Against bombing

There is a paper somewhere (darned if I can find it) from the British Society of Antiquaries (I think) that surveys the district around the archaeological site of Çatalhöyük. This is a pair of Neolithic mounds which rise above the plain of Konya, south-east of the city that now goes by that name — the ancient Iconium, in Anatolia, now part of “Turkey.” Excavations that began in the late 1950s established that it was, about nine thousand years ago, a metropolis by Neolithic standards: perhaps one, perhaps two thousand households on either side of a long-dried riverbed. It was a city before there were cities, or rather, well before we have evidence of any other town that size.

It is a fascinating layout. As I am reminded from wikipaediations, there were no streets or other open public spaces. All the elements of much later urbanity were present, but materially “internalized.” The whole town was a honeycomb maze, and entrances to houses were down ladders from the roofs. In hundreds of excavated rooms, the remains were found of very smooth plaster walls, and sharply squared timbers. In the larger rooms, the most extraordinary murals, figurines, and other works of art. In the smaller rooms, quite sophisticated domestic arrangements including well-appointed and ventilated kitchens, and raised platforms on which the inhabitants apparently sat and slept. Their dead were buried, with ceremony, beneath where they had lived.

The go-to archaeologist is currently Ian Hodder of Cambridge, a pioneer of “post-processualism,” which is the usual mess of post-modern, neo-Marxist theoretical blather, and multicultural “subjectivity,” with big corporate sponsorships and glitz publicity. This makes old-fashioned “processual” facts hard to extract, but patience is sometimes rewarded.

In my view, which dominates these Idleposts, this “proto-city” was not necessarily significant in its time (which ranged over perhaps eighteen centuries). Its significance to us is that we found it, and that it helped explode many preconceived ideas about life in the Stone Age. There are innumerable large and small “tells” or mounds through the Middle East, which the Daesh will not think of blowing up, until they are properly excavated. The truth is that our knowledge of human “prehistory” is extremely sketchy, and often proved wrong; and that vast quantities of archaeological material still lie where they settled, for later generations to retrieve.

And, hooo, I have just found an abstract of that district survey on the Internet, which proves I had not imagined the whole thing. It began in 1995, over a ground six or seven miles square, to the north-east of Çatalhöyük. There were topographical maps and satellite photos and yet, simply by walking about for a couple of months, decently-trained (i.e. old-fashioned) British archaeologists were able to spot eight new tells. In the next couple of seasons, expanding the area of survey, and now using satellite imagery expertly from a ground-based perspective, some seventy-four new sites were located, with samples showing many of them to be multi-period. And so forth, through 2002.

Satellites are helpful, and low-level aerial photography exploiting angles and shadowing is more helpful still, but what makes the difference is feet on the ground. These latter include human brains, which are mounted atop each pair of walking stalks (minus those blown off by landmines). These process information in a way no computer is now, or will ever be able to do: questions of judgement which in their nature cannot be reduced to algorithms.

And this, in turn, is my argument against bombing, as a strategy to deal with the Daesh and other baddies — who, nevertheless, need killin’, at various locations through the same Middle East. It applies not only to massive or saturation bombing campaigns, in which non-combatants are exterminated by the hundreds, and thousands, and hundreds of thousands, but also and particularly to the drone attacks which the high-tech-idolizing idiots around the White House now favour. These latter depend on the sort of algorithms that have resulted in the annihilation of many wedding parties, and other defenceless people who happen by ill-luck to fit the current programming criteria. It is a monstrous, an unambiguously evil way to conduct war, which is nevertheless attractive in the post-modern West because, for the perpetrators, it is sanitized and casualty-free — and thus compatible with the smug self-satisfaction of our liberal and progressive elites.

That each drone attack provides an effective recruitment post for the Daesh — now operating within the morally-vacated spaces of our North American high schools and universities, as in our prisons — is something that passes bat-like over those gloaming, “enlightened” heads.


Indeed, by way of afterthought, I am inclined to draw a parallel between the “progressive” Church of Nice, which does spiritual warfare on the analogy of drones and algorithms; and the “traditional” Church of Nasty, which does it on the analogy of quaint mediaeval mano-a-mano, and therefore acknowledges the existence of pain in individuals, as opposed to classes. But this analogy will require a few minutes of contemplation.