Felix Stalder on Sat, 29 Oct 2016 15:44:47 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Urban dystopia is unavoidable, says the Pentagon

[If you ever thought you were pessimistic and/or cynical about the
future, just take a look at this Pentagon video. A dark, fully
dystopian view of the near future in urbanized metropolitan regions.
What strikes me the most is that this future is deemed "unavoidable"
hence the military needs to prepare to deal with it. No alternatives,
no possibilities. This the neo-liberal "TINA" dogma taken to the
logical end. The film was not made for public consumption, but for
internal training. Felix]


Nick Turse,  October 13 2016, 4:53 p.m.

The year is 2030. Forget about the flying cars, robot maids, and
moving sidewalks we were promised. They’re not happening. But that
doesn’t mean the future is a total unknown.

According to a startling Pentagon video obtained by The Intercept,
the future of global cities will be an amalgam of the settings
of “Escape from New York” and “Robocop” — with dashes
of the “Warriors” and “Divergent” thrown in. It will be
a world of Robert Kaplan-esque urban hellscapes — brutal and
anarchic supercities filled with gangs of youth-gone-wild, a restive
underclass, criminal syndicates, and bands of malicious hackers.

At least that’s the scenario outlined in “Megacities: Urban
Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a five-minute video that has been
used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations University. All
that stands between the coming chaos and the good people of Lagos and
Dhaka (or maybe even New York City) is the U.S. Army, according to the
video, which The Intercept obtained via the Freedom of Information

“Megacities: Urban Future, the Emerging Complexity,” a video
created by the Army and used at the Pentagon’s Joint Special
Operations University.

The video is nothing if not an instant dystopian classic: melancholy
music, an ominous voiceover, and cascading images of sprawling
slums and urban conflict. “Megacities are complex systems where
people and structures are compressed together in ways that defy
both our understanding of city planning and military doctrine,”
says a disembodied voice. “These are the future breeding grounds,
incubators, and launching pads for adversaries and hybrid threats.”

The video was used as part of an “Advanced Special Operations
Combating Terrorism” course offered at JSOU earlier this year, for
a lesson on “The Emerging Terrorism Threat.” JSOU is operated
by U.S. Special Operations Command, the umbrella organization for
America’s most elite troops. JSOU describes itself as geared toward
preparing special operations forces “to shape the future strategic
environment by providing specialized joint professional military
education, developing SOF specific undergraduate and graduate level
academic programs and by fostering special operations research.”

Megacities are, by definition, urban areas with a population of
10 million or more, and they have been a recent source of worry
and research for the U.S. military. A 2014 Army report, titled
“Megacities and the United States Army,” warned that “the Army
is currently unprepared. Although the Army has a long history of urban
fighting, it has never dealt with an environment so complex and beyond
the scope of its resources.” A separate Army study published this
year bemoans the fact that the “U.S. Army is incapable of operating
within the megacity.”

These fears are reflected in the hyperbolic “Megacities” video.

As the film unfolds, we’re bombarded with an apocalyptic list of
ills endemic to this new urban environment: “criminal networks,”
“substandard infrastructure,” “religious and ethnic tensions,”
“impoverishment, slums,” “open landfills, over-burdened
sewers,” and a “growing mass of unemployed.” The list, as long
as it is grim, accompanies photos of garbage-choked streets, masked
rock throwers, and riot cops battling protesters in the developing
world. “Growth will magnify the increasing separation between rich
and poor,” the narrator warns as the scene shifts to New York City.
Looking down from a high vantage point on Third Avenue, we’re left
to ponder if the Army will one day find itself defending the lunchtime
crowd dining on $57 “NY Cut Sirloin” steaks at (the plainly
visible) Smith and Wollensky.

Lacking opening and closing credits, the provenance of
“Megacities” was initially unclear, with SOCOM claiming the video
was produced by JSOU, before indicating it was actually created
by the Army. “It was made for an internal military audience to
illuminate the challenges of operating in megacity environments,”
Army spokesperson William Layer told The Intercept in an email. “The
video was privately produced pro-bono in spring of 2014 based on
‘Megacities and the United States Army.’… The producer of the
film wishes to remain anonymous.”

According to the video, tomorrow’s vast urban jungles will be
replete with “subterranean labyrinths” governed by their “own
social code and rule of law.” They’ll also enable a proliferation
of “digital domains” that facilitate “sophisticated illicit
economies and decentralized syndicates of crime to give adversaries
global reach at an unprecedented level.” If the photo montage in
the video is to be believed, hackers will use outdoor electrical
outlets to do grave digital damage, such as donning Guy Fawkes masks
and filming segments of “Anonymous News.” This, we’re told,
will somehow “add to the complexities of human targeting as a
proportionally smaller number of adversaries intermingle with the
larger and increasing number of citizens.”

“Megacities” posits that despite the lessons learned from the
ur-urban battle at Aachen, Germany, in 1944, and the city-busting
in Hue, South Vietnam, in 1968, the U.S. military is fundamentally
ill-equipped for future battles in Lagos or Dhaka.

“Even our counterinsurgency doctrine, honed in the cities of Iraq
and the mountains of Afghanistan, is inadequate to address the sheer
scale of population in the future urban reality,” the film notes, as
if the results of two futile forever wars might possibly hold the keys
to future success. “We are facing environments that the masters of
war never foresaw,” warns the narrator. “We are facing a threat
that requires us to redefine doctrine and the force in radically new
and different ways.”

Mike Davis, author of “Planet of Slums” and “Buda’s Wagon: A
Brief History of the Car Bomb,” was not impressed by the video.

“This is a fantasy, the idea that there is a special military
science of megacities,” he said. “It’s simply not the case. …
They seem to envision large cities with slum peripheries governed by
antagonistic gangs, militias, or guerrilla movements that you can
somehow fight using special ops methods. In truth, that’s pretty
far-fetched. … You only have to watch ‘Black Hawk Down’ and
scale that up to the kind of problems you would have if you were
in Karachi, for example. You can do special ops on a small-scale
basis, but it’s absurd to imagine it being effective as any kind of
strategy for control of a megacity.”

The U.S. military appears unlikely to heed Davis’s advice, however.

“This is the world of our future,” warns the narrator of
“Megacities.” “It is one we are not prepared to effectively
operate within and it is unavoidable. The threat is clear. Our
direction remains to be defined. The future is urban.”


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