Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The Art and Commerce of Killing Just Enough People

Eyal Weizman is an architect who has worked and taught in Palestine, Tel Aviv and London, where his practice has to deal with both the practical and political meaning of pine trees and olive trees. And also, he has to deal with destruction, as do we all, as he describes in this interview: "There is a category in international humanitarian law called proportionality. It’s a calculation that assumes an economy of violence. Within that economy, the military and the NGOs tend to engage in bargaining. They say, no, that needs to be cheaper. And some people say, no, that needs to be more expensive, right? But they operate within the same market, so to speak. Too many civilians are being killed; too few civilians are being killed. To establish that, you need to undertake calculations. When you need to establish a threshold number of civilian casualties—Garlasco was asked to limit these to twenty-nine per bombing mission—this more or less abstract economy is transferred into an engineering problem: How much of the building should be destroyed? What is the minimum bomb to do that? If there was no threshold, he’d just choose a big-enough bomb to destroy the whole building. Instead, he needed to destroy two stories above, or part of a story—it is a craft, to design the destruction: the design of ruins."

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shaunr (#726)

This (16 page PDF from Radical Philosophy) goes into more detail and is a kind of masterpiece – certainly the best thing I've read in a very long time.

"The magic number was thirty, he explained: ‘if the computer came up with thirty anticipated civilians killed, the air strike had to go to Rumsfeld or Bush personally to sign off. Anything less than 30 could simply simply go ahead.’

The violence sanctioned by international law, therefore, must be thought of as a kind of violence that simultaneously kills and saves, thus straddling the threshold between life and death."

I've just started reading his Hollow Land, which I'd been meaning to get round to since I read a review on notbored, but…you know. But that paper in Radical Philosophy sent me straight to Amazon. This guy is something special.

Flashman (#418)

The Germans have a name for this concept: Einsturzendeneubautenkunstwerk

Imma keep Errol Morris on retainer today.

jetztinberlin (#392)

"Too few civilians are being killed."

Maybe I'm missing something, but the part where more civilians need to be killed is making me a bit ill…

Georges Bataille reprinted the standard compensation tables for (loss of a hand / loss of both hands / loss of sight / etc.) as a Surrealist source document. He would've had a field day here.

SeanP (#4,058)

Although I never heard of any negotiations regarding how many people should be killed, certainly calibration of the level of destruction is something the military does. I used to be on a US numbered fleet staff (in other words, worked for a 3 star admiral) and one of the things our plans department would have to do in exercises was figure out what they wanted to achieve, in terms what effect they wanted and how long they wanted it to last. For example, if you wanted the lights to go out in a certain part of $TARGET_CITY for 30 days, you might bomb the power plant. But if you wanted them out for only 8 hours, you might knock out certain transformers (or something). I will say that I never heard anyone mention the idea that too few civilians were being killed, though.

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