Strategic Model Theatre: The Subjunctive City
The Combined Arms Collective Training Facility (CACTF – pronounced /kak-tıf/) is a model for construction of small installations that prepare soldiers for Military Operations on Urbanized Terrain (MOUT). While the training city has existed since the beginning of World War II in various guises, and its schema is rooted in the Greek and Roman war games and military camps, the CACTF design guide published in 2001 by the Army Corps of Engineers has served as a model for its 21st century iterations. Not simply a continuation of its precedents, the CACTF’s techniques for structuring and enacting urban space represent a qualitative break from those that preceded it.
This thesis investigates how the CACTF operates as a training facility, a testing ground, and a model of urban space by tracing the historical precedents that have informed the CACTF. Since 1942, the physical layout and structure of urban training facilities, the visual tactics they employ, and the embodied experiences they facilitate have been continuously reinvented, redefined, and refined. These alterations reflect the imperatives of the contemporary wars to which they correspond, changing operations of military bureaucracy, and prevailing theories about how to realistically simulate embodied experience.
Beyond internal military history and theory, the CACTF speaks to broader cultural histories and theories of the model as prototype, reproduction, and performance. The deconstructions and constructions that are part of the lifecycle of the urban training area are also part of the lifecycle of the model. The CACTF is a “simulated theatre of operations” that replicates urban space to produce a realistic experience of modern war. It is at once a stage set for theatrical performances, a cinematic backdrop, and a test bed for new technologies, one that, critically, is liberated by the potential of its genericism. What are the relationships between the virtual and the real in each of the iterations of the training facility? How does its unique position, being neither fully physical nor virtual, reflect ongoing contemplations of critical theory from Wittgenstein to Turner to Virilio that target the tenuous space that it occupies?
Brief Description of the CACTF
The CACTF is a purpose-built complex that is meant to replicate an urban environment. The complex consists of 1.5 to 2.25 square kilometers of “urban sprawl” composed of 20 to 26 specific buildings arranged in distinct sectors. The buildings are deliberately representative, in the words of the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), of a “generic architectural style.” The study group released the first CACTF design guide in 2002. By 2006, fourteen facilities had been built domestically. In 2012 forty-two unique sites existed. As of 2015 there will be fifty-eight with funds already earmarked for the construction of two more, as of the last published update in September. Rigid,formulaic, sterile, and utilitarian in both composition and function, the CACTF creates flattened archetypical incarnations of vernacular American architectural forms. Further, since none of the structures is designed for habitation, they become practical only for the purposes of the exercise. Within these replications of space, familiar and intimate urban components are re-constructed without specific identities or ownership and then prescriptively arranged to emulate the typical spatial qualities and general atmosphere of the ‘urban’.
The Present Tense of the Model: The Generic City
The CACTF is intended to be representative of a generic architectural style. Its layout is a mixture of typical and typological spaces drawn from urban and suburban sources. In the division between the manufactured sterility of its structure and the dramatic nature of its narratives, it becomes something qualitatively unique, formally new, and structurally labile — yet familiar. Using case studies of a few of its various iterations (at Fort Benning, Fort Bragg, and Fort Polk), this chapter analyzes the standard plan of the CACTF with particular attention to how it attempts to solve the problems of representing a complex space. This chapter looks at the factors that led to the emergence of the CACTF in 2001, its overall structure, and the methods by which it constructs an adaptive and performative space.
The Contemporary History of the Model 1942 – 2001: Naïve Realism and Representational
This chapter positions the CACTF within a history of situational training from the onset of World War II until just before 9/11. The account traces institutional trends, local agents, and physical constructions that have influenced and supported a series of simulated urban zones and terrains. It charts the shifts in their cultural characterization, physical materiality, and overall structure. It especially examines fidelity in the representations of urban space and the mechanics and aesthetics behind the localized replications of reality at these facilities. Further, this investigation will demonstrate how the presence of the CACTF and its precedents transform the domestic landscape during wartime into ‘foreign theme parks,’ with Vietnam in the backyard, Bavaria in the hills, and Afghanistan in the desert.
The Reality of the Model: The Subjunctive City
The CACTF, as a simulation that is neither fully physical nor fully virtual, can be understood as operating on a spectrum that moves between immersion and critical distance. Operating parallel to the theories of realism introduced in the previous chapter, this chapter explores the construction and utility of an array of different models and their successive obsolescence. I argue that recognition of these processes informs the particulars of the CACTF and associates its current structure with an attempt to exchange the ‘mortal coil’ of the traditional model for a more resilient system of representation. Emerging from, but moving beyond, the military history of the CACTF, this chapter deals with artistic projects and theatrical performances, and uses examples from literature, cinema, science and technology, to interrogate the representational possibilities and capabilities of the model.
Title Explanation and Context
The first phrase, Strategic Model Theater comes from a 1966 work by the Swedish Avant-Garde writer Torsten Ekbom wherein a cut up collage of narratives and characters taken from adventure novels, travel diaries, and Wittgenstein's Tractatus take part in a digital war simulation. This is a method similar to Coetzee’s characters regurgitation of RAND Corporation reports that infused his mythographical Vietnam Project. The parallels set up by this title, the collaging of disparate sources into one narrative, the creation of a fictional place out of the material of another; and the way in which that place performs and is also a site for performance informs my perspective on the utility and operations of the conjunctions between the model, strategy, and theater (in both of its contexts).
The sub title, The Subjunctive City, is a nod to the possibilities that are allowed by a model’s ambiguity. The subjunctive is a mood used to express conditional and imaginary situations - to explore contexts that are counterfactual, and that do not (but might—or might not) exist within the current configuration. they are constructions, beyond the syntactical meaning, being “speech acts” that propose corporeal effects – often taking the form of the If/Then Statement now familiar from programming. “If I were then I would or wouldnt.”
The subjunctive implies a distance, sometimes an irrevocable one, between what is being expressed and what is actually the case. It often takes a type of desire as its foundation, a longing to be something that it is not currently, and an activation of its future state as its terminus, that it will do something once it has become that thing.
Borrowing the term from video games, to “grief” a sieve is to provoke, prod, annoy, or otherwise add discomfort to its operations. A response to such attacks is to increase defense, to make more specific, based on the inputs received, what should be acknowledged (noticed, let through, allowed in). The act of “griefing” is the same as an attack, and within a more coded language (ha) is similar to a brute-force attack. The increase in the requirements of a sieving algorithm in response to these attacks is the same as its response to every failure it encounters, it must learn what to ignore and what to respond to. Every failure or attack (false positive / false negative or attempted entry) identifies the need to alter the algorithm – in electronic mail systems this is the “is this message not spam? If so please let us know…” is followed by a whitelisting or blacklisting of content. I want to focus here on the equivalence, the normativity, that emerges from the successful operation of a sieve as well as touching upon what happens when the whitelist is, for lack of a better word, is hijacked. Here I am not talking to the parasite as something that alters a path, but as something that hides within the path along its trajectory. What are the depths that we must sieve to (not that must be sieved) to uncover these stowaways who hide not in plain site, but underneath the cover of normativity?
Georges Canguilhem posits the ‘normative,’ which we can take in this context as being the language defined (recognized, decided, and generated) by a device (algorithm / machine)- more a tool than a state of being. Expanding, he declares that “the concept of right, depending on whether it is a matter of geometry, morality or technology, qualifies what offers resistance to its application of twisted, crooked or awkward.” Quite a portable and potable definition; the unaltered, or the unsieved, in this definition is never ‘normal,’ as it has not undergone the process of normer. The implication of normality in this context, for Canguilhem and those who followed in his tracks, is that its existence reifies the possibility of abnormality. That is, for every accept state there is a reject. For every positive and negative, there exist falsified, ‘wrong’ versions of them. Yes, this is the logic of an antonym, an antithesis, an ant(i) - ___ , but it also implicates the synonym as being an altered or divergent state, having suffered a declination of some sort or the other. The maxim of a sieving algorithm is “everything but these,” also the “only this” of eugenics and the “this but not that” of purification. Each of these processes, which include and exclude, exists on a spectrum of malevolency towards what it is not, and is defined by that which it rejects. Taking this further, the normal and the abnormal, the benevolent and the dangerous, the many other oppositions that function similarly, exist due to the ability to undertake analysis.
Further, to define what is normal is also to define by association what is abnormal. Within the sieve, it is often more efficient to define what is banned and barred instead of what is allowed to pass. It is easier to let something in than it is to keep something out, therefore the majority of engineering / design / coding is devoted to these questioning statements and structures. The logic of an if/then/else statement is meant to question the identity of an object – pointing outwards before looking inwards, before operating on an object (letting it through, validating its identity). A sieve is, at its most basic level, a process of questioning that includes queries that ranging from its shape “is it round” to its size “does it fit through this hole” to more ambiguous and potentially sinister qualities such as “is it red” “is it black.” I may be revealing my proclivity to conspiracy theory but any operation that questions the visible and measurable qualities of our identities and acts based on the answers is de facto a dangerous tool. However, the progression of this argument asks for a quantification of what isn’t measurable about our identities…to which the answer is “if you can explain it, I can code it…”
Besides its operation, once the normal state has been identified by means of the definition of the abnormal (importantly also the process of standardization), two paths are created. The sense of the normal can be expanded by excessive, whitelisting, at the cost of increasing the possibility of its adulteration (the concerns over this process can be widely seen in the current refugee crisis) or the definition of the abnormal can be expanded, by excessive blacklisting, at the cost of an increasing homogeneity of the normal – further evidencing the relationships between each side of the sieve. As I’m writing this I’m becoming increasingly aware of the intense racial signifiers, the legacy of eugenics, in the technical terminology of acceptance and rejection.
This leads me quite nicely into camouflage -- the stowaway, the embedded parasite, the virus, -- which adopts or uses the body of one thing to pass through the enclosure of another. Abstracting the process of camouflage, it involves the exchange of your natural appearance to approximate the normative (Average) appearance of something other. Within the forest one does not mimic a tree exactly, but adopts a patterning that instead mimics the natural complexity of its elements. Camouflage design should consist of a variety of shapes, colors, and patterns that while blending in with their surroundings in both high and low contrast situations should not blend together in and of itself (an intricate pattern appearing as a solid due to local circumstances – distance/ lighting). In fact, within camouflage (of natural environments) one does not want to become normative, “no straight lines” is the most common piece of advice as to be normal, in a geometric sense, is, in fact, to be unnatural.