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2, JULY 2004

Postmortem city
Towards an urban geopolitics1

Stephen Graham

We tend to see contemporary cities through a peace-time lens and war as somehow
exceptional. In this ambitious paper, long in historical range and global in geographical scope,
Steve Graham unmasks and displays the very many ways in which warfare is intimately
woven into the fabric of cities and practices of city planners. He draws out the aggression
which we should see as the counterpart of the defensive fortifications of historic towns,
continues with the re-structuring—often itself violent— of Paris and of many other cities to
enable the oppressive state forces to patrol and subordinate the feared masses. Other
examples take us through the fear of aerial bombardment as an influence on Le Corbusier
and modernist urban design to the meticulous planners who devised and monitored the
slaughter in Dresden, Tokyo and other targets in World War 2. Later episodes, some drawing
on previously classified material, show how military thinking conditioned urbanisation in the
Cold War and does so in the multiple ‘wars’ now under way—against ‘terrorism’ and the
enemy within. City has carried some exceptional work on war and ‘urbicide’ but this paper
argues that, for the most part, the social sciences are in denial and ends with a call for action to
confront, reveal and challenge the militarisation of urban space.

Confronting place annihilation in urban ities, warfare and organized, polit-
research ical violence have always been
mutual constructions. “The city,
“As long as people have lived in cities,
the polis, is constitutive of the form of
they have been haunted by fears of urban
ruin . . . Every city on earth is ground
conflict called war, just as war is itself
zero in somebody’s doomsday book.” constitutive of the political form called the
(Berman, 1996, pp. 175–184) city” (Virilio, 2002, p. 5, original emphasis).
War and the city have intimately shaped
“To be sure, a cityscape is not made of each other throughout urban and military
flesh. Still, sheared-off buildings are
history. “There is . . . a direct reciprocity
almost as eloquent as body parts (Kabul,
Sarajevo, East Mostar, Grozny, 16 acres of
between war and cities”, writes the geogra-
lower Manhattan after September 11th pher Ken Hewitt. “The latter are the more
2001, the refugee camp in Jenin). Look, thoroughgoing constructs of collective life,
the photographs say, this is what it’s like. containing the definitive human places.
This is what war does. War tears, war War is the most thorough-going or con-
rends. War rips open, eviscerates. War sciously prosecuted occasion of collective
scorches. War dismembers. War ruins.” violence that destroys places” (Hewitt,
(Sontag, 2003, p. 5) 1983, p. 258).
“Today, wars are fought not in trenches The widespread survival of massive
and fields, but in living rooms, schools urban fortifications—especially in Asia,
and supermarkets.” (Barakat, 1998, p. 11) North Africa, Europe and parts of Latin
ISSN 1360-4813 print/ISSN 1470-3629 online/04/020165-32 © 2004 Taylor & Francis Ltd
DOI: 10.1080/1360481042000242148
166 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

America—are a living testament to the to instantaneous annihilation of entire urban

fact that in pre-modern and pre nation- spaces and populations” (Shaw, 2003, p.
state civilizations, city-states were the 131). Right up to the present day, the
actual agents, as well as the main targets, of capture of strategic and politically impor-
war. In pre-modern times cities were built tant cities has “remained the ultimate sym-
for defence as well as dominant centres of bol, of conquest and national survival”
commerce, exchange and political, religious (Shaw, 2001, p. 1).
and social power. “The city, with its but- Given the centrality of both urbanization
tressed walls, its ramparts and moats, stood and the prosecution of political violence to
as an outstanding display of ever-threat- modernity, this subtle inter-penetration of
ening aggression” (Mumford, 1961, p. 44). cities and warfare should be no surprise.
The sacking and killing of fortified cities “After all, modernity, through most of its
and their inhabitants was the central event career, has been modernity at war” (Pieterse,
in pre-modern war (Weber, 1958). Indeed 2002, p. 3). It is no longer feasible to contain
(often allegorical) stories of such acts make cities within defensive walls or effective
up a good part of the Bible—especially cordons which protect their citizens from
Jeremiah and Lamentations—and other military force (Virilio, 1987). But the deliber-
ancient and classical religious and philo- ate destruction and targeting of cities and their
sophical texts. “Myths of urban ruin grow support systems in times of war and crisis is a
at our culture’s root” (Berman, 1996). constant throughout 8000 years or so of urban
In the 15th and 16th centuries, as modern history on our planet. “Destruction of pla-
nation-states started to emerge in Europe as ces”, Hewitt continues, writing in 1987:
‘bordered power containers’, they began
“driven by fear and hatred, runs through
seeking a monopoly on political violence
the whole history of wars, from ancient
(Giddens, 1985). “The states caught up with
Troy or Carthage, to Warsaw and
the forward gallop of the towns” (Braudel, Hiroshima in our own century. The
1973, p. 398). The expanding imperial and miseries, uprootings, and deaths of civilians
metropolitan cities that lay at the core of in besieged cities, especially after defeat,
nation-states were no longer organizers of stand amongst the most terrible indictments
their own armies and defences. But they of the powerful and victorious. In that
maintained political power and reach. Mili- sense, there is, despite the progress of
tary, political and economic elites within weapons of devastation, a continuity in the
such cities directed violence, control, repres- experience of civilians from Euripides’
sion, and the colonial acquisition of territory, Trojan Women or The Lamentations of
Jeremiah, to the cries of widowed women
raw materials, wealth and labour power from
and orphaned children in Beirut, Belfast,
afar (Driver and Gilbert, 2003). the villages of Afghanistan, and those of El
By the 19th and 20th centuries, industrial Salvador.” (Hewitt, 1987, p. 469)
cities in the global north had grown in
synchrony with the killing powers of tech- Cities, then, provide much more than just the
nology. They provided the men and material backdrop or environment for war and terror.
to sustain the massive, industrial wars of the Rather, their buildings, assets, institutions,
20th century. At the same time their (often industries, infrastructures, cultural diversi-
female-staffed) industries and neighbour- ties, and symbolic meanings have long actu-
hoods emerged as the prime targets for total ally themselves been the explicit target for a
war. The industrial city thus became “in its wide range of deliberate, orchestrated,
entirety a space for war. Within a few years attacks. This essential, urban, spatiality of
. . . bombing moved from the selective organized, political violence is rarely recog-
destruction of key sites within cities to nized in the obsessively chronological and
extensive attacks on urban areas and, finally, temporal gaze of the historians who dom-

inate the study of the urban violence of the Far from going away, then, strategies of
20th century. Thus, the architectures, urban- deliberately attacking the systems and places
isms and spatial planning strategies that that support civilian urban life have only
sustain, reflect and are intrinsic to strategies become more sophisticated since the Second
of informal and state terror all too often get World War. The deliberate devastation of
overlooked (Cole, 2003, Chap. 2). urban living spaces continues apace. Fuelling
For this explicit concentration on the it is a powerful cocktail of intermeshing
(attempted) killing of cities in modern war, factors. Here we must consider the collapse
Ken Hewitt has coined the term ‘place of the Cold War equilibrium; the unleashing
annihilation’ (1983). “For a social scientist”, of previously constrained ethnic hatreds; the
he stresses that “it is actually imperative to proliferation of fundamentalist religious and
ask just who dies and whose places are political groups; and the militarization of
destroyed by violence” within such wars of gangs, drug cartels, militia, corrupt political
place annihilation (1987, p. 464, original regimes and law enforcement agencies. We
emphasis). This is because such strategies are must address the failure of many national and
usually far from indiscriminate. Commonly, local states; the urbanization of populations
they involve a great deal of planning so that and terrain; and the growing accessibility to
the violence and destruction achieves the heavy weapons. Finally, the growing crisis of
political, social, economic, ecological and social polarization at all geographical scales
cultural effects, on the target population and and the increasing scarcity of many essential
their places, that are desired by the resources must be considered (Castells, 1997,
attackers. 1998).
Since the end of the Cold War, this To this cocktail we must add the destabi-
dominance of war casualties by civilians, lizing effects of the USA’s increasingly
rather than enlisted military personnel, has aggressive and violent interventions in a
only accelerated further. Between 1989 and widening range of nations, and the delete-
1998, for example, 4 million people were rious impacts of neoliberal restructuring and
killed in violent conflicts across the world. ‘structural adjustment’ programmes,
An estimated 90% of these were civilians— imposed on many nations by the Inter-
primarily women and children (Pieterse, national Monetary Fund (IMF) and the
2002, p. 1). In short, since the end of the Cold World Trade Organization (WTO). Such
War—with its global threat of instant urban- programmes have added to the sense of crisis
nuclear annihilation—“we have gone from in many cities because they have resulted in
fearing the death of the city to fearing the the erosion of social and economic security
city of death” (Lang, 1995, p. 71). As and the further immiseration of the urban
traditional state-versus-state wars in open poor (and, increasingly, the middle classes,
terrain have become objects of curiosity, so too).
the informal, ‘asymmetric’ or ‘new’ wars All this has happened at a time when the
which tend to centre on localized struggles scale of urbanization is at an unprecedented
over strategic urban sites have become the global level. During the 1990s alone the
norm (Kaldor, 1999). As Misselwitz and world’s urban population grew by 36%. By
Weizman suggest: 2003 900 million people lived in slums. And
the deepening polarization of cities, caused
“It is now clear that the days of the
by neoliberal globalization, is providing
classical, Clauswitzian definition of warfare
as a symmetrical engagement between state many conditions that are ripe for extremes of
armies in the open field are over. War has civil, and militarized, violence (Castells,
entered the city again—the sphere of the 1997, 1998; Vidal, 2003). In fact, neoliberal
everyday, the private realm of the house.” globalization itself operates through a vast
(2003, p. 272) scale of violence, exploitation and criminality
168 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

which works in similarly ‘rhizomatic’ ways scenarios of unrelieved urban terror.”

to transnational terrorism. “Our own politi- (Appadurai, 1996, pp. 152–193, original
cians and businesses sail a strikingly similar emphasis).
pirate sea [to the al-Qaeda network]”, sug-
gests Keller Easterling: All of which means that contemporary war-
fare and terror now largely boil down to
“slipping between legal jurisdictions, contests over the spaces, symbols, meanings,
leveraging advantages in the differential support systems or power structures of cities
value of labor and currency, brandishing and urban regions. As a result, war, ‘terror-
national identity one moment and ism’ and cities are redefining each other in
laundering it the next, using lies and
complex, but poorly explored ways. Such
disguises to neutralize cultural or political
differences.” (2002, p. 189)
redefinitions are, in turn, bound up with
deeper shifts in the ways in which time,
space, technology, mobility and power are
In many cases some or all of these factors
constructed and experienced in our societies
have combined in the post-Cold War to force
as a whole (Virilio, 1986).
nothing less than the “implosion of global
Given all of this, it is curious, then, that
and national politics into the urban world”
warfare and organized political violence tar-
(Appadurai, 1996, p. 152). This has led to a
geting the spaces, inhabitants and support
proliferation of bloody, largely urban, wars.
systems of cities have been persistently
Many of these, in turn, stimulate vast migra-
neglected in critical social scientific debates
tions and the construction of city-scale refu-
about cities and urbanization since the Sec-
gee camps to accommodate the displaced
ond World War (Mendieta, 2004). By con-
populations (which stood at a global figure of
trast, this period has seen vast libraries filled
50 million by 2002) (Agier, 2002; Diken and
with theoretical, empirical and policy books
Laustsen, 2003).
addressing urban de-velopment, con-struc-
Appadurai argues that such ‘new’ urban
tion, re-generation, modernization and
wars “take their energy from macroevents
growth (Bishop and Clancey, 2003). In 1983
and processes . . . that link global politics to
the geographer Ken Hewitt argued that, from
the micropolitics of streets and neighbour-
the perspective of urban social science, the
hoods” (1996, pp. 152–153). He observes
“destruction of cities, as of much else,
remains terra incognita” (p. 258).
“In the conditions of ethnic unrest and
Another cocktail of factors can be diag-
urban warfare that characterize cities such nosed to help explain this neglect. Three are
as Belfast and Los Angeles, Ahmedabad and particularly important. First, a simple, and
Sarajevo, Mogadishu and Johannesburg, understandable, desire to forget the scale and
urban war zones are becoming armed barbarity of urban slaughter in the last
camps, driven wholly by implosive forces century can be diagnosed. For example,
that fold into neighborhoods the most many wider cultural taboos have inhibited
violent and problematic repercussions of dispassionate, social scientific analyses of the
wider regional, national and global aerial annihilations of German and Japanese
processes . . . [These cases] represent a new cities in the Second World War (although
phase in the life of cities, where the
these are now slowly being overcome—see
concentration of ethnic populations, the
Sebald, 2003). In the Anglo-Saxon world,
availability of heavy weaponry, and the
crowded conditions of civic life create whilst the ‘air war’ that killed perhaps 1.6
futurist forms of warfare . . . and where a million urbanites in those two countries is
general desolation of the national and global widely glorified and fetishized—what Chris
landscape has transposed many bizarre Hables Gray calls “bomber glorioso” (1997,
racial, religious, and linguistic enmities into p. 87)—equally powerful taboos, and the

instinct to self-censor, have meant that the science were kept rigidly apart from (inter)-
perspective here has been overwhelmingly national ones. This left urban social science
aerial. The annihilated cities, and the hun- to address the local, civil and domestic rather
dreds of thousands of carbonized dead on the than the (inter)national, the military or the
ground, barely exist at all in these popular strategic. Such concerns were the preserve of
narratives. When they are represented, huge history, as well as the fast-emerging dis-
controversy still ensues. The victims of more ciplines of international politics and inter-
recent US bombings in Kabul and Baghdad national relations. In the dominant hubs of
have been rendered equally invisible and English-speaking urban social science—
uncounted by the ferocious power of West- North America and the UK—these two
ern propaganda and self-censorship. An intellectual worlds virtually never crossed,
‘information operations’ campaign has also separated as they were by disciplinary
emerged that leads US forces to bomb any boundaries, scalar orientations and theoret-
independent television station that has the ical traditions.
temerity to show the civilian carnage that The final factor stems from the fact that
results, on the ground, even with so-called urban social science finished sedimenting
‘precision strikes’—the inevitable reality into modern intellectual disciplines during
behind the repulsive euphemisms of ‘col- the Cold War. During this time, urban
lateral damage’ in urban bombing. annihilation, always minutes away, was sim-
Second, Bishop and Clancey (2003, p. 64), ply a step on the way to a broader, species-
have recently suggested that modern urban wide, exterminism (Mumford, 1959; Thomp-
social science in general has shown marked son, 1982). This also seems to have inhibited
tendencies since the Second World War to critical urban research on place annihilation.
directly avoid tropes of catastrophism (espe- Waves of secrecy and paranoia about the
cially in the West). They argue that this is urban-targeting strategies of the super pow-
because the complete annihilation of urban ers further worked to undermine critical
places conflicted with its underlying, enlight- analysis of what nuclear Armageddon would
enment-tinged notions of progress, order and actually mean for an urbanizing planet (Van-
modernization. In the post-war, Cold War, derbilt, 2002). And the inevitable vulner-
period, especially, “The City”, they write, abilities of cities to nuclear attack were
had a “heroic status in both capitalist and exploited by a wide range of interests seeking
socialist storytelling” (2003, p. 66). This to radically decentralize, and de-urbanize,
worked against an analysis of the city as a advanced industrial societies (Farish, 2003;
scene of catastrophic death. “The city-as- Light, 2003). As Herbert Muschamp has
target” remained, therefore, “a reading long argued, cities were, in many ways, “among
buried under layers of academic Modernism” the casualties” of the Cold War years (1995,
(2003, p. 67). p. 106).
Bishop and Clancey also believe that this Encouragingly, the persistent neglect of
“absence of death within The City also place annihilation in urban research has been
reflected the larger economy of death within slowly overcome since Hewitt wrote the
the academy: its studied absence from some above words. A broadening range of promis-
disciplines [urban social science] and com- ing work has emerged in critical and inter-
pensatory over-compensation in others [his- disciplinary urban research, particularly in the
tory]” (2003, p. 67). In disciplinary terms, the pages of City.2 Unfortunately, however, such
result of this was that the ‘urban’ tended to work has yet to gain the momentum necessary
remain hermetically separated from the ‘stra- to bring the critical analysis of place annihila-
tegic’. ‘Military’ issues were carefully demar- tion into the heart of urban social science. It is
cated from ‘civil’ ones. And the overwhelm- still the case, for example, that only a small
ingly ‘local’ concerns of modern urban social number of volumes have systematically
170 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

delved into the dark terrain which emerges sect, and constitute, the same sets of strategic
where the city becomes a pre-eminent site for urban sites, so this imperative will only gain
political violence, warfare and ‘terrorism’; more momentum.
where urban de-struction, devastation, de- It follows that there is an urgent, parallel,
generation, de-modernization and annihila- need for the real recent progress in develop-
tion haunt dreams of urban modernity and ing a critical geopolitics (Ó Tuathail, 1999) to
development; and where the promise of the move beyond an exclusive concern for
city reveals its Janus-face in orgies of hatred, nation-states, international relations, and
killing, murder, bombing and violence (see international terror networks. Critical geo-
Ashworth, 1991; Lang, 1995; Picon, 1996, politics must also become sub-national. This
Davis, 2002; Vanderbilt, 2002; Cole, 2003; is necessary so that the increasingly crucial
Schneider and Susser, 2003). roles of strategic urban places as geopolitical
The starting point for this essay is that, in sites can be profitably analysed. A blizzard of
our post Cold-War and post 9/11 world, questions provides fuel here. For example, on
both the informal (‘terrorist’) and the formal our rapidly urbanizing planet, how does the
(state) violence, war and terror that are control, targeting, destruction and recon-
engulfing our planet are actually constituted struction of urban sites intersect with chang-
by the systematic and planned targeting of ing geopolitical structures and discourses?
cities and urban places. This extended essay How are cities, and urban everyday life,
seeks to place such attacks—and the wider being affected both by the umbilically con-
‘state of emergency’ within which they are nected interplay of terror and counter-ter-
embedded—within their theoretical and his- ror? What roles do constructions, and imag-
torical context. In so doing, I aim to help inations, of ‘homeland’ and ‘non-homeland’
urban social research to further confront the cities play within the emerging US ‘Empire’,
taboos which have, over the last 50 years, a hegemonic neoliberalism, and a prolifera-
tended to inhibit research on, and recogni- tion of sites and sources of resistance (Hardt
tion for, organized political violence against and Negri, 2000)? What place do the systems
cities within critical social science. of mobility, communication, infrastructure
In particular, my purpose in this extended and logistics that are so central to contempo-
essay, drawing on Paul Virilio’s (1986) term, rary urban life play, as targets and weapons,
is to start mapping out what a specifically within the emerging crisis? How does the
urban geopolitics might amount to. I take urbanization of terrain influence the ‘assy-
‘geopolitics’ here to mean a concern with metric wars’ that are emerging which pitch
understanding the discourses, strategies and high-tech Western and US forces against
structures which emerge at the intersections both poorly equipped local fighters and anti-
of territory, spatiality, and political power globalization movements? Finally, what are
and violence (Agnew and Corbridge, 1995). the prospects for creatively blending critical
This essay’s central concern is to argue that urban and geopolitical theory to match the
the parallel transformations of urbanism and parallel rescaling of political violence and
political violence in the post-Cold War urbanism in today’s world?
period, and the increasing constitution of war In sum, this essay has been written in the
and terror by acts of violence carefully belief that both a specifically geopolitical
targeted against urban, local sites, makes the urbanism, and a specifically urban geopoli-
development of such a specifically urban tics, are now urgently required. A con-
geopolitics an urgent imperative. As states, structive dialogue between such usually sepa-
wars, empires, resistance movements, terror rated research communities would, I believe,
networks and economic, social and cultural open up many extremely promising avenues
formations are reconstituted, in parallel, into for theory, analysis and activism. What fol-
stretched, transnational webs which inter- lows is designed to help such a dialogue

along. To achieve this, my simple aim is to ally involve levels of devastation of cities,
help illustrate the inseparability of war, terror ruination and forced resettlement that match
and modern urbanism. I do this by revealing that which occurs in all-out war. Even in
a range of ‘hidden histories’ of what I call the supposedly democratic societies, planned
‘dark side’ of urban modernity—the pro- urban restructuring often involves autocratic
pensity for urban life to be attacked, state violence, massive urban destruction, the
destroyed or annihilated in acts of organized devastation of livelihoods, and even mass
violence. death. In both authoritarian and democratic
societies, ideologies of urban planning have
often actually invoked metaphors of war and
Ten tales of urban geopolitics: on the militarism. This has been widely practised as
‘dark’ side of urban modernity a means of comparing the purported need for
violent restructuring in cities to achieve
“Biologists have prepared ‘red books’ of desired effects with the mass violence of
extinct or endangered species; ecologists states. Anthony Vidler (2001, p. 38) calls this
have their ‘green books’ of threatened “the war ideology of the plan”.
habitats. Perhaps we need our ‘black book’
Thus, place annihilation can be thought of
of the places destroyed or nearly destroyed
by human agencies. Actually it would take
as a kind of hidden—and sometimes not so
many books and street maps packed with hidden—planning history (see Sandercock,
rememberances to record the settlements, 1998). The planned devastation and killing of
neighbourhoods, and buildings in those cities is a dark side of the discipline of urban
places destroyed in recent wars.” (Hewitt, planning that is rarely acknowledged, let
1987, p. 275) alone analysed. It is rarely realized, for
example, that the analytical and statistical
Arguably, humankind has expended almost methods so often used in post-Second World
as much energy, effort and thought to the War civilian planning have also been used—
annihilation and killing of cities as it has on sometimes by the same demographic, eco-
their growth, planning and construction. nomic and planning ‘experts’—to organize
Such city annihilation or urban warfare spatially the Apartheid regime in South
requires purposive work. It needs detailed Africa; to plan the systematic fire-bombing
analysis. Often, it involves ‘scientific’ plan- of German and Japanese cities; to organize
ning and operational strategy-making of the house by house demolition of Warsaw in
extraordinary complexity and sophistication. 1945; to set up the giant urban-regional
Thus, it is necessary to assume that a process of the Holocaust; or to starve many
continuum exists connecting acts of building Eastern European cities and regions into
and physical restructuring, on the one hand, submission in the mid–1940s. The latter
and acts of all-out, organized war on the work even involved the founder of Central
other. By way of mapping the diverse ways in Place Theory, that seminal economic geogra-
which place annihilation is utterly intrinsic to pher, Walter Christaller—star of any tradi-
both urban modernity, and modern urbanism tional school human geography course. He
and planning, I offer below a range of 10 was employed by the Nazis to rethink the
illustrative ‘tales’. economic geography of an ‘Aryanized’ East-
ern Europe, a process linked directly to the
planned starvation and forced migration of
Architectures of annihilation: the ‘war millions of people (see Rössler, 1989; Aly and
ideology of the plan’ Heim, 2002).
Mock German and Japanese housing
First, civilian urban planning, development, units, complete with authentic roofing
modernization and restructuring often actu- materials, furniture and clothing, were erec-
172 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

ted in Nevada to allow the incendiaries that land, the construction of walls and ‘buffer
would later burn Dresden and Tokyo to be zones’, the mass bulldozing of houses, the
carefully customized for their intended tar- ethnic cleansing of selected areas, the con-
gets (Davis, 2002, pp. 65–84). “The combus- struction of carefully located Jewish settle-
tibility of Japanese dwellings was well illus- ments and access roads, or the appropriation
trated by tests made in this country”, of water and airspace (Graham, 2003; Weiz-
recalled the US Strategic Bombing Survey in man, 2004).

“Four buildings were constructed: two in

‘typical Japanese fashion’ [and] the other ‘Planning’ and occupation as war on the
two to comply with the latest Tokyo fire colonized city
regulations . . . The four structures were set
on fire to determine the time necessary for “One of the achievements of the great wave
their destruction. Those constructed in of modernization that began in the late 18th
‘typical Japanese fashion’ burned to the century was to incorporate urbicide into the
ground in 12 minutes; those constructed in process of urban development . . . Its
accordance to Tokyo fire regulations were victims, along with their neighbourhoods
consumed in 32 minutes.” (1947a, p. 72) and towns, vanish without a trace.”
(Berman, 1996, p. 181)
The US Strategic Bombing Survey was the
apogee of the systematic evaluation of the In our second illustration, many strategies of
‘success’ of urban planning for mass death. occupation and colonization have been based
In it, thousands of operation scientists, explicitly on the planned destruction and
architects, engineers and urban statisticians devastation of cities. Urban ‘planning’ in
pored over every urban bomb blast in Japan many colonized cities often amounts to little
and Germany in an effort to improve but the planned devastation and bulldozing
the ‘efficiency’ of the city-killing process of indigenous cities to underpin the strategic
(Figure 1). control of the occupiers or settlers (Said,
To predict the effects of the ‘A’-bombs on 1993; see Maldonado-Torres, 2004). Here the
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, a ‘Japanese vil- ‘orderly’ imprints of Western-style urban
lage’ was even constructed—again in planning and property law have long been
Nevada—complete with all sorts of realistic used as a form of urban warfare. First, this
Japanese-style buildings and infrastructures was done to quell local insurgencies in non-
(Vanderbilt, 2002). Western, colonized cities. Later, such milita-
Similarly grim work goes on and on. More rized planning strategies were often imported
recently, the US and Israeli militaries have back to the homeland to reshape the great
co-operated to construct and run a kind of imperial capitals for similar purposes (Mis-
shadow urban system of complete urban selwitz and Weizman, 2003).
districts, replete with authentic ‘Islamic’ fea- The first special manual on ‘urban war-
tures, in order to train the marines and fare’ was produced in 1847 by the French
soldiers who invaded Baghdad, Basra and army to show how troops could ruthlessly
Jenin (Graham, 2003). put down insurrections in Algiers which
It is also scarcely realized that demogra- were then erupting, led by Abdel Kager.
phers, statisticians, geographers, architects This book, La Guerre des Rues et des
and planners have been central to Israel’s Maison, was authored by the leader of the
efforts to deepen its control over the three- French Forces, Bugeaud (1997). After a
dimensional spaces of the Occupied Territo- bloody, seven-year struggle in a classic
ries. Their analyses and prescriptions have ‘asymmetric’ urban war—with 100,000
helped to shape the annexing of Palestinian French troops pitched against 10,000 local

Figure 1 Typical post-annihilation analyses of the US Strategic Bombing Survey (USSBS) of 1947. This involved
detailed assessments of the effectiveness of incendiary and atomic bombs in destroying the various types, structures
and contents of Japanese urban spaces as though the killing of a million Japanese civilians were some giant physical
experiment. (a) percentage of urban Japan which was ‘successfully’ incinerated according to the dominant land use
(USSBS, 1947b, Vol. ix, Chap. 3, p. 45). Of all the 64 cities burnt, the Survey concluded that “Tokyo was the
best-burning of them all” (USSBS, 1947b, Vol. ix, Chap. 3, p. 38); (b) Fire damage map of the small Japanese city of
Ube (USSBS, 1947b, Vol. ix, Chap. 3, p. 79).
174 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

to inform urban planning strategies to quell

civil and social unrest in the ‘homeland’,
imperial centres of the colonizing powers.
Bugeaud’s doctrines, for example, had a
major influence on Baron Haussmann in the
1870s, as he violently imprinted a strategy of
massive boulevards and canon firing-arcs on
Paris, partly for the sake of improving the
strategic control of the State on the volatile
capital (Misselwitz and Weizman, 2003). In
the process “Haussmann draped a façade of
theatres, cafes and shops over boulevards laid
out for the benefits of the troops who might
be called upon to quell civil disturbance”
(Muschamp, 1995, p. 105).
Thus, the anti-urban rhetoric of ruling
élites tended to see both colonized and
‘home’ cities as morally toxic hotbeds of
unrest that needed to be ‘regularized’ and
disciplined through similar, violent, urban
restructuring efforts. “If strategic urban
design previously focused on strengthening
the city’s peripheral walls and fortifications
to keep out the enemy”, wrote Misselwitz
and Weizman:

“here, since the enemy was already inside

the city, the city had to be controlled from
within. The city fabric itself, its streets and
houses, that had to be adapted accordingly
Figure 2 ‘Operation Anchor’: the use of explosives by . . . Military control was exercised on the
the British to carve boulevards through the Palestinian drawing board, according to the rules of
Casbah in Jaffa in 1936, to improve the strategic design, fashion and speculative interests.”
control of the British over the settlement. Source: (2003, p. 272)
Misselwitz and Weizman (2003, p. 275).

Here there are sometimes striking con-

tinuities between the colonial and suppos-
edly ‘postcolonial’ city. In an episode that
resistance fighters—Bugeaud simply sadly would be repeated in the same city 56
destroyed entire neighbourhoods in the years later by the Israelis (see Figure 6), in
dense Algiers Casbah. In the process he 1936, the British took 4200 kilos of explo-
committed many atrocities against civilians sives to the refugee camp in Jenin and
and fighters alike and imprinted massive destroyed a whole quarter of the town. This
avenues through the city to sustain military was an act of collective punishment at the
surveillance and movement. This broke the continuing resistance to their occupation of
resistance (for a time, at least) (Misselwitz Palestine (Corera, 2002). A similar process
and Weizman, 2003). of urban remodelling by demolition, aimed
In a process that would be paralleled many at undermining resistance, occurred in Jaffa
times later, these techniques were then used in the same year (Figure 2).

Modernism and urban war I: aerial living space, are invitations to destruction. They
as response to aerial war are practically indefensible as now
constituted, and it is now becoming clear
Our third illustration centres on the first of that the best means of defending them is by
the construction, on the one hand, of great
two deep connections that run between
vertical concentrations which offer a
modernist urbanism and aerial bombing. For
minimum surface to the bomber and, on the
Le Corbusier’s famous obsession with other hand, by the laying out of extensive,
loosely spaced modern towers set in park- free, open spaces.” (1941, p. 543)
land—most famously elaborated in his Ville
Radieuse or ‘Radiant City’ (1933)—were not
just a celebration of light, air, sunlight and Modernism and urban war II: aerial
the modern house as a ‘machine for living in’. bombing as a “new chance”
They were also a reaction to a widespread
obsession in 1930s Europe with the need to Following the war, as the scale and scope of
completely re-plan cities so that they pre- devastation became clear, preservationists
sented the smallest possible targets to the achieved some limited success in rebuilding
massed ranks of heavy bombers then being parts of some cities along old lines. Many
fielded by the major powers. Corbusier’s ruined buildings—churches especially—
towers—variants of which had hardened were also preserved as war memorials. The
‘anti-aircraft’ bomb-proof roofs—were also British war artist Kenneth Clark even argued
designed to lift residents above expected gas that “bomb damage itself is picturesque”
attacks (Markou, 2002). (Woodward, 2001, p. 212).
Like the Italian futurists before him, Le Our fourth illustration centres on the way
Corbusier celebrated the modernism of the in which devout modernists saw the unim-
aircraft machine and its vertical destructive aginable devastation as an unparalleled
power. “What a gift to be able to sow death opportunity to reconstruct entire cities
with bombs upon sleeping towns”, he wrote according to the principles of Le Corbusier
(1935, pp. 8–9). His response to the “sinister and other modernist architects. As part of the
apotheosis” of death and destruction her- ‘brave new word’ of post-war reconstruc-
alded by aerial warfare was the total demoli- tion, modernist planners and architects
tion of the old city, and its replacement by a seemed in many cases to be almost grateful
modern utopia specifically designed to be that the deadly work of the bombers had laid
“capable of emerging victorious from the air waste to waste urban landscapes of tradi-
war” (1935, pp. 60–61). tional, closely built streets and buildings
Post 9/11—an event which seemed to (Tiratsoo et al., 2002).
underline the extreme vulnerability of sky- For example, one pamphlet, published in
scrapers—it seems painfully ironic that the the UK by John Mansbridge during the
dreams of that arch celebrator of sky scrapers Second World War (Figure 3), expressed
were, in fact, partly intended to reduce the gratitude to that modernist icon, the aero-
city’s exposure to aerial annihilation. The plane. Not only had it “given us a new
famous modernist architectural theorist Sig- vision” but it had offered Britain “a new
fried Gideon—who was strongly influenced chance by blasting away the centres of
by Le Corbusier’s views—argued in 1941 cities”. Thus, it continued, modernist recon-
that: struction would now be delivered to sustain
“the swift flow of modern traffic for the play
“the threat of attack from the air demands of light and air” (Tiratsoo et al., 2002).
urban changes. Great cities sprawling open Meanwhile, in Germany, the closing stages
to the sky, their congested areas at the of the Second World War saw Third Reich
mercy of bombs hurtling down out of planners preparing to totally disperse the
176 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Figure 3 Illustrations from John Mansbridge’s (nd) British Second World War pamphlet Here Comes Tomorrow
celebrating both the modernism of aircraft and the ‘new chance’ their bombing offered British cities to rebuild along
modernist lines. Source: Tiratsoo et al. (2002, p. 57).

City of Hamburg—which had been so dev- denly became the norm rather than the
astated by the fire storm raids of 1943—as a exception, particularly in the city centres of
test case in the wholesale ‘deurbanization’ of post-war Europe. As a result, to use the
German society. When the founder of the words of Ken Hewitt (1983, p. 278), “the
Bauhaus, Walter Gropius, returned to Ger- ghosts of the architects of urban bombing—
many in 1947, to advise on post-war recon- (Guilo) Douhet, (Billy) Mitchell, (Sir Hugh)
struction, he argued that the urban devasta- Trenchard, (Frederick) Lindemann—and the
tion in Germany meant that it was “the best praxis of airmen like (‘Bomber’) Harris and
place to start breaking up cities into home (Curtis) LeMay, still stalk the streets of our
towns and to establish small-scale commu- cities”.
nities, in which the essential importance of
the individual could be realised” (cited in
Kostof, 1992, p. 261). Cold War urban geopolitics
Thus, in a way, the total bombing of total
war—a massive act of planned urban devas- In our fifth illustration, Cold War cities
tation in its own right—served as a massive were often deliberately remodelled as a
accelerator of modernist urban planning, function of them resting at the centre of the
architecture and urbanism. The tabula rasa nuclear cross-hairs. As Matthew Farish
that every devoted modernist craved sud- (2003) and Jennifer Light (2003) show, the

familiar story of deconcentration and sprawl Berman argues that the scale of devastation—
in post-war US cities, for example, was not if not the human lives lost—in such pro-
just fuelled by Federal subsidies, the Inter- grammes, means that the Bronx needs to be
state highway program, a deepening anti- seen in the same light as the all-out, or
urbanism, and ‘White Flight’. It was also guerilla wars of Berlin, Belfast or Beirut.
actively encouraged by military strategists Along with several other authors he even
to reduce the USA’s strategic vulnerability coins the word ‘urbicide’—or “the murder
to a massive first nuclear strike by the of the city”—to describe all these, and many
Soviet Union. other cases (1996, p. 175).
As well as burrowing underground Robert Goodman, writing in his 1972
(McCamley, 1998; Vanderbilt, 2002), massive book After the Planners, argued that a US-
efforts were made to make cities sprawl. In wide drive for such ‘urban renewal’ actually
the USA, especially, vast new suburban tracts amounted to little but a exercise in racist
were projected as domesticated citadels, pop- (anti-black) state violence on a par with the
ulated by perfect nuclear families living the genocidal attacks on the indigenous North
‘American dream’ yet also shaped to be Americans that drove them to the edge of
resilient in the face of atomic Armageddon extinction (see Porteous and Smith, 2001,
(Zarlengo, 1999; McEnaney, 2000). Core Chap. 4).
cities, meanwhile, were widely portrayed by Importantly, major military research and
popular media and planners as inherently development bodies like RAND, STC and
risky and unsafe, a politics of fear that mixed MITRE had major inputs into the statistical
tragically with the wider racialization of analyses, operations research strategies and
urban centrality in post-war America and ‘rational’ planning doctrines that fuelled the
further fuelled central city decline (Galison, huge scale of Cold War ‘urban renewal’ and
2001). comprehensive redevelopment in the USA
(Light, 2002, 2003). Thus, in many cases, the
‘sciences’ of urban and military strategy
Planning as ‘urbicide’: post-war urban became extremely blurred and interwoven
‘renewal’ and the military–industrial during this period. On the one hand, city
complex in the USA governments pledged ‘war’ against the
‘urban crisis’ (see Farish, 2003). On the
A sixth illustration is the critical influence of other, the military–industrial complex
such quasi-military urban planning on the sought to gain finance and power by
huge effort at urban ‘renewal’ in the post-war reshaping civil strategic spaces in cities
USA. One of its arch proponents, Robert (Beauregard, 2003). The result was that, “by
Moses—who was major of New York City 1970, the military–industrial complex had
for much of this period—believed that, in successfully done what it had set out to do
modernizing New York, “when you operate at the start of the decade—expand its mar-
in an overbuilt metropolis you have to hack ket to city planning and management”
your way through with a meat ax” (quoted in (Light, 2002).
Berman, 1983, p. 307). Following the dis- Whilst rarely discussed, such planning-
placement of 50,000 as a highway was carved based urbicide is still extremely widespread
through the Bronx, for example, Moses around the world. For example, countless
helped set in train a war-like process of informal settlements continue to be bull-
disintegration which by the 1970s “had dozed around the planet in the name of
become spectacular, devouring house after modernization, freeway construction, eco-
house and block after block, driving hun- nomic development, ‘hygiene’ and the
dreds of thousands of people from their improvement of a city’s image (see, for
homes” (Berman, 1996, p. 172). Marshal example, Patel et al., 2002).
178 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Urban ruination and the politics of doned neighbourhoods, half-built or half-

‘unbuilding’ ruined cityscapes, decayed infrastructures and
war-like levels of gang, ethnic and drug-
It is crucial to stress—in our seventh illustra- related violence and arson (Vergara, 1997,
tion—that, after decades of urban crises of 1999). Often, such “enclaves of disinvestment
various sorts and an entrenchment of global, reverse normal codes of controlled develop-
neoliberal restructuring, the discipline of ment; they are pockets of free-fall urban
urban planning is now confronting what implosion, partaking of a frenzied violence . . .
Mike Davis (2002) calls ‘the radical con- Here the police plead for their own automatic
tingency of the metropolis’ in many guises weapons, pleading that they are outgunned by
and many places. The world is littered with teenage gangs” (Shane, 1995, p. 65).
failed utopian, modernist urban landscapes.
Many of these now resemble dystopian sites
of ethnic battles, economic and social col- Terror versus ‘war on terror’:
lapse, financial meltdown or physical decay city-targeting, orbital power and new
(Olalquiaga, 1995; Buck-Morss, 2000). wars
The continuum of organized, urban vio-
lence is thus complicated by the fact that “While at one time war elsewhere
much ‘planned’ urban change, even in times guaranteed peace at the centre of the
of ‘peace’, itself involves war-like levels of empire, now the enemy strikes precisely
violence, destabilization, rupture, forced and more easily at the centre . . . War
expulsion and place annihilation (Berman, abroad no longer guarantees peace at
home.” (Eco, 2003, p. 7)
1996). Particularly within the dizzying peaks
and troughs of capitalist urbanism, state-led
“Cities are especially vulnerable to the
planning often boils down to the legitimized
stresses of conflict . . . City-dwellers are
clearance of vast tracts of cities in the name of particularly at risk when their complex and
the removal of decay, modernization, sophisticated infrastructure systems are
improvement, ordering, economic competi- destroyed and rendered inoperable, or when
tion, or facilitating technological change and they become isolated from external
capital accumulation and speculation. “The contacts.” (Barakat, 1998, p. 12)
economically, politically and socially driven
processes of creative-destruction through All of which leads neatly to our eighth
abandonment and redevelopment”, suggests vignette: a brief analysis of the central role of
David Harvey, “are often every bit as cities and urban spaces within the current
destructive as arbitrary acts of war. Much of ‘third world war’ pitching ‘super terrorism’
contemporary Baltimore, with its 40,000 against counter-terrorism. Five brief points
abandoned houses, looks like a war zone to need to be stressed here.
rival Sarajevo” (Harvey, 2003b, p. 26).
As a result, in paradigmatic modern cities
like Detroit, for example, much urban plan- Everyday infrastructures as weapons of war
ning doctrine and effort now centres on the
politics of ‘unbuilding’ rather than building First, the potential for catastrophic violence
(Daskalakis et al., 2001). As in many other US against cities and urban life has changed in
core cities, old industrial European cities, and parallel with the shift of urban life towards
Asian and Latin American megacities con- ever-more distanciated, transnational, and
fronting recent financial collapses, the chal- flows-based systems and networks. The result
lenge here is to ‘plan’ not for growth, of this is that the everyday technics, spaces
prosperity and modernization. Rather, it is to and infrastructures of urban life—airliners,
try to overcome obsolescent structures, aban- metro trains, computer networks, water sys-

tems, electricity grids, trade networks, food Between 1991 and 2003, for example, as a
systems, medical systems, scientific research result of the bombing and the following
grids—may be easily assaulted and turned sanctions, Iraq was a modern, highly urban
into agents either of instantaneous terror or society forcibly “relegated to a pre-industrial
debilitating demodernization (Graham, 2002; age” by state violence (United Nations, 1999
Luke, 2004). In a ‘24/7’, ‘always-on’ and cited in Blakeley, 2001, p. 32). Even a leading
intensively networked society, urbanites US Air Force planner had to concede that
become so reliant on taken-for-granted infra- this direct targeting of so-called ‘dual-use’
structural and computerized systems that (military/civilian) electrical infrastructure in
they creep ever closer to the point where, as 1991 “shut down water purification and
Bill Joy puts it, “turning off becomes suicide” sewage treatment plants. As a result, epi-
(2000, p. 239). In particular, given that all the demics of gastroenteritis, cholera, and
‘Big Systems’ that sustain advanced, urban typhoid broke out, leading to as many as
societies are profoundly electrical, we become 100,000 civilian deaths and the doubling of
“hostages to electricity” (Leslie, 1999). All infant mortality rates” (Rizer, 2001). Over
this means that “tremendous lethal capabil- the next decade, over 500,000 Iraqi civilians
ities can be created simply by contra-func- were to die because the war and the sanctions
tioning the everyday applications of many forced a modern, urban society to live
technics” (Luke, 2004). without the basic, life-sustaining systems that
Most obviously, this applies to the airline are needed to keep it alive. This was a classic
suicide attacks of 9/11 (Graham, 2002), case, as Ruth Blakeley (2001) has put it, of
Palestinian bus bombers or the Moscow ‘bomb now, die later’.
metro attacks of February 2004. But it also As US forces move into the new terrain of
applies to the much less well-known efforts ‘cyber war’ or ‘computer network attack’ so
of US and Israeli militaries to systematically they have developed detailed knowledge of
demodernize entire urban societies in the the software systems that sustain basic,
past few decades. It is striking that the everyday infrastructure in potentially adver-
‘innovations’ underpinning both informal sarial cities and states. In 2002, Major Gen-
and state terror, to use the words of Timothy eral Bruce Wright, Deputy Director of Infor-
Luke (2004), “mobilize assets for attacks that mation Operations at the Center at Joint
destructively activate the embedded threats Warfare Analysis Center at Dahlgren, VA,
of large technical systems, everyday logistics, revealed that his team “can tell you not just
and civil offensive capabilities”. how a power plant or rail system [within an
Thus, the murderous 9/11 attacks simply adversary’s country] is built, but what
turned banal capsules of everyday, inter-urban exactly is involved in keeping that software
mobility into anti-urban cruise missiles. A system up and making that system efficient”
massive perversion of everyday mobility (cited in Church, 2002).
systems orchestrated for saturation real-time
coverage, these attacks brought an over-
whelmingly symbolic and mediatized act of
urban mass murder to a devastating conclu- The urbanization of war: cities as refuge
sion (Graham, 2002; Luke 2004). from orbital and aerial hegemony
Similarly, the deliberate US bombing of
“Some people say to me that the Iraqis are
electrical systems in Kosovo in 1999, and
not the Vietnamese! They have no jungles
Iraq in 2001—often using graphite ‘soft’ or swamps to hide in. I reply, ‘let our cities
bombs designed to generate massive short be our swamps and our buildings our
circuits and fires—led to a vast pressure on jungles’.” (Tariq Aziz, then Iraqi foreign
those societies by effectively de-electrifying, minister, October 2002, quoted in Bellamy,
and de-modernizing, them (Graham, 2004a). 2003, p. 3)
180 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Second, the relative anonymity of urban life cities and urbanizing corridors (see also
renders cities as the last sites of refuge from Rosenau, 1997; Spiller 2000). To him, these
the globe-spanning, high-tech military are spaces where “human waste goes undis-
omnipotence of US surveillance and killing. posed, the air is appalling, and mankind is
The complex, congested and contested ter- rotting” (Peters, 1996, p. 2). Here cities and
rain below, within and above cities is seen by urbanization represent decay, anarchy, dis-
many within the US military as a set of order and the post-Cold War collapse of
physical spaces which limit the effectiveness ‘failed’ nation-states. “Boom cities pay for
of high-tech space-targeted bombs, surveil- failed states, post-modern dispersed cities
lance systems and automated, ‘network-cen- pay for failed states, and failed cities turn into
tric’ weapons. These derive their power from killing grounds and reservoirs for humanity’s
the USA’s massive dominance in space-based surplus and discards (guess where we will
satellite targeting, navigation and surveillance fight)” (1996, p. 3).
(Graham, 2004b). Such weapons and infor- To Peters, the pivotal geo-strategic role of
mation systems have been deliberately devel- urban regions within the post-Cold War
oped in the last 30 years, under the auspices period is stark and clear. “Who cares about
of the so-called ‘Revolution in Military Upper Egypt if Cairo is calm?”, he writes.
Affairs’, to ensure that the USA remains a “We do not deal with Indonesia—we deal
pre-eminent global military power with ‘full with Jakarta. In our [then] recent evacuation
spectrum dominance’ over its potential chal- of Sierra Leone Freetown was all that mat-
lengers (Gray, 1997). The widespread urbani- tered” (1997, p. 5). Peters also candidly
zation of potential ‘battlespace’ is therefore characterizes the role of the US military
seen to reduce the ability of US forces to within the emerging neoliberal ‘empire’ with
fight and kill at a distance (always the the USA as the central military enforcer
preferred way because of their ‘casualty (although he obviously does not use these
dread’ and technological supremacy). And, as words) (see Hardt and Negri, 2000). “Our
is being revealed in the Iraqi guerrilla war, future military expeditions will increasingly
urban warfare is also seen to necessitate a defend our foreign investments”, he writes,
much more labour- and casualty-intensive “rather than defending [the home nation]
way of fighting than the USA is used to these against foreign invasions. And we will fight
days. to subdue anarchy and violent ‘isms’ because
“The long term trend in open-area com- disorder is bad for business. All of this
bat is toward overhead dominance by US activity will focus on cities”.
forces”, writes Ralph Peters (1996, p. 6), an Such urban warfare ‘expeditions’ have
influential US observer of what might be been central to the USA’s post-Cold War
termed the urbanization of war. “Battlefield strategy. In a parallel process of urbaniza-
awareness may prove so complete, and ‘pre- tion of war (Graham, 2004c, Part II), they
cision’ weapons so widely-available and are also the basis for the intensifying
effective, that enemy ground-based combat efforts of Israeli forces to systematically
systems will not be able to survive in the demodernize Palestinian cities. All these
deserts, plains, and fields that have seen so aggressions have devastated, and immiser-
many of history’s main battles.” As a result, ated, the fragile systems that allow urban
he argues that the USA’s “enemies will be societies to function. Arguably—at least in
forced into cities and other complex terrain, this case—the attacks have been so com-
such as industrial developments and inter- prehensive and complete that we have wit-
city sprawl” (1997, p. 4). nessed a case of ‘urbicide’—the denial, or
Peters’s military mind recoils in horror at killing, of the city (see Berman, 1996;
the prospect of US forces habitually fighting Safier, 2001; Graham, 2003, 2004d). Thou-
in the majority world’s burgeoning mega- sands of dwellings have been demolished

Figure 4 The banality of urbicide: Israeli Defence Force

soldiers preparing to blow up a Palestinian home in the
Tul Quarem refugee camp in the West Bank, 2002.
Photographer: Nir Kafri, 2003.
182 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

(Figure 4). Infrastructure systems have been (and deaths) [are] rendered of no account”.
systematically ripped up by the claws of In then forcibly creating a kind of chaotic
bulldozers (Figure 5). And whole refugee urban hell, through state terror, violence,
camps deemed to be the symbolic or actual and the deliberated destruction of modern
centres of resistance to occupation—both urban infrastructures, this violence, per-
through the horrific programme of suicide versely, produces what the discourses
bombing in Israeli cities, and other depict: an urban world “outside of the
means—have been bulldozed in the culmi- modern, figuratively as well as physically”
nation of brutal urban battles (Figure 6). (Gregory, 2003, p. 313).
Urban areas have had the life literally
strangled out of them by extending arrays
of checkpoints, curfews and barriers, com- Urban war and ‘accumulation by
bined with the progressive annexation of dispossession’
water resources and the destruction and
annexation of agricultural land. The Pales- Fourth, such destruction, and the new strat-
tinian population has been brutalized like egy of pre-emptive war also, of course,
never before, with 2194 civilians killed create opportunities for predatory, imperial
between September 2000 and 21 October gain. This is especially so as they are located
2003 alone (Graham, 2004d). within a globalizing, neoliberal, political
economy centred on the rapacious accumu-
lative appetite of politically favoured trans-
The language and legitimation of war nationals for both urban and infrastructural
assets and strategic raw materials (Harvey,
Thirdly, as always, these urban wars are 2003b; Kirsch, 2003).
being made and legitimized through lan- Certainly, the US invasions of key parts
guage. Both Sharon’s assaults on Palestinian of the strategic zones of central Eurasia and
cities, and Bush’s assaults on Iraqi and the Middle East have paved the way for
Afghan ones, have been justified through what David Harvey (2003a, Chap. 4) has
indiscriminate, Orientalist, categorizations. called “accumulation by dispossession”.
This language—what has been termed the This has operated through the privatization
‘new barbarism’—does huge political work. of assets and infrastructures in conquered
It does this by separating “the civilized lands and the handing over of these assets,
world” [Israel or the USA]—who’s ‘home- and natural resource rights, to the massive
land’ cities must be ‘defended’—from the corporations that are almost inseparably
“dark forces” which are alleged to threaten woven into the Bush regime. Even moderate
the health, prosperity, and democracy of commentators like Michael Ignatieff now
both these spaces and the ‘free’ world admit that the high-tech ‘war on terror’ is,
(Kaplan, 2003; Tisdall, 2003; Tuastad, essentially, a classic, imperialistic strategy
2003). adjusted to the demands of a US-centred,
Thus, such rhetoric conveniently lumps network-based, neoliberal ‘empire’ based on
together the residents of whole nations as commercial control backed up by military
sources of ‘terrorism’. As Derek Gregory dominance (Ignatieff, 2003; see Hardt and
(2003, p. 311) has shown, such language Negri, 2000; Klein, 2003). “This war, like
sustains the demodernization, as well as most of the wars that preceded it, is firmly
demonization, of whole Islamic or Arab rooted in geopolitical competition” (Klare,
urban societies. By ‘casting out’ the subject 2001, p. 4). As Dyer-Witheford has argued,
civilians of those cities, these people, cru- it remains the case that, “at its cutting edge,
cially, are “placed beyond the privileges and capitalist globalization means war” (1999,
protections of the law so that their lives p. 157).

Figure 5 A series of video capture images showing the claw of an Israeli Defence Force D–9 bulldozer being used to
destroy a Palestinian road and water network in Bethlehem as part of ‘Operation Defensive Shield’, April 2002.
Photographer: a Palestinian activist who wishes to remain anonymous.
184 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Figure 6 Aerial photograph of the destruction of the Hart-Al-Hawashin district in the centre of the Jenin refugee camp
caused by Israeli bulldozers (used with the permission of the Public Relations Branch, Israeli Defence Force).

Urban cosmopolitanism and competing Ironically, 9/11 itself symbolized that this
fundamentalisms telescoping of the world’s political violence
into the city (and vice versa) was now
Finally, cities constitute the front line of inescapable. “If it existed, any comfortable
the ‘war on terror’ in another crucial way. distinction between domestic and interna-
As the critical sites of diasporic mixing, tional, here and there, us and them, ceased to
and the destination points for global migra- have meaning after that day” (Hyndman,
tion, cities provide the multicultural envir- 2003, p. 1).
onments which are being stretched across On the one hand, then, the 9/11 attacks
the resurgent ‘them’ and ‘us’ boundaries can be seen as part of a fundamentalist,
that are (re)emerging in the wake of 9/11, transnational war, or Jihad, by radical Islami-
the ‘war on terror’, and the drive for cist movements against pluralistic and het-
‘homeland security’ (Sassen, 1999). What erogeneous mixing in (capitalist) cities
future for urban multiculturalism, or for (Buck-Morss, 2003). This loosely affiliated
the global–local flows of migration and network of radical Islamic terror organiza-
diaspora formation, in a world where “the tions need to be considered as one of a large
rhetoric of ‘insides’ needing protection number of social movements against what
from external threats in the form of inter- Castells calls the “new global order” (2004, p.
national organizations is pervasive” (Dalby, 108). Heterogeneous mixing of ethnicities
2000, p. 5)? and religious groups holds no place within

umma, the transnational fundamentalist Isla- filtering power of national borders (see
mic space that these movements are strug- Andreas and Biersteker, 2003; Molotch and
gling to establish (Castells, 2004, p. 111). McLain, 2003). After decades when the
Thus, it is notable that cities that have long business press triumphantly celebrated the
sustained complex heterogeneities, religious ‘death of distance’, or the imperative of
pluralism, and multiple diasporas—New opening borders to the ‘free’ movements of
York and Istanbul, for example—have been neoliberal globalization, post–9/11, “in both
prime targets for catastrophic terror attacks. political debates and policy practice, borders
Indeed, in their own horrible way, the grim are very much back in style” (Andreas and
lists of casualties on that bright New York Biersteker, 2003, p. 1).
day in September 2001 revealed the multiple Once again, then, nations, as well as
diasporas and cosmopolitanisms that now strategic cities, are being (re)imagined as
constitute the very social fabric of ‘global’ bounded, organized spaces with closely con-
cities like New York. As Watson writes: trolled, and filtered, relationships with the
supposed terrors of the outside world.
“global labor migration patterns have . . . Global geopolitical tensions, and attempts to
brought the world to lower Manhattan to bolster ‘homeland security’, have telescoped
service the corporate office blocks: the into policies shaping immigration controls,
dishwashers, messengers, coffee-cart
social policies addressing asylum seekers, and
vendors, and office cleaners were Mexican,
local policies towards multicultural and dia-
Bangladeshi, Jamaican and Palestinian. One
of the tragedies of September 11th 2001 was sporic communities in cities. In the USA, for
that it took such an extraordinary event to example, national immigration, border con-
reveal the everyday reality of life at the trol, and social policy strategies have been
heart of the global city.” (2003, p. 109) dramatically remodelled since 9/11 in an:

On the other hand, Bush’s neoconservative “attempt to reconstitute the [USA] as a

and neoimperial ‘war on terror’ also prob- bounded area that can be fortified against
lematizes such urban cosmopolitanism. It, outsiders and other global influences. In
too, undermines both the possibility, and the this imagining of nation, the US ceases to
be a constellation of local, national,
legitimacy, of city-based democratic plural-
international, and global relations,
ism and dissent against the ‘new global experiences, and meanings that coalesce in
order’. In asserting a binaried split between places like New York City and Washington
“the civilised and savage throughout the DC; rather, it is increasingly defined by a
social circuitry”, the ‘war on terror’ rhetoric ‘security perimeter’ and the strict
of the Bush regime, and the policies based on surveillance of borders.” (Hyndman, 2003,
it, have produced a “constant scrutiny of p. 2; see Anderson, 2002)
those who bear the sign of ‘dormant’ terror-
ist” (Passavant and Dean, 2002, cited in The ‘hybrid’, transnational identities of many
Gregory, 2003). It has also “activate[d] a neighbourhoods and communities in cities,
policing of points of vulnerability against an shaped by generations of migration and
enemy who inheres within the space of the diasporic mixing, are thus becoming prob-
US” (ibid.). lematized. Inevitably, such places and groups
A ‘domestic front’ has thus been drawn in are being ‘stretched’ across the resurgent
Bush’s ‘war on terror’. Sally Howell and ‘them’ and ‘us’ or ‘home’ and ‘foreign’
Andrew Shryock (2003) call this a “cracking binaries that are being imposed. Many peo-
down on diaspora”. This process involves ple, spaces and communities in Western cities
deepening state surveillance against those are thus becoming ‘othered’ simply because
seen to harbour ‘terrorist threats’, combined they are perceived to be associated with
with a radically increased effort to ensure the ‘Arab’ or ‘Muslim terrorists’ (Hall, 2003).
186 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Homeland/globe: war, ‘security’, and the commodities market” that lies a few hundred
geopolitics of production and metres from ‘ground zero’ (Halevi and Var-
consumption oufakis, 2003, p. 66). There is little doubt that
a key objective of the US attack on Iraq was
“Every generation has a taboo and ours is to install a US-friendly oil-producing regime
this: that the resources upon which our there that would eventually displace the
lives have been built are running out.” Saudis as the main ‘swing producer’, allowing
(Monbiot, 2003, p. 25) the USA (and not OPEC) to regulate the
international price of oil (Harvey, 2003a;
Which brings us neatly to our penultimate Gregory, 2004a).
example of the inseparability of contempo- Three key points are crucial here. First,
rary war and urbanism. This centres on the SUVs were fashioned and marketed after the
ways in which the reconstruction of land- first Gulf War as quasi-militarized ‘urban
scapes and consumption habits in the assault luxury vehicles’ (Rampton and
wealthy cities of the advanced industrial Stauber, 2003). Clotaire Rapaille, a psycho-
world, with their profound implications for logical consultant to major US SUV manu-
geopolitical competition, impact on security, facturers, reveals that his research suggests
terror and urbanizing war elsewhere (Le that Americans want “aggressive cars” that
Billon, 2001). A powerful case of these can be thought of as “weapons” or “armored
important but poorly researched connections cars for the urban battlefield”. The design
comes with the growing fashion for large, and marketing of such vehicles, he argues—
four-wheel drive ‘Sports Utility Vehicles’ with their names like ‘Stealth’ and ‘War-
(SUVs) in Western, and particularly, US rior’—needs to tap into, and address, their
cities. consumers’ fears about contemporary urban
Given the very high degree of influence of life (cited in Rampton and Stauber, 2003, p.
major US oil companies on the Bush regime, 138).
there is growing evidence of direct connec- Post-9/11, it is now clear that advertisers
tions between the fashion for more and more have been deliberately exploiting widespread
profligate use of oil in sprawling US cit- fears of catastrophic terrorism to further
yscapes; the geopolitical remodelling of US increase sales of highly profitable SUVs.
defence forces; and the so-called ‘war on Rapaille has recently been urging the main
terror’ through which the US government is auto manufacturers to address the fact that
achieving a high level of geopolitical control “the Homeland is at war” by appealing to
of the world’s largest untapped oil reserves, buyers’ most primitive emotions (ibid., p.
in and around the Caspian Basin (Kleveman, 139).
2003). 9/11 has thus been ruthlessly exploi- Second, the SUV is being enrolled into
ted. In particular the 9/11 attacks provided urban everyday life as a defensive capsule or
the “catastrophic and catalysing event” that “portable civilization”—a signifier of safety
was identified by the influential 1997 report that, like the gated communities into which
Project for a New American Century— they so often drive, is portrayed in advertise-
including Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolf- ments as being immune to the risky and
owitz—as necessary to allow the USA to unpredictable urban life outside (Garner,
justify the invasion of Iraq with any hope of 2000). Such vehicles seem to assuage the fear
legitimacy (Harvey, 2003b, p. 15). that the urban middle classes feel when
Whilst the US strategy is not necessarily moving—or queuing in traffic—in their
about directly controlling oil resources per ‘homeland’ city.
se, there is little doubt that “it is about Subliminal processes of urban and cultural
ensuring that whoever controls it buys and militarization are going on here. This was
sells it in US dollars through the New York most powerfully illustrated by the trans-

formation of the US army’s ‘Humvee’ assault “The economic, cultural and military
vehicle into the civilian ‘Hummer’ just after infrastructure that undergirds US Middle
the first Iraq war—an idea that came from the East policy will not be so easily undone”,
Terminator film star (and now California writes Tim Watson, “and without its whole-
Governor) Arnold Schwarzenegger (who sale reform or dismantling, Islamic terrorists
promptly received the first one off the will not so easily disappear” (2003, p. 110).
production line). Andrew Garner writes that: As with the cosmopolitan nationalities of the
dead, then, so the events of 9/11, in their own
“For the middle classes, the SUV is way, reflect and symbolize the deep connec-
interpreted culturally as strong and tions between urban everyday life and city
invincible, yet civilised. In the case of the form and the violence spawned by geopolit-
middle class alienation from the inner city, ical conflict and imperialist aggression. Wat-
the SUV is an urban assault vehicle. The son writes that he has been haunted since
driver is transformed into a trooper, 9/11 by images of the hundreds of vehicles
combating an increasingly dangerous world.
abandoned, never to be recovered, at rail
This sense of security felt when driving the
SUV continues when it is not being driven.
stations by commuters to the twin towers in
The SUV’s symbols of strength, power, the states of New York, Connecticut and
command and security becomes an important New Jersey. “That day these symbols of
part of the self-sign . . . With the mobility” became, instead:
identification of enemies within our borders,
this vehicle has become a way of protecting “images of immobility and death. But these
members of the middle class from any threat forlorn, expensive cars and SUVs also
to their lifestyle” (2000, p. 6). represent a nodal point between the
US-domestic economy and a global oil
market in which Saudi, Kuwaiti, and Iraqi
Finally, the fact that SUVs account for over
production is still so important.” (2003, pp.
45% of US car sales has very real impacts on
the global geopolitics of oil. With their
consumption rates of double or triple normal
cars, this highly lucrative sector clearly adds
‘A geopolitics of urban decay and
directly to the power of the neo-conservative
cybernetic play’: popular culture blurs
and ex-oil executive ‘hawks’ in the Bush
with military strategy
regime to drive forward the above-men-
tioned strategy of colonization by disposses- “War is the new psychotropic. War
sion. This is especially so as they have precludes our doubts. War preserves our
operationalized their perpetual ‘war on ter- right to pursue overabundance. War closes
ror’ in ways that are helping the USA to the circle. It creates anxiety; it cures anxiety.
secure access to the huge, low-priced oil It defines our alienation; it resolves our
reserves that the USA argues it needs to fuel alienation.” (Hart, 2003, p. 16)
its ever-growing level of consumption. (cur-
rently these stand at 25.5% of global con- Our final vignette centres on the ways in
sumption to sustain a country with less than which the neglect of place annihilation in
5% of the world’s population.) urban social science has left the connections
Clearly, then, the profligate oil consump- between today’s cities, and the curious obses-
tion and militarized design of SUVs “takes sion with ruined cities and post-apocalyptic
on additional significance in the light of the urban landscapes in contemporary popular
role that dependency on foreign oil has culture, largely unexplored. This is important
played in shaping U.S. relations with coun- because cities are unmade and annihilated
tries in the Middle East” (Rampton and discursively as well as through bombs, planes
Stauber, 2003, p. 139). and terrorist acts. As various electronic
188 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

media become ever-more dominant in shap- shop: The Siege, Independence Day,
ing the tenor of urban culture, so their Executive Action, Outbreak, The Sum of All
depictions of cities crucially affect collective Fears, and so on.” (2002, p. 5)
notions of what cities actually are, of what
they might actually become. Indeed, the complex links between virtual,
Increasingly, in these ‘post-modern’ times, filmic and televisual representations of city-
cities are depicted as sites of ruination, fear killing, and actual acts of urban war, are
and decay, rather than ones of development, becoming so blurred as to be almost indis-
order or ‘progress’. As long ago as the mid– tinguishable. At least amongst US forces, the
1960s, Susan Sontag observed that most sci-fi real targeting of cities is being remodelled as
films, for example, are about the “aesthetic of a ‘joy stick war’. This operates through
destruction, the peculiar beauties to be found ‘virtual’ simulations, computerized killing
in wreaking havoc, making a mess” (1966, p. systems, and a growing distanciation of the
213). Crucially, this means that millennia-old operator from the sites of the killing and the
“link between civilization and barbarism is killed. In the process, the realities of urban
reversed: City life turns into a state of nature war—at least for some—start to blur seam-
characterised by the rule of terror, accom- lessly with the wider cultures of sci-fi, film,
panied by omnipresent fear” (Diken and video games and popular entertainment
Laustsen 2002, p. 291). (Thussu and Freedman, 2003).
This shift taps into a century or more of Take, for example, the unmanned, low
apocalyptic, anti-urban, literature and altitude ‘Predator’ aircraft that are already
films—from H.G. Wells’s (1908) War in the being used for extra-judicial assassinations of
Air to vast ranges of atomic-age and cyber- alleged ‘terrorists’ (and whoever happens to
punk fiction. All of this predicts in its own be close by) in the Yemen, Afghanistan and
way the final victory of weapons of annihila- Iraq whilst being ‘piloted’ from a Florida air
tion over the very possibility of a conven- base 8 or 10,000 miles away. For the US
tional urban life (see Franklin, 1988). Adding military personnel doing the piloting, this
to this, a swathe of recent post-apocalyptic ‘virtual’ work is almost indistinguishable
films have so shaped the collective culture of from a ‘shoot-em-up’ video game (except
urbanism that the stock response to the 9/11 that the people who die are real). “At the end
catastrophe was that “it was just like a scene of the work day”, one Predator operator
in a movie!” Whilst the output of such films recently boasted during Gulf War II, “you
paused after 9/11 they are now back in full walk back into the rest of life in America”
flow (Maher, 2002). Mike Davis has argued (quoted in Newman, 2003).
that the 9/11 attacks: As war is increasingly consumed by a
voyeuristic public, so digital technologies
“were organised as epic horror cinema with bring the vicarious thrills of urban war direct
meticulous attention to the mise-en-scéne. to the homes of news-hungry consumers.
The hijacked planes were aimed precisely at Consumption of the Iraq war by people in
the vulnerable border between fantasy and the USA, for example, offered a wide range
reality . . . Thousands of people who turned of satellite image-based maps of the City as
on their televisions on 9/11 were convinced
little more than an array of targets, to be
that the cataclysm was just a broadcast, a
destroyed from the air, in newspapers or on
hoax. They thought they were watching
rushes from the latest Bruce Willis film . . .
media websites. Thus:
The ‘Attack on America’, and its sequels,
‘America Fights Back’ and ‘America Freaks “The New York Times provided a daily
Out’, have continued to unspool as a satellite map of Baghdad as a city of targets.
succession of celluloid hallucinations, each On the web, USA Today’s interactive map
of which can be rented from the video of ‘Downtown Baghdad’ invited its users:

“Get a satellite-eye view of Baghdad. rior’ exercise in March 1999—are even

Strategic sites and bombing targets are undertaken on major US cities from air, land
marked, but you can click on any quadrant and sea to further improve training both for
for a close up’. The site also included foreign incursions and the control of major
images of targets ‘before’ and ‘after’ air
domestic urban unrest. Civilians are
strikes. The Washington Post’s interactives
employed in these exercises to play various
invited the viewer to ‘roll over the numbers
to see what targets were hit on which day; parts (Willis, 2003). Such mock invasions
click to read more about the targets.” have even been proposed as local economic
(Gregory, 2004b, p. 229) development initiatives for declining city
In a perverse twist, corporate media and Finally, the US military are deepening their
entertainment industries increasingly provide connections with corporate news media, so
both computer games and films which vir- that the ‘information warfare’ side of their
tually simulate recent urban wars to mass operations—i.e. propaganda—can be more
participants, and the virtual and physical successful. Just as Al Qaida timed the second
simulations of cities that US forces use to plane’s impact on 9/11 so that the world’s
hone their warfare skills for fighting in news media could beam it live to billions of
Kabul, Baghdad or Freetown. astonished onlookers, so the ‘Shock and
This is one example of the ways in which Awe’ strategy at the start of the US bombing
the actual prosecution of wars is merging of Baghdad was a carefully orchestrated
more and more with electronic entertainment media spectacle (with the world’s TV jour-
industries. “The US military is preparing for nalists lined up in a major hotel a short, but
wars that will be fought in the same manner safe, distance way from the carefully selec-
as they are electronically represented, on ted—and empty—buildings that were pin-
real-time networks and by live feed videos, pointed for GPS-based destruction). Thus,
on the PC and the TV actually and virtually” both formal and informal attacks against
(Der Derian, 2002, p. 61). The “military now cities emerge as rhizomatic, internationally
mobilizes science fiction writers and other networked operations orchestrated with
futurologists to plan for the wars of tomor- global media representation in mind. Both Al
row just as they consciously recruit video- Qaeda and the US military are transnational
game playing adolescents to fight the same organizations concerned as much with sym-
conflict” (Gray, 1997, p. 190). bolic effects as with the real devastation of
James Der Derian (2001) coins the term the local sites (Zizek, 2003). “This war takes
“military–industrial–media–entertainment place in the invisible space of the terror
network” to capture the deepening and imaginary of the US (attacks on buildings
increasingly insidious connections between and government, germ infection, etc.) and in
the military, defence industries, popular cul- the visibly impoverished landscape of Afgha-
ture and electronic entertainment. Here, nistan” (Aretxaga, 2003, p. 144).
huge software simulations are constructed to James Lukaszewiski, a US public relations
recreate any possible urban warfare scenario, counsellor who advises the US military,
complete with vast forces, casualties, the gaze admits that the links between terrorist orga-
of the media and three-dimensional, real- nizations and the global media are equally
time participation by thousands. Hollywood insidious:
specialists of computer-generated films pro-
vide extra ‘realism’ in the these simulations; “media coverage and terrorism are soul
their theme park designers, meanwhile, help mates—virtually inseparable. They feed off
in the construction of the ‘real’ urban warfare each other. They together create a dance of
training cities that are dotted across the USA. death—the one for political or ideological
Major ‘invasions’—such as the ‘Urban War- motives, the other for commercial success.
190 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Terrorist activities are high profile, wonder what it would take to destroy
ratings-building events. The news media EVERYTHING!” . . . Simply point at the
need to prolong these stories because they disaster(s) of you choice and push B to
build viewership and readership.” (cited in activate it.” (original emphasis)
Rampton and Stauber, 2003, p. 134)
Second, there are virtual combat games
Claire Sponster (1992) terms the particular designed to allow Western users to ‘fight’
obsession with decayed cityscapes within enemies in far-off cities. These provide
cyberpunk depictions on urban futures a omnipotent players with ‘realistic—and
“geopolitics of urban decay and cybernetic often devastated—(usually Middle Eastern)
play”. Whilst these have moved beyond the cities in which to annihilate racialized and
common sci-fi obsession with post-nuclear dehumanized enemies again and again. The
cities during the Cold War: rhetoric and marketing of such games, echo-
ing George Bush’s nationalistic discourses of
“the physical settings of [such] cyberpunk ‘protecting freedom’ and ‘ensuring democ-
stories look strikingly like the settling of racy’, imply that the task of the player is to
any post-holocausts story: blighted,
infiltrate these cities to rid the world of
rubble-strewn, broken-down cityspaces;
‘terrorists’ and so ‘fight for freedom’.
vast terrains of decay, bleakness, and the
detritus of civilization; and the near The urban war of your choice—Black
complete absence of a benign and beautiful Hawk Down (Mogadishu), Gulf War I, Gulf
nature.” (Sponster, 1992, p. 253) War II, the LA Riots, a myriad of urban
‘anti-terrorist’ operations’—can thus be elec-
The vast array of ‘virtual reality’ and simula- tronically simulated and consumed as enter-
tion games, where players can be masters of tainment. The comments of participants are
urban annihilation, further demonstrate the very telling here. For example, a Black Hawk
blurring of the actual and virtual killing of Down player admits that “those graphics are
urban places (and their inhabitants). Three so sweet you can almost feel the bullets
ranges of games are relevant here. whizz past your head and ricochet off walls
First, there are simulated urban construc- around you. The scenery is good although if
tion games—like the SimCities™ series. In you are spending time admiring it then your
these participants endlessly construct, and [sic] already dead!” Another gushes:
destroy, cityscapes in repeated cycles of
virtual urban cataclysms (Sponster, 1992; “when you’re trapped in the middle of a
Bleecker, 1994). One SimCity™ introduction hostile situation and completely
and guide available on the Web describes the surrounded, it really does get the heart
pumping . . . When I first jumped into a
fascination with virtual urban destruction
helicopter, took off, saw the enemy in the
amongst players thus:
city streets below and then activated the
helicopter’s mini-gun it was such a rush! I
“My name is Dr Wright and I will be your also enjoyed being able to use gun
guide and teacher as you set out to create emplacements and firing massive mini-guns
bustling cities of sprawling urban from the choppers and watching the empty
wastelands. As Mayor, the choice is yours. shell casings bouncing off the tin roofs [of
Let’s start off by destroying Tokyo! Studies ‘Mogadishu’] below!”
show that nine out of ten mayors begin
their careers with a frenzy of destruction
. . . Another curious fact about SimCity™ A third range of games brings urban war to
mayors is that one disaster is never enough. the ‘homeland’. Here the challenge is to
The reasoning goes something like this: destroy ‘terrorists’ who are in the process of
“gee, that monster was great, but there must unleashing instant and unknown catastro-
be half a dozen buildings still standing. I phes on Western cities. One user of the

“Tom Clancy Rainbow Six Rogue Spear edgement that violent catastrophe, crafted by
Platinum” urban warfare game describes its humans, is part and parcel of modern urban
challenges. “Urban Operations really add to life. A much needed, specifically urban,
the gameplay”, he says, “with missions in geopolitics is thus slowly (re)emerging which
live public areas (London underground, addresses the telescoping connections
open top markets etc). You can even shoot between transnational geopolitical transfor-
out the lights! [The spaces are] full of public mations and very local acts of violence
people. And if a stray shot should kill any against urban sites. This emerging body of
member of the public . . . Game Over!” work is trying to unearth, as Diken and
(comments taken from; origi- Laustsen put it, “the way in which discipline,
nal emphasis). control, and terror coexist in today’s imagi-
nary and real urban geographies” (2002, p.
Conclusion: looking at ruins As an exploratory synthesis, this essay has
developed a particularly broad perspective of
“The human race is, and has always been, the ways in which the purposive destruction
ruin-minded.” (Macaulay, 1964, p. 264) and annihilation of cities, in war, terror,
planning and virtual play, is utterly inter-
“The ruins are painful to look at, but will woven with urban modernity. Two conclu-
hurt more in the long run if we try not to sions are apparent from this wide-ranging
see.” (Berman, 1996, p. 185)
First, as the gaze of critical urban social
“Wounded cities, like all cities, are dynamic
science starts to fall on the purposive ruina-
entities, replete with the potential to
recuperate loss and reconstruct anew for the tion and annihilation of place, so this synthe-
future.” (Schneider and Susser, 2003, p. 1) sis underlines five, related, urban research
challenges. First, the research and profes-
To conclude this extended essay, it is strik- sional taboos that cloak the geopolitical and
ingly clear that urbanists and urban strategic archaeologies, and spatialities, of
researchers can no longer neglect either modern urbanism must be undermined, and
attempts to deny, destroy or annihilate cit- understood. Second, the ‘hidden’, militarized
ies, or the ‘dark’ side of urban modernity histories and spatialities of modern urban
which links cities intimately to organized, planning and state terror must be excavated
political violence. In this ‘post–9/11’ and and relentlessly exposed. Third, the charac-
‘post-war on terror’ world, urban research- teristics of city spaces and infrastructures
ers and social scientists—like everyone that make them the choices par excellence of
else—are being forced to begin addressing those seeking to commit terrorist acts require
their taboos about attempted city-killing, detailed analysis, as do the impacts of these
place annihilation, ‘urbicide’ and the urbani- acts on the shape, condition and imagining of
zation of war. In a parallel process, inter- cities and urban life. Fourth, the telescoping,
national relations theorists, geopolitical transnational connections between the geo-
researchers and sociologists of war, are politics of war and ‘empire’, and political
being forced to consider urban and sub- economies of production, consumption,
national spaces as crucial geopolitical sites, migration, the media and resistance require
often for the first time. rigorous theorization and analysis. And
As a result, researchers in both traditions finally, the fast-growing, and usually hidden
are now once again starting to explore, and worlds of ‘shadow’ urban research, through
excavate, the spaces and practices that emerge which the world’s military perceive, recon-
at the intersections of urbanism, terrorism struct and target urban spaces must be
and warfare. There is a growing acknowl- actively uncovered.
192 CITY VOL. 8, NO. 2

Our second conclusion, of course, must be cities must be seen as key sites, perhaps the
politically, rather than analytically, norma- key sites, for nurturing the tolerances, dia-
tive. This reflects the palpable risk that a sporic mixings, and multicultural spaces that
global polarization will emerge around the are needed to push fundamentalist fantasies
two alternative fundamentalisms that cur- of all sorts to the lunatic fringes where they
rently so threaten to destabilize, and devas- belong (Safier, 2001; Sandercock, 2003).
tate, our world. The clear imperative here is Arguably, our planet currently faces no
to forcibly reject both of the racist, masculi- greater challenge.
nist fundamentalisms which are currently
locked in a globe-spanning circle of intensi-
fying atrocity and counter-atrocity. As Rosa- Acknowledgements
lind Petchesky has argued, these offer a
choice between “the permanent war machine The author would like to acknowledge the
(or permament security state) and the reign support of the British Academy, without
of holy terror” (cited in Joseph and Sharma, which the research that led to this essay
2003, p. xxi). Untrammelled, the self-perpe- would not have been possible. Thanks also to
tuating cycles of atrocity between urban the referees of the paper for their valuable
terror and state counter-terror, that these comments. All the usual disclaimers apply.
discourses legitimize and sustain, offer up an
extremely bleak urban future indeed. This,
perhaps, is the ultimate urban dystopia. For
it is crucial to realize, as the Israeli–Pales- 1 The term ‘postmortem city’ was first coined by Chris
tinian quagmire demonstrates, that informal Hables Gray in his book Postmodern War (1997).
terror and state counter-terror tend to be He coined the term to describe an aerial ‘damage
assessment’ map of Tokyo after the US fire bombing
umbilically connected. In the end, they tend,
devastated the city on 9/10 March 1945. This
tragically, to be self-perpetuating in an end- raid—the most murderous act of war in human
less circle of intensifying atrocity (Graham, history—killed over 130,000 civilians in a few
2004d). As Zulaika argues: hours (see Gray, 1997, p. 86).
2 See, for example, Lang (1995), Berman (1996),
Bollens (2001), Catterall (2001), Mendieta (2001),
“the ultimate catastrophe is that . . . a
Safier, (2001), Coward (2002), Davis (2002), Diken
categorically ill-defined, perpetually and Laustsen (2002), Prodanovic (2002), Vanderbilt
deferred, simple minded Good-versus-Evil (2002), Bishop and Clancey (2003), Cole (2003),
war [‘against terror’] echoes and re-creates Farish (2003), Graham (2003, 2004a, 2004b,
the very absolutist mentality and 2004c), Gregory (2003), Schneider and Susser
exceptionalist tactics of the insurgent (2003), Sassen (2002).
terrorists. By formally adopting the
terrorists’ own game—one that by
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