Sunday, August 26, 2007

Tourism and Conflict

I was recently made aware of this initiative (thanks Nick!) in California by the Physicians for Social Responsibility. Their "Military Tour of Southern California" looks at the military industrial complex in the region in order to discuss its impacts on the wider world as well the very near health of locals and workers.
While this tour fits into the critical tourism that the Travel Office is interested in, linking environmental justice and global militarization concerns, this got me thinking more about how such histories lend themselves to touristic imaginings.
I'm not interested here in what is referred to as "war tourism," where tourists are looking for danger and adventure in conflict zones... that will have to be a separate post.
A friend of the Travel Office, Trevor Paglen, has been exploring the largely unknown (to most of us anyway) landscapes of secret military programs, sometimes taking people out into the deserts of the US Southwest where most of them are located. This first hand experience of the sublime landscape combined with knowledge about the equally sublime amount of money being spent on them in search of ever more sublime methods of control and destruction is key to his work. Film maker Bill Brown's "Buffalo Commons" that takes a poetic look at decommissioned missile silos in the Dakotas and their intersection with depopulation also comes to mind.
The Cold War has its off-the-beaten-track sites, as well as the more accessible museums, monuments and guided tours around the world for military buffs, historians, political partisans and cultural analysts.
What will the second major ideological war of modernity (or post-modernity, if you like) - the "War on Terror" - produce in the way of touristic experiences?
Sure, some in the US might already see the memorial to the the destroyed World Trade Center as the first official version. Like the Cold War, where monuments to capitalism as the "winning" ideology dominate, there can be little doubt that sites of memory in the "War on Terror" will be simplistic in their depiction of conflict - a "with us or against us" representation of events.
Some critical tourists/artists/geographers/etc have begun exploring the spaces of the "War on Terror", at least trying to give us a more complex view of what is going on:
As already mentioned Trevor Paglen has been looking into the geography of the US military.
Tony Chakar's "Catastrophic Spaces" - an audio tour through East Beirut
You Are Not Here - a psychogeographic tour of NYC and Baghdad and Gaza/Tel Aviv
An Architektur has looked at the Juridical-Political Spaces in the "War on Terrorism"
The Institute for Applied Autonomy's (with Trevor Paglen) "Terminal Air" - the airspace of extraordinary rendition
Angie Waller's "Ebay Longing" looked at the trade in goods from Afghanistan and Iraq on Ebay.


barney said...

I knew I couldn't be the only one. There HAD TO BE others out there who dreamed of visiting the multi-zillion dollar, multi-megaton facilities dedicated to our 50-year comitment to (should it become necessary) extinguishing all of humanity...others who "learned to stop worrying and love the bomb."

And in the years since these (below) were written, a good half-dozen or so people have contacted me about their own tours, written their own articles, and even penned their own actual books.

Stop worrying. Love the bomb. Look them up.

ryan griffis said...

Wow - i must apologize for not crediting the image! Sorry about that... The image of the missile and tourist is from Barney Greinke's tale of "nuclear tourism" from 1999 (way ahead of me!), check it out.