The City Is a Weapon

March 7, 2011

Just What Is It That Make’s Today’s War So Different, So Appealing? / A mock advertisement for Israel’s ‘post-modern’ attacks in refugee camps.

(appropriated from Richard Hamilton, ‘Just what is it that makes today’s homes so different, so appealing?’ 1956)

Lethal Theory – Eyal Weizman

Weizman’s article details ways that Israeli military strategists relate contemporary warfare to architectural theorists such as Guy Debord, Deleuze and Bernard Tschumi. On the one hand I am sceptical of a military using such theories to justify their tactics merely to sell new warfare methods to the public that they need to have on side. Intellectualising methods that on the surface seem more humane than air raids (compare a television screen filled with a flattened city and scores of roofless refugees to a screen filled with a single family in their rummaged living room) but really harm as many people and have more oppressive consequences (Weizman p58). On the other hand I found it interesting that these theories that have mostly emerged from radical Leftist minds and have rarely been tested on such a scale, are here proved as real tools to aggravate change within a society. A model for utopia that has only really existed in the imagination of such radicals as Constant of Situationist International fame, as expressed in his ‘New Babylon’ project.

But this interest slowly disappeared as Weizman elaborates; there’s something wrong here. Consider the power relationships in this new context compared to those in the original architectural theories as they were conceived. The Israeli soldier that Weizman interviews compares the military methods of walking through walls from interior-to-interior to avoid the dangers of booby-trapped doors to the Situationist theories of ‘Derive’ and ‘Detournement’, in which Guy Debord encourages the adaptation of spaces within the city for uses that they were not intended. Debord’s intention is that seemingly powerless people whose interests are not considered in cities designed by the powerful minority can take change into their own hands. The similarity emphasised by Weizman is that in the military operation the usual linear flow of events and hierarchy was abandoned in favour of a looser fit hierarchy in which smaller groups are authorised to act on chance, contingency and opportunity (Weizman p63). But as he says it’s business as usual for the military up until they reach the town, with the institutionalised linear battle plans and hierarchies in place. This is the fundamental difference between the military concept and Debord’s theories, which were intended for the inhabitants of the city to deploy from within. In this application of the theory the power is held by the Israeli military and they are forcing change on a weaker group of people. It seems potential utopia and dystopia do come hand in hand.


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