Friday, January 31, 2014

War and Peace in Time and Space

In a few different talks this semester, I plan to build on the ideas in my last book, and finally take up a question I did not previously have a good answer to.  The book, War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences, critically analyzes the way the concept of “wartime” works in law and public policy.  It focuses on war and temporality, arguing that the ideas about war and time that are implicit in law and policy (e.g. that wartime and peacetime are distinct, and follow each other in sequence) are in tension with the history of U.S. military engagement, which has been persistent, not episodic. 

When I gave talks about the project, I was often asked about whether space mattered – essentially whether I should consider time and space together.  I would answer that yes, space/geography is important to American war in part because U.S. military action takes place outside U.S. territory, and, relying on Catherine Lutz’s work, some domestic communities, especially communities with military bases, experience directly domestic costs of war, while other areas are not directly affected.  But time and space did not come together in the work itself.  I figured that the topic of war and time was important enough to be the singular focus of the book.

But I am occasionally asked to say something about peace, and that has finally helped me with how to think about war’s times and spaces together.  The most helpful provocation was an invitation from Yxta Murray of Loyola Law School to speak at a symposium on Law, Peace, and Violence: Jurisprudence and the Possibilities of Peace, at Seattle University School of Law in March. My difficulty: what to say about “peacetime” when I think there is, essentially, no such thing.  Yxta’s generative call for papers seemed to require more than a suggestion that peacetime is an anachronism – in part because peace is such a fervent hope, and peacefulness has been an important political strategy for social movements.

The answer, which I am still working out and which may not be fully satisfactory for Yxta’s conference, was to turn to scholarship on spatiality. When I began working on temporality, I found my way to a tremendously interesting literature on the history and culture of time.  The same is true of space, with developing new work in critical geography. This is helping me to see that my initial thoughts about wartime and space were too simplistic.  And many law-related works that take space or place into account are similarly limited.  When space or place are invoked, sometimes that just means focusing on the local, or perhaps being comparative.  In this way of thinking, there is an implicit normative space, which is the nation.  All else is a departure. But this is, ultimately, not very interesting or helpful.

I started by returning to Stephen Kern, The Culture of Time and Space, and looking carefully at his chapters on spatiality, and to Mary Favret’s focus on war and distance.  And I am finding my way into critical geography.  The argument for the peace conference is falling into place: that peace is not a time in the United States, it is a geography.  The geography of peace is driven in part by social class.  Those engaged in the work of American war (soldiers, reservists, military contractors, their families and communities) have a direct experience of “wartime,” while the rest of us can go about our daily lives minimally affected by American military engagement.  Whether it is wartime and peacetime within the United States depends upon who you are and where you live. There are consequences of this for the politics of war, and for political checks on presidential war power – but this will await another paper.  For now, thinking about peace as a geography can be a way of thinking about time and space as different yet intersecting dimensions of the culture and experience of American war.

My first take on this will be a lecture at the Robert S. Strauss Center at the University of Texas next week.  The abstract is below.
In law, history and public policy, we conventionally divide the past into wartimes and peacetimes.  Peacetime is thought to be normal time, and wartime is exceptional.  Harsh wartime policies are tolerable in part because they are temporary. In the long war-era of the 21st century, these temporal assumptions have been remarkably persistent, with President Obama and others suggesting that we will at some point return to peacetime.  This lecture will begin with a critique of wartime as a temporal concept, drawing upon my recent book War Time: An Idea, Its History, Its Consequences.  If war’s time limits have eroded, what has become of “peacetime”? Going beyond the wartime critique, I will argue that for the United States “peace” is not a time, but is a spacial concept.  It is because peace is experienced geographically, rather than temporally, that much of the U.S. population can experience peace, while war’s violence is the province of its soldiers and of those who reside in the places of its export.
Take two will be in Seattle, and take three will be at a symposium on The Future of National Security Law at Pepperdine. Then I hope to take the spatial analysis in a different direction, focusing more on a global community of the surveilled that is produced by contemporary security practices for a symposium at Yale’s Center for Historical Enquiry and the Social Sciences. This blog was a helpful place for me to work out the War Time ideas, so I hope you will indulge this new project.  Comments are open -- with thanks in advance for your reading suggestions!

Cross-posted from Balkinization.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Urban Sprawl + Lack of Public Transit + 2 Inches of Snow = Atlanta Shutdown

There’s no better time than a weather-related shutdown to get back to blogging.  Apologies for my silence, which comes in part from my discovery that there really is a scholarly use of Twitter, allowing for both reading and writing across smaller platforms.

As I am writing, the City of Atlanta is in a “civil emergency” as the city and the state of Georgia work to clear abandoned cars from icy roadways, and as temperatures finally climb above freezing to do the de-icing that the region lacks the tools to accomplish.  For the rest of the country, this has been hilarious.

 But Rebecca Burns has a smart piece in Politico that allows us to see a broader, and more general, lesson: The Day We Lost Atlanta: How 2 lousy inches of snow paralyzed a metro area of 6 million. “What happened in Atlanta this week is not a matter of Southerners blindsided by unpredictable weather,” she writes.
More than any event I've witnessed in two decades of living in and writing about this city, this snowstorm underscores the horrible history of suburban sprawl in the United States and the bad political decisions that drive it. It tells us something not just about what's wrong with one city in America today but what can happen when disaster strikes many places across the country.
Burns makes an argument that you will remember from the post-Katrina commentary: this was not a natural disaster, but “this fiasco is manmade from start to finish.”  The essay also reminds us of Randolph Bourne’s argument that it is in war that citizens see the state, and at other times “the State reduced to a shadowy emblem.” For New Orleans after Katrina and in Atlanta today, weather stands in for Bourne’s focus on World War I, as weather provides the occasion for residents to confront in a direct and sometimes dire way the consequences of their government’s aid or its neglect.

How could Atlanta’s weather crisis be manmade?  Burns makes four points. 

First, “Atlanta” is not a city but a region, and governance is diffused by the division of the metro area into many different counties.  Georgia has more counties than any state except Texas. In the 1960s and 70s a combination of flight to the suburbs and new Atlanta migrants setting outside the formal city boundaries left the city as “the commercial district to which people commute.” This is why, when snow began to fall and schools and offices closed, one million vehicles headed for the freeways at the same time.

Burns’s remaining points are about transportation: the focus on making room for automobiles, including the bulldozing of urban neighborhoods; the way balkanized government impeded development of a regional public transit system; and voters’ rejection of a public transit referendum in 2012.

Her most important generalizable insight is that forms of governance affect outcomes.  We tend to think that smaller units allow for deeper citizen participation, but Burns shows that it can lead to peril. “There was no coordination around school closings, because there are more than two-dozen city and county school systems in ‘Atlanta,’” she explains.
There was little coordination between highway clearance and service to city streets because "Atlanta" is comprised of dozens of municipalities connected by state and federal highway systems....  If Atlanta, the region, wants to get serious about public safety, its mayors, county officials, and state officials will need to start practicing regionalism instead of paying lip service to it. And whether threatened by a dangerous pandemic, a major catastrophe, or just two inches of snow, we need to have ways to get around-and out of-the city other than by car.
Read the full essay hereCross-posted from Balkinization.