t byfield on Thu, 4 Dec 2008 08:19:24 +0100 (CET)

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Re: <nettime> Saskia Sassen: Cities and new wars: after Mumbai


It isn't hard to see how and why it's tempting to hypostatize concepts 
like "war" and "city," but it'd be wise to treat each one skeptically,
and even more so in relation to each other. And one needn't reach very
far back in history at all to come up with absolute contrasts. These 
contrasts have many origins: the actual and theorized relationships 
between cities and their surroundings, the need for invading forces to
establish strongholds close enough to support command and logistics
needs, the various technical capacities of forces in conflict (of which 
there are, as often as not, many), styles of warfare that are much more 
complex than the simplistic dichotomy of a/symmetrical warfare, efforts 
to manipulate media (regional, global, sympathetic, etc), and so on.

Take, for example, the Vietnam War. Films of American bombers dropping
bombs in pairs seemingly at random across the Viet countryside have 
become a generic symbol of a futile effort to "bomb them back into the
stone age" or "turn the country into a parking lot" -- two strikingly
different historical vectors, yes? But this bombing wasn't random in 
some euphemistic sense of the term akin to "random violence," rather, 
it was *systematically random*: the purpose of this approach to bombing,
which left deep craters, was to disrupt rural water tables and thereby 
drain rice paddies. This, in conjunction with chemical warfare (Agent 
Orange is well-known, Agent Blue, Agent White and others less so) and 
armored bulldozers formed the doctrine of "Landscape Management": an 
effort to deny the Viet Cong any and every form of cover -- physical, 
social, nutritional -- *in order to urbanize them*. (If you're doing 
serious research on this, I recommend reading the pithy works of Viet 
strategists, like Vo Nguyen Giap's _People's War Against U.S. Aeronaval 
War_, which the Viets, being communists, thoughtfully translated into 

It should be noted that this approach was based on the experiences 
American forces during the close of WW2 and the Korean War, both of 
which involved extensive sociological studies -- about the effects of
aerial bombing on urban centers, variations in food supplies, etc. In
fact, one of the striking things about the wars the US is currently 
engaged in is how much the Pentagon seems to have forgotten. None of
this theory is evident in its 'strategies' now, and in the recent 
brouhaha over its engagement with the social sciences, I didn't see 
a single reference to the centrality of these disciplines in shaping
warfare, occupation, and counterinsurgency strategies. By the same 
token, I don't see how one could address "war" and "cities" without
without explicitly considering these theoretical and institutional 
histories, if only because invading forces carry with them their own
notions of what "civic" does and doesn't mean.

Now contrast Vietnam with what happened to Grozny just thirty years 
later, where, after less than two months of full-scale warfare, Russian 
forces announced that anyone who remained "will be considered terrorists 
and bandits and will be destroyed by artillery and aviation."

Before: http://www.kentlaw.edu/perritt/courses/seminar/2005-spring-papers/chris-s-Map%204-Grozny%20Before.jpg

After: http://www.kentlaw.edu/perritt/courses/seminar/2005-spring-papers/chris-s-Map%207-Grozny%20After.jpg

Or contrast that with Beirut. Sarajevo. Kigali. Fallujah. Jaffna. The
list goes on and on, sadly. They're all "cities," but it's hard to see
how one could generalize about their dynamics in conditions in conflict
-- particularly in synchronous, categorical terms, which would seem to
be the affirmative claim made if one avoids taking longer-term history
into account. And, by a similar token, "war" is a very useful category 
where and when peace prevails, just as "peace" is useful in the context 
of war; but these categories aren't very good at articulating themselves.


sjs2@columbia.edu (Wed 12/03/08 at 09:45 PM -0500):

> hi, thanks for the comments. very helpful! and here two comments that  
> might help clarify.(please excuse the allthe typos. i wrote this at  
> great speed becasue i wanted to get it out right aftr i read  
> M.Goldhaber's comments. I agre with much of what Michael says re  
> history of cities, and i accept his scepticism about my new study. it  
> is a bit experimental indeed. but eachone of my porjects has entailed  
> going out on a wing a bit.

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