Event at Davis Library: Photographs by Christopher Sims: Guantánamo Bay and The Library at Camp Delta

Reception/exhibition opening: Davis Library Gallery–Wednesday, Sept. 30th at 5:00
Artist talk: following at 5:45

From Christopher Sims’ artist statement:

Guantánamo Bay

In 2006 and 2010, I traveled by plane, ferry, and bus to the naval station and joint detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

On this small spit of land, on approximately 45 square miles held in perpetual lease by the U.S. military, actors from the world stage converge: American interrogators attempt to wrest information from Muslim “unlawful enemy combatants”; Jamaican and Filipino guest workers are imported by contractors to serve food, cut hair at the barbershop, and wash the laundry; and on the base’s residential streets that resemble an American suburb, a handful of Cuban families who fled Castro’s takeover of the island live out their days in exile. Against this backdrop, there are also strikingly mundane activities that take place: children go to school, guards pick up coffee at McDonald’s and Starbucks, and backyard barbeques are planned.

Restrictions by the military made making photographs of people at GTMO impractical, so I chose instead to photograph the environments that people create and inhabit rather than the people themselves, the stage sets rather than the players.

The Library at Camp Delta

The Library at Camp Delta is a site-specific installation and exhibition. Situated in Davis Library, the exhibition echoes the library location where the images were made at the U.S. Naval Station in Cuba. Visitors passing through the library exhibition space will encounter in a quiet way images that in part blend in naturally with the very shelves surrounding them on campus.

By focusing on the interior lives of those at Guantánamo Bay—the prisoners who read and watch materials from the library and who take drawing courses there, the professional librarians who carry out their duties in this remote facility, and the censors who black out parts of the library’s newspapers—the exhibition offers a unique viewpoint into the controversial and infamous prison camp.

Link: http://blogs.lib.unc.edu/news/index.php/2015/09/sims/

Weizman – Lethal Theory

I found Weizman’s discussion of “swarming” military strategy very interesting. The image that stuck in my mind as I was reading was particularly the one described by a family whose home was “infested” by soldiers:

“…their faces painted black, submachine guns pointed everywhere, antennas protruding from their backpacks, making them look like giant alien bugs, blast their way through that wall?”

This image, that of the roach, is different than my usual imagination of the clean, orderly, effective soldier. It seemed with the roach metaphor that the effect was one of terrifying takeover. It was not the same fear of looking at rows of orderly soldiers marching on your death, but the notion that a nest of insects had been liberated and they were taking over one’s sphere uncontrollably and unpredictably. I also began thinking about the motivations behind using such a strategy in warfare. Is it our human nature that sometimes prevents us from being truly cunning? Our supposedly higher intellectual capabilities and reliance on world order has ingrained in us social norms that we don’t walk through walls; we use the portals planned out for us, such as roads, hallways, and doors. Weizman appropriately called this occurrence the “authority of borderlines.” Would a cockroach, or a rodent for example, think in the same way? Does it stop and say, “No, I can’t run through the walls, I should use the door!” Of course not; it has not been taught to be bound by the same social rules. It uses the most convenient and immediate solution offered to it. Additionally, I appreciated that Weizman acknowledged that this concept of using a swarming tactic to surprise the enemy is hardly new. It fulfills the different requirements of new wars, but it served the same purpose in various arenas a long time ago. It makes sense not to present the enemy with a clear predictable picture of what is going to happen, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a discussion of this method being carried out by the “reorganization” of space before, namely through the abandoning of routes and repurposing of barriers.

-Megan S.

Capitalism and space

Capitalism and space – reading Weizman inspired ideas of property and the politics of decay and warfare. In war-torn areas of developing countries that have experienced isolation and desolation, I find it intriguing how navigating these spaces for survival and protection (as well a for guerrilla warfare) is studied by the US military, an adaptable machine. As the article posits, the lack of training afforded to Palestinian soldiers requires their use of public/private space in order to mitigate their shortcomings in strategy and power. Transforming these spaces into battleground is mutual – done by the US government and by whoever happens to be at war against the US at that time.

It is worth noting how the US strategizes the destruction of property abroad (and at home) as a method of environmental and urban warfare. In the US we view capital and clear property rights as values of American rights and necessary to maintain a sustainable standard of care and living. When applied to the other, this is less so the case.

Most interesting was this concept of détournement: the adaptation of space to fulfill a purpose it was not designed to perform. This transformation of capital should be noticed in the US as also a proliferation of war (warring classes). In the context of the US military aggression against foreign countries, it’s almost the necessity to economize on space sacred space in order to stay alive. I wonder how much of the physical (non green) space could be attributed to the success or failure (and death) of a country or group of people?For instance if the community center or Temple is destroyed and is no longer a safe space, what does this mean for the people?

Lethal Theory – Eyal Weizman

Weizman’s article really gave me a new insight on the topic of war strategies and techniques. However, after having read the article, I am still unsure whether I see the “walking through walls method” as usefull at all. To me it seems very inhumane to lock up civilians in a room for days without water, food, toilet, and medicine after blowing up a wall or several walls in their homes. Any military who argues that they use this method because it is more “humane” must clearly be losing touch with reality. The damages that are caused by military actions might not be visible anymore that much on the outside but as Weizman also explains, they are concealed in the homes of the victims (cf. 58). Moreover, in contrast to traditional techniques of warfare, “un-walling” can (of course, it does not have to necessarily) cause even more destruction.

In general, I thought it was interesting that Weizman drew a connection between the “walking through walls method” and the “obliteration of the status of privacy” (75). In my opinion, this point really hits home. In addition, I agree that the “un-walling of the wall” leads to the collapse of the separation between inside and outside and therefore also between private and public. As Weizman explains, the method destabilizes democracy itself.

– C.Muthmann

Lethal Theory: urban swarming tactics and civilian involvement

What struck me the most about the military strategies discussed in the paper by Eyal Weizman was what can happen to the civilians who are caught in the crosshairs of this strategy. While this creative way of approaching a spatial battlefield can certainly be effective in surprising, confusing and circumnavigating the “enemy”, It surly can take the unsuspecting civilian by surprise as well. In a traditional war, there are clearly defined battlefronts, with the focus on moving the line of the enemy back and taking their land. In this new form of war, there is no clearly defined front, and no way to quantify advance. As such, it would be very difficult for civilians to determine where is safe and where is not. Not only does this mean that everywhere would be vulnerable, but that everything would feel vulnerable as well,

 

The article describes the process of carving out a network for troop movement not around buildings, but through them. A hole is blown through the wall, and the groups swarm in and apprehend the shocked inhabitants inside. I am left wondering how many children playing or couples sleeping on the other side of the wall were injured or killed when the wall was destroyed. And even if there were civilian casualties of this method, how could it possibly be reported and responsibility determined? In this chaotic and decentralized method of maneuvering through an area, how do you determine what soldier was where when what happened.

Finally, I noticed the potential for infrastructure damage that this strategy could lead to. While a thousand troops can march through a street one day and leave no evidence of their passing, a thousand troops boring through walls will leave their mark to remind the inhabitants of the conflict long after peace is made.

War without end

As a species, we were given the perfect evolutionary tool belt to thrive, leaps and bounds beyond what could be accomplished by any other population on this earth. We are efficient, intuitive, creative, and manipulative. We sculpt our environment to better serve our needs by creating infrastructure which constitutes the habitats we inhabit. War only undermines our ability thrive. No matter who is the war monger, the victim, or the unlucky intermediary agent, we all suffer because of the destruction we impart on our habitats.

War is inefficient. The destruction it causes not only lays waste to our infrastructure, but leaves behind barren ruins. A wasteful pile of once useful rubble—once inhabitable land area. It can never be wholly mended or rehabilitated. Resources which at one point had use value are stripped of purpose by war and destruction.

What is worse is that we create infrastructure solely for the purpose of warfare. It is a detrimental positive feedback loop. We build infrastructure and manufacture resources into mechanisms of war, sowing the seeds of war where ever we stride into conflict.

We can and will bomb ourselves into oblivion, turning our green, fertile Earth into a heap of unproductive resources until we are cornered onto what little productive green land we have left, where we will await our demise.

I am convinced the human race will delve ever deeper into this crater of warfare, convinced that some promise of a worthy, justified outcome may result from our endeavors. Every society and culture has a different end game, but what can we do with success in war when there is no peace left to enjoy?

Weizman – military metaphysics

Much of “Lethal Theory” seemed to me like a lot of needlessly philosophical ways of describing blowing holes in walls, but it did make me think about how philosophy and theory could help us wrap our heads around technologies that give us increasingly godlike powers. Having the power to rearrange urban spaces at will or detect and eliminate targets through solid surfaces turns lots of conventional military strategy on its head. How will the battlefield change when weapons can strike virtually anywhere from virtually anywhere and landscape-altering technology can, as Weizman puts it, render city spaces “as navigable as an ocean?”

Another bit that maybe seemed a little exaggerated but still interesting was the part that linked the integrity of physical structures to the upholding of law and order. Weizman claims that the ability to override the wall through penetrative or destructive means breaks down the legal and social order and collapses the literal and figurative boundaries between private and public and legal and illegal – “The very order of the city relies on the fantasy of a wall as stable, solid… The un-walling of the wall invariably becomes the undoing of the law” (75).

 

How useful is it to think of warfare in terms of such an abstract philosophy of concepts like boundaries and space? How will future advancements in military technology affect the answer to that question?

-Travis P.

Urban landscape as battleground

I thought Eyal Weizman’s article was fascinating and presents a really strong argument as to how conflict in urban spaces changes our perceptions of what is considered inside/outside, and also how critical theory is used to destabilize borders.

In trying to apply the new wars thesis to Weizman’s article, one could say that warfare has changed dramatically. But so too is the urban space. Because of new technology that prevents soldiers to go outside without being seen/shot, fighting in Nablus took place indoors, and through that, took on a new logic: doors were now forbidden to pass through, and walls were seen as passageways. It suggests the totalizing force of warfare–that it changes (or maybe even corrupts) everything it touches. And not just by turning cities into ruins (because that has always happened throughout history) but by turning the very conception of a city inside out. By seeing how space is distorted by war, it makes me wonder what happens when the conflict is gone. How do cities rebuild themselves after new-war-conflicts? Will it be the same as old-war-conflicts?

I’d also like to call attention to how brilliantly Weizman connects the idea of a destabilized wall to the idea of a permeable nation border. Critical theory can be used to refine military tactics, but it can also be appropriated to justify how a nation exerts military force over an area outside their borders.

Considering the Danger of Smart Weapons

Eyel Weizman’s Lethal Theory developed some fascinating trains of thought, particularly in regards to the potential danger of “smart weapons.” According to Weizman, these include “new methods…devised to allow soldiers not only to see but also to shoot and kill through walls.” Future developments in smart weapons “may have the capacity to render not only the built environment but also life itself transparent, making solid architecture effectively disappear.”

One of the troubling aspects of this is the intellectualization of bloodshed and the convincing from the military-political complex that a greater good is being prevented by the use of smart weapons. At what point does the theoretical threat being avoided break down and the actual threat that has been created become a legitimate issue? We only hear of the good, of what is being avoided; what about what is being perpetrated? The problematic nature of smart weapons is explained well by Weizman: they frequently lead to “higher numbers of civilian casualties simply because the illusion of precision gives the military-political complex the necessary justification to use explosives in civilian environments where they cannot be used without endangering, injuring, or killing civilians.”

With that said, I recognize that the alternative is oftentimes no better. Smart weapons will never be rejected, but even if they were, it’s not as if all would be well and the nature of warfare would be appropriate and humane. Mankind always finds a way to participate in depravity in warfare. The important part of questioning smart weapons is the act of questioning the unquestioned, not allowing our assumptions of what will be good for the very nature of warfare to cloud how we see the reality.

Appropriating the War Machine

Though there have been a number of treatments of war as it exists in the aftermath of  Thousand Plateaus, (Manuel de Landa’s War in the Age of Intelligent Machines immediately comes to mind) this is the I’ve first of read of any military actually putting such ideas into practice. The fluency of Naveh’s Deleuzean vocabulary is interesting enough, but the reading about its actual implementation certainly lends a whole new perspective on Deleuze and Guattari’s near-lysergic ramblings.

What is most fascinating to me, though, is how Naveh adapts the technologies of the nomadic war machine without any hint of irony. As the duo states in A Thousand Plateaus:

One of the fundamental tasks of the State is to striate the space over which it reigns, or to utilize smooth spaces as a means of communication in the service of striated space. It is a vital concern of every State not only to vanquish nomadism but to control migrations and more generally, to establish a zone of rights over an entire “exterior,” over all flows traversing the ecumenon. If it can help it, the State does not dissociate itself from a process of capture of flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital, etc. There is still a need for fixed paths in well-defined directions, which restrict speed, regulate circulation, relativize movement, and measure in detail the relative movements of subjects and objects.  (ATM 385-6)

 

The State’s primary function is the regulation of these untamed spaces, however, Naveh manages to complicate this, although in ways that the two predict will occur. As the duo figures it, the war machine is precisely an operational or organizational scheme that exists against the State. It is aleatory and heterogeneous, a decentralized network that bifurcates and rejoins as a constant project of immanence. Some theorists have included terrorist organizations as potential war machines due to their provisional and becoming (as a process) structure. The smooth space that Naveh discusses is the space of the war machine, but he acknowledges it as the space actors of the State must reterritorialize. It does offer a somewhat terrifying prospect for the cultural theorist (I have to imagine Debord turning over in his grave) since, as several of them have anticipated, the only true end for their work is to be subordinated into the mechanism of the State. Deleuze and Guattari. being very well aware of this, include a figure that closely mirrors Naveh:

As for the other pole, the jurist-king is a great organizer of war; but he gives it laws, lays out a field for it, makes it principled, imposes a discipline upon it, subordinates it to political ends. He turns the war machine into a military institution, he appropriates the war machine for the State apparatus. (ATM 425)

The jurist-king, as opposed to the magic emperor, continues and begins again and re-appropriates when necessary. For him, war lacks a telos. We can see Virilio here as well. I don’t know if it would be exactly appropriate to refer to Naveh as such a figure, although his zeal for the work leads one to imagine he would find something attractive in the notion of subordinating the tools of the lawless in order to bring them into nomos.

 

Deleuze & Guatarri, A Thousand Plateaus