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24 Race & Class 51(3)
more difficult security challenges of the new century’ and ‘may prove as common a feature of the global landscape of the first decade of the twenty-first century as the faltering, failing, or failed state was in the last decade of the twentieth’.46
By the middle of the century, more than half of the world’s population will be living in large conurbations, many of which will have more than ten million inhabitants. Some cities or neighbourhoods have already become semiautonomous enclaves, whose inhabitants lack jobs, adequate housing and the most basic services. A number of these cities are either badly policed or not policed at all and some have effectively fallen outside the control of the state. In Brazil in 2006, armed gangs calling themselves the First Capital Command staged a semi-uprising in Sao Paulo in support of the treatment of their members in Brazilian jails and staged some 250 separate armed attacks in a single weekend that reduced much of the city to chaos. In Mexico in recent years, the death toll in violence between heavily-armed drug gangs has reached wartime levels and prompted the intervention of the Mexican army.
Given these developments, it is not impossible to imagine that some of the elements in Norton’s dystopia might occur. But what is striking about the military dystopian imagination is not just the dark future that it conjures up but the assumptions that underpin its conclusions. The Oxford Dictionary defines ‘feral’ as ‘wild, untamed, uncultivated, brutal’. All these adjectives describe the violent and diseased populations of Norton’s feral cities. Like mutant creations of H. P. Lovecraft crossed with extras from Black Hawk Down, they have regressed to a pre-modern state of nature that no longer responds to anything but military force. In effect, Norton’s depictions of the feral city recall an older dichotomy between civilisation and barbarism, cleanliness and defilement, law and disorder that has often been replayed in western depictions of the wider world and which can still be found in the writings of Military Operations On Urban Terrain (MOUT) specialists, with their references to the ‘dark places’, ‘cesspools’, ‘dense urban jungles’ where US soldiers will fight the ‘hybrid wars’ of the future.
On the one hand ‘explosive urbanisation’ is a problem that can only be solved by military ‘intervention’ on a global scale. At the same time, these toxic urban environments are perceived as obstacles to US military supremacy. In a prizewinning essay for the Marine Corps essay contest, Major Kelly P. Southgate laid out the dilemma:
By 2020, 85 per cent of the world’s inhabitants will be crowded into coastal cities – cities generally lacking the infrastructure required to support their burgeoning populations. … Likely US enemies include a wide array of possibilities: al Qaeda terrorists; dictatorial strongmen; drug cartels; or perhaps tribal/ethnic strife leading to humanitarian crises. These potential adversaries realize that fighting high-tech U.S. forces in open terrain is suicidal, and thus enemies will tend to operate in cities and towns, attempting to use the urban terrain to neutralize U.S. technology.47 Matt Carr: Slouching towards dystopia: the new military futurism 25
The Joint Operating Environment 2020 also predicts that ‘it is almost inevitable that joint forces will find themselves involved in combat or relief operations in cities’ and: ‘If there is no alternative than to fight in urban terrain, joint force commanders must prepare their forces for the conduct of prolonged operations involving the full range of military missions.’48 In this environment, the JOE authors note: ‘The very density of building and population will inhibit the use of kinetic means, given the potential for collateral damage as well as large numbers of civilian casualties. Such inhibitions could increase US casualties. On the other hand, any collateral damage carries with it difficulties in winning the “battle of the narrative”.’49
Faced with a barbaric enemy who hides among civilians and ‘seeks the city’ in order to avoid detection and elimination by superior technology, the US military has already begun to seek ways to regain the upper hand and ‘own the city’ in the future. In 1997, the US Marines Corps Warfighting Laboratory designed a wargame entitled Urban Warrior set in a hypothetical ‘urban littoral’ that would be characterised by ‘social, cultural, religious and tribal strife between different groups. Many areas will have scarce resources, including the most basic ones like food and shelter as populations grow and resources shrink even faster.’50
This Hobbesian ‘urban littoral’ is already being regarded in the US military – and by sections of the US media – as if it were inevitable. ‘As cities around the world descend into disorder, the United States will have to step up training local militaries to undertake armed interventions’, warned the New York Times journalist Ken Stier in an article on ‘Feral cities’ in 2007.51 That same year, the US Joint Forces Command began an elaborate three-phased simulation called Operation Urban Resolve 2015, which attempted to assess the ability of the military to operate in a large conurbation modelled on Baghdad. In the simulation, a ‘blue team’ of 300 agents were required to track and eliminate a ‘red team’ of 3,000 ‘insurgents’ in Baghdad in the year 2015. Advanced computer technology was used to create a synthetic urban environment replete with buildings, cars, pedestrians and a population of ‘110,000 discrete person-entities … displaying culturally-appropriate behaviours’. Even the traffic flows were ‘culturally-specific’ so that ‘traffic and civilian presence increased around mosques at the appropriate times for daily prayers’52 in a setting, according to the Pentagon news service TRADOC, that ‘can be tailored to resemble any major urban area from Iraq to Indonesia’.53
Whether military futurists are thinking of Baghdad, Jakarta or Johannesburg, they tend to take it for granted that the military – and the US military in particular – will be the inevitable and indispensable solution to these ‘broken’ mega-cities, fighting an array of ‘conflict entrepreneurs’ and ‘hostile behaviour bad actors’ whose ranks may include insurgents, drug dealers, serial killers, paramilitaries or the ‘angry crowds’ that the US Army Urban Operations manual includes amongst its list of ‘persistent and evolving urban threats’.54
The military has been preparing to confront these threats for some time. In 1999, 6,000 marines and 700 sailors carried out a four-day ‘assault’ and occupation of a defunct naval base in Oakland, California, to rehearse ‘3 block war in 3 dimensions’. The concept of ‘3 block war’ refers to the ability to simultaneously combine