The City or the Camp

It’s been apparent for some time, to anyone who paid close attention to the urban renewal/removal craze of the seventies and eighties, that the invasion of Iraq was largely motivated by the same urge to “open up” the center cities and “redevelop” them according to a more spacious design.

The sociological premise for urban redevelopment is the conviction that dense habitation produces poverty and crime. That this is not borne out by districts such as lower Manhattan island is beside the point. In any event, this premise tended to get lost or forgotten in practice in our American cities because, in most instances, though the original urban populations were removed and relocated, “redevelopment” hardly ever went beyond the destruction phase. Which, among other things, is probably what makes the Iraq project look so familiar.

Which, in turn, leads to the realization that Americans have something about cities. They hate them. Whether that’s because, historically, the majority of the migrants came out of Old World cities, where they felt confined, is not clear. Nor is the widespread preference for sending both the youth and the troops to “camp”–i.e. to reside in the “unspoiled” country-side–a necessary indicator of an ingrained prejudice. But it does make one think.

Comes now the Pentagon’s DARPA program which Tom Engelharth’s colleagues outline thusly:

DARPA’s Future War on the Urban Poor

Urban Planning, Pentagon-style: Spider-Men and Exploding Frisbees

Camouflaged Long Endurance Nano Sensors
Heterogeneous Urban RSTA Team (HURT)
Nano Air Vehicle
Multi Dimensional Mobility Robot
Micro Air Vehicle
Urban Hopping Robots
Modular Disc-Wing (Frisbee) Urban Cruise Munition
Close Combat Lethal Recon

Training for Tomorrow’s Urban Occupations

American Terminators vs. Drug-Dealing Serial-Killer Guerillas

Pentagon to Global Cities: Drop Dead

The Military and the Metropolis

One section is worth quoting at length:

This past fall, the Pentagon’s U.S. Joint Forces Command engaged in a $25 million, 35-day, computer-based simulation exercise involving more than 1,400 soldiers, marines, airmen, and sailors. A year in the making, “Urban Resolve 2015” had one simple goal – to test concepts for future “combat in cities” – and, not surprisingly, it was set in Baghdad 2015. An article put out by the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service was quick to say, however, that the virtual exercise really could be taking place in “any urban environment.” And the reason why was clear, in the words of Dave Ozolek, the executive director of the Joint Futures Lab at the Joint Forces Command. Urban zones, he said, are “where the fight is, that’s where the enemy is, that[‘s] where the center of gravity for the whole operation is.”

While the Joint Forces Command may already be war-gaming the 2015 Battle for Baghdad, right now it looks like the U.S. military will have trouble hanging on there for even a couple of more years. Still, if present plans become reality, odds are U.S. military planners will be attempting to occupy some city, in some fashion, come 2015 and 2025. In the future, as the Army’s new Urban Operations Manual puts it, “every Soldier – regardless of branch or military occupational specialty – must be committed and prepared to close with and kill or capture threat forces in an urban environment.”

The way the Pentagon seems to envision the future, its human-robot expeditionary forces will spend increasing amounts of time dropping in on Third World super-slums armed not only with heavy weaponry, but also with gadgets galore. They will be able to read instant 3D maps of the buildings they’re approaching and watch real-time video of the most intimate activities in the urban zone they’ve been tasked to subdue.

As tiny flying UAVs blanket an impoverished neighborhood, a squad of special-ops Spidermen and Geko warriors will crawl and slither up apartment-building walls, while teams of robots are simultaneously hopping through first floor windows, and Terminator-Human teams are kicking down front doors to capture an enemy drug kingpin. Nearby “angry crowds” of politically-minded youth will be engaged by heavily-armed tele-operated SWORDS Talon robots, while a few up-armored cyborg troops, at a safe distance, fire their loitering smart grenades at a gathering crowd of armed slum-dwellers who believe themselves well hidden and protected in nearby alleyways.

Of course, no matter the fantasies of Pentagon scientists and planners, such futuristic solutions will not replace U.S. reliance on massive firepower, even in labyrinthine cities, as was true with Tokyo during World War II, Pyongyang during the Korean War, Ben Tre in Vietnam, and the Sunni city of Fallujah during the current war in Iraq. As Major Tim Karcher, the operations officer for the Army’s Task Force 2-7 Cavalry, recalled of the American assault on Fallujah in November 2004, “We sat there for a good six or seven hours…watching… this death and destruction rain down on the city, from AC-130 [gunship]s to any kind of fast-moving aircraft, 155 [millimeter] howitzers. You name it, everybody was getting in the mix.”

Given the military’s fear of sending large numbers of American troops into the enemy-friendly landscape of the urban mega-slum, where significant casualties are almost unavoidable, this form of Pentagon-preferred urban renewal is unlikely to be replaced, no matter what technologies come down the pike.

When I first learned of Saddam Hussein’s elimination of 4500 villages, I thought perhaps that this population relocation to the cities program, prepartory to industrializing both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors, was a development that international corporate interests were desirous of arrogating to themselves. But, after reviewing the Pentagon’s planned assault on urban areas around the globe, I’m more inclined to speculate that Saddam Hussein’s program of urbanization was actually one of his major offenses and to conclude that the oft repeated “fight them over there, so we won’t have to fight them here” refers to urban dwellers, not terrorists.

Or, perhaps more accurately, “let’s do over there what we haven’t been able to accomplish here”–i.e. defeat the unruly urban dwellers who keep giving us such fits. Which would also explain the increasing agitation over the “flood” of immigrants who are swelling our cities, as we speak. How can we defeat them over there, if they’re already here?

One thing seems clear. Our ruling elite exist in a state of terror. Their gated communities and lear jets and their SUVs just aren’t providing the sense of security they so desperately need. So, they’re looking to find it somewhere else, never realizing that the terrors they are trying so desperately to escape are created by themselves; that the civilized peoples of the earth don’t even want that by which they set such store and certainly not a freedom that involves hiding behind locked doors.

Why is it that the urban and the rural folk can’t seem to get along?