Saturday, September 01, 2007

Why Iconic Cities are under Threat by Louis Evan Palmer

Everyone has a soft spot for certain places - the city you grew up in, the location of a particularly memorable vacation, your years at university and that sweetly familiar Alma Mater; but aside from those highly personal attachments, there are other places that seem to rise above all that; places, often cities, which merit attention from all quarters for a variety of reasons - those unique cities that are considered "iconic" and are also referred to as "world" cities or "global" cities, sometimes as "Tier 1" cities or "Alpha", "Beta" or "Gamma" cities although this article would argue that "iconic" is a category all on its own.

Typically, it is a feeling that we have that a city is iconic (or vital or magical) even though the definition of "iconic" will vary and the usefulness of the term itself will be disputed. Without that feeling, most of us would not consider a given city to be iconic.

What then makes for an iconic city and why can that make it a target?

A key quality of an iconic city is that it evokes emotion. You immediately feel something. For example, merely the word "Paris" is powerful. The book "Is Paris Burning?" used the power of that city and its name to great effect in its title and the true story of the German General in charge of the city's occupation who could not bring himself to destroy that great city as they retreated. This evocation calls to mind the belief of the ancients in a city's spirit - that a true city is more than a collection of buildings and public places. It touches the collective soul. Its inhabitants are a marriage of person and place. You can tell if someone's from there, from Madrid, Montreal or New Orleans.

Another quality of an iconic city is that it exudes a personality and a philosophy. Cities like "Venice" or "Vienna" come to mind. You feel as if you've made an acquaintance with a sentient being. You sense the "being" of the place and you like it, you want more of it. There is a sense that things are different here and that difference is important to the world consciousness and that it is precious and to be protected. This spirit of guardianship ties one to the iconic city.

An iconic city will also embody an attitude and an approach to life. Cities like "Rio", "London" or "Barcelona" exemplify this. A city like "Rio" conjures up an intoxicating carefree approach to life with an emphasis on energy and fun - exuberance! A city like "London" projects its zeitgeist of cultured, duty-bound, world-weary administrators of empire - the usually faceless accountants and bankers and soldiers while "Barcelona" radiates that it is radical and ferociously artistic and independent and unpredictable.

So we have the proposition that iconic cities evoke emotion, exude personality, and embody an attitude. To that we should add "on a grand scale". This scale would manifest itself in architecture and public places such as parks and plazas and in public events and displays. A bonafide iconic city will also give "something" to the world on a continuous basis. While it is uncommon, this "giving" can mean that an iconic city could include ancient unearthed cities like "Pompei" or "Troy" or even a lost city like "Atlantis" (especially if it's ever found) - cities which have critical physical connections to our shared past and which have made seminal contributions to our present psyche and mentality.

The other aspect of iconic cities worth touching on is their reach. While this focus is on cities that have a global impact, there can be situations where a city is iconic within a given country or region but doesn't impact much outside of that sphere of influence - say, cities like "St. Petersburg" or "Dresden". Or cities or places that affect followers of a particular religion or belief but not others - for example, "Jerusalem", "Medina", or "Chartes".

Another crucial factor in the impact of a given city is how many expatriates hail from there, proudly claim roots from there, or still have relatives there. This is relevant for cities like Hong Kong, New Delhi or Dublin.

The big four of global cities are typically listed as: New York, London, Paris and Tokyo. Another listing of cities that matter posits: Milan, Vienna, Paris, Shanghai and London. A city like Rome has many claims - the former capital of an important empire, the current headquarters of a large religion, the cultural and philosophic fount for much of the western world. Other cities associated with successful empires both more recent and ancient: London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, Moscow, Beijing, Venice, Istanbul, Mexico City, Athens, Baghdad, Cairo.

What does any of this have to do with iconic cities being targets?

Psychological warfare is action that attacks an enemy's resolve and attempts to paralyse their will and demoralize. It aims to increase defeatism and negativism and to impair judgement. It wants to induce fear, excite tensions to the point of dysfunction, and produce widespread and continuous anxiety.

Pyschological operations, or PsyOps, strives for economy of effort and would like to present no inkling of their secret directed forces. PsyOps also wants to maximize the effect of a given operation. To do all those things, it must choose the most suitable target. Those types of targets are invariably "iconic". Attacking icons produces the largest dislocation in the target populations. This is why iconic cities (or places or people) are under threat - they are the best targets for PsyOps.

The countries of most interest at this point are those that are at war either as aggressors or as resistance groups. This would bring up the USA, the UK, Afghanistan and Iraq as key flash points. If planning groups were aiming at the USA and attempting to figure what types of attacks would have the most impact and be the most demoralizing, they would consider "iconic" American cities. New York and Washington would fit that designation but have been attacked. They may be subjected to more attacks but if fresh cities were desired then other cities would have to be selected. New Orleans is iconic but it also has been "attacked" in a way. Other iconic American cities that have not been attacked as yet - San Francisco, Miami, Houston, Los Angeles and Boston. Of these cities, probably only San Francisco would be considered to have a signficant impact outside the US as a world-level city.

Fortunately and unfortunately, psyops is an inexact art. It also requires a lack of morals or ethics and the ability to turn away from the deaths of thousands by your remote-controlling hand.

Society must reject these pseudo-scientific assaults on decency and outlaw attacks on non-miltary targets and non-belligerent opponents. To embedded objectors, collect evidence and go public. To the general public, support authentic whistle-blowers.

Why Iconic Cities are under Threat, Louis Evan Palmer, The Way It Can Be;
Copyright 2007 Louis Evan Palmer lives in Ontario Canada. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications.


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