Graham, Stephen. Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Dredge, Bart
Pub Date: 03/22/2011
Publication: Name: International Social Science Review Publisher: Pi Gamma Mu Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2011 Pi Gamma Mu ISSN: 0278-2308
Issue: Date: Spring-Summer, 2011 Source Volume: 86 Source Issue: 1-2
Topic: NamedWork: Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism (Nonfiction work)
Persons: Reviewee: Graham, Stephen
Accession Number: 263035413
Full Text: Graham, Stephen. Cities Under Siege: The New Military Urbanism. New York: Verso Books, 2010. xxx + 402 pages. Cloth, $34.95.

Occasionally a book appears that is so lightly edited and heavily footnoted that a reader is forgiven for not pushing too deeply into the text. Here, though, Stephen Graham, a professor of human geography at Durham University, makes the effort worthwhile despite those weaknesses by tracing the transformation of the modern city as an oppressed environment for citizens, a haven for vice, and a target for new forms of military operations. Most troubling is Graham's description of urban centers made ironically less secure by greater investments in surveillance infrastructure and the gradual convergence of paramilitary and law enforcement. Graham successfully documents how the new urban terrain has yielded zones of endless conflict, too often thought to be inhabited by hidden predators and city residents who require constant tracking and targeting. Even more disturbing, he describes a transformation of the military into high-tech urban guerilla forces, the persistent surveillance of international borders, the temptation to suspend civil law, and the restraint of domestic dissent too often described as itself "terroristic." With these, one comes to suspect an aggressive physical restructuring of the city that develops to simultaneously secure and control an urban population. Graham regards this as the destruction of "place," and argues that a subtle architectural design change can serve the goals of an aggressive military.

One aspect of this book likely to interest readers is the growth of civil surveillance and a "homeland security market" that takes unique advantage of major urban events. The Olympics, large conferences, political conventions, and a variety of other events provide unique opportunities for the installation and testing of new security technologies that are then left in place after the event, and the city gradually becomes a space dominated by military-grade control technologies. A central argument here is that military ideologies are intensifying the militarization of everyday city life in a way that risks, if nothing else, the normalization of war itself. This process includes the acceptance of military thought, action, and policy, as well as the deployment of propaganda that romanticizes or sanitizes violence to be held in reserve for some later "God-given" purpose.

Equally disturbing is the extent to which the new military urbanism is rehearsed and conducted as visual spectacle, perhaps first during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Most citizens in Western countries are not likely to be violently targeted by a military force, but are nonetheless invited to participate as voyeurs of war through their television, the Internet, and increasingly graphic and realistic video games. Supplementing this distant possibility, urban residents are bombarded by the shrill and bellicose news coverage that eroticizes high-tech weapons while making death and suffering largely invisible. None of this, of course, is accidental. Graham notes that in the United States the Pentagon has blocked images of war dead, and has openly discussed the need to intentionally fabricate news accounts of its military excursions. He exposes how completely many have come to regard cities as demonic and inherently threatening. Yet he describes a process of how various "countergeographies" might mobilize to disrupt the logic of the new military urbanism with its "crumbling market fundamentalism," creation and maintenance of a perpetual state of war, and blending of the military, security, and entertainment industries. With such mobilization, war would not seem inevitable and a culture that celebrates "stylized death within a hyperpatriotic frame" would be exposed.

Popular television programs offer a "real" view of urban police as they go about their work. Even given the obvious lack of reality inherent in such portrayals, it is still shocking to see squads of men deployed in full combat gear, complete with Kevlar vests and helmets, carrying military assault weapons, and riding in tank-like urban assault vehicles as they prepare to storm an American home in a raid not much different from a similar military action in Baghdad. Graham does not describe a dystopian future here, but the present, and the accumulation of evidence he offers suggests a civil democracy put at risk by the shift to military urbanism. In what the author calls the "military-industrial-media-entertainment network," there is an ongoing effort to exploit the traditional external imperatives of war as well as the internal policing needed to achieve its goals. Think, for example, of the current state of airport surveillance, passport tracking, detention without trial, "free speech zones," DNA profiling, and the erection of border fencing, and Graham's point will become clear.

Urban security and military forces increasingly regard cities as conflict zones inhabited by people who need to be tracked and controlled. This new military urbanism thus permeates all aspects of modern life and city design and is of importance to everyone. This is a difficult book to read, but it is important and rewards the time and effort necessary to untangle the complex picture it describes.

Bart Dredge, PhD

Professor and Chair of Sociology

Austin College

Sherman, Texas
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2011 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.