#geopolitical fridays: War and the city


Russian troops in Grozny, 2000, AP

Throughout history, cities have been both instigators and targets of organized violence.
The formalisation of political life, state-making, if you will, is
intimately linked with the rise of the city, and in lock-step with the
organisation of permanent war-fighting capacities – until towns were
overtaken by empires, and later the nation state claiming the monopoly of violence for

And those who live by the sword (unfortunately also
those who didn’t and those who don’t), occasionally die by it.
City-killing, “urbicide” and place annihilation are time-honored and
carefully devised methods of warfare (inter- or intra-state) enlisting
terror and destruction to break the will of a population and/ or to
uproot people from a territory, occasionally coinciding with acts of
ethnic cleansing or genocide. Sadly, this tradition shows no sign of

Cities are both symbolic and real targets, as air
campaigns of the Second World War and subsequent aerial bombardments can attest. But cities also increasingly serve as staging
grounds for military campaigns, as war itself is becoming urbanized
More and more people live in cities, and even more critical
infrastructure and assets is hosted there, so the extremely unpleasant
realities of urban warfare (think all the messiness of
counterinsurgency) will not go away.

cities are not only targets and places where war is being fought.
Violence can be done to cities not only by soldiers or
terrorists, but also through acts of urban design. Find out how urban planning has wrecked havoc in and to Karachi, or how it lies at the heart of urban violence in Latin American cities.

Further reading:

Graham, ed., Cities, War and Terrorism: Towards an Urban Geopolitics.
Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2004, 384 pp. For a review, click here.




Johanna M

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