Category Archives: military maps

Mapping Armageddon?

It didn’t take long from the dropping of the first atomic bombs to imagine the new landscape of mutually assured destruction that would defined the Cold War, before any Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles–ICBM’s–were developed or the technology existed.  Just three months after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan–from early August to mid-November–Life magazine offered a map of a coming “thirty-six hour war” accompanied a report of General Henry Harley “Hap” Arnold, Chief of the Army Air Forces in World War II, for which magazine illustrators created copy visualizing the devastating scope of the air-based “Thirty-Six Hour War” which consisted largely of atomic missile strikes and arrive “with shattering speed”:  rather than map the dangers of a strike of missiles that bridged continents, the article advocated the weapons needed to survive and reach victory in a war which might come with “shattering speed.”

The same terrifying landscape of an arrival of atomic bombardment under starlit skies seems to have haunted our notion of what a theater of war based in intercontinental missiles would look like,–and how it might be successfully waged, as the detection of enemy rockets by radar systems plotted the course and fed their positions and, in the thirty minutes available to prepare for attack,  launch defensive rockets that intercept the atomic explosives in “an effective means of defense,” in ways Arnold imagined and the life illustrator obliged.  These images created the notion of survival–and indeed victory–in an era of near-certain atomic attack , where Arnold felt it only a matter of time we develop our defenses against atomic projectiles, and develop something similar to German V-2 rockets, able to strike with precision “but armed with atomic explosives.”


Defenseive Machines.png


Before ICBM’s were entered the plans of the U.S. Department of Defense, General “Hap” Arnold’s report occasioned a widely-circulated set of maps in Life magazine, whose haunting grey-drenched image of missiles arriving over American cities warned of the coming space-age war, where the sort of total defeat that was visited on the Japanese was depicted as a possible survival.  Even as nuclear warheads arc above unseen populations as they sleep, as if removed from human agency, launched from beyond the horizon, the storyboards that the magazine’s artist rendered with the air of science fiction periodical suggested how such an attack might be resisted, and indeed victory be won–with the development of a large system of underground silos able to fire missiles back against the enemy whose lands might be later recaptured by airmen, in a future war waged largely from the skies.  The image accompanied a narrative inviting readers to imagine the rapid pace and unprecedented destructive scale of nuclear war which so deeply tapped unspoken concerns of the nation’s future survival to lock in a logic of an atomic war.


Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945The Atom Bombs Descend on the US (November, 1945) (Alexander Leydenfrost)


Alexander Leydenfrost’s two-page spread accompanied an article about Gen. Arnold’s report to the US Department of War flatly recounted what seemed an inevitable future air war.   For “Hap” Arnold, who would work at the Cold War think tank the Rand Corporation,  the expansion of nuclear weapons in airborne war as a crucial matter of import for the Secretary of War–the document was closely tied to the start of the Cold War.  Rather than view the terrible nature of war from the air–think of Picasso’s Guernica and the tragedy of its tortured bodies–the advance of foreign rockets is a problem to be confronted, and the map of the atom bombs descending on the United States in “Thirty-Six Hour War” ask us simply to confront the question of what the nature of the war will be and how it can be best waged and won.  “Security” was best tied to “our ability to take immediate offensive action,” Arnold wrote his letter, in an argument Life diffused to a wide audience as a sound conclusion rooted in expert knowledge, and “we should devise every possible active defense against an atomic bomb attack,” lest the image of “a great shower of enemy rockets falling on thirteen key U.S. cities” armed with atomic bombs not be able to be withstood.  The empyrean remove of the rockets bearing atomic loads contrast with how a fractured picture plane renders terrorized figures and animals who experienced the confusion of an airstrike on the ground in Guernica.




The panoramic map rendered the “startling speed” with which rockets bearing atomic warheads might be expected to arrive over the United States in a future war of short duration, delivering, as Arnold argued in “Air Power and the Future,” “devastating blows at our population centers and our industrial, economic, or governmental heart even before surface forces can be deployed.”  The hemispheric panorama that Life‘s skilled in-house illustrator Leydenfrost designed shows the United States “as it might appear a very few years from now,” above “a great shower of enemy rockets” exploding over New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boulder Dam, New Orleans, Denver, Washington, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Kansas City, and Knoxville ” that will kill 10,000,000 instantly.  While only apparently showing eight occurred sites of impact, the list of place-names activate a future landscape of destruction.  If we might not immediately grasp the map from which place-names are absent in a view that seems terrifyingly removed from any human agency, the terror of the “ghastliest of all wars” is processed as we recognize the landscape–whose remove from the present is compressed by a legend assuring us that this may be “the U.S. as it might appear a very few years from now.”

The cartography of fear that Arnold helped develop is still very much with us today.  For is the surreal map that accompanied “Hap” Arnold’s prophecy of the winnable atomic war still not somehow informing Donald Trump’s rather grotesque saber rattling today?


Atom Bombs Descend on US LIFE 1945

panoramaThe Atom Bombs Descend on the US (November, 1945)/Alexander Leydenfrost


The rendering of the rain of bombardment under the cover of night-time skies is eerily prescient, and in fact predates technologies of intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying atomic warheads that it foretold..  Although in-house illustrators like Leydenfrost, a former professor of industrial design at the Royal Joseph Technical University in Budapest, are often credited for the chilling panoramic view of arcing strikes from an unseen antagonist, “Hap” Arnold, as well as a commander of the Pacific theater of war in World War II, helped create the first propaganda training films for the US Air Force.  In addition to being “the Architect of America’s Air Force,” he founded the office that helped  produce some 400 propaganda films for the US Air Force during the war; the panorama of arriving enemy rockets image, which accompanied a striking realistic painting of New York destroyed by atomic bombs, was effectively propaganda for the expansion of the military budget in the post-war era of what was then the US Department of War.

Whatever the case, the cinematic staging of such an ominous image of arcing arriving intercontinental missiles landing in multiple North American cities was close the images that not only haunted the national psyche but lodged itself for future years in the mental landscape of the duck-and-cover era as an image of immanent destruction, against which counterattack–the hope of exploding impending atomic bombs in the air by a rocket–can forestall the rain of atomic bombs over what we now recognize as the United States.  The idea here, which haunted the mental imaginary in the Cold war, is that the United States, even as it was poised after World War II to be the preeminent world power, could be struck down by warheads while most of its citizens are asleep, without any warning.




If the continent was difficult to recognize, the article showed Washington, DC as the target of attack, as it had never been seen, below an incipient mushroom cloud.


DC under attack.pngThe Thirty-Six Hour War (November, 1945)/Alexander Leydenfrost


The apocalyptic landscape conjured a new primal fear in incredibly stark terms, drenched in grays to suggest a grim future, beneath the brilliant “shower of white-hot enemy rockets [that] falls on Washington, D.C.”  The panorama from outer space was perhaps not easily recognizable by readers at first; but the actuality of the destruction of a familiar landscape was activated by a litany of place-names in the article that were suddenly seen as targets of the arcs of long-range missiles, in a strike occurring while much of the country lay shrouded in darkness, unprepared for the sudden attack.  The darkness was appropriate, as it suggested the dangers of being unprepared for the new landscape of war; and a case could be made that the image prefigured if not inaugurated the Cold War.  It acknowledged the terrible nature of the discovery of the atomic bomb might soon be used against the cities of the United States capitol. “It is certainly a good thing for the world that Hitler’s crowd or Stalin’s did not discover this atomic bomb. It seems to be the most terrible thing ever discovered,” Truman mused in his diary on July 25, 1945.

There is something about apocalpytic imaginaries that makes them particularly striking occasions to consider one’s mortality.  The above panoramic map was printed beside an article that described a letter that “Hap” Arnold wrote as the commander of the U.S. Air Forces to the Department of Defense.  It served as a call to stir up public opinion about the need to continue boosting preparedness, on the eve of Hiroshima, for the Next Big War,–a war which would demand a system of returning missiles armed with warheads.  The article effectively asked in 1945 whether American cities might suffer the fate the United States had inflicted on two Japanese cities in such a historically unprecedented show of force.  And as if to make the point about the damages air strikes had inflicted on Japanese cities that were roughly the same size as cities in the United States and England, Arnold seems to have made sure that a map tabulating the percentages of cities American bombing raids had destroyed relative to American cities for readers of Life, listing the percentage of “the principle industrial cities which were burned out by B-29 incendiary attacks” noting beside each place-name “with U.S. city of approximately the same size” to make the rhetorical point and invite readers to consider what the shifting of place-names would mean for the future landscape of the United States, or indeed could have meant if another nation developed the atomic bomb, as many had worried:


% Japanese cities obliterated by air strikes.png

Bombed out Place names Japan %.png


If Arnold had worked on propaganda films for the war effort, he may well have helped placed this piece of public opinion propaganda in the premier magazine in order to boost support for expanding our dedication to an expanded military and Air Force even after the war’s close.  The image of the possible future destruction of Washington, DC, captured in the most visceral way possible Gen. “Hap” Arnold’s deep-set belief that the only “real security” against atomic weapons in the visible future will rest in our ability to make potential aggressors realize” that “an attack on the United States would be immediately followed by an immensely devastating atomic attack on him [sic],” after which, he argued, airborne troops could follow-up to secure the country’s infrastructure.  The sequence of maps created an argument that forced readers to try to process the issue of future nuclear strikes far more compellingly than words alone could make, and made explicit some of the greatest fears on everyone’s mind.  And they suggest, much as the current crisis with North Korea, the quick migration of military maps to civilian readers.

Arnold’s rhetoric of course mirrors the threats of nuclear reprisal Donald Trump has recently made, startling much of the world as well as South Korea and Japan.  The earlier Life article sought to reach a mass audience of readers to create pressure about the request to continue to grow the post-war military budget.  It is striking that Arnold’s article was accompanied by an image designed by the Life in-house illustrator conjuring an underground facility dedicated to manufacturing, storing, loading and firing ICBM’s that did not yet exist, an underground city not able to be attacked from which retaliatory missile strikes could be fired through hidden “firing tubes” that could readily respond to the enemy in an hour.  The scary article invited readers to visualize a coming nuclear apocalypse raised the possibility of a missile defense system, while allowing that “our defensive machines stop few attackers,” and advocating the expansion of a retaliatory strike mechanism as the best possible defense. While the illustrator who signed the apocalyptic panorama is credited with their truly cinematic effect, Arnold’s own acquaintance with cinematic scenarios may be revealed familiarity with storyboards and scenario both in planning the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Forces, after his sustained efforts from 1942 to persuade Warner Bros. producers and screenwriters to create war propaganda films for the U.S. Air Force–resulting in “Winning Your Wings,” a recruitment film for the Air Force starring Jimmy Stewart–which glorified the future of war combat in the air and the ease of enlisting as a pilot, minimizing any potential personal sacrifice.

The recent mapping of the sudden and sizable growth of missiles from North Korea that can be classified as of intercontinental range from March 2017 raise a similar alarm.  The   firing in May of the Hwasong-12, or KN-17, which broke all previous records for the distance at which North Korea had fired missiles suddenly reactivated such a landscape of first nuclear strikes.  For the course of its flight, which rose some 3,000 km before falling into the Sea of Japan, when leveled out suggested the attainment of a striking range able to reach even beyond the U.S. army base in Guam–and it was followed by two subsequent missile launches in July of startlingly greater range.  The apparent range of the Hwasong-14 on July 17 may have revealed an ability to strike Alaska, possibly Denver, or even Chicago–attaining an ability to target cities in the United States and North America–even though it is far from clear that the missile would survive the trip.




Troy Griggs/New York Times (March 4, 2017) Source: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


Recent news maps take care to list the names of places where American military personnel could be struck by North Korean missiles, to concretize fears of the cities that North Korean missiles of greater range might attack.  The maps posed questions of first strike capabilities without any consideration of the local dynamics of power on the Korean peninsula.

Even in an age of web-mapping and data visualizations, the rehabilitation of classic cartographic projections have been used to situate North Korea at the center of a theater of conflict.  The employment of an azimuthal equidistant projection–a useful strategy to be able to show each point in the world lies in a uniform scale from North Korean missile bases, if in ways that its Renaissance pioneers, Gerard Mercator or Guillaume Postel, would hardly recognize.  For the azimuthal projection serves to activate fears of future nuclear strikes by rendering North Korea at its center in bright red–and process the fears of what a first strike would entail, and indeed to globalize what is in fact a confrontation between the United States and North Korea–and a response to the sense of vulnerability that the North Korean government has to joint military exercises near its shore..  The projection helps to map North Korea as a prime global threat, however, as if to mirror the responses it had provoked from Donald Trump, and its place at the center of global media attention, isolating the country that has tested increasingly powerful ballistic missiles from May to July as an absolute and undeniable danger for the entire world.  The map helps process the emergence of North Korea a hot-button issue, to be sure, but also removed it from networks of local knowledge or diplomacy, identifying it with the color associated with danger signs to map the newly expanded striking capacities of its missiles as a focus of global concern in no uncertain terms.

North Korea Can StrikePolitico


The arrival of a projection centered on North Korea suggests not only a shift in perspective on geopolitics in the post-Cold War world.  It foreground a new threat tied to nuclear proliferation:  North Korea has been recognized as able to produce compact missile-mountable nuclear weapons with rapidity and the fear that North Korea is able to deliver a nuclear warhead to the United States–and that North Korea has enough a fissile material stockpile sufficient for 60 bombs today to produce additional fissile material at a rate of 12 bombs per year–meant that it would even have the chance or possibility of exploding warheads over multiple American cities, even if the July launch of a Hwasong-14 that shot up to a height of 3,700 km didn’t demonstrate successful atmospheric re-entry on which the delivery of a nuclear warhead would depend, although North Korea claimed it suffered no structural damage during its July 4 test; but the test suggested that the new North Korean missile was able to travel the 5,500 km to qualify as a truly “intercontinental” ballistic missile the country had ever constructed.

But the geographical imaginary of the Cold War is not able to be so seamlessly translated to the Korean peninsula, where the “arms race” that seems to have developed as the result of the buying of warheads and technological expertise  suddenly available on the black market, and perhaps from a missile plant in Ukraine, from a factory from which Russia had canceled their order to upgrade their own fleet of nuclear warheads, and from which North Korea tried to purchase “missile systems, liquid-propellant engines, spacecraft and missile fuel supply systems” a year earlier, according to  United Nations investigators, much as memos from the Obama administration released by WikiLeaks  described North Korea using missile designs used in Soviet-era thermonuclear warheads.

Maps are good to think by, and important tools to process such striking and difficult to digest information about a shift in power reand global threat.  But if maps are what we use to think about conflicts, although the technology transfer of Russian-designed missile engines to North Korea may have come from missiles languishing in Russian warehouses, the translation of a geographic imaginary from the Cold War North Korea’s use of the missiles makes little sense:  the confrontation about increasing ICBM potentials able to strike the U.S., about which rumors circulated in 2009, and for which bomb testing began from 2013, is poorly mapped as a confrontation only between two adversarial nations, but complexly enmeshed in the tensions and politics of the Korean peninsula,–and not successfully visualized as from an adversarial unseen enemy lurking over the horizon, and threatening to strike cities in the United States, as in the terrifying panorama rendering “Hap” Arnold’s dark view of the future of warfare.

Alarmingly, if the global relations of Pyongyang to the inhabited world were shown in ways that better accommodated imagined arcs of ICBM’s along its surface, the global reach into North America, so long desired by North Korea, can be alarmingly shown in ways that suggest the expanding reach of North Korea to cities in the midwest and east coast, assuming the missile’s standard trajectory to crest above 10,000 km, and, given the eastward extension of this range by the planetary rotation of the Earth, allowing an even greater range depending on their direction, perhaps placing New York and Boston within striking ability of North Korea, if leaving Washington, D.C lying just barely beyond range.



nyt hwasong 12.png

Troy Griggs/New York Times (March 4, 2017)Source: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies


The “growing reach” of North Korean nuclear warheads has been showcased repeatedly in recent months, as the firing of ballistic missiles launched on rockets has brought renewed speculation on just how far the ability of Pyongyang to target cities in North America is–raising questions that indeed echo “Hap” Arnold’s own concerns, and seem closely tied to support for renegotiating the military budget in the Trump administration.

The maps that visualize the growth of North Korea’s striking range displayed in the news are, after all, far from disinterested, and often seem designed to alarm.  It has been pointed out that a series of misleading maps, often involving estimates of intercontinental missiles “currently being tested” or under construction, have also expanded the striking range of North Korean missiles into North American territory, in ways that concretize the immediacy of their threats, and the need to expand American military spending to respond to their clear threats, given the alarming rate at which North Korea is “growing nuclear and missile capabilities,” as Heritage Foundation expert Bruce Klingner has recently argued on television news shows in a locution that oddly sounds as if it were an organic process that is self-contained, but threatens to escalate what was an “existential threat” to South Korea into a “direct threat to the continental United States” meriting a nuclear response when it becomes “imminent.”   Korean news agencies KCNA released an image of Kim studying a “Strategic Forces Firing Strike Plan” that traces a missile’s path arcing above the Sea of Japan to strike the island of Guam from a launch site on North Korea’s coast in a flight of but fourteen minutes as it traverses Japanese airspace, above U.S. bases on the islands–


imminent threat to Guam?.pngKCNA via Reuters




–but is the mid-August map an “imminent” threat?  Or is it only a public taunt?  The North Korean media certainly staged this photographic opportunity as a means of shifting power from Washington D.C. to Pyongyang, where generals using pointers indicate the missile strikes they might now achieve.

The notion of “imminent” threats, an opaque language first used by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, suggests the start of a new post-Cold War world–or at least recuperates the threat tied to lobbying for new military budgets that “Hap” Arnold advocated.  How this notion of “imminent threats”–although the quite chastening threat North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Po made to the press, and to the United States, that “Should the US pounce upon the DPRK with military force at last, the DPRK is ready to teach the US a severe lesson with its strategic nuclear force,” indicates eagerness to stage nuclear strikes for defensive ends–the compromising of the Department of State having hampered possibilities of skillful negotiation or fruitful talks.

The problem of mapping the flights of bombs or ballistic missiles was rarely shown so openly in intervening years after the “Hap” Arnold’s letter presented the specter of nuclear holocaust to readers of Life magazine.  How we map the flights of arcs of ballistic missiles over space are distorted by the Mercator projection, leading the bulk of Russian ICBM’s pointed at the United States to be located in its heartland of a nation that we still seem to prefer to color red:




But the arcing nature of missile strikes, not able to be clearly communicated in Google Maps, and the considerable liabilities of web-Mercator, or pseudo-Mercator, has also led to a resurgence even in the age of web-based mapping of the globe to render the fears of such strikes more credibly communicated–at least to understand them as the existential threats they truly are.




The fears of such strikes were long contained by arms control negotiation and nuclear arms bans, but the resurgance of the nightmarish image that can be traced by to “Hap” Arnold has led to a SALT talks temporarily froze numbers of ICBM’s that were held by Russia and the United States from 1970, trying to hit a “reset” long before Hillary Clinton presented a “reset button”–although weapons designers and manufacturers managed to circumvent the treaties’ stipulations, and helped Ronald Reagan run on the platform to “rearm America” as if strategic arms negotiations had hindered military modernization–and while reducing strategic arms, introduced futuristic speculation about building a missile defense shield:  “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant U.S. retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies?” Reagan asked the nation, as if to accommodate the threat of intermediate range missiles, in ways that evoke the very solution that “Hap” Arnold had provided.

The proposal responded to “Hap” Arnold’s problem of the need to rely on retaliatory nuclear strikes as the best possible option of defense, by imagining the early detection by United States military surveillance satellites of high-altitude missiles that could be zapped before they even returned to the earth’s atmosphere.  Did Reagan draw inspiration from the futuristic scenario that “Hap” Arnold imagined?  (Was Arnold at all a model for Reagan’s growing post-war involvement with Hollywood’s Screen Actors Guild (SAG), of which he became President in 1947, three years before Arnold’s death?  At any rate, Arnold’s ideas seem to have percolated into Reagan’s later devotion to the SDI program known as “Star Wars”, which he championed as US President, as a way to eliminate the threat of incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles.)


SDI map end MAD


While the notion of a space-born system including particle beams and “battle mirrors” and ground-based lasers removed the question of nuclear conflict from the earth, with the promise of destroying nuclear warheads as they soared far above the stratosphere, and before re-entering the earth’s atmosphere, and non-nuclear deterrence seemed to merit the name Star Wars in 1983, if the use of surveillance satellites is eery, mapping the eventuality of such a ballistic missile strike more terrifyingly acknowledged its fear as all to real, and depended on the accuracy of interception far above the earth–hopefully above a place like Greenland, which seemed pretty well removed from most inhabitants, but recuperated and modernized many of “Hap” Arnold’s ideas.


SDI againt Millise attack.png


North Korea’s recent plans to expand its ballistic missile arsenal from June, 2017 provoked similar considerations of just how far such strikes could extend and what cities they could strike:  maps are presented as the way of defining something of a red line of aggression, even if the nature of these strikes is totally hypothetical, and the precision of the missile strikes may be totally off.  Despite the apparently unbalanced desire Kim Jong Un voiced to reduce the United states “to ashes” by “invincible Hwasong rockets tipped with nuclear warheads,” the vainglorious boast seemed to gain new levels of reality after the success of ballistic missile tests that were shot into the Sea of Japan to altitudes of above 1,300 miles, but which seemed to be able to gain far further strike capacities.

Although military experts assure us that the Korean missiles currently developed could strike targets as far as New York, but the precision of these strikes cannot be guaranteed.  But the accuracy of the genre of mapping seems to presume that the accuracy of strikes against cities is most likely.  And even if the accuracy of North Korean ballistic missiles can’t be ascertained–and the embarrassment of a strike that fell in the ocean or in the desert demanded to be avoided, even if the threat to target Guam is all too real for many, after North Korea  promised to fire missiles into the waters surrounding the island at a distance of just fifteen miles from the shore–a threat that echoes the charge that Kim Jong Un gave his military to develop arms capable of striking Guam and Hawaii, as well as the continental U.S.  (The dryly worded fliers offering emergency tips about surviving a nuclear strike from North Korea published and distributed by the Department of Homeland Security caution against looking directly at the flash or fireball and not wearing conditioner after the strike as it might bind radioactive elements to one’s hair–although showering off is recommended to remove contamination–although the fourteen minutes that residents would have to prepare for an actual attack wouldn’t give one much room to take cover or protect loved ones.)  What the official readiness website advocated as the most important mode of preparation–to be as far from the site of attack as possible, according to, of course seems by far the most unattainable.

The discussion by North Korea of the eventuality of a strike by intermediate-range ballistic missiles on the island of Guam, traveling several times the speed of sound, evading the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system–a land-based anti-ballistic system located in South Korea to counter North Korean nuclear missile threats deployed since July.  (Pyongyang and the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of North Korea have seen this system as an initial stage of aggression, and have responded by accelerating missile launches.)  The fears of the strikes have been accelerated by maps of the expanding capacities of North Korean ballistic missiles, although this is unable to  test.  Accuracy and precision be damned, however the recent cautioning that 120,000,000 lives would be “compromised” or endangered by North Korean airstrikes as the range of North Korean ICBM’s grows over time echoed the same landscape of fear from February 2016–as the number of ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests ordered by Pyongyang grew–occasioned a return of a similar iconography of terrifyingly unknown agency:


screen shot 2016-12-02 at 105318 am.png


Confidence in mapping the precision of these strikes seems to have led North Korea’s News Agency KCNA to release photographs of Kim, surrounded by military advisors,  studying maps on video and paper alike that displayed the new range of North Korean ballistic missiles–


Kim Jong Un with Map KCNA.png


–as the increased range of intercontinental ballistic missiles of over 7.000 miles suddenly seems to put cities like New York, Washington DC, and Chicago within striking range.   Although it may be more terrifying that cities in Japan like Tokyo are most directly in range of the common Taepodong-1 missiles, the notion of American cities lying within striking range has been taken as the most bellicose action–in large part because it can be mapped, even if the intersection of such a map of capacities with the bellicose rhetoric of the newly “elected” American President more of a concern than the maps Kim studies.

Rather than being based on an actual launching of an act of aggression, the promise of the American president to met any military action will be “met with fire and fury” used apocalyptic rhetoric of biblical proportions to suggest a deep panic over the inability to contain North Korea’s nuclear capacities–although the departure of North Korea from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2003, during the Bush Presidency, was something of a ticking bomb, as it led to accelerated nuclear weapons development.  As much as throw a familiar alliteration of mass destruction to Trump’s base in the fundamentalist right, North Korea was given a jump start when Trump used America First bombast to urge nuclear programs be developed in Japan and South Korea, and that the Unite States would no longer station troops in bases in both of North Korea’s neighbors.

The specter of a proliferation of warheads close to North Korean shores must have triggered a deep-set fear in Pyongyang of the need to ramp up their own defenses, following the same sort of logic that “Hap” Arnold long ago advocated, shortly after he had moved the bomber force of B-29 planes that became the Twentieth Air Force to Guam? Actor Ronald Reagan would probably have best known Arnold for his role in creating the First Motion Picture Unit which produced over 400 war propaganda films after 1942, including The Last Bomb, about the payloads that B-29s delivered over Japan–a film which began in Guam and which concluded in operatic fashion with the mushroom coud over Hiroshima explosion, as a reassuring voice-over reminds viewers at its close saved hundreds of American lives.   If Reagan starred in many of the films the the FMPU produced, a young Donald Trump would likely have been impressed with the cinematic standard such films set for mass destruction by guided missiles, or provided the basis for the level of destruction that the world had, indeed, seen–if only on a screen.

The mapping of missile ranges are removed from any broader military context of troop movements in the declarative statements of the missile ranges that North Korea has been able to achieve, as if to place the entire story within its shores.


Map-North-Korean-missile--001Guardian (2016)


The eventuality of such an expanded ballistic missile program has, quite surreally, led the country to issue a new series of commemorative postal stamps that proclaimed its arrival on a world stage of ballistic missiles, which North Korea has done its best to promote in order too suggest the range of its missiles–most notably in a stamp, pictured below at right, that makes a clear visual case that it would be no problem to fire a missile into any site in North America, by juxtaposing its launching from the red peninsula of North Korea into the North American heartland–or at least suggesting that North America lies increasingly within striking distance.  (Inflammatory rhetoric of North Korea that the country was studying plans to according to state create wall of “enveloping fire” about the island has helped ramp up the hysteria of the United States.)  The philatelic celebration of the benefits of dedicating so much of the defense budget of a poor country to the development of nuclear warheads and ICBM’s suggest that the goal of striking the once-elusive continent of North America is finally in reach.





North Korea proudly claimed that all of the mainland United States was “within striking range of the DPRK missiles” with considerable satisfaction, as if to mark the arrival of the country on the global stage, and, as if in response, terrified news organizations imagined the results of this increased striking range of long-range missiles in global projections.

Exploiting the elegance of a shifting projection, North Korea suddenly was placed at their centers, as if to confirm a narrative proclaiming North Korea’s new image of itself as a nuclear power:   maps alarmingly showed North Korean missiles like the Hwasong-12 gaining a striking range beyond 3,700 km; maps reflected the estimated expansion of the radius of potential missile strikes in an azimuthal equidistant projection centered on North Korea, in order to better render the danger of North Korea’s development of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles–or ICBM’s–to carry missle-ready nuclear weapons.



over 3,700 kmpng.png


Pro Publica:  Natural Earth, Defense Manpower Data Center; May 2017 reports


Maps indeed have a terrifying ability to increase the real effect of such strikes, and rather than merely tracing estimates of the striking range of bombs on the globe–




–the grant immediate concreteness through the inclusion of specific place names, allowing us to envision the very white-hot arcs that “Hap” Arnold helped us to imagine.

North Korea Can Strike.pngPolitico  SOURCE: Natural Earth, Defense Manpower Data Center May 2017 reports


The range of individual North Korean ballistic missiles’ respective ranges provides the most effective way to describe the abilities of their arsenal, but the most accurate mode of assessment may be to specify the ranges of specific missiles.  However, the ranges of missiles in question does not seem to be nearly so stable as a map might suggest:  the estimated range might vary by over a thousand kilometers.




While the panorama that “Hap” Arnold may have imagined inaugurated the landscape of atomic fear that became known as the Cold War, the resurgence of fears for visualizing the new nuclear landscape strikingly omits any sense of the effects of such bombs’ explosions, and only pauses to indicate the range at which such strikes may occur.

The imperative to view the actual implications of what such strikes might bring has led increasing numbers of users to visualize the destruction of cities in historian Alex Wellerstein’s Nukemap.  The website immediately attracted after its 2012 launch thousands to detonate bombs of varying payloads over cities worldwide after visiting the website–after thousands used it soon after it was first posted in 2012, the site has become astoundingly popular as a platform to allow visitors to stage over a hundred million virtual detonations of nuclear bombs since its launch.  In the website that invites viewers and users to consider the impact on actual targets of the bombs–an aspect that is handily omitted in most maps of the range of North Korean missiles, though one would not have wanted it any other way, the effective but rather flat Google Maps API provides a salutarily chastening platform for viewing the potential scale and devastation created by such mass destruction and even for quantifying its human losses likely to occur, if only to remind us of the unthinkability of starting a nuclear war.  And although the rhetoric of the North Korean state-run media undoubtedly escalated matters when it cautioned in an item intended for domestic consumption, that the United States “will sink into an unimaginable sea of fire on the day when it dares to touch our country by stupidly causing mischief and brandishing its nuclear and sanctions clubs,” the improvised if ill-considered response it provoked about “fire and fury” suggested a willful avoidance or ignorance of human lives that would be the consequence of such devastating attacks.

The detonations that can be placed in any neighborhood mapped on Google Maps offers a chastening but increasingly popular exercise of imagining the erasure of one’s home town that seems to be the inverse of an art of dying well, if not preparation for the inevitable–far more popular than its designer, Alex Wellerstein, predicted, although the apparent objectivity of its option to “detonate” a bomb of different payloads seems a video game of its own, although one without much action–and whose own apocalyptic narrative has a pretty abrupt conclusion.  (Wellerstein devoted an great post, to which I’m indebted, on his Restricted Data blog about the 1945 Life panorama of nuclear destruction, which conjured a graphic rendering of Arnold’s report as Commanding General of the Air Forces.  After the Washington Post called his 2013 Nukemap website a “sign of our jittery times,” Wellserstein rightly observed that visualizing nuclear apocalypse has actually been an “old media pastime”–existing at least from the time that the first atom bomb was dropped.)  The platform Wellerstein cto visualize the implications of the aftermath of a nuclear strike should give one pause–for they are far more honest than visualizations that privilege the incursion into our local airspace or sovereign space.


Blast of Topol SS-25Ivy King over SF


The ready mapping let one map the consequences of a nuclear strike on any browser that supports the Google Maps API, effectively dropping Fat Man-style bombs or H-bombs or the largest fission bomb in the United States’ arsenal or bombs from the Russian battery of nuclear warheads on the city of your choice in a “nuclear effects calculator” of the intensity of the airburst and fireball, rem exposure, major overpressure, number of fatalities and injuries–as well as radioactive fallout, across bombs of different yields on any place in the earth that is mapped by Google Maps–allowing us to come to terms with destruction of different levels in different centers of population, imagining that any city anywhere may be indeed subject to a nuclear strike of a significant payload.  The notion of mapping your own apocalypse in ways that are pretty conclusive may have been designed as a cautionary and chilling website, but a few years after it has made the rounds online has perhaps ramped up hysteria about a foreign ballistic strike.

All this seems startlingly concrete once again in the age of Trump.  In rightful response to the fears of the greater range of missiles from Pyongyang, one cannot tell if the current American President would want to test the actual accuracy of North Korea’s new ballistic missiles.  But the sort of saber-rattling in which Trump has indulged seems designed to promote the growth of the military budget in allegedly exceptional circumstances in ways that echo “Hap” Arnold’s project of inviting us to envision strikes that would bring nuclear disaster.  The heights of missiles fired from May to July suggest strikes that would not offer much of a response from US interceptors in Guam, or Alaska, as their trajectories their engines allowed would only permit targeting at low altitudes.  The missiles would, in other words, in deeply frustrating ways, evade the massive military presence of the United States in South Korea and Japan given their high altitude.


THAAD interceptReuters Graphics


The missiles, however, in an attempt to shift public discussion and concern from the issues of racism, hate-filled language, and homegrown violence that seem to be most central on our national plate–or from the inquiry into coordination with foreign actors or governments to tilt the results of the 2016 Presidential election.  Perhaps Trump merely wants to create a media sensation and rush of endorphins that seem designed to obstruct any inquiry into his administration’s ties to foreign governments or distract from legal inquiry into its potential crimes.

The mental imaginaries of destruction that the maps of the newly increased range of North Korea’s missile set off alarms, however, and compelled Guam’s Homeland Security office–the local branch of DHS–to issue a “Guidance entitled “Preparing for an Imminent Threat”–using the same term adopted by Rex Tillerson as if to acknowledge the arrival of an occasion of imminence of an explosion that would release enough radiation to compel islanders to locate windowless shelters with thick concrete walls “dense enough to absorb radiation” that the nuclear warheads would release.  The genealogy of images of unmarked missiles arcing over inter-continental space is not that submerged a current in American history but has a genealogy that might be forgotten, but parallels the swings in the pendulum of increased requests for a military budget.  The transmission of this political demonology is less targeted against demons that are located within the country, to be sure, but the threats to security that arrive from afar are rooted in a language of the future in order to justify the expanding horizon of military expenditures against an unknown menace.  If the demonology is less directed toward internal subversives, it is of a piece with “Hap” Arnold’s conjuring of a nightmarish landscape of impending clouds of war, and demonizes subversives who don’t recognize or distract from the war effort.

As much as serving to demonize a cultural “other”, the “first strike” landscape of intercontinental arcing missiles paints an indelible picture of ongoing existential threats from the outside, with the ends of magnifying fears of an unknown other, who is seen as a threat to the world.  Continuing to evoke the specter of nuclear strikes has served to stage false claims of patriotism in particularly effective–if dangerous ways–in recent American history over several generations.   But the false patriotism reflexively instilled by invoking nuclear attacks in public media is, strikingly, no longer particularly American, but broadly diffused as the same sort of false patriotism has been widely imitated:  it has now globalized, and is not easily exorcized, in large part because it both seems and is particularly real.  We demand maps to process the expanding threats of ballistic missiles, but their threats are all too easily summoned to discount diplomacy, ignore negotiation, and naturalize a global threat of nuclear Armageddon–as a threat that merits dangerously confrontational rhetoric–although rhetoric that demonizes the threats to global and national security only serves to exacerbate actual global conflicts, imperil the world,  and do so with potentially catastrophic consequences.

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NORAD Maps the Flight of Santa’s Sleigh

Where is Santa Claus?  The question is perhaps preposterous; Santa is imaginary, after all.  But every Christmas Eve for over fifty-fie years, the North American Aerospace Command–NORAD–has invited viewers to track the gift-laden sleigh of Santa crossing the night-time sky at the speed of starlight on NORAD’s Santa Tracker, an annual collective exercise in mapping of increasing popularity–indeed the mind-boggling proportions of its popularity, attracting upwards of 20 million individual users in 2011 alone, is a statement not only to its improved UX, but to the versatility of its incorporation of mapping servers better to imagine the itinerary of Santa’s airborne sleigh.  For while we once envisioned the night-time flight of Santa Claus far-off and against a starlit sky and full moon, to accentuate the surprise of a magical itinerary–




–the Santa Map brings that journey up-close for everyone before a computer monitor.  The remapping of Santa’s itinerary has been done in a way that tracked, as the sleigh’s global progress is intercepted and relayed online in real time from posts of remote observation to viewers around the world.  And in an age of global surveillance, there seems to be no reason why Santa’s sleigh cannot as well be surveilled for the interests of children everywhere.

There’s a huge appeal in the ways that the Santa Map creates and imagined community, as much as it embodies an annual itinerary.  The interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh has grown considerably in recent Christmas Eves.  The huge interest in tracking Santa’s sleigh–and effectively mapping the visits of the airborne sleigh into our hearth–is a way of bringing maps in line with pleasure at a time when we need to look for solace where we can find it, and where we can find a comfort that the onslaught of most maps of contemporary events in fact rarely provide.  Christmas has been a communal but solitary experience–located in the hearth and around the tree, and gift-opening a ritual of individual families–but somewhat serendipitously, the collective witnessing of the Santa Map offers a vicariously removed experience for crowds of viewers, removed from one another but creating the illusion of comprehensively witnessing the arrival of a fictional character to homes everywhere, as if to knit us together in holiday wonder, suspended for the evening in an imaginary international airspace of momentary world peace.

The interactive map is a new way to conceive the itinerary of gift giving Santa Claus uses to deposit gifts in every chimney and hearth, giving a virtual presence to the fictional Father Christmas making his annual voyage of gifts for children from the North Pole.  And at a time when drones gained popularity as holiday gift–some 1.2 million drones were sold during in the 2016 Christmas season, according to the Consumer Technology Association, often to novice pilots–their popularity reflects the prominence of drones in mainstream America’s spatial imaginary.  The many drones lost and found drones over Christmas week for two years suggest the appeal of remotely guided aeronautics, in which mapping the course of Santa’s sleigh by a drone not only enhances the UX of Santa Maps, but lends materiality to the wondrous arrival of Santa’s sleigh.  The amplified user experience offered on the website provides views akin to virtual drone, by which viewers can observe the expected arrival of Santa Claus as if from an unmanned object beside Santa’s path.


Leaving th eNOrth POle.pngSanta Leaves North Pole on YouTube (2010)


tracking-santaSanta Trackers in Colorado


Santa to Wash.pngViewing Santa arrive in Washington, DC


Santa Maps invite viewers by web-based technologies to  map of the sleigh’s route in two- or three-dimensions, or chose an option of receiving regular updates on the progress of gift-giving on a global scale all night long.  The curiously intangible map sustains the questionable fiction of Santa’s arrival to each household from the North Pole:  and if all maps stand at a remove from the world, the Santa Tracker seems to stand at a particularly odd angle to the world–especially in a period where the number of international borders defined by physical obstructions and apparatuses of surveillance have grown 48% since 2014, and border-crossing has become an increasingly politicized and even a desperate act for refugees or those without economical opportunity.  The increasing popularity of Santa Trackers provide an upbeat narrative all the more needed in a time of global dissensus–at no cost to tax-payers, with the tracking map, and telecom services donated by sponsors.

But if the Santa Tracker seems something of a a metaphor for globalism it keeps up with the pace of the naturalization of the authority of map providers:  for the speed of mapping real-time motion, and indeed of tracking fast-flying objects, as the sleigh that moves at the speed of starlight, is in a sense the other side of the project of mapping Santa’s sleigh:  the instantaneous transmission of the path of Santa’s arrival is as much the promise of the Santa Map as the tracing of the path that Santa’s sleigh takes.  While once the promise of protecting the course of Santa’s sleigh on its way to deliver gifts became the job of NORAD, and the arrival of gifts the proof of NORAD’s authority and power in the hemisphere, the mappability of the rapid course of Santa’s sleigh is as much the promise of remote tracking of the atmospheric gasses, weather patterns, icy air streams and wind-currents by orbiting satellites:  we are promised to be able to follow the speed by which Santa condenses the project of visiting every hearth world wide on one night, as if to capture that night’s magic, as if from cameras stationed directly over or behind his Sleigh.


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Bombed Out Landscapes over Time

The scars of ethanol-fueled V-2 rockets that speedily struck wartime London seventy years ago are a good place to start to map the systematic bombing of civilian spaces.  As if mapping the liquid-fueled fantasies of destruction of Wernher von Braun, the V-1 and then, subsequently, V-2 bombs silently arrived to create a psychologically searing topography of death that transformed the city, immersing civilians to new topographies of fear.  Tabulations of damages in the recently published Bomb Damage Maps of wartime London orient one chillingly to the progress and degree of bombing wartime London in purples, violets, oranges, and light blue on London’s familiar plan, as much as the resistance of a British culture of grim-faced exactitude to the horrific episode of wartime destruction.  If they seem oddly antiquated and removed, the poignant attempt to come to terms with the radically escalation of destruction in the  devastatingly regular tempo of accelerating bombardment that is known as the London Blitz–even if they cannot capture the panic, commotion, terrified screams or chaos, in the muted pastels in an aerial perspective that affirm the organic city that once existed in a still alive past.

The maps capture an attempt to take measure of the scale of destruction, from black areas bombed out beyond repair to more lightly damaged areas in yellow, as if to process the unprecedented scale of disaster in the precision of the Ordnance Survey Maps.  n ways that seemed to try to contain the violence of the bombs that killed over 9,000 by a coloring the sites that were hit by the daily assessment of bomb damages, Bomb Damage Charts drafted by the London City Council tried to process the daily destruction that took the toll of 9,000 in what Germans portrayed as revenge for allied bombers suggest an English tabulation of the ethanol-fueled violence, called as retribution for allied bombing of German cities, that revealed fingerprints of the fantasy of Wernher von Braun.




And they reflect, as such an attempt to map the devastation Thomas Pynchon so famously began Gravity’s Rainbow by suggesting the sudden arrival of an ethanol-fueled V-2 rocket that struck the zero Greenwich meridian around 1967, by describing a volley of ballistic missiles whose targeted strikes and explosions brought to life something like a new world, and a terrible one that is punctuated in a senseless sequence of devastating strikes.  And as Pynchon famously used the Matthausen testimonies to describe the horrors of the bombs’ production during the war by the remain side, the bomb damage maps would have provided powerful means to elaborate the destruction of the city came to map the fictionalized if troubled ever-idiosyncratic psyche of Tyrone Slothrop.

As much as orient one to the destruction of bricks and mortar buildings, they suggest a way to complete the terrifying topographies of the wartime city, as familiar cityscapes suddenly vanished, taking human lives in a chaos difficult to psychologically sustain.  If Stephen Spender described how in “destroyed German towns one often feels haunted by the ghost of a tremendous noise” as it “is impossible not to imagine the rocking explosions, the hammering of the sky upon the earth, which must have caused all this,‟ evoking the inability to grasp or orient oneself to the ineffability of the sensory barrage of modern destruction with particular eloquence.  Pynchon was particularly attentive to transpose the complicated topographies of what were otherwise blank space by recourse to the “old Baedecker trick” not limited to that genre of travel books alone, but pillaging from WPA guides and other maps, in ways that make it more than likely that something like the Bomb Damage Maps provided a similar basis to orient his readers to imagining the new topography of war in which his characters sought to navigate as best they could, and the tourist maps of post-war London which rendered the continued effects of bombed out areas light green offered an effective palimpsest as any to recover the  psychological trauma of the destruction of the psychic network of place and society–




–itself a mirror image to the German Schadenskarten created to document the parallel six years of trauma inflicted on cities in the Nazi state.


Schadenskarte_Operation_Tigerfish_27.11.1944.pngSchadenskarte des Angriffes am 27. November 1944

1280px-Luftbild_Freiburg_1944.jpgStadtarchiv Freiburg, destruction of Freiburg sometime after or during Summer of 1945


Although the scale of destruction was more targeted and more limited in scale, the hundred and ten hand-colored Bomb Damage maps applied a six color palette to the Ordnance Survey maps in order to register the impact of bombs on the city, ranging from yellow noting mild damage a dire black denoting “total destruction,” which, even if they cannot capture the scale of the 29,890 victims killed in the raids and 50,507 suffering serious injuries, although their over-generous 1:2,500 scale allows one quite effectively to explore parts of the city’s neighborhoods and read the present configuration of individual blocks against the damage of older bombs–whose scale is partly captured in surviving photographs of Debris Survey and Disposal Service crews who explored ruined houses and buildings in plaster-dusted uniforms in the hope of seeking survivors.  The images of police constables Arthur Cross and Fred Tibbs capture the broader effort of repair, reconstruction, and taking stock of a spate of local destruction as it occurred, and the need of the maps as a means to process the rapid arrival of rocket strikes in the not indiscriminate targeting commercial and residential London by unmanned rockets.



139293.jpgRepair of evening coming of 1941 of Bank Underground Station





Assessing damage of Bank of England and Royal Exchange after London bombing raid of January 11, 1941, which created a crater of 1,800 sq feet–the largest in London


A rocket has suddenly struck.  A terrific blast quite close . . . :  the entire fabric of the air, the time, is changed–the casement window blown inward, rebounding with a wood squeak to slam again as all the house still shudders.”   The impact of the V-2 striking the zero meridian punctuates time by sudden intervals, and crossing a zero threshold of how we register external stimuli in wartime and to mark a new threshold in the violence of military violence in wartime.  If the arrival of unmanned rockets sent shudders of fear into the bodies of individuals in London, if not penetrating their consciouness, the topography of fear is one with peculiar effects on the American military intelligence soldier Lt. Tyrone Slothrop, who finds them sources of sexual excitement.  The arrival of unexpected stimuli Slothrop experiences becomes the basis to explain the ways that the distribution of bombing of the city is mirrored in the mysterious maps that Lieutenant Slothrop, the novel’s hero, creates behind his desk in a London military intelligence unit, created by marking sexual encounters with colored stickers that erupt from the map’s surface, but mark the site of the sites of unexpected  erections that the impending arrival at bombs seems to provoke as a particularly unexpected Pavlovian response:  a few days preceding the arrival of the bombs, Slothrop experienced to some surprise serial trysts with different women at the sites he marked on the map with assiduous care, beside the first name of each:   Slothrop’s map objectively map seems a way for him to try to understand himself, and as it happens the psychological conditioning he once received as a child, in ways that only mirror how the Ordinance maps of London were used to take better stock of the scale of damage on the Home Front.

Slothrop’s co-workers are struck by the mysteriously marking the sites as echoes of sites where bombs struck, however, in ways that raise immediate suspicions.  Indeed, even as  try to decipher a mathematical order in the sudden build-up of bomb attacks.  The Bomb Damage Charts attempt a similar successful, if fatally flawed, attempt to invest  normalcy onto the destruction of London’s landscape?  Looking at the recently released hand-colored detail used to render the extent of building destruction caused by rockets and aerial raids in the London Bomb Damage Maps created in wartime London–maps that tracked the progress and degree of local damages the city endured over two years in real time–one is encouraged to re-read Pynchon at a distance, and the meaning of the maps that Slothrop’s unit try to make of bomb-strikes in the city, in which some find an order that mirrors a Poisson Distribution, as if to discern in the sporadic bombing of the city some logic of probabilistic order in the distribution of bombs  that punctuated time.  Indeed, the striking images of bomb damage that the city endured offer compel an attempt to sort them out in so concrete a register to coming to terms with the rapid pace of sudden strikes on the city–clarified as it was attempted to be converted into crystal clear charts to communicate the extent of local damage that future town planners and rebuilders might readily survey, as if to prepare a clean record of the bombing raids one never quite knew when would end.







–and as if to convert the extent of bomb damage to a means one’s mind might comprehend and take stock of a rapidly changing urban landscape and world.  As the maps seem an attempt to freeze, mark time, and take stock of the transfigured urban landscape, they provide an odd echo of the search for self that Slothrop, compelled in odd ways he can’t quite understand to treat the wartime city as a site of pleasure, finds himself creating while he lives in a landscape increasingly transfigured by human death that destroyed over 3,000 buildings by the war’s conclusion and had killed some 30,000.  With the events of the war definitively remote, maps that already assessed the scope and scale of such damage–already evident in details of a 1947 map of London which rendered the areas suffering particular damage by light green shaded blocks that pockmark the city in post-war tourist maps–

Bodleian Museum, London and the blitz


–and the small scale bombing raids that had begun from November  1940 to May 1941 by the Luftwaffe that launched pilotless V-1 rockets and then v-2 missiles fell across the city’s fabric in an onslaught of new technological fierceness of death, that never could be precisely mapped, but whose devastation the London County Council continuously updated and noted even as upwards of a third of the buildings in the city had been damaged or destroyed by unannounced explosions..  How better to imagine the hectic pace of their arrival that so successfully destroyed individual buildings that they were known as Baedecker raids, from 1944 destroying 100,000 buildings or rendering them unrepairable, as the missiles launched from the Netherlands rendered much of the city  and beyond repair.  How better to imagine these strikes than by the image of bomb damage assessments, a gloroious source if their ever was one, as Pynchon sought to find new first-hand information of historically removed fact.  Much as the Baedecker provided a basis to describe in accurate or believable ways that local atmosphere the bomb damage maps provided a new way to come to terms with modernity.


1. The map of bomb strikes in London–rather than a map of damages–strikes his superior quite suddenly.  They provide a sort of cypher and enigma that Thomas Pynchon invites readers to puzzle over in Gravity’s Rainbow, much as Slothrop’s superiors try to discern an apparent logic in its distribution.  The discussion of the meaning of the map comes up quickly in the novel–“Pointsman, do you want to hear something really paranoid?  . . . Have you consulted a map of London lately?  All this great me-teo-ric plague of V-weapons  . . .”  “They’re falling in a Poisson distribution.” . . .  “But have you ever thought of why?”   The presence of the map Slothrop hung with joint personal satisfaction and obliviousness above his desk that shows his sexual adventure in wartime London provide a pretense to investigate his idiosyncratic Pavlovian response to the strikes, leading military intelligence to wonder whether Slothrop might be”able to predict when a rocket will fall at a particular place” or even considering that the hapless Slothrop is, rather than clairvoyant, in fact endowed with a psychokinesis by which “the force of his mind [is] causing the rockets to drop where they do,” using electric signals that manipulate the rockets’ guidance systems by his mind; the “map Slothrop’s been keeping on his girls” haunts the experts in London, since they fall in exactly the same distribution as the rocket strikes in the London Blitz.  Thomas Pynchon himself has describe how, hungry for items of information to weave into fiction, he came as a student at Cornell University to “loot the Baedecker” with an abandon he was only able to acknowledge indirectly in his written stories in 1959, as a source for adapting freely “all the details of a time and a place I’d never been to”–“Who’d make up a name like Kevenhüller-Mensch?”–he found particularly enchanting, whether to describe Egypt in 1899, all the while enjoying to imagining apocalyptic showdowns and exploring that eternal question of whether history was more statistical or personal.  The same question seems to underly Gravity’s Rainbow, in a different way, and if old maps and written descriptions provide a sense of place, the Bomb Damage maps or their description

But even when considering the extent of damage of London neighborhoods, so clearly antiquated are the maps to remind one of the extent we’ve continued to cross further thresholds in the continued onslaught of bombs in the London Blitz impinge on the zero threshold of Lt.  Slothrop’s consciousness in war-time London while he is stationed in the city with allied intelligence–at the same time as the new degree of bomb warfare raise the threshold of acceptable violence for the world.  For the first section of Gravity’s Rainbow, “Beyond the Zero,” describes the intersection of Slothrop’s unprecedented premonition of the arrival of V-2 rockets that enter the perceptual threshold of the military man and the new threshold of violence in war-torn Europe.  Whereas Pynchon explored the threshold of attention of the arrival of bombs across the landscape of war torn London for Lt. Tyrone Slothrop, the graphic response to the punctuation of space registered in the meticulously colored maps of bomb damage.  The maps force us to consider to the thresholds of violence and attention that the scale and violence of subsequent bombing raids have almost mercilessly continued to cross–providing a chilling record of the reaction to their sequence in historical “real” time.

The painstaking hand-colored detail used to render the scale of local destruction that the city suffered appear to provide a record of coming to terms with the “new normalcy” of wartime attacks by aerial bombers and, from 1941, the scourge of V-2 rockets, as much as they reveal the scale of the destruction of local buildings in an apparently objective way.

2004Bomb Damage Maps/London Metropolitan Archives/City of London Police

We map place to know where things lie but when we map bomb strikes, we map an erasure of place, tracing the outlines of how space was once occupied by place.  Maps might try to take stock of the devastation of bombings and air raids–but they can only hint at the scope of what occurs on the ground, and the varieties of maps made to understand the impact of the early ballistic missiles that arrived in London’s Blitz give their viewers an inescapable premonition of the scale of the increasingly prevalent maps made since World War II.  The attempt to comprehend the blasts of rockets from drones, the maps of the London Home Office, despite their antiquated hand-drawn format, are unavoidable premonitions of later data maps that tally the scale of strikes against sites, from Afghanistan, Waziristan, and Pakistan, or the bunker buster or cluster bombs that demolished Aleppo, in their failure to describe the violence they try to process.  Even as we fail to fully map the consequences of their destructiveness or understand the threshold each event has surpassed, the Bomb Damage Maps remind us of the impossibility to comprehend the scale of local devastation.

Gravity’s Rainbow begins with the strike of one of the V-2 rockets that hit London in scattershot plots from 1944 in “sudden demolitions form the sky,” from the arrival of V-2 impact at Greenwich, 000 longitude–the zero meridian.  The location immediately raises the question of whether their arrival can be mapped to reveal of any notion of causality.  Despite attempts to find some causality in their pattern, the proposition that “Things only happen” as we accommodate to their occurrence increasingly seem evident.  For despite any attempts to parse their distribution by Poisson distributions, the arrival of V-2 rockets lack causation.  Where the “meteoric plague of V-weapons” hit across London was a subject of increasing professional concern, as the smoldering craters from which ragged smoke curled in the London landscape–and which Pynchon so chillingly evokes–provided paranoid interpretations as their distribution was tried to be understood as something created by human agency, dumped on civilians in a way intelligence seeks to try to grasp in Pychon’s elegant–and sadly increasingly quite timely and timeless–novel.  The destruction of their sudden arrival is emblematic of a new order of terror–a new threshold of terror that is shattered by the scale of bombing targeted civilian populations in World War II, and shattered the era that preceded it in ways that can never be clearly mapped or given logical structure, try as hard as we may.  Slothrop’s map suggests an uncanny mapping of eros and thanatos, mapping the “sexual Other, whom he symbolizes on his map, most significantly, as a star, that anal-sadistic emblem of classroom success with permeates elementary education in America,” Dr. Treacle has it, that so spooks his superiors.

Pynchon confessed to have been quite consumed when consulting period-specific Baedecker guides found in Cornell University’s bookstore for research on novels.  As a young author, he systematically “looting the Baedeker for “all the details of a time and place I had ever been too, right down to the details of the diplomatic corps” in a story set in Egypt–so “Could Willy Sutton rob a safe?”–for atmospheric passages in stories–as well as no doubt maps.  And his account of a map of the threshold of bombed out wartime London becomes the centerpiece of an extended interrogation on human agency and contingency, as well as destruction psychic and physical:  the patterns of Slothrop’s sexual conquests in London map, in an uncanny way, “match up square for square” with the sites of bomb-strikes, and immediately direct collective attention to the mechanics of such apparent skills precognition:  once photographed and projected over the actual statistical maps of bomb strikes, “girl stars and rocket strike circles [are] demonstrated to coincide,” in ways that provide the invitation to try to understand the mechanics of the effects that the substance that triggers poor Tyrone’s apparent reflexive stimulation that the arrival of V-2 rockets somehow provokes, “as quickly as two days, or as slowly as ten” from the strike, and “with a mean [time-]lag of about 4 1/2 days.”

The eery embodied precognition triggered in Slothrop’s penis before the arrival of each V-2 rocket–an arrival that impacts his mind because of Pavlovian conditioning, trace the psychological landscape of these early ballistic bombs, itself pushed past subjects’ zero threshold in wartime London.  It probably doesn’t bear saying that they map a threshold we have continued to traverse.  If used to spin further apocalyptic narratives haunted by “our common nightmare The Bomb” that Pynchon described as haunting his fiction and so much else, the maps provide something like a palimpsest of these fears.  Long before searching for reactions before “this slow escalation of hopelessness and terror in the few ways open to us,” the record of a titration-like destruction of the cityscape that the Bomb Damage Maps reveal provide an amazing contemporary, if quite cartographically removed and antiquated, Baedeker to trace the expanding mental landscape comparable to Pynchon’s account of Slothrop’s attempts to grasp the shifting landscape of the Blitz.


Bombed out london from St Pauls

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Filed under London Blitz, military maps, Thomas Pynhcon, Vietnam War, war crimes