and military knowledge (and ultimately the production of military violence) is no less surprising, of course, and in fact there’s a session on ‘Geography and the military’ organised by Eric Sheppard at the AAG conference in Tampa (an appropriate location for several reasons) to debate these issues.  But it should now be clear that the production of these geographical knowledges is not confined to the military and civilian intelligence agencies, the academy and large corporations but also includes a host of much smaller private contractors devoted to ‘geographical intelligence’.  They come in different shapes and sizes, and with different agendas.  Caerus, for example, describes itself as a ‘strategy and design firm’ that helps clients ‘understand and thrive in complex, conflict-afflicted, and disaster-affected environments’.  But there are many others, and it’s important not to lose sight of their role in what the US military would call ‘shaping the battlespace’…

Digital airstrikes and physical casualties

Afghanistan

The US military defines Close Air Support (CAS) as ‘air action by fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity to friendly forces, and [it] requires detailed integration of each air mission with the fire and movement of those forces.’  It’s a difficult and dangerous business, and not only for the intended targets.

The technologies of CAS have been transformed but, according to the the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, its fundamentals haven’t changed since the First World War.

‘Pilots and dismounted ground agents must ensure they hit only the intended target using just voice directions and, if they’re lucky, a common paper map. It can often take up to an hour to confer, get in position and strike—time in which targets can attack first or move out of reach.’

To achieve what is in effect the time-space compression of the kill-chain, DARPA is developing its Persistent Close Air Support program to provide an all-digital system.  The system ‘lets a Joint Tactical Air Controller call up CAS from a variety of sources, such as aircraft or missile platforms, to engage multiple, moving and simultaneous targets,’ explains David Szondy (from whom I’ve borrowed the short-hand ‘digital airstrikes’). ‘By eliminating all the radio chatter and map fumbling, the exercise is much faster and more accurate with reduced risk of friendly fire incidents.’  The program manifesto, for want of a better word, includes these aims and specifications:

The program seeks to leverage advances in computing and communications technologies to fundamentally increase CAS effectiveness, as well as improve the speed and survivability of ground forces engaged with enemy forces.

The program envisions numerous benefits, including:

  • Reducing the time from calling in a strike to the weapon hitting the target by a factor of 10, from up to 60 minutes down to just 6 minutes 
  • Direct coordination of airstrikes by a ground agent from manned or unmanned air vehicles
  • Improved speed and survivability of ground forces engaged with enemy forces
  • Use of smaller, more precise munitions against smaller and moving targets in degraded visual environments
  • Graceful degradation of services—if one piece of the system fails, warfighters would still retain CAS capability

PCAS_ProgramPage_Image

PCAS has two components:

The first is PCAS-Air, which … involves the use of internal guidance systems, weapons and engagement management systems, and communications using either the Ethernet or aircraft networks for high-speed data transmission and reception. PCAS-Air processes the data received, and provides aircrews via aircraft displays or tablets with the best travel routes to the target, which weapons to use, and how best to use them.

The other half is PCAS-Ground, intended for improved mobility, situational awareness and communications for fire coordination. Soldiers on the ground can use an HUD eyepiece wired to a tablet that displays tactical imagery, maps, digital terrain elevation data, and other information [the image above is an artist’s impression of the Heads-Up Display]. This means they can receive tactical data from PCAS without having to keep looking at a computer screen.

PCAS-Ground has been deployed in Afghanistan since December 2012.  The original plan, as the emphasis on ‘persistent’ implies, was to integrate the system with drones, but after the cancellation of the US Air Force’s MQ-X (‘Avenger’) program Raytheon announced that PCAS would be developed using a conventional A-10 Thunderbolt.

There is of course a long history to the digitisation and automation of the battlespace, and that reference to the First World War was not an anachronism.  There were such intimate links between mapping, aerial photography and artillery ranging on the Western Front – whose cascade of updated imagery and intelligence underwrote the seeming stasis of trench warfare – that Peter Chasseaud described the result as ‘a sophisticated three-dimensional fire-control data base’ through which ‘in effect, the battlefield had been digitised.’  It was also, in a sense, automated; I discuss this in detail in ‘Gabriel’s Map’, but it’s captured perfectly in Tom McCarthy‘s novel C.

More obvious way stations to the present include the Vietnam-era Electronic Battlefield, whose sensor-shooter system I described in ‘Lines of descent’ (DOWNLOADS tab) as a vital precursor to today’s remote operations:

Another was the development of the PowerScene digital terrain simulation that was used to identify target imagery transmitted by proto-Predators over Bosnia-Hercegovina and to rehearse NATO bombing missions.

PowerScene at Wright-Dayton AFBRemarkably, it was also used at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base during the negotiations that led to the Dayton peace accords. As one US officer explained:  ‘It’s an instrument of war but we’ll use it for peace because you are willing to come to the table’.  The system was used to explore proposals for potential boundaries, but the sub-text was clear: if agreement could not be reached, NATO had a detailed military knowledge of terrain and targets.  (For more, see James Hasik‘s Arms and innovation: entrepreneurship and alliances in the twenty-first century defense industry (2008) Ch. 6: ‘Mountains Miles Apart’; Richard Johnson‘s ‘Virtual Diplomacy’ report here; and a precocious paper by Mark Corson and Julian Minghi here, from which I’ve taken the image on the left).

powerscene2PowerScene was later used by USAF pilots rehearsing simulated bombing missions against Baghdad in the 1990s (see right) – the system fixed target co-ordinates and red ‘bubbles’ displayed threats calibrated on the range of surface-to-air missile systems – and when Anteon Corporation and Lockheed Martin introduced TopScene air strikes over Afghanistan in 2001 were also rehearsed over digital terrain.

But there is another side to all this, because digital platforms can also be used to enable others to display and interrogate the geography of air strikes.  I’ve discussed this before in relation to the CIA-directed program of targeted killing in Pakistan here and here, but impressive progress has also been made in plotting air strikes across the border in Afghanistan.

The most remarkable use of USAF/ISAF data that I know is Jason Lyall‘s work in progress on what he calls ‘Dynamic coercion in civil wars’ – ‘Are airstrikes an effective tool of coercion against insurgent organizations?’ – which focuses on air strikes in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011. This is part of a book project, Death from above: the effects of airpower in small wars; the most recent version of the relevant analysis is here.  The map below is Jason’s summary of air strikes in Afghanistan 2006-11, but as I’ll explain in a moment, it gives little idea of the critical digital power that lies behind it.

JASON LYALL Air strikes in Afghanistan 2006-2011

First, the original USAF/ISAF data was in digital form, but transforming it into a coherent and consistent geo-coded database has involved a truly extraordinary enterprise:

We draw on multiple sources to construct a dataset of nearly 23,000 airstrikes and shows of force in Afghanistan during 2006-11. The bulk of the dataset stems from newly-declassified data from the Air Forces Central’s (AFCENT) Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) in Southwest Asia, which recorded the location, date, platform, and type/number of bombs dropped for January 2008 to December 2011 in Afghanistan. These data required extensive cleaning to ensure that a consistent standard for each type of air operation was maintained and duplicates dropped. These data were supplemented by declassified data from the International Security Assistance Force’s (ISAF) Combined Information Data Exchange Network (CIDNE) for the January 2006 to December 2011 time period. Finally, additional records from press releases by the Air Force’s Public Affairs Office (the “Daily Airpower Summary,” or DAPS) were also incorporated. … Each air operations’ intended target was confirmed using at least two independent coders drawing on publicly available satellite imagery. Merging of these records was extremely labor intensive, not least because of the near total absence of overlap between CAOC, CIDNE, and DAPS records. Only 448 events were found in all three datasets, underscoring the problems inherent in single-sourcing data, even official data, in conflict settings (my emphasis).

Second, to get the full visual effect of Jason’s analysis you absolutely need to see the animation that he’s made available on his website here; the image below is just a screenshot for September 2009 (I’ll explain why I chose that month in my next post).

JASON LYALL Air strikes in Afghanistan 09:2009

But what about casualty figures?  Josh includes a summary map of 216 air strikes involving acknowledged civilian casualties, taken from the same military databases (with all their limitations), and in January 2011 the US military released its data on ‘CIVCAS’ for the previous two years to the journal Science.  They included casualties from all parties to the conflict:

The numbers show that 2,537 Afghans civilians were killed and 5,594 were wounded in the past two years. Most of the deaths – 80 percent – are attributed to insurgents, with 12 percent caused by coalition forces, a 26 percent drop.

Here is Science‘s visualization of the CIVCAS data, designed to capture the time-space rhythms of violence from multiple causes:

F2.medium

You can access the interactive version here.

But other sources (notably the Afghan Rights Monitor and the UN Mission in Afghanistan, UNAMA, which produces six-monthly Reports on the protection of civilians in armed conflict) using different methodologies came up with much higher figures; here is a graph from the most recent UNAMA report showing casualties from air strikes 2009-13:

UNAMA Civilian casualties from air attacks 2009-13

UNAMA added this comment:

UNAMA welcomes the reduction in civilian casualties from aerial operations but reiterates its concern regarding several operations that caused disproportionate loss of civilian life and injury. UNAMA also raises concerns with the lack of transparency and accountability about several aerial operations carried out by international military forces that resulted in civilian casualties.

You can find the full analysis by John Bohannon, which includes a discussion of both databases, at Science (open access) here.

To be sure, counting casualties is always a contentious (and often dangerous) affair.  Getting information from the government of Afghanistan isn’t any more straightforward, as Nick Turse has shown: as he adds, ‘neither is it cheap’.  But he persevered, and the wonderful Pitch Interactive (a data visualization studio that also produced the haunting representation of deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan) collaborated with The Nation to produce a stunning interactive of ‘civilian deaths that have occurred in Afghanistan as a result of war-related actions by the United States, its allies and Afghan government forces.’  Here’s a screenshot:

Civilian fatalities in Afghanistan 2001-2012

You will see running along the top the military commanders during each period; the red dots mark major events.  It’s common knowledge – or should be – that the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 was spearheaded by an intensive high-level bombing campaign (I described this in The Colonial Present), shown along that desperately deep left margin.  But I suspect fewer people have grasped the reliance that ISAF has continued to place on air power.  What stands out from the image above, clearly, is the disproportionate (sic) number of deaths attributed to air strikes (5, 622) compared with ground operations (794) throughout the period: the UNAMA data above suggest that this only started to change in 2013. You can read more about this in the essay by Bob Dreyfuss and Nick Turse that accompanied the interactive, ‘America’s Afghan victims’, here, and – as always – the tireless work of Marc Herold is indispensable.

And to forestall a stream of comments, my title is not intended to suggest that digital technologies or the airstrikes they facilitate are somehow ‘immaterial’; nothing could be further from the truth.  Or the killing fields.

Global terrorism

With all the usual caveats about the notoriously contentious definition(s) of ‘terrorism’,  the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), which has been up and running at the University of Maryland since 2005, has now geocoded its Global Terrorism Database – at least for 2012 – and from its list of more than 8,400 terrorist attacks that killed over  15,400 people its has produce this map of terrorist attacks last year:

START Terrorist attacks 2012

‘Although terrorism touched 85 countries in 2012, just three – Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan – suffered more than half of 2012’s attacks (54%) and fatalities (58%)… The next five most frequently targeted countries were India, Nigeria, Somalia, Yemen and Thailand.’

You can download a hi-res and zoomable version here, and you can find out more about START here.

Of course, it’s a moving map:

‘In the 1970s, most attacks occurred in Western Europe. In the 1980s, Latin America saw the most terrorist acts. Beginning with the 1990s, South Asia, North Africa and the Middle East have seen steadily rising numbers of attacks, a trend that has accelerated in recent years.’

And since START is a ‘Center of Excellence of the US Department of Homeland Security’ then, no, the map doesn’t include US drone strikes or attacks on civilians carried out by US allies.

Deconstruction on the map

There have been many maps tracking the course of military and paramilitary violence in Syria.  They include general ‘situation maps’ like this one from Canada’s National Post early last year (and whatever I think about the politics of the paper, its graphics are often outstanding):

National Post 13 January 2012

Or this one from the New York Times on 12 March 2013 (and, as Brian Harley would have been the first to remind us, the very titles of the maps tell their own stories of uncertainty, sympathy and affiliation: but ‘Map of the dispute in Syria’?  I understand ‘conflict’, ‘civil war’, ‘uprising’ – but ‘dispute‘?!).

Map of the dispute in Syria NYT

Other sites have tried to capture the fluidity of the situation through a series of updated though largely conventional maps, like Political Geography Now‘s maps of ‘rebel activity’ here and a very different, quite remarkable series of ‘military maps’ here (though as far as I can see no information on sources is provided).  The BBC‘s ‘Mapping the Conflict’ interactive is here and its earlier attempts at ‘Mapping the Insurgency’ are here.  Relief Web‘s bi-weekly mapped updates on the refugee crisis are all here.

Some of the most imaginative crowd-sourced maps are provided by Syria Tracker here (and more on the project’s data mining and crowd sourcing from iRevolution here). One of the most ambitious interactive projects, reported by the Guardian and master-minded by the New Scientist, is this one, which uses the open-source QGIS to extract and locate violent events recorded on the new Global Data on Events, Location and Tone database (though, for reasons that will be obvious to most geographers, the hexagons give me another pause for unquiet thought); you can access the interactive via the NS here:

NS Charting Syria's Civil War

All of these maps suffer from inevitable imperfections and deficiencies of data, and they all process and manipulate what they have in different ways (not least by the boundaries they draw around their maps: see this more porous map of the internationalization of the war from Foreign Policy).

We all surely know that none of these representations can be innocent – which brings me to other, more specific mapping projects, like this crowd-sourced map of rape as a military weapon from Women under siege; the live, interactive map is here.

Sexualized violence in Syria

You can find a detailed discussion of the project up to July 2012 by the project’s director Lauren Wolfe here (and an excellent interview here):

‘To step back from the red dots on our map and try to understand the sexualized violence of Syria’s war, our team of doctors, activists, and journalists has taken the 81 stories we’ve gathered so far, from the onset of the conflict in March 2011 through June 2012… Many more victims are included in these reports, but the vagueness of much of the information does not allow us to give an estimate of the total number…. Our data, though largely anecdotal, gives us a sense of the scope and impact of sexualized violence in Syria. It appears to be widespread, not limited to any particular city, and often involves rape.

“The data we have so far suggest sexualized violence is being used as a tool of war, although possibly haphazardly and not necessarily as an organized strategy,” said Dr. Karestan Koenen, associate professor of epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University and the lead epidemiologist on the mapping project. “These reports indicate that post-conflict intervention will need to address the consequences of sexualized violence for victims.”

More on that and the possibilities of what we might call forensic cartography from Laura Bates at Open Democracy here:

The crowdmap may serve another vital function in the future, when the information might be used to help drive prosecutions and bring perpetrators to justice. Wolfe hopes that collecting these reports now will give us a base from which to pursue more detailed investigations on the ground post-conflict “to turn our documentation into evidence that could be used in future war crimes trials”. This is vital when dealing with a crime which carries so much stigma that “stories are usually gathered after the fact, when much has been lost to shame and the destruction of evidence.”

Another potential instance of forensic cartography is this map from Human Rights Watch of sites where, despite denials by the Syrian Army, there is evidence of cluster bombs being used (more here):

2012MENA_Syria_Clusters_Map_1022-1

Apart from the forensic possibilities, all of this must seem desperately depressing – so many violent deconstructions of the material map – but a Syrian activist, Omar al Assil, has produced a map (of sorts – it’s a web of associations, technically a force-directed graph: plotting physical locations of activists would obviously be inviting reprisals) of non-violent activism in Syria; you can read about it courtesy of Amnesty International here and check out the interactive here.  Incidentally, unless it’s a temporary glitch, Amnesty’s own Eyes on Syria project seems to have shut both of them…

Non-violence map of the Syrian uprising

 “In the [Syria Non-Violence Movement] we believe that there is still a room for peaceful struggle and creativity amid all this chaos. Many people thought that the non-violence came to an end and this is a small step to show them that it is still there and they are using it or working with it on daily basis. So mainly it was to motivate people and the other aim is to document all these activities so interested people can have access to it easily.”

Taken together, these last maps say something about the courage of people’s convictions – and perhaps even the (I fear faint) possibility of cartographic convictions.

‘It sounds like a whisper’

BUNGE Fitzgerald 1st edn

BUNGE Fitzgerald 2nd ednRemember Bill Bunge‘s Fitzgerald: geography of a revolution (1971)?   Trevor Barnes and Nick Heynen celebrated its republication in 2011 by the University of Georgia Press:

‘Forty years after its publication, Fitzgerald remains fresh, energetic, compelling, and relevant. One of Bunge’s purposes in Fitzgerald was to do human geography differently. He pushed the discipline in a new direction, helping to transform it into something else. If we see Fitzgerald differently now compared to when it was written it is because the discipline in which we gave become socialised has significantly altered. Fitzgerald helped to change it. We all contain, perhaps more than we would like to think, perhaps more than we would like to know, a little bit of Bunge, a little bit of Fitzgerald.’

You can find the full set of commentaries in Progress in human geography 35 (5) (2011).  What distinguished Fitzgerald, apart from its driving, passionate narrative, was a series of remarkable, original and imaginative maps of the Detroit neighbourhood where Bunge made his home.  These were not decorations – many of them were deeply troubling – but an indispensable means of driving the argument home.

Now Denis Wood has followed in Bunge’s footsteps – readers will surely know The power of maps (which he wrote and later re-thought with John Fels) – using maps to tell a series of exquisitely layered stories about Boylan Heights in Raleigh, North Carolina in Everything sings: maps for a narrative atlas (2013).  His publisher Siglio explains:

Iconoclastic geographer Denis Wood has created an atlas unlike any other. He surveys his small, century-old neighborhood in Raleigh, North Carolina by first paring away the inessential “map crap” (scale, orientation, street grids), then by locating the revelatory in the unmapped and unmappable: radio waves permeating the air, the paperboy’s route in space and time, the light cast by street lamps, Halloween pumpkins on porches. His joyful subversion of the traditional notions of mapmaking forge new ways of seeing not only this particular place, but also the very nature of place itself.

DENIS WOOD Everything Sings

In a long and lively interview about the book, re-published today on Guernica, Denis argues:

Maps are just nude pictures of reality, so they don’t look like arguments. They look like “Oh my god, that’s the real world.” That’s one of the places where they get their kick-ass authority.

If you’re having trouble explaining the politics of ‘deconstructing the map’, then this may be a good place to start.  And do click on the thumbnails above the interview for a selection of 20 images from the expanded edition of Everything sings.  More on Denis’s work and access to his writing (and much more besides) at his website here.

WAINWRIGHT GeopiracyOf course other, markedly ugly narratives can be inscribed on the world through maps.  Fitzgerald was a collaborative project, and it drew on the work of the Detroit Geographical Expedition.  But there have been other, decidedly invasive ‘geographical expeditions’ – like the American Geographical Society’s Bowman Expedition (Zoltan Grossman provides a rich series of sources here, and Joel Wainwright‘s Geopiracy: Oaxaca, militant empiricism and geographical thought (2012) is indispensable).  So it’s good to know that Denis is currently completing another book (with Joe Bryan), Weaponizing Maps: bringing the conquest home, which is an incisive analysis of military mapping of indigenous populations in Canada, Colombia, Honduras, Mexico and Nicaragua and the imbrications of cartographic Reason with contemporary counterinsurgency.

I expect both Bill Bunge and Tracy Chapman would agree there’s a revolution needed there too.

‘Stop, hey, what’s that sound?’

I’ve used this Buffalo Springfield song before

there’s something happenin’ here
what it is ain’t exactly clear
there’s a man with a gun over there…

stop, hey, what’s that sound?

– and I’ve posted about the sound of war before too, here and here.  This post is connected to both of them, but it also follows directly from my more recent post on bodies

McCARTHY CAn age ago Trevor Barnes recommended Tom McCarthy‘s novel C to me, and I’ve been re-reading it these last few days. There’s an extraordinary passage where McCarthy’s protagonist Serge, an observer with the Royal Flying Corps during World War I, is being driven to Nieppe when his truck  detours ‘to drop off some piano wire’ to a special unit in the woods north of Vitriers.

Inside the main [hut], he finds a huge square harp whose six strings are extended out beyond their wooden frame by finer wires that run through the hut’s air before breaching its boundary as well, cutting through little mouse-holes in the east-facing wall. In front of the harp, like an interrogation lamp, a powerful bulb shines straight onto it; behind it, lined up with each string, a row of prisms capture and deflect the light at right angles, through yet another hole cut in the hut’s wall, into an unlit room adjoining this one. There’s a noise coming from the adjoining room: sounds like a small propeller on a stalled plane turning from the wind’s pressure alone. “What is this place?” Serge asks. “You’re an observer, right?” the slender-fingered man says. Serge nods. “Well, you know how, when you’re doing Battery Location flights, you send down K.K. calls each time you see an enemy gun flash?” “Oh yes,” Serge answers. “I’ve always wondered why we have to do that …” “Wonder no more,” the man says with an elfin smile. “The receiving operator presses a relay button each time he gets one of those; this starts the camera in the next room rolling; and the camera captures the sound of the battery whose flash you’ve just K.K.’d to us. You with me?” “No,” Serge answers. “How can it do that?” “Each gun-boom, when it’s picked up by a mike, sends a current down the wires you just pissed on,” the man continues, “and the current makes the piano wire inside this room heat up and give a little kick, which gets diffracted through the prisms into the next room, and straight into the camera.” “So you’re filming sound?” Serge asks. “You could say that, I suppose,” the man concurs.

Sound ranging traces

Still puzzled, he follows the man into another hut:

The interior’s suffused with red light. At a trough propped up against the far wall, a man with rolled-up sleeves is dunking yards of film into developing liquid, then feeding it on from there into a fixing tank. As the film’s end emerges from this tank in turn, he holds it up, inspects it and tears off sections, clipping these with clothes pegs to a short stretch of washing line, from where they drip onto the discarded strips on the room’s floor below them. “Yuk,” Serge whispers beneath his breath. “What?” the slender-fingered man asks. “Nothing,” he replies. “Look here,” Serge’s guide says, unclipping a strip of the developed film and pointing at dark lines that run, lengthways and continuous, along its surface. The lines—six of them—are for the most part flat; occasionally, though, they erupt suddenly, and rise and fall in jagged waves, like some strange Persian script, for half an inch, before settling down and running flat again. On the film’s bottom edge, beside the punch-holes, a time-code is marked, one inch or so for every second. The jagged eruptions appear at different points along each line: staggered, each wave the same shape as the one on the line below it, but occurring a quarter of an inch (or three-tenths of a second) later. “So,” Serge’s elfin guide continues, “these kicks are made by the sound hitting each mike; and they get laid out on the film at intervals that correspond to each mike’s distance from the sound. You see them?” “Yes,” Serge answers. “But I still don’t—” “These ones ready to take through?” the guide asks the developer. The other man nods; with his piano-player’s fingers, the guide unclips the other drip-dried strips, then leads Serge out to yet another hut. This one’s wall has a large-scale map taped to it; stuck in the map in a neat semi-circle are six pins. Two men are going through a pile of torn-off, line-streaked film-strips, measuring the gaps between the kicks with lengths of string; then, moving the string over to the map slowly, careful to preserve the intervals, they transfer the latter onto its surface by fixing one end of the string to the pin and holding a pencil to the other, swinging it from side to side to mark a broad arc on the map. “Each pin’s a microphone,” the slender-fingered man explains. “Where the arcs intersect, the gun site must be.” “So the strings are time, or space?” Serge asks. “You could say either,” the man answers with a smile. “The film-strip knows no difference. The mathematical answer to your question, though, is that the strings represent the asymptote of the hyperbola on which the gun lies.”

Serge has stumbled into what Peter Liddle called ‘the Manhattan Project of the 1914-18 war’: sound ranging.  It was a technique first developed by the French and German militaries  – a German sound ranging analysis section is shown below – taken up (warily) by the British (Berton claims their  old-school gunners at first thought it radical nonsense) and refined by the Canadians. As McCarthy’s brilliant reconstruction shows, it involved using sound to locate enemy artillery batteries.

The usual configuration was to have six ‘Tucker’ microphone stations at carefully surveyed intervals along an arc 4000 yards behind the front line with two observation posts in front of them, all linked to a recording station in the rear by 40 miles of wire.  When the observers saw a gun flash or heard its boom they sent a signal that activated the oscillograph and film recorder.  In the course of 1916 the British established eight of these sound-ranging sections, each plotting battery positions on base maps supplied by ‘Maps GHQ’.  In ideal conditions (which were rare) the operation could be completed for a single battery within three minutes (using graphical rather than computational methods) and with an accuracy of 25-100 yards (for more, see J.S. Finan and W.J. Hurley, ‘McNaughton and Canadian Operational Research at Vimy’, Jnl. of the Operational Research Society 48 (1) (1997) 10-14).

Analysis section of German sound ranging troop 1917

The single best source on this – though the title sounds like Flash Gordon – is John Innes‘s Flash spotters and sound rangers: how they lived, worked and fought in the Great War (1935), but Pierre Berton‘s Vimy (1986) has some useful summary pages on the Canadian role in its development. There is also a truly excellent survey that places sound-ranging in the wider context of the ‘battlefield laboratory’ in Roy MacLeod, ‘Sight and sound on the Western Front: surveyors, scientists and the “battlefield laboratory”, 1915-1918’, War & Society 18 (1) (2000) 23-46.  For more technical discussions, Peter Chasseaud‘s Artillery’s astrologers: a history of British survey and mapping on the Wester Front 1914-1918 (1999) is a key source, but there is also an exemplary (short) explanation here, from which I’ve borrowed the simplified summary diagram below.

Sound ranging

The Germans were evidently impressed by the efficacy of the Allied system, as this directive issued by General Ludendorff shows:

According to a captured English document the English have a well- developed system of sound-ranging which in theory corresponds to our own. Precautions are accordingly to be taken to camouflage the sound: e.g. registration when the wind is contrary, and when there is considerable artillery activity, many batteries firing at the same time, simultaneous firing from false positions, etc. The English have an objective method (self-recording apparatus). It is important to capture such an apparatus. The same holds good on the French front.

Since most of the killing and destruction was the work of the artillery, these counter-battery operations were a crucial part of the ground war.  Multiple sources were used, including aerial reconnaissance, balloon observation and flash spotting as well as sound ranging, and when combined these could eventually locate enemy guns to within 5-25 yards.  This map of German artillery intelligence for Vimy in March 1917 shows something of the power and complexity of this ‘acoustic cartography’:

German artiller intelligence map Enemy batteries known with certainty to be firing and spotted 15 to 22 March 1917 Vimy

Maps showing the location of enemy batteries (‘Positions maps’ like the British one below) were issued on a regular and eventually even a daily basis.

Positions map. December 1917-January 1918

This was all part of a more general metricisation of the battlefield – hideously appropriate for the killing machine that was industrialized warfare – which you can also see in the ‘barrage maps’ that choreographed the moving curtain of artillery fire behind which troops were supposed to advance on the enemy lines.  John Keegan is very good on what he called ‘the mathematics of the barrage’ in his The Face of Battle, and from his aircraft high above No Man’s Land, Billy Bishop described it as ‘clockwork warfare’:

The waves of attacking infantry as they came out of their trenches and trudged forward behind the curtain of shells laid down by the artillery, were an amazing sight. The men seemed to wander across No Man’s Land, and into the enemy trenches, as if the battle was a great bore to them. From the air it looked as though they did not realise that they were at war and were taking it all entirely too quietly. That is the way with clock-work warfare. These troops had been drilled to move forward at a given pace. They had been timed over and over again in marching a certain distance, and from this timing the “creeping,” or rolling barrage which moved in front of them had been mathematically worked out.

BARRAGE MAP bataille-ypres-passchendaele-carte-secret

Here’s part of the barrage map for Vimy, which shows the calibration even more clearly:

Vimy barrage map 1917 (extract)

McCarthy captures this ‘clockwork’ movement perfectly when Serge looks down from his aircraft while spotting for artillery:

As the second-hand needle moves across the final quarter-segment of his watch’s face, Serge feels an almost sacred tingling, as though he himself had become godlike, elevated by machinery and signal code to a higher post within the overall structure of things, a vantage point from which the vectors and control lines linking earth and heaven, the hermetic language of the invocations, its very lettering and script, have become visible, tangible even, all concentrated at a spot just underneath the index finger of his right hand which is tapping out, right now, the sequence C3E MX12 G … Almost immediately, a white rip appears amidst the wood’s green cover on the English side. A small jet of smoke spills up into the air from this like cushion stuffing; out of it, a shell rises. It arcs above the trench-meshes and track-marked open ground, then dips and falls into the copse beneath Serge, blossoming there in vibrant red and yellow flame. A second follows it, then a third. The same is happening in the two-mile strip between Battery I and its target, and Battery M and its one, right on down the line: whole swathes of space becoming animated by the plumed trajectories of plans and orders metamorphosed into steel and cordite, speed and noise. Everything seems connected: disparate locations twitch and burst into activity like limbs reacting to impulses sent from elsewhere in the body, booms and jibs obeying levers at the far end of a complex set of ropes and cogs and relays. The salvos pause; Serge plots the points of impact on his clock-code chart, then sends adjustments back to Battery E, which fires new salvos that land slightly to the north of the first ones. 

There’s a lot more to say about this, which I plan to do in the full presentation, but what interests me at least as much is the way in which this precision (Gabriel’s ‘order and reasonableness’) – so clear and crystalline when plotted on maps or seen from the air – was confounded on the ground, not least by the shattered landscape of craters, trenches and barbed wire and by the vile agency of what Siegfried Sassoon called the ‘plastering slime’ that clawed and dragged at the soldiers’ bodies and which was erased from what Edmund Blunden called the ‘innocuous arrows’ and ‘matter-of-fact symbols’ of the maps and aerial photographs.

More particularly, I’m interested (here) in the production of an altogether more sensuous soundscape, part of the corpography that danced such a deadly gavotte with cartography that I sketched out in my previous post.  In Touch and intimacy Santanu Das argues that

‘The mechanised nature of the First World War severed the link between sight, space and danger, a connection that had traditionally been used to structure perception in wartime.  This disjunction resulted in an exaggerated investment in sound.’

The memoirs, letters and diaries from the Western Front confirm that the hideous noise of battle worked its way inside the very body of the soldier.  I’ve got pages of examples, but here is just one, Edward Lynch in Somme Mud (and, for that matter, in Somme mud):

‘The shells are missing us by a matter of yards.  Noise is everywhere.  We lie on the shuddering ground, rocking to the vibrations, under a shower of solid noise we feel we could reach out and touch.  The shells come, burst and are gone, but that invisible noise keeps on – now near, now far, now near, now far again.  Flat, unceasing noise.’

I’ve emphasised the passage that simply resonates with what I described previously as a haptic geography.  And so, not surprisingly, the same sources also show that, just as the landscape was inhabited, so too was knowledge of it; that knowing those deadly sounds – ‘knowing the score’, I suppose – was a vital part of staying alive.  Here is an extended passage from A.M. Burrage‘s War is war:

We are becoming acclimatised to trench warfare. We know by the singing of a shell when it is going to drop near us, when it is politic to duck and when one may treat the sound with contempt. We are becoming soldiers. We know the calibres of the shells which are sent over in search of us. The brute that explodes with a crash like that of much crockery being broken, and afterwards makes a “cheering” noise like the distant echoes of a football match, is a five-point-nine. The very sudden brute that you don’t hear until it has passed you, and rushes with the hiss of escaping steam, is a whizz-bang. For a perfect imitation of a whizz-bang, sit by the open window of a railway compartment and wait until an express train passes you at sixty miles an hour. The funny little chap who goes tonk-phew-bong is a little high-velocity shell which doesn’t do much harm. “Minnies” and “flying pigs” which are visible by day and night come sailing over like fat aunts turning slow somersaults in mid-air. Wherever one may be, and wherever they may be going to drop, they always look as if they are going to fall straight on top of one. They are visible at night because they have luminous tails, like comets. The thing which, without warning, suddenly utters a hissing sneeze behind us is one of our own trench-mortars. The dull bump which follows, and comes from the middle distance out in front, tells us that the ammunition is “dud.” The German shell which arrives with the sound of a woman with a hare-lip trying to whistle, and makes very little sound when it bursts, almost certainly contains gas.

 We know when to ignore machine-gun and rifle bullets and when to take an interest in them. A steady phew-phew-phew means that they are not dangerously near. When on the other hand we get a sensation of whips being slashed in our ears we know that it is time to seek the embrace of Mother Earth.

The end of the war was apprehended in both registers, and this frontispiece from Benedict Crowell’s Demobilization (1920) shows how an American sound-ranging station captured the moment the guns fell silent:

The end of the war: 11 a.m. on 11 November 1918

‘Stop, hey, what’s that sound?’

‘Imagination bodies forth…’

Following from my previous post, I’ve been thinking a lot about bodies recently, and for two reasons.

DUDZIAK War-timeThe first is the workshop on War & Medicine I attended in Paris just before Christmas.  It became very clear early on how difficult it is to determine when military violence comes to an end; Mary Dudziak has recently written about this in her War time: an idea, its history, its consequences (Oxford, 2012), largely from a legal point of view (and not without criticism), but it’s worth emphasising that the effects of violence continue long after any formal end to combat.  This ought to be obvious, but it’s astonishing how often it’s ignored or glossed over.

Think, for example, of the continuing toll of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, recovered in detail by Catherine Lutz (who was part of the workshop) and her colleagues at the Costs of War project, which shows how ‘the human and economic costs of these wars will continue for decades’.

NIXON Slow violenceOr think of  the toxic environments produced by ecological warfare, by the use of depleted uranium in munitions, and by the continued deployment of land mines and cluster bombs – what Rob Nixon brilliantly calls the ‘slow violence’ produced by ‘ecologies of the aftermath’ (more on this in a later post):

 ‘In our age of depleted-uranium warfare, we have an ethical obligation to challenge the military body counts that consistently underestimate (in advance and in retrospect) the true toll of waging high-tech wars.  Who is counting the staggered deaths that civilians and soldiers suffer from depleted uranium ingested or blown across the desert?  Who is counting the belated fatalities from unexploded cluster bombs that lie in wait for months of years, metastasizing into landmines?  Who is counting deaths from chemical residues left behind by so-called pinpoint bombing, residues that turn into foreign insurgents, infiltrating native rivers and poisoning the food chains?  Who is counting the victims of genetic deterioration – the stillborn, malformed infants conceived by parents whose DNA has been scrambled by war’s toxins?’

(If you think we are winning the war on land-mines, especially in you are in Canada, read this).

These two contributions – and the conversations we had in Paris – rapidly displaced the lazy assumption of a politics of care in which the left mourns civilian casualties and the right military casualties. That there is a politics of care is clear enough, but there’s also a political geography: that’s written in to the biopolitical projects that are contained within so many late modern wars, and in Paris Omar Dewachi and Ghassan Abu-Sitta described how ‘care’ has become a means of controlling populations in wars in Iraq, Libya and Syria – a rather different sense of ‘surgical warfare’ from the one we’re used to – with states like Saudi Arabia and Qatar also funding the transfer of thousands of injured people from the war zones for treatment in hospitals in Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon.

And two brilliant medical anthropologists, Ken Macleish and Zoe Wool, brought with them vivid, carefully wrought ethnographies of injured soldiers’ bodies.  The American soldier may appear a figure of unprecedented invulnerabilty and astonishing violence – what Ken calls a figure of ‘technological magic’ produced by a ‘phantasmagoric technological empowerment of the body’ – but, as he and Zoe reminded us, soldiers are not only ‘the agents and instruments of sovereign violence’ but also its objects.  Their studies took me to places I’ve never been and rarely thought about, but I’ve been thinking about two other dimensions of their work that combined to produce my second reason for thinking about bodies.

One is the historicity that is embedded in this process.  Ken paraphrased Walter Benjamin‘s observation in the wake of the First World War – ‘the technological progress evident in modern warfare does not ensure the protection of the human body so much as it subjects it to previously unimaginable forms of harm and exposure’ – and linked it to John Keegan‘s claim in The face of battle that the military history of the twentieth-century was distinguished by the rise of ‘”thing-killing’ as opposed to man-killing weapons’ (the example he had in mind was heavy artillery).  The other is the corporeality of the combat zone.  Ken again:  ‘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.’  In an essay ‘On movement’ forthcoming in Ethnos, Zoe develops this insight through an artful distinction between carnality and corporeality (which may require me to revise my vocabulary):

‘The analytics of movement is a turning toward emergent carnality, flesh, and the way it is seen and felt; proprioception and those other senses of sight, sound, touch, and taste through which a body and a space enact a meaningful, sensible articulation; visceral experiences forged and diagnosed through the trauma of war which also exceed its limits.’ 

an-ice-cream-warAnd so to my second reason for thinking about bodies. Later this month I’m giving a lecture in the University of Kentucky’s annual Social Theory series.  The theme this year is Mapping, and my title is ‘Gabriel’s Map‘.  This is a riff on a phase from William Boyd‘s novel, An Ice-Cream War, that has haunted me ever since I first read it:

‘Gabriel thought maps should be banned.  They gave the world an order and reasonableness it didn’t possess.’

The occasion for the remark is a spectacularly unsuccessful British attempt to defeat a much smaller German force in November 1914 at Tanga in German East Africa; the young subaltern, Gabriel, rapidly discovers that there is a world of difference between what Clausewitz once called ‘paper war’ – a plan of attack plotted on the neat, stable lines of a map – and ‘real war’.   What I plan (sic) to do is arc back from this exceptionally brutal campaign – which lasted two weeks longer than the war in Europe – to the western front.  The two were strikingly different: the war in Africa was a war of movement and manoeuvre fought with the most meagre of military intelligence, whereas the central years of the war in Europe were distinguished by stasis and attrition and involved an extraordinary effort to maintain near real-time mapping of the disposition of forces.

The point here is to explore a dialectic between cartography and what I think I’m going to call corpography.

FINNEGAN Shooting The FrontThe first of these has involved working out the intimate relationship between mapping and aerial reconnaissance (what the Royal Flying Corps called ‘shooting the front’).  There is a marvellously rich story to be told here which, among other things, shows that the stasis of trench warfare was Janus-faced: it was produced by a myriad of micro-movements – advances and withdrawals, raids and repulses – whose effectiveness depended not on the fixity of the map at all but on its more or less constant updating (which in turn means that this capacity isn’t the unique preserve of twenty-first century ‘digital navigation’).  So here I’ll show how a casaced of millions of trench maps and aerial photographs was produced, distributed and then incorporated into the field of action through copies, re-drawings, sketches and annotations by front-line soldiers.  I have wonderful, telling examples, like this one (look carefully at the annotations):

Trench map annotated

Santanu DAS: Touch an dintimacy in First World War literatureBut I also want to show (as the map above implies: all those “full of dead” annotations) how, for these men, the battlefield was also literally a field: a vile, violent medium to be known not only (or even primarily) through sight but through touch, smell and sound: what Santanu Das memorably calls a ‘slimescape’ which was also a soundscape.  This was a close-in terrain that was known through the physicality of the body as a sensuous, haptic geography:

‘Amidst the dark, muddy, subterranean world of the trenches, the soldiers navigated space … not through the safe distance of the gaze but rather through the clumsy immediacy of their bodies: “crawl” is a recurring verb in trench narratives, showing the shift from the visual to the tactile.’

This was a ‘mapping’ of sorts – as Becca Weir suggests in  ‘“Degrees in nothingness”: battlefield topography in the First World War’, Critical Quarterly 49 (4) (2007) 40-55 – and there is a dialectic between cartography and corpography.

I’ve been working my way through a series of diaries, memoirs and letters to flesh out its performance in detail, but the most vivid illustration of the entanglements of cartography and corpography that I’ve found – and that I suspect I shall ever find – is this extract from a ‘body density map’ for part of the Somme.  This shows the standard trench map above a contemporary satellite photograph; each carefully ruled square is overprinted with the number of dead soldiers found buried in the first sweep after the war (between March and April 1919)…

Body Density Map, High Wood, Somme image by shipscompass on flickr

I won’t say more at present because I need to keep my powder dry for Kentucky, but I hope it will be clear by the end that, even though I’ll be  talking about the First World War, I will also have been talking about the wars conducted in the shadows of the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

After Hiroshima

slavick After HiroshimaFollowing my post on artists and bombing, and in particular the work of elin o’Hara slavick, elin has written with news of her new book, After Hiroshima, due in March from Daylight, with what she calls a ‘ridiculously brilliant essay’ from James Elkins.

If you’re interested in two different but none the less intimately related works, I recommend Paul Ham‘s Hiroshima Nagasaki (Doubleday, 2012), which is extraordinarily good at placing those terrible attacks in the context of a strategic air war waged primarily against civilians (according to the Air Force Weekly Intelligence Review at the time, ‘There are no civilians in Japan’: sound familiar?) – and this needs to be read in conjunction with David Fedman and Cary Karacas, ‘A cartographic fade to black: mapping the destruction of urban Japan in World War II’, Journal of historical geography 38 (2012) 303-26 (you can get a quick visual version here) – and Rosalyn Deutsche’s Hiroshima after Iraq: three studies in art and war (Columbia, 2010), based on her Wellek Library Lectures in Critical Theory given in 2009.

You can get a preview of elin’s ‘After Hiroshima’ project here. Scrolling down that page, my eye was caught by the image ‘Woman with burns through kimono’, taken in 1945, which transported me to another ridiculously brilliant work, Kamila Shamsie‘s dazzling novel Burnt Shadows.  I’ve been haunted by it ever since I read it, and in the draft of the first chapter of The everywhere war I start with this passage from the novel:

Burnt Shadows

And this is how I go on (and please remember this is a draft):

A man is being prepared for transfer to the American war prison at Guantanamo Bay: unshackled, he strips naked and waits on a cold steel bench for an orange jumpsuit.  ‘How did it come to this?’ he wonders.  This is the stark prologue to Kamila Shamsie’s luminous novel Burnt Shadows.  She finds her answer to his question in a journey from Nagasaki in August 1945 as the second atomic bomb explodes, through Delhi in 1947 on the brink of partition, to Pakistan in 1982-3 as trucks stacked with arms grind their way from the coast to the border training-camps, and so finally to New York, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay in 2001-2.   These are all, in their different ways, conflict zones and the turning-points of empires, tracing an arc from the cataclysmic end of the Second World War through the Cold War to the wars fought in the shadows of 9/11.   In this book, I follow in her wake; I find myself returning to her writing again and again.  Although this is in part the product of her lyrical sensibility and imaginative range, there are three other reasons that go to the heart of my own project and which provide the framework for this chapter.

The first flows from the historical arc of the novel.   Shamsie is adamant that Burnt Shadows is not her ‘9/11 novel’.  She explains that it is not about the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on 11 September 2001 but about the cost and consequences of state actions before and after.  Her long view reveals that the connections between Ground Zero in 1945 and Ground Zero in 2001 are more than metaphorical.  These are connections not equivalences – and far from simple – but like Shamsie I believe that many of the political and military responses to 9/11 can be traced back to the Cold War and its faltering end and, crucially, that the de-stabilization of the distinction between war and peace was not the febrile innovation of the ‘war on terror’.  I start by mapping that space of indistinction, and it will soon become clear that the dismal architects of the ‘war on terror’ (the scare-quotes are unavoidable) not only permanently deferred any prospect of peace but claimed to be fighting a radically new kind of war that required new allegiances, new modalities and new laws. Here too there are continuities with previous claims about new wars fought by the advanced militaries of the global North, conducted under the sign of a rolling Revolution in Military Affairs and its successor projects, and quite other ‘new wars’ fought by rag-tag militias in the global South: all of them preceding 9/11.

I turn to those new wars next, and this brings me to the second reason why Shamsie’s work is relevant to my own discussion.  While she was writing Burnt Shadows she used Google Earth to disclose the textures of New York City, and marvelled at how obediently they swam into view: ‘3D models of buildings, amazingly high-resolution images, links to photographs and video streams of Manhattan.’ When she turned to Afghanistan, however, all the details dissolved into ‘an indistinct blur, and the only clues to topography came from colours within the blur: blue for rivers, brown for desert, green for fertile land.’  But that was then (2006).  Three years later, a different Afghanistan was brought into view.  ‘As I click through all the YouTube links tattooed across the skin of Afghanistan,’ she wrote, ‘I encounter video clips of American solders firing on the Taliban, Canadian politicians visiting troops, Dutch forces engaged in battle, an IED blast narrowly missing a convoy of US soldiers, a video game in which a chopper hails down missiles and bullets on a virtual city which looks more like Baghdad than Kabul.’  Shamsie uses these distinctions to remind us that ‘we’re still using maps to inscribe our stories on the world.’  So we are; and throughout this book I also turn to these violent cartographies, as Michael Shapiro calls them: maps, satellite images and other forms of visual imagery. These inscriptions and the narratives that they impose have a material form, and they shape both the ways in which we conduct ‘our’ wars and also the rhetoric through which we assert moral superiority over ‘their’ wars.  Yet even as I sketch out these contrasting imaginative geographies, another indistinction – a blurring, if you like – seeps in.  For one of the most telling features of contemporary warscapes is the commingling of these rival ‘new wars’ in the global borderlands, the ‘somewhere else’ that Abdullah reminds Kim is always the staging ground of America’s wars.

And this brings me to the final reason for travelling with Burnt Shadows: Abdullah’s insistence that war is like a disease.  This is an ironic reversal of the usual liberal prescription that justifies war – which is to say ‘our’ war – as a necessity: ‘killing to make life live’, as Michael Dillon and Julian Reid put it.  They argue that war in the name of liberalism is a profoundly bio-political strategy in which particular kinds of lives can only be secured and saved by sacrificing those of others.   You might say that war has always been thus, but what is distinctive about the contemporary conjunction of neo-liberalism and late modern war is its normative generalization of particular populations as at once the bearers and the guardians of the productive potential of ‘species-life’.  Here too there are terrible echoes of previous wars, and these brutal privileges depend, as they often did in the past, on discourses of science and economics (and on the couplings between them).  But contemporary bio-politics also draws its succour from new forms of the life sciences that treat life as ‘continuously emergent being’.  This is to conjure a world of continuous transformation in which emergence constantly threatens to become emergency: in which there is the ever-present possibility of life becoming dangerous to itself.  For this reason the social body must be constantly scanned and its pathologies tracked: security must deal not with a grid of fixed objects but a force-field of events, and war made not a periodic but a permanent process of anticipation and vigilance, containment and elimination.  Mark Duffield calls this ‘the biopolitics of unending war’ – war that extends far beyond the killing fields –in which the global borderlands become sites of special concern. Its prosecution involves the production of new geographies – new modes of division and distinction, tracing and tracking, measuring and marking – that provide new ways of continuing the liberal project of universalizing war in the pursuit of ‘peace’.  In the face of all this, Abdullah had a point.


Bomb Sight

Another pre-script…. Last week I noted two projects that aimed to bring drone strikes to your smart phone, but here’s one that promises to do the same for the London Blitz.  Developed by researchers at the University of Portsmouth led by Kate Jones, in conjunction with the National Archives, and working from the official wartime Bomb Census, Bomb Sight uses web and mobile mapping technology to ‘bring to life [sic] the maps that demarcate the location of [31,000] falling bombs during the London Blitz between October 1940 and June 1941.’  It’s a truly remarkable project that intends to link the sites on the map to photographs, eye-witness accounts and memories.

The project is being developed for the Android platform but there is apparently the future possibility of porting to the iPhone – assuming that Apple doesn’t find this as objectionable as it did Josh Begley‘s Drones+ app (I’m betting it won’t).

The blog recording the development of Bomb Sight includes some screen shots – I’ve pasted some below – showing detailed maps and augmented reality views that give more insight into the intended outcome.

Unlike attempts to plot drone strikes in Pakistan and elsewhere, the Bomb Census Survey maps produced by the Ministry of Home Security make it possible to identify locations with great (though sometimes variable) precision – a capacity that was of course unavailable to those dropping the bombs in the first place – and there is a rich vein of images and testimony to tap into too.

It’s that prospect of multi-media linkage that makes this such a brilliant project.  There have been other attempts to map the Blitz; the Guardian produced this remarkable map of the ‘incidents’ to which the London Fire Brigade responded on the first night of the Blitz, 7 September 1940, for example, and made available an online interactive so that the toll could be followed hour by hideous hour:

You need to ‘grow’ the markers on the map; the Guardian noted that each ‘incident’ typically involved multiple bombs.  But even more telling is the word itself: ‘incident’.  For, as John Strachey noted in his memoir of his time as an Air Raid Warden, it’s a bureaucratic, bloodless term:

In contrast, what Bomb Sight promises to do is not only to disaggregate each ‘incident’ to show every bomb dropped but, still more importantly, to deconstruct the very term itself: to link the bomb scatter to imagery and testimony and so give the lie to these bloodless abstractions.

Perhaps if something similar could be done for other cities around the world more people would be enraged at the continued recourse to bombing from the air as a legitimate political and military practice, and the politics of  ‘banning the bomb’ might be transformed into a more general demand to ban all bombs.

If you want to see more of Bomb Sight, there’s a very good video up at YouTube: