The hospital raids

This is the first in a new series of posts on military violence against hospitals and medical personnel in conflict zones.  I’ve discussed these issues on multiple occasions in the past – in relation to Afghanistan, Gaza and Syria – but I’m now working towards a presentation – and ultimately an extended essay – that brings this all together (including a detailed analysis of the US air strike on the MSF Trauma Centre in Kunduz).  It will have its first outing (“Surgical Strikes and Modern War”) at NUI Galway next month.

It was a clear, moonlit night and the hospitals – many of them provided by humanitarian organisations – were brightly lit as the nurses moved about the wards caring for their patients; elsewhere the hard-pressed surgeons were still operating on the maimed bodies of the wounded.  At 10 p.m. they heard the sound of approaching aircraft: first the clatter of gunfire and then, after the hospitals were plunged into precautionary darkness, the whistle of bombs falling.  The hospitals were hit repeatedly, and two hours later – when the flames had burned themselves out and the smoke cleared – several nurses had been killed and hundreds of patients had been killed or injured; multiple wards had been severely damaged.  Ten days later the aircraft returned; one hospital was totally destroyed and elsewhere operating rooms and wards were destroyed or damaged.

The scene is all too familiar: but this is not Gaza in 2014, Afghanistan in 2015 or Syria in 2016.  This is Étaples on the coast of France, 25 km south of Boulogne, in May 1918.

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On the Western Front it was common for stretcher-bearers to come under fire as they retrieved the wounded from No Man’s Land or carried them through the trenches and down the roads to aid posts and dressing stations; those places were often shelled since they were close to the front lines.  On 13 September 1914 Travis Hampson – a Medical Officer with a Field Ambulance – noted:

As one of our buses drove out onto the road to pick up some wounded gunners from the battery opposite, one landed on the road in front of it, and one behind, but not near enough to do any damage. With their glasses they must have been able to distinguish the white tilt and red cross, but we can’t grumble about being shelled if we are put amongst ammunition columns and batteries.

So too with the Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS) which had moved close to the front lines to speed up the treatment of what were often catastrophic wounds and to minimise the risk of infection.  Here is Kate Luard writing in her diary at Brandhoek on 18 August 1917:

He [the enemy] played about all night till daylight. There were several of him. He went to C.C.S.’s behind us. At one he wounded three Sisters and blew their cook-boy to pieces. The Sisters went to the Base by Ambulance Train this morning. At the other he wounded six Medical Officers among other casualties. A dirty trick, because he has maps and knows which are hospitals back there. Here we are in a continuous line of camps, batteries, dumps, etc., and he may not know.

In fact, her CCS was judged to be too close for comfort  and was ordered to evacuate a few days later.

Luard’s last sentence reinforces Hampson’s; in general (so she suggests) the Red Cross was respected.  The following year she wrote about German air raids on the CCS:

Jerry comes every night again and drops below the barrage, seeking whom he may devour: I think he gets low enough to see our huge Red Cross, as even when some of our lads butt in and engage him with their machine-guns, he hasn’t dropped anything on us.

For the most part, then, it seems that attacks on medical sites and personnel were the result of the inaccuracy of shellfire and bombing (especially at night) compounded by the close proximity of aid posts, dressing stations, CCS and ambulance trains to the fighting.

Yet the hospital raids in the last year of the war seemed to be something else.  Étaples was distant from the fighting, the site of a vast collection of ‘base hospitals’ – ‘the Land of Hospitals’, Sister Elsie Tranter called it, ‘a stretch of six kilometres of hospitals’ – to which wounded soldiers were sent from casualty clearing stations near the rapidly moving front: some to be treated and returned to active service, others to be evacuated across the Channel on hospital ships.

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As soon as the news broke, the British press were up in arms at what the Times lost no time in calling ‘German savagery at its worst’:

‘During the recent fine weather our airmen have … made every use of the still air and the good visibility to attack and harass the enemy by bombing his camps, billets, rail-heads, batteries, dumps, roads and all points of military importance in the battle area and immediately behind.  At the same time, the German airmen have also been making use of the favourable conditions by having recourse to their old trick of bombing hospitals.

‘There is one place in France, faraway from the battle area, where we have a large group of hospitals.  The hospital tents there cover a great area of ground.  The Germans are perfectly aware of the character of the place, and they selected it as the object of a bombing raid last year.  They have again been attacking it, and the size of the tract of ground covered with hospital outfits and the entire absence of any concealment make it a mark which no airman could possibly miss.  An airman blind and drunk could let bombs fall from any height in any wind and weather, and they must land somewhere amongst the attendants’ quarters or on the tents where the nursing sisters move among the rows of cots with their helpless occupants.

‘On Sunday night the Germans attacked the place with all the ferocity of which they are capable… The scenes inside the tents were of the most piteous description, and the total casualties to patients, sisters, medical officers and attendants must have far exceeded those of any London air raid.  The redeeming feature of the whole horrible affair was the magnificent behaviour of the hospital staff…’ [Times, 24 May 1918]

This too is a familiar narrative, and one that would be repeated in countless wars to come: ‘we’ attack military targets with precision, ‘they’ attack civilian targets with abandon; their aircrew are cowards, our victims are heroes.

The press provided photographic evidence of the aftermath of the raids:

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One of the German pilots was shot down – ‘and is now being cared for in the hospital he bombed’, thundered the Times – and his protestations were summarily dismissed:

‘He tried at first to excuse himself by saying that he saw no Red Cross.  When challenged with the fact that he knew that he was attacking hospitals he endeavoured to plead that hospitals should not be placed near railways, or if they are, they must take the consequences.  Apart from the fact that hospitals must be near railways for the transport of their patients, in this case, as in the others, the raiders were not attacking the railway but came deliberately to bomb the hospital.’

Punch dismissed German remorse as crocodile tears:

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There were repeated angry calls for reprisals. Arthur Conan Doyle urged that the captured pilot be shot ‘with a notice that such will be the fate of all airmen who are captured in such attempts’ and recommended that German prisoners of war ‘at once be picketed among the tents’ to deter future raids [Times, 27 May 1918].  Sir James Bell went further.  Although his son had been killed in one of the raids, reprisals were not about revenge, he said, but were a strictly ‘military matter’.  He recommended ‘bombing German hospitals and killing their wounded’ to stop the outrages [Times, 5 June 1918].

Finally, the press trumped arguments about the presence of Red Crosses on the hospitals.  The Hague Convention required belligerents to take ‘all the necessary measures … to spare, as far as possible, … hospitals, and places where the sick and wounded are collected, on the understanding that they are not being used at the same time for military purposes’ and required them to mark such places with ‘distinctive and visible signs’.

But far from respecting these protocols there was photographic evidence that the Germans were abusing the Red Cross to protect their own military installations:

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The aerial photograph was taken on 15 May 1918, and the caption described this as an active aerodrome at Thionville; the large building displaying the Red Cross ‘might house one or two sick’ but the Mirror insisted it ‘could not possibly be a hospital in any sense that would enable it to claim Red Cross immunity.’

And so, in her diary entry for 24 June 1918, Sister Edith Appleton wondered

‘if there is any truth in what they say about the bombing of hospitals – that in German territory the flying men have seen what are without doubt aeroplane hangers and ammunition dumps marked with huge red crosses. They are not near a railway and are so placed that they simply cannot be hospitals. I suppose they think we do the same and they bomb us on the chance of it. Of course we bomb their hangers and dumps – we should be fools if we didn’t! I am quite sure though that they do know what is a real hospital. They can see the wounded men walking about and some lying out in beds.’

Yet the press reports were studiedly disingenuous.  Étaples was indeed physically removed from the fighting – ‘far away from the battle’, as the Times‘s correspondent noted – but it was functionally and logistically absolutely central to the Allied military machine because it was the site of multiple Infantry Base Depots.  It was a vital transit and training camp – all those ‘TCs’ scattered across the map (above).

‘The Base!’ Edmund Blunden exclaimed in Undertones of War: ‘dismal tents, huge wooden warehouses, glum roadways, prisoning wire.’  He associated it, ‘as millions do, with “The Bull-Ring”, that thirsty, savage, interminable training-ground’ among the dunes where new recruits and newly discharged patients were put through their paces and ‘toughened up’ by unrelenting instructors.  When American military surgeon Harvey Cushing drove past its camps in 1917 they were ‘full of men rushing about like so many ants and all the color of the soil; drilling in the sand, practicing with machine guns, throwing bombs [grenades], having bayonet exercise, digging trenches and I know not what all.’  [For a thoughtful account of the oppressive conditions endured by troops during their two-week stints at the base and their contribution to the mutiny of 1917, see Douglas Gill and Gloden Dallas, ‘Mutiny at Étaples base 1917’, Past and Present 69 (1975) 88-112: ‘A corporal encountered several men returning to the front with wounds which were far from being healed. “When I asked why they had returned in that condition they invariably replied: ‘To get away from the Bull Ring’.”‘]

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In a letter to his mother Wilfred Owen described the base as ‘a vast, dreadful encampment’:

It seemed neither France nor England, but a kind of paddock where the beasts are kept a few days before the shambles [slaughter] … Chiefly I thought of the very strange look on all the faces in that camp; an incomprehensible look, which a man will never see in England …; nor can it be seen in any battle.  But only in Étaples. It was not despair, or terror, it was more terrible than terror, for it was a blindfold look, and without expression, like a dead rabbit’s.

The training camps were a sea of bell tents (below) – like many of the hospitals – and the captured airmen insisted that this had been their objective: ‘the number of bell tents convinced them this was not [a hospital] as patients would not be in bell tents.’

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Étaples had been targeted before.  Vera Brittain, who was a nurse with the Voluntary Aid Detachment at No 24 General Hospital, described the ‘ceaseless and deafening roar [that] filled the air’ during the German  offensive in the spring: ‘Motor lorries and ammunition waggons crashed endlessly along the road; trains with reinforcements thundered all day up the line, or lumbered down more slowly with their heavy freight of wounded…’

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Images like this painting (above) by Olive Mudie-Cooke – a VAD convoy unloading an ambulance train at Étaples – are immensely powerful, but they ought not to blind us to the movement of men and matériel in the other direction.  As Vera Brittain knew only too well, there were in consequence frequent air raids on the lines of communication:

Certainly no Angels of Mons were watching over Etaples, or they would not have allowed mutilated men and exhausted women to be further oppressed by the series of nocturnal air-raids which for over a month supplied the camps beside the railway with periodic intimations of the less pleasing characteristics of a front-line trench.  The offensive seemed to have lasted since the beginning of creation, but must have actually been on for less than a fortnight, when the lights suddenly went out one evening…  Instead of the usual interval of silence followed by the return of the lights, an almost immediate series of crashes showed this alarm to be real…

Gradually, after another brief burst of firing, the camp became quiet, though the lights were not turned on again that night.  Next day we were told that most of the bombs had fallen on the village; the bridge over the Canche, it was reported, had been smashed, and the train service had to be suspended while the engineers performed the exciting feat of mending it in less than twelve hours.

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The bridge was of overwhelming strategic importance: by the time of the spring offensive a hundred military trains were passing over it every day.  Here is H.A. Jones in the official history of The war in the air (citing Colonel M.G. Taylor):

The enemy advance against the British on the Somme and on the Lys in March and April had endangered the railway system. ‘The culmination was reached in May 1918, when the great lateral line from St. Just, via Amiens, to Hazebrouck had to be abandoned as a railway route owing to enemy shell fire. Our armies were then penned into a narrow strip of country, possessing only one lateral railway communication, through Abbeville and Boulogne. Most of the forward engine depots had been lost, and several of the important engine depots remaining were so close to the enemy as to be practically useless, and our one lateral, along which all reserves and reinforcements drawn from one part of the front to be thrown in at another had to be moved, was threatened daily and nightly by persistent air attacks on the bridge over the Canche river at Etaples.

The Germans knew the importance of destroying, and the British of protecting, this line of communications.

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Vera Brittain had returned to London when the Times published its report on the air raids in May. ‘It was clear from the guarded communiqué that this time the bombs had dropped on the hospitals themselves,’ she wrote, ‘causing many casualties and far more damage than the breaking of the bridge over the Canche in the first big raid.’  Cushing also recorded the enormity of the raid:

Étaples has had a bad hit – much worse than we had supposed… For two hours the raiders kept it up, returning again and again like moths around a flame.

But he knew Étaples of old and reckoned the objective was the same as before: not even the camps but the railway. ‘They were doubtless after the railroad and perhaps the bridge half a mile below.’

The official British history was similarly unequivocal:

During the night of the 19th/20th of May, at the time when the last of the German aeroplane raids was being made on London, fifteen bombers attacked the Etaples bridge. Only one bomb fell close and this did no damage: most of them exploded in neighbouring hospitals and camps with terrible effect… One of the German bombers was shot down, and the captured crew insisted that they did not know that hospitals were situated near the railway. They also expressed surprise, not without reason, that large hospitals should be placed close to air targets of first-rate military importance.

Certainly, the casualties were not confined to the hospital area:

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Two Infantry Base Depots suffered direct hits; 53 per cent of military casualties were outside the hospital area.

In fact, behind the scenes the British military and the intelligence service accepted that the hospitals were probably not the intended targets of the raid on 19-20 May or the second raid on 31 May/1 June. Here is the aftermath of that second raid on one Canadian hospital:

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major-general_john_maitland_salmondAlthough Sir Douglas Haig firmly believed the hospitals were deliberately targeted in the second raid – he complained that ‘special measures’ had been taken after the air raid on the night of 19-20 May, with ‘Red Crosses repainted so that there could be no possible doubt as to the hospital area’ [see the image below] – Major-General John Salmond [right], who commanded the newly designated Royal Air Force in France, ‘considered it extremely improbable that Red or White Crosses would be distinctly visible at the height from which hostile pilots drop their bombs, usually 5,000 feet or over.’

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The same (classified) report dated 29 June 1918 conceded that no definitive conclusion could be reached, but its author, the Director of Military Operations at the War Office Sir Percy Radcliffe, was none the less adamant that

We have no right to have hospitals mixed up with reinforcement camps, and close to railways and important bombing objectives, and until we remove the hospitals from vicinity of these objectives and place them in a region where there are no important objectives. I do not think we can reasonably accuse the Germans.

Indeed, Vera Brittain had prefaced her account of the May raids with a revealing rider.  ‘The persistent German raiders,’ she wrote, ‘had at last succeeded in their intention of smashing up the Étaples hospitals’ which ‘had so satisfactorily protected the railway line for three years without further trouble or expense to the military authorities‘ (my emphasis).  Now she was scarcely a spokeswoman for the British military, but her remark gestures towards the possibility of a remarkably cynical extension of the medical exemption to cover military objectives.

A hundred years later these same arguments about intentionality, accuracy, co-location and the protection (or otherwise) of a Red Cross would reappear in different guises.  But they would also be joined by others that revealed an aggressive refusal to accept the principle of medical neutrality at all.

To be continued

Zombie law

Britain's Kill List cover JPEGOver at ESIL [European Society of International Law] Reflections [5 (7) 2016], Jochen von Bernstorff has a succinct commentary on ‘Drone strikes, terrorism and the zombie: on the construction of an administrative law of transnational executions‘.

His starting-point is the UK report on the government’s policy on the use of drones for targeted killing that was published in May 2016 in response to the killing of Reyad Khan in Syria last August: you can find more in REPRIEVE’s report on Britain’s Kill List (April 2016) and in two commentaries at Just Security from Noam Lubell here and Kate Martin here.

In Jochen’s view, the UK has effectively endorsed the policies of the Obama administration and in doing so has hollowed out fundamental legal regimes that supposedly constrain state violence.

First is the concerted attempt to legitimise the unilateral killing of suspected terrorists outside ‘hot’ battlefields – in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan, for example – as a new form of pre-emptive self-defence to be invoked whenever the state whose sovereignty is transgressed is ‘unwilling or unable’ to take appropriate counter-measures.  I discuss other dimensions of this in ‘Dirty dancing’ (DOWNLOADS tab), and pay attention to its colonial genealogy, but Jochen emphasises another even more starkly colonial inflection:

‘The main protagonists in this discursive effort take it for granted that the new legal regime will not be applied among us, which is among Western states and the five permanent Security Council members. There will be no US-drone attacks in Brussels or Paris to kill ISIS-terrorists without the consent of the Belgian or French government, even if these governments proved to be unable to find and arrest terrorists. The new regime is a legal framework for what can be called the “semi-periphery”, consisting of states that do not belong to the inner circle or are not powerful enough to resist the application of the regime.’

Second, and closely connected, is the claim that armed conflict follows the suspect – that the individuation of warfare (‘the body becomes the battlefield’, as Grégoire Chamayou has it) licenses the everywhere war: simply, wherever the suspect seeks refuge s/he becomes a legitimate target of military violence.  But there is nothing ‘simple’ about it, Jochen contends, because this involves a wholesale exorbitation of the very meaning of armed conflict that completely trashes the role of international human rights law in limiting violence against those suspected of criminal wrong-doing.

Finally, Jochen concludes that the arguments adduced by the UK and the USA (and, I would add, Israel) demonstrate that international law is so often transformed through its violation: in Eyal Weizman‘s ringing phrase, ‘violence legislates‘.  Here is Jochen:

 ‘The Zombie is created by a fundamental reconceptualization of the notion of self- defence and armed conflict in international law with the aim to get rid of all legal constraints on state violence imposed by the law enforcement paradigm. Is this a new legal regime? Are we really moving towards an administrative law of transnational executions? It is an inherent problem of international legal discourse that measures of Great Powers violating the law will often be reformulated as an evolving new legal regime and legal scholars should be extremely sceptical of any such claims, since whoever says “emerging” in an international legal context very likely wants to cheat.’

Grim Reapers

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Sky News has a report on Launch & Recovery crews responsible for US/UK drone operations against IS in Iraq and Syria based “somewhere in the Middle East”.

Much of it will be all too familiar to most readers:

Relentlessly watching their prey. Monitoring every movement a high profile Islamic State target makes.

In the words of the American officer I speak to, “we are the unblinking eye”…

“We are going to be on that target as long as the weather allows and as long as the mission allows.

In many cases there is more than one asset on that individual.

“You know when he’s going to go to the bathroom, you know when he’s going to go to eat, you know when he’s going to go to prayer time.

“You know where he goes, his associates.

“That’s all about building that picture so that we know and we can project when he’s going and where he’s going to be.”

But the video embedded in the report repays close attention, not least for the brief glimpses of the video feeds from the drones themselves.

Drone airborne JPEG

The first two images (above) are clips from the video used by the pilot to control the aircraft – a view of the runway before take-off and an airborne view before control is handed off to the crew who will fly the assault mission from ground control stations in either the US or the UK – while the third (below) is from the imagery used to identify a ‘possible target’.  The comparison between this last image and the equally ‘High Definition’ imagery released from an Italian MQ-9 Reaper late last year is instructive: see my post here.

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You can find updates on the UK campaign in Iraq and Syria at Drone Wars UK here and here.

As Chris Cole reports there, too, the use of remote platforms [RPAs] to strike targets in Afghanistan has increased dramatically following the draw-down of US and NATO forces:

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It is surely not coincidental that last month the US Air Force renamed eight of its RPA reconnaissance squadrons ‘attack squadrons’:

‘Eight RPA reconnaissance squadrons [based at Holloman AFB in New Mexico, Whiteman AFB in Missouri, and Creech AFB in Nevada] will be redesignated as attack squadrons [and]… Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III authorized RPA aircrews to log combat time when flying an aircraft within designated hostile airspace, regardless of the aircrew’s physical location.

The changes were two of many recommendations that emerged as part of Air Combat Command’s Culture and Process Improvement Program, which seeks to address a number of issues affecting operations and the morale and welfare of Airmen across the RPA enterprise….

“Aerial warfare continues to evolve. Our great RPA Airmen are leading that change. They are in the fight every day,” Welsh said. “These policy changes recognize the burdens they bear in providing combat effects for joint warfighters around the world.”’

Wounded

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This summer London’s Science Museum is staging an exhibition that is of direct relevance to my current research on casualty evacuation from war zones over the last hundred years:  Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care.  It opens on 29 June and is designed to commemorate the centenary of the Battle of the Somme:

57,000 casualties were sustained by British Forces on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, creating huge and unprecedented medical challenges. Wounded: Conflict, Casualties and Care, a new exhibition opening at the Science Museum on 29 June, will commemorate the 100th anniversary of this battle and the remarkable innovations in medical practices and technologies that developed as a result of this new kind of industrialised warfare.

During the First World War ten million combatants were killed, but double that number were wounded and millions were left disabled, disfigured or traumatised by their experiences. The challenges were immense. For medical personnel near the front line treating blood loss and infection was the immediate priority in order to save lives. However medics also encountered new forms of physical and mental wounding on a scale that had never been seen before, creating huge numbers of veterans returning home with serious long term care needs.

At the centre of the exhibition will be a remarkable collection of historic objects from the Science Museum’s First World War medical collections, illustrating the stories of the wounded and those who cared for them. From stretchers adapted for use in narrow trenches to made-to-measure artificial arms fitted back in British hospitals, medical technologies, techniques and strategies were pioneered or adapted throughout the war to help the wounded along each stage of rescue and treatment. Visitors will also see unique lucky charms and improvised personal protective items carried by soldiers on the frontline alongside examples of official frontline medical equipment.

I’m looking forward to seeing this over the summer.  The organisers note that:

 Warfare has changed dramatically over the last one hundred years, but similarities remain with the military medical challenges faced today, both through the experiences of the wounded and in their treatment and care. The Wounded exhibition team has worked closely with two UK charities that were formed during the First World War, Combat Stress and Blind Veterans UK, to draw out these parallels and share the personal experiences of soldiers wounded in more recent conflicts.

You can find some of my preliminary thoughts on casualty evacuation from the Western Front here and here, and on twenty-first century casualty evacuation in Afghanistan here and here.  Some of the differences between the two systems are summarised in this slide from a presentation on the project I gave in 2014.

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Much  more to come!

The Geographies of Sixty Minutes

One of the cardinal principles informing modern casualty evacuation is the Golden Hour.  In 1975 R. Adams Cowley, founder of Baltimore’s Shock Trauma Institute, argued that ‘the first hour after injury will largely determine a critically injured person’s chances for survival.’  It’s not a straightforward metric, and combat medical care and evacuation has been transformed since it was first proposed, but the rule of thumb is that the chances of survival are maximised if the time between traumatic injury and definitive care is kept to 60 minutes or less.

Following a fire-storm of criticism on 15 June 2009 US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates required the standard time between a call for evacuation and treatment of the critically injured to be 60 minutes or less.  For US military personnel in the Second World War the average time was 10 hours; in Korea that had been cut to 5 hours (the result of using helicopters for speedy evacuation); and in Vietnam it was already down to one hour.  The reason for Gates’s intervention was that in Afghanistan the aim was two hours…

U.S. Air Force Sgt. Daniel Fye serving on a tour in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan in April 2011. (Courtesy of Daniel Fye)

U.S. Air Force Sgt. Daniel Fye serving on a tour in the Kandahar province of Afghanistan in April 2011. (Courtesy of Daniel Fye)

The importance of those time-critical sixty minutes was no secret to the troops in the line of fire.  Here is a scene from Brian Castner‘s truly brilliant All the ways we die and kill which imagines the thoughts running through one soldier’s head – Air Force Technical Sergeant Dan Fye on his third tour of duty with Explosive Ordnance Disposal (above) – after he stepped on an IED during a clearance operation in Mushan (Panjwayi) on 27 May 2011:

They worked on Fye a long time, and the longer they worked, the more anxious Fye got about the precious minutes slipping away. “I don’t hear the bird,” he said, over and over. They wrote the time of the tourniquet application on the white headband Fye wore under his helmet. Hopkins pushed morphine into his veins.

Eventually, an eon since Hopkins arrived but only twenty-five minutes after the blast, the hyperactive thump of helo blades cutting air slowly emerged in the distance.

Fye thought it was the most wonderful sound he had ever heard. They were at the extreme limit of the NATO footprint, and so it was a sixty-kilometer flight to the main hospital at Kandahar [see map below]. If they moved quickly, Fye would just make it in the magic golden hour.

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Castner writes that as Fye was bleeding out in the back of the helicopter, he was

‘clinging to one thought and one thought only, running in a continuous Times Square news ticker across the front of his oxygen-starved brain: One hour. If I can get back to Kandahar in one hour, I’ll live. One hour, and I’ll live. That’s what they say. You’ll make it if you can get back to the hospital in one hour.’

He made it.  The new, modernised and expanded Role 3 NATO hospital at Kandahar had opened a year earlier, and its executive officer claimed that ‘They hit our doors, they live.’

Kandahar new Role 3 2010

But Fye was lucky.  Later he learned why it had taken so long for the helicopter to arrive, and why he very nearly never made it to Kandahar at all:

Over multiple radio calls between Hopkins’s platoon and the rescue operations center, his report of “bilateral amputation” had been converted, telephone-game style, into “bilateral lacerations.” The medical operations center had actually turned the rescue mission off; helos don’t fly for scraped knees. The bird that eventually picked up Fye wasn’t even a real medevac bird. That’s why the robotic flight crew ignored him, didn’t treat his wounds as they went. They weren’t medics. The helo pilots had just been in the air and happened to overhear the radio traffic, including the original call for help. They understood the mistake and had disobeyed orders to go get Fye. If the human pilot of that bird had been less stubborn, the golden hour would have been long past by the time Fye made it to KAF, and he could well have been one of the 1 percent.

(More from Brian on medical evacuation here and here).

Even without miscommunication the logistical challenges were formidable.  In 2007, two years before Gates’ intervention, ISAF produced this map showing the medevac coverage – what Fye called the ‘NATO footprint’ – that supported that two-hour standard (I have taken this map and the following one from a report prepared by Col Dr Ingo Hartenstein for NATO/ISAF in December 2008 which is available here; scroll down):

ISAF Medevac coverage 2 hours

Like Vietnam, Afghanistan was a ‘war without fronts’ with a battlefield geometry that imposed a radically different evacuation model from the classical line of evacuation that had been established during the First World War.  Here is how Brian Turner puts it in My life as another country:

We won’t hear the battle in progress and work our way toward it as baggage trains of wounded, exhausted soldiers and civilians carrying their lives on their backs travel in the opposite direction. Our battle space – and perhaps it’s a cliché now – will occur in a 360-degree, three-dimensional environment.

More technically, here is Brigadier Martin Bricknell, who served (among many other roles) as Medical Adviser to ISAF’s Regional Command South in Kandahar in 2010:

The tactical geometry for the current operating environment is based upon security forces holding areas of ground and securing this space from opposition activity. This converts the battlefield from the conventional force-on-force linear geometry with an identifiable confrontation line to an area battlefield with multiple nodes of contested space. Thus the MEDEVAC mission is converted from a linear flow to area support, hence MEDEVAC planning is based upon a ‘range ring’ coverage with a radius of 40–60 nautical miles.

Given the available resources, a second map showed how those ‘range rings’ would contract if the Golden Hour were to be imposed over the evacuation grid:

ISAF MEDEVAC coverage allowing 1 hr from POI to surgery HARTENSTEIN

In practice, the situation was more variable than these maps imply – not least because there was a significant difference between the ways in which American and British contingents organised medical evacuation.

The US military, drawing on their experience in Vietnam, used Blackhawk or Pavehawk helicopters to get paramedics or combat medical technicians to the casualty as fast as possible:

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The British used larger Chinook helicopters to dispatch a Medical Emergency Response Team (MERT) with a trauma surgeon onboard to the casualty close to the point of injury (POI):

MERT Afghanistan.001

The response time was usually longer but the MERT enabled advanced trauma care to begin as soon as the patient was onboard.

There has been considerable debate and disagreement about the robustness of the ‘Golden Hour’ in military trauma care and its relation to evacuation pathways: see, for example,  Jonathan Clarke and Peter Davis, ‘Medical evacuation and triage of combat casualties in Helmand Province, Afghanistan: October 2010-April 2011’, Military Medicine 171 (11) (2012) 1261-6.  But a research team has now calibrated the effects of reduced evacuation time on US casualty fatality rates (CFR) in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 [Russ Kotwal et al, ‘The effect of a Golden Hour policy on the morbidity and mortality of combat casualties’, JAMA Surgery 151 (1) (2016) 15-24; see also here]:

KOTWAL Case fatality rate and transport time

For 4,500 cases of US military casualties with detailed data the study showed a substantial change in the CFR following the Secretary of Defense’s mandate to evacuate casualties within 60 minutes: as the median evacuation time fell from 90 minutes to 43 minutes the CFR fell from 13.7 to 7.6; before the mandate 25 per cent of casualty evacuation missions fell within the Golden Hour, after the mandate the proportion soared to 75 per cent.

The interpretive field is a complicated one – while a significant number of casualties who would previously have died from their wounds now survived, a proportion of those who would previously have been recorded as ‘killed in action’ (KIA) none the less now ‘died of wounds’ (DOW) – and the reasons for the improvement in survival rates are also multivariate:

‘Secondary effects resulting from the mandate that contributed to achieving the mandated time included stream-lined authority and helicopter launch procedures, increased number and dispersion of Army helicopters, and the addition of Air Force helicopters to assist with the Army prehospital transport mission. As decreased time from critical injury to treatment capability was the underlying goal, personnel with increased expertise (blood transfusion protocol-trained basic medics, critical care paramedics, and critical care nurses) were trained and assigned to prehospital flights more routinely, resulting in earlier availability of blood products and other advanced care.

In addition, an increase in the number and dispersion of small but mobile forward surgical teams across the battle-field brought major surgical capability even closer to the point of injury and provided an alternative to transporting patients longer distances to large, but less mobile, civilian trauma center–equivalent [Combat Support Hospitals].’

GoldenHourFig1

These findings – together with the experience of the British MERTs – intersect with a recalibration of the Golden Hour.  The US Combat Casualty Care Research Program (CCCRP) has proposed an ‘evolved concept’ (see the figure above) that moves from a location-based protocol to a physiological one:

The program must be willing to turn the doctrine of fixed or traditional echelons of care on its side and innovate for scenarios in which Level II and III care is performed aboard transport vehicles (land-, air- or sea-based) or within local structures of opportunity. In such circumstances, field care may be prolonged, lasting for days or even weeks. Combat casualty care research with these complex scenarios in mind promises to enhance resuscitative capability for injured service personnel regardless of environment, leveraging communications networks (i.e., telementoring) and targeted resupplies of materials. In the future, CCCRP must focus on transforming the concept of the golden hour into one bound not by the time to reach traditional echelons of care or fixed facilities, but the time until enhanced resuscitative capability can be delivered to the injured troop, regardless of location or need for transport.

There are two riders to add.  First, embedded within the Golden Hour are ‘the platinum ten minutes’: the imperative to stop bleeding (which has led to the re-emergence and re-engineering of the tourniquet) and to control the casualty’s airway within 10 minutes of wounding.

Combat Medical Technician and Platinum 10 minutes.001

The second is that the speed of treatment and trauma care available to American and British soldiers is radically different from that available to Afghan soldiers and police officers.  Previously, they could rely on aeromedical evacuation by their allies.  But now most of their medical evacuations take place by land, over difficult and dangerous roads.  Last September Josh Smith reported:

Under the dim light of a single bulb, a local Afghan policeman lay severely injured, slipping in and out of consciousness. A military doctor reported to an Afghan army brigade commander that the man was unlikely to live through the night.

Injured Afghan policeman examined by Afghan Army doctor August 2015

Despite the doctor’s pleas, the commander stood firm. The army could not spare any soldiers or ambulances [below] to make the five-hour drive to a better hospital at that late hour through territory teeming with Taliban ambushes and roadside bombs.

, Nangarhar province, August 2015

The lack of speedy evacuation is a tragically common problem for the rising number of Afghan police and soldiers being injured on the battlefields of Afghanistan. U.S. advisers have worked to help close the capability gap, but mostly behind the scenes, far from the battlefields where many Afghan troops say they increasingly feel alone.

Although the American forces still stationed in the country have conducted more than 200 airstrikes since their combat mission was declared over at the end of 2014, as of July, U.S. military aircraft had not flown a single conventional medical evacuation mission, according to data released by the U.S. Air Force Central Command.

U.S. military officials say they haven’t flown evacuation missions because they haven’t been asked. Also, there are far fewer American resources available for such missions now.

The difference shows up in the ratios of those killed and those who survived their wounds.

About 2,363 Americans have died in Afghanistan, with a little more than 20,000 wounded, a ratio of roughly 1-to-10.  In the first half of 2015 alone, 4,302 Afghan soldiers and police were killed in action and 8,009 more were wounded, a ratio of about 1-to-2.

Even where aircraft and trained medical technicians are available, Jeff Schogol found that the Afghan capability falls well outside the Golden Hour:

The time it takes to fly patients to hospitals varies depending on the point of injury, but it can take between 90 minutes and two and a half hours to fly an aeromedical evacuation mission in a C-208, plus one hour to transfer patients from Kandahar to Kabul in a C-130.

Injured ANA soldier lifted from Afghan Air Force C-27A

And the situation for Afghan civilians – as I explored in detail in ‘The prosthetics of military violence‘ – is still worse.

This is not a problem confined to Afghanistan: think of how the possibility of the Golden Hour recedes in urban combat zones subjected to artillery fire and bombing – the difficulties faced by first responders in Gaza or in the ravaged, rubble-strewn towns and cities of Syria (see also Annie Sparrow‘s report here).

 A Syrian youth walks past a destroyed ambulance in the Saif al-Dawla district of the war-torn northern city of Aleppo on January 12, 2013. An accident and emergency centre in Aleppo uses an abandoned supermarket to conceal a fleet of 16 ambulances, just 10 of which are in working order and are driven by 22 staff members. AFP PHOTO/JM LOPEZ/ (Getty Images)


A Syrian youth walks past a destroyed ambulance in the Saif al-Dawla district of the war-torn northern city of Aleppo on January 12, 2013. An accident and emergency centre in Aleppo uses an abandoned supermarket to conceal a fleet of 16 ambulances, just 10 of which are in working order and are driven by 22 staff members. AFP PHOTO/JM LOPEZ/ (Getty Images)

And there is no guarantee of safety even once casualties reach hospital since the principle of medical neutrality is now being routinely and systematically violated.

Death sentences

Living under drones is both a chilling report and a nightmare reality.  In November 2014, in a New Yorker essay called ‘The unblinking stare‘, Steve Coll reported a conversation with Malik Jalal from North Waziristan:

‘Drones may kill relatively few, but they terrify many more…  They turned the people into psychiatric patients. The F-16s might be less accurate, but they come and go.’

Now Reprieve has put a compelling face to the name – to a man who believes, evidently with good reason, that he has been included in the CIA’s disposition matrix that lists those authorised for targeted killing.

Malik Jalal JPEG

‘Malik’ is an honorific reserved for community leaders, and Jalal is one of the leaders of the North Waziristan Peace Committee (NWPC).  Its main role is to try to keep the peace between the Taliban and local authorities, and it was in that capacity that he attended a Jirga in March 2011.  He says this was on 27 March, but I think it must have been the strike that killed 40 civilians at Datta Khel on 17 March (see the summary from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism here and my post here).

Here are the relevant passages from my ‘Dirty dancing’ essay, following from a discussion of Pashtunwali and customary law in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (I’ve omitted the footnotes and references):

***

‘In short, if many of the Pashtun people in the borderlands are deeply suspicious of and even resentful towards Islamabad (often with good reason) they are ‘neither lawless nor defenceless.’

‘Yet the trope of ‘lawlessness’ persists, and it does important work. ‘By alleging a scarcity of legal regulation within the tribal regions,’ Sabrina Gilani argues, ‘the Pakistani state has been able to mask its use of more stringent sets of controls over and surveillance within the area.’ The trope does equally important work for the United States, for whom it is not the absence of sovereign power from the borderlands that provides the moral warrant for unleashing what Manan Ahmad calls its ‘righteous violence’. While Washington has repeatedly urged Islamabad to do much more, and to be less selective in dealing with the different factions of the Taliban, it knows very well that Pakistan has spasmodically exercised spectacular military violence there. But if the FATA are seen as ‘lawless’ in a strictly modern sense – ‘administered’ but not admitted, unincorporated into the body politic – then US drone strikes become a prosthetic, pre-emptive process not only of law enforcement but also of law imposition. They bring from the outside an ‘order’ that is supposedly lacking on the inside, and are reconstituted as instruments of an aggressively modern reason that cloaks violence in the velvet glove of the law.

Print

And yet the CIA’s own willingness to submit to the principles and procedures of modern law is selective and conditional; we know this from the revelations about torture and global rendition, but in the borderlands the agency’s disregard for the very system it purports to defend also exposes any group of men sitting in a circle with guns to death: even if they are gathered as a Jirga. On 27 January 2011 CIA contractor Raymond Davis was arrested for shooting two young men in Lahore. The targeted killing program was suspended while the United States negotiated his release from custody, agreeing to pay compensation to the victims’ families under Sharia law so that he could be released from the jurisdiction of the court. On 16 March, the day after Davis’s release, a Jirga was convened in Dhatta Khel in North Waziristan. A tribal elder had bought the rights to log an area of oak trees only to discover that the land also contained chromite reserves; the landowner was from a different tribe and held that their agreement covered the rights to the timber but not the minerals, and the Jirga was called to resolve what had become an inter-tribal dispute between the Kharhtangi and the Datakhel. Maliks, government officials, local police and others involved in the affair gathered at the Nomada bus depot – a tract of open ground in the middle of the small town – where they debated in two large circles. Agreement was not reached and the Jirga reconvened the next morning. Although four men from a local Taliban group were present, the meeting had been authorised by the local military commander ten days earlier and was attended by a counsellor appointed by the government to act as liaison between the state, the military and the maliks. It was also targeted by at least one and perhaps two Predators. At 11 a.m. multiple Hellfire missiles roared into the circles. More than forty people were killed, their bodies ripped apart by the blast and by shattered rocks, and another 14 were seriously injured.

Dhatta Khel before and after drone strike (Forensic Architecture)

There is no doubt that four Taliban were present: they were routinely involved in disputes between tribes with competing claims and levied taxes on chromite exports and the mine operators. But the civilian toll from the strike was wholly disproportionate to any conceivable military advantage, to say nothing of the diplomatic storm it set off, and several American sources told reporters that the attack was in retaliation for the arrest of Davis: ‘The CIA was angry.’ If true, this was no example of the dispassionate exercise of reason but instead a matter of disrespecting the resolution offered by Sharia law and disordering a customary judicial tribunal. Even more revealing, after the strike an anonymous American official who was supposedly ‘familiar with the details of the attack’ told the media that the meeting was a legitimate military target and insisted that there were no civilian casualties. Serially: ‘This action was directed against a number of brutal terrorists, not a county fair’; ‘These people weren’t gathering for a bake sale’; ‘These guys were … not the local men’s glee club’; ‘This was a group of terrorists, not a charity car wash in the Pakistani hinterlands.’ The official – I assume it was the same one, given the difference-in-repetition of the statements – provided increasingly bizarre and offensively absurd descriptions of what the assembly in Datta Khel was not: he was clearly incapable of recognising what it was. Admitting the assembly had been a properly constituted Jirga would have given the lie to the ‘lawlessness’ of the region and stripped the strike of any conceivable legitimacy. The area was no stranger to drone attacks, which had been concentrated in a target box that extended along the Tochi valley from Datta Khel through Miran Shah to Mir Ali, but those responsible for this attack were clearly strangers to the area.

***

‘Like others that day,’ Jalal concedes, ‘I said some things I regret. I was angry, and I said we would get our revenge. But, in truth, how would we ever do such a thing? Our true frustration was that we – the elders of our villages – are now powerless to protect our people.’

This was the fourth in a series of strikes that Jalal believes targeted him:

‘I have been warned that Americans and their allies had me and others from the Peace Committee on their Kill List. I cannot name my sources [in the security services], as they would find themselves targeted for trying to save my life. But it leaves me in no doubt that I am one of the hunted.’

He says he is an opponent of the drone wars – but if that were sufficient grounds to be included on the kill list it would stretch into the far distance.

He also says that the Americans ‘think the Peace Committee is a front’ working to create ‘a safe space for the Pakistan Taliban.’

‘To this I say: you are wrong. You have never been to Waziristan, so how would you know?’

And he describes the dreadful impact of being hunted on him and his family:

‘I soon began to park any vehicle far from my destination, to avoid making it a target. My friends began to decline my invitations, afraid that dinner might be interrupted by a missile.

‘I took to the habit of sleeping under the trees, well above my home, to avoid acting as a magnet of death for my whole family. But one night my youngest son, Hilal (then aged six), followed me out to the mountainside. He said that he, too, feared the droning engines at night. I tried to comfort him. I said that drones wouldn’t target children, but Hilal refused to believe me. He said that missiles had often killed children. It was then that I knew that I could not let them go on living like this.’

And so he has travelled to Britain to plead his case:

‘I came to Britain because I feel like Britain is like a younger brother to America. I am telling Britain that America doesn’t listen to us, so you tell them not to kill Waziristanis.’

You can hear an interview with him on BBC’s Today programme here.

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In you think Britain is distanced from all this, read Reprieve‘s latest report on ‘Britain’s Kill Listhere (which focuses on the Joint Prioritised Effects List in Afghanistan and its spillover into Pakistan) and Vice‘s investigation into the UK’s role in finding and fixing targets in Yemen here.

Object Lessons

I was supposed to give a shortened version of ‘Little boys and blue skies‘ at the AAG Annual Meeting in San Francisco (about drones and atomic war: available under the DOWNLOADS tab) and fully intended to do so.  But in the event – and as I implied in a previous post – I decided to talk instead about Harry Parker‘s Anatomy of a soldier.  It was a spur of the moment decision, though it had been pricking away in my mind ever since I read the novel, and I only decided to do it at 10.30 the night before: madness.  But it was much closer to the theme of the sessions organised by Kate Kindervater and Ian Shaw on ‘Objects of Security and War: Material Approaches to Violence and Conflict‘ than my original presentation would have been.

I’ve added the presentation to those available under the DOWNLOADS tab (scroll right down).

I hope that most of it will be self-explanatory, but some notes might help.  I started out by invoking Tim O’Brien‘s twin accounts of the Vietnam War, The things they carried and If I should die in a combat zone, which provide vivid reminders of the weight – physical and emotional – borne by ground troops and the toll they impose on the soldier’s body.

I talked about this in ‘The natures of war‘ (also under the DOWNLOADS tab) and – following in the footsteps of that essay – I sketched a brief history of the objects soldiers carried in to the killing fields: from the Somme in 1916 through Arnhem in 1944 to Helmand in Afghanistan in 2014 [shown below].  My source for these images was photographer Thom Atkinson‘s portfolio of Soldiers’ Inventories.

KIT Helmand 2014

But I was more interested now in the objects that carried the soldiers, so to speak, which is why I turned to Anatomy of a soldier.  

In order to throw the novel into even sharper relief, I outlined some of the other ways in which IED blasts in Afghanistan have been narrated.  These ranged from the US Army’s own schematics [the image below is taken from a presentation by Captain Frederick Gaghan here]  to Brian Castner’s truly brilliant non-fiction All the ways we kill and die, in which he describes his investigation into the death of his friend Matt Schwartz from an IED blast in Helmand in January 2012. (This book has taught me more about the war in Afghanistan than anything – I mean anything – I’ve ever read).

GAGHAN Attacking the IED Network jpegs

All of this prepared the ground for Parker’s novel which tells the story of a young British officer in Helmand, Tom Barnes, who loses his legs to an IED blast – told in 45 short chapters by the different objects involved.  Not all of the chapters are wholly successful, but many of them are utterly compelling and immensely affecting.  The overall effect is to emphasize at once the corporeality of war – ‘virtually every object-fragment that is proximate to Barnes is impregnated with his body: its feel – its very fleshiness – its sweat, its smell, its touch’ – and the object-ness of military violence.

GREGORY The body as object-space

I juxtaposed the novel to Parker’s own story – he too lost his legs to an IED in Afghanistan in July 2009.  Yet he constantly emphasises that he never wanted the novel to be about him.

Harry Parker reading from Anatomy of a Soldier, IWM, LOndon

Still, the body is central to all this – Parker’s body and Barnes’s body – and so finally I drew on Roberto Esposito‘s Persons and Things to draw the wider lesson and, in particular, to nail the treacherous lie of ‘bodiless war’:

GREGORY The things that carry them

GREGORY Bodiless war

Anatomy of a soldier

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

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

And there’s another interview with the BBC here.

Industrialised war

Bombs falling on Montmedy and marshalling yards

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

Steichen 5th Photographic section at work on Western Front

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

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

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

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

Here is the table of contents:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

day2day-amb2

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

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

Deadly animation

IWM Strategic bombing campaign 14 December 1941

IWM Strategic bombing campaign 12 August 1944

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

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