Geographers map out new conflict (final)

As elusiveness and randomness increasingly define war and conflict, so the identity of ‘man-hunting’ becomes ever more conspicuous; whether ‘special forces’ raids, targeted assassinations, or drone ‘strikes’ and sniper-terror, these are the tactics of counter-insurgency-terrorism, while the insurgent-terrorists adopt IED’s and suicide-bombers. Both groups share the characteristics of sudden terror tightly focused on human targets, taking warfare back to its most visceral state.

Thus war is now ‘everywhere’ says Professor Derek Gregory, the geographer, who calls ‘man-hunting’ the ‘individuation’ of war via his ceaseless ‘blog’, Geographical Imaginations,: ‘targets are no longer whole areas of cities – like Cologne or Hamburg in the Second World War – or extensive target boxes like those ravaged by B-52 ‘Arc Light’ strikes over the rain-forest of Vietnam. The targets are individuals’.

‘Man-hunting’ takes conflict and war back the most elemental and primal form of group violence, ‘the hunt’: it also touches deeply into Man’s atavistic desire to protect and control property, both as a resource and the land containing the resource, which also suggests that the environment will play an even greater part in future conflict (as opposed to war) in a competition for resources.

These conflicts are sometimes colloquially referred to as ‘small wars’ or ‘low level warfare’, but these phrases miss the point of the widespread social impact, whether the social terrorism of ‘narco’ gangs, the control of water sources as desertification spreads or the implicit violence within the Mafia infiltration of illegal waste disposal. Maybe the misnomer is deliberate, to attract more funding; but for a complete picture look no further than SWJ.com (Small Wars Journal).

Compared to the past there has been a sizeable drop in combat deaths, which has encouraged a view that war and conflict are in decline, eloquently outlined by Harvard professor, Steven Pincker, in The Better Angels of Our Nature, leading to the hopeful suggestion that the world is more peaceful.

However, the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey, through its stream of well-researched reports that join up many of the low-level dots that get overlooked in the ‘big picture’ analysis so beloved of politicians, opinion-formers and media pundits, paints a less confident picture: homicide rates are up, guns and violence are widespread and especially prevalent in developing countries that were historically largely ignored – Jamaica and South Africa are among the leaders here.

The fact that Gregory is a geographer says much about modern war and conflict: the contours of violence are being shaped by the space in which these confrontations inhabit – the physicality of the cities, mountains, forests and rivers which bleed into the most important space of all, the mind. It was ever thus, but there is now a greater focus.

From climate change, access to water and productive land, to protecting wildlife and forests, these are issues that inform life and death, not just power and politics, and as demands for these grow more urgent so will the danger that the state and their ruling elites turn to wars of ‘pacification’ that could turn into ‘civic war’ as opposed to ‘civil’ war: they start with a ‘war on the poor’ and proliferate into a free-for-all.

With his combination of passion, erudition and forensic tenacity, Professor Gregory brings to mind another famous military analyst: is Professor Gregory the ‘new’ Clausewitz – discuss!      Jasper Humphreys, The Marjan Centre

 

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