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« Preemptive Sites of Urbicidal Production: Gaza Tunnels | Main | Integrating Genocide and the Urban »
Friday
13Mar

The Forensics of Urbicide

Does urbicide have to be intentional? Are we not wanting to face the cumbersome burden of proving intent because it will widen or narrow the scope of urbicide (I don’t want urbicide to be a “catch-all” category either), or because urbicide need not be intentional? While I appreciate the specificity of urbicide can ignorance constitute a form of intent, or of a kind of involuntary manslaughter in the realm of the cultural? In this case the social fallout that corresponds with the destruction of certain structures. Involuntary cultural-slaughter? This I imagine is handled by your analysis of ‘collateral damage.’

But, because we don’t always necessarily know or even presume there is intent of a crime until evidence has been brought to light, nor are all crimes always 100% intentional, I ask: what can we deduce from the states of ruin themselves about how war crimes (and urbicidal intent) are imprinted in the environment? I think the literature already does well to get into this, but I’m curious if you think a more rigorous (I want to say) physical science was established around the specifics of destruction’s physical impact, the actual planning and deployed means of destruction, with added social exploration of the phenomenology of ruin – correlating urban destruction with cultural fallout purely by its spatial complexion -- could intent later be implied, or guilt be prescribed? So, even as an actor may not have intended to annihilate, if such is the consequence evidenced by particular aspects of ruin one can be held accountable.

I also lean towards wanting to pursue intent and to find a methodology for doing so in the realm of urbicide. But urbicide can be committed regardless of intent (in fact that may become an excuse – a lack of intent). Yet, I feel like some consideration should be given to what degree intent can be discerned through the structural evidence of destruction. I would think proportionality and a semiotics of dual-use ambiguity would open up here.  And, I think the question becomes more relevant the more precisely urbicide can be administered, i.e. targetting specific portions of buildings, surgical destruction of the environment over messy wholesale.

Forgive my own ignorance but what if anything can be gained through a more thorough material investigation of urban destruction itself – the hard facts, if you will, of destruction’s architectural tissue, the wounding and scarring of conflict space (Lebbeus Woods type analysis), and the political violence and spatial fallout that comes in its wake? Do we need a scientific understanding of urbicide, and some sort of urban morphology to help frame a spectrum of possible bad intentions as they can be observed evolving over time in their corresponding fossils of destruction? Is urbicide dependent on its own historical spatial narrative? Is there a lexicon around ruin that we can use to measure how certain buildings and sites (even parts/features) when destroyed (based on the means of their destruction, force and proportionality) can lead to circumstances that are comparable to the aftermath of a crime, or of an intolerable intention? Typologies of damage states, an alphabet of destructed spaces in relation to political impact, scales of force and disproportion. I don’t know, a scientific deconstruction of some sort.

I realize this is very rudimentary thinking but how does the research need to translate into practical application, into law, into an archiving of what constitutes war crimes? How can the study of urbicide generate the legal and scientific framework for international teams of archaeologists to be able to scour the footprints of wreckage with authority to verify evidence of crime when there was one, or show there was some kind of intent towards widespread annihilation? Does it become something like architectural crime solving? What comprises the spectrum of urbicial evidence?

Do we need more expert analysis of the built environment as it is capable of being destroyed, and from that data draw a lineage of tactics and strategies associated with urbicide that can be used to link concepts of ill intent that may relate to potential crime, or as producing the same effects as crime? Does there need to be put forth an examination of urbicide as kind of a forensic practice, with very specific definitions of what the evidence of urbicidal ruin is and can actually look like, with specific criterion and tools for gauging urbicide and intent, and the greater victimization of it in all of these other social dimensions?

It’s like investigating a crime scene only one that can be examined in so far as the crime exists in urban materiality, in terrestrial entrails, the building as victim, the city as a taped off outline of itself, etc. incalculable human ramification.

I wonder if laws that emerge around this can’t in some way borrow from a closer look at what conceptual benefits are afforded by forensicology – so that instead of feeling the burden of having to prove urbicide through intent, the spatial complexions of urbicide as they’ve been pre-established could provide the microscope and legal template for tracing illegal spatial annihilation, and ultimately for retrieving evidence gathered in the ruins that can attribute intent.

Sorry, I know there is some messy rambling in there, but I agree, that while intent may be difficult if even impossible to conclude in some of these wider applications of urbicide, that the study of urbicide should provide an atlas of examples and reference points, and a set of spatial-political relationships that can be used to trace the unlawful consequences of destruction as they have existed and can come to exist. So maybe by reviewing damage footprints intent can be illuminated more carefully, microscopically, with greater clarity. The study of urbicide should establish these boundaries for what constitutes illegal destruction of urban space before military planners (or real estate developers, or even anyone else for that matter) are able to first legally define what is not illegal.

The real war seems all in the law itself. But how can the artifacts of urbicide be used to drive new law making?

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