how to kill a modern city/besiege a city/bring it to its knees.
i am not talking about military siege, in the full blown set piece battle between armies: i will leave that to the army types. i am speaking of civil affray when seemingly weaker foes set out to conquer the political and economic goliaths that are cities, and seemingly invulnerable. after all, they have the people and they have money, and they are used to running things.
they also have their weaknesses.
great cities in all cultures are riverine, built on the water. fresh water. vast supplies of drinkable, potable and good water.
not coincidentally, these cities will be found on the ocean, or great inland lakes, and will be great centers of commerce and trade, and as a derivative of that, they will be great centers of political influence and power, as noted above. but, if you look, the rivers will be there, and the great port cities of the world are also the places where riverine systems meet.
study a google map of new york city, or san francisco, or any great city, and you will find great rivers. and, in that very special case of los angeles, california you will find where a city has stolen someone else’s great river.
the secret to inducing the quick demise of a human being is to either inflict massive neurological damage, or to cause sudden & massive blood loss.
now, i am going to make an assertion about islamic terror which some of you may not find very politic. but, in my view, islamic terrorists are collectively about the biggest bunch of dumb sons o’ bitches who ever hit the pavement: oh, they are good at killing people, but they are quite incompetent at killing the modern city, and hence, societies. when it comes to the serious things, they are mere irritants.
that is because they look upon killing the modern city as a matter of inflicting neurological damage, to take out its brain, so to speak, so they go after targets which they think will have massive propaganda value, or will cause societal paralysis, or will demoralize. they repeat the same error as the strategic bombing of cities by the combatants of wwii committed when bombing the cities of each the other: all the bombing of cities did, except for the firebombing of dresden, tokyo, and the atomic bombing of hiroshimo and nagasaki, was serve to stiffen civilian resistance to attack.
it’s been studied. you can look it up.
modern democratic society can sustain massive neurological damage because the loci of power/neurological process are so numerous, and so widespread and redundant, that the society can function with much of its “leadership” incapacitated.
let us, therefore, turn our attention to the real vulnerability of the modern city. the secret is water, the very thing which gives it power and sustains it. drinking water. to deprive a modern city of water is to deprive it of its life blood.
the mechanism of delivering water to the citizens of a city is called “public works.”
the method of killing a modern city is to destroy that system of public works which delivers the drinking water to a city. do this thing, and you do not have to trouble with killing the individual inhabitants of a city one by one to conquer it, just as you do not have to kill each cell in a person to kill that person.
not surprisingly, the other great system of public works connected with water is the humble sewage system, not very often paid much attention to, unless you have ever had a toilet back up, or had your neighbor’s clog in the upstairs apartment above you.
but, i have a serious point to make.
cities are like kidneys. they have to process the waste out of the water, and pass it along as urine. and, if they do not, the bodies in which they are contained get very sick, very quickly. my older brother steve, who you will not find quoted in these pages very often, once said something very insightful about a dairygold cheese factory, as we were watching tanker truck after tanker truck delivery fresh whole milk for the facility. “everything that goes in,” he said, “has to come out. its either cheese, or whey, or dried milk solids, or it goes down the sewer. but, it all comes out.” the very same with a city. the water goes in and the water comes out, and if anything goes wrong at either end of the process, you have problems.
if you are somebody who is theoretically interested in the analytical problem of how to bring a city to its knees, and in a hurry, better to concentrate on the basic utilities of a city, and to attack that structure. you don’t have to kill the mayor, or the chief of police, as a matter of fact you will find the mayor rather an insignificant person when the gloss of demeanor and civility are stripped away from a populace which is dying of thirst, and hip deep in its own effluvia. (the polite wait of saying knee deep in shit.)
along the same line, the other great arterial systems supporting most modern cities are the highways, (& rail links) and the electrical utilities. all cities lie at the hub of great highway systems, designed to get traffic in and out. for the purposes of this analysis, i am totally unconcerned about the highways that move the average dead butt on its daily commute to work. no, i am focused upon those highways which move commerce, and produce, and food from the great heartland of america to the great docks of the inner city, for distribution to commercial vendors and grocers and the like. i am talking about that part of the city which operates from mid-night until dawn, and which gets people their food and supplies. the same observation would apply to the great rail hubs and docks, which do the same.
this utility is found in a place called harbor island, or terminal island, or some such, and it is a vast area where trucks roll in and out, leaving behind produce and meats and vast amounts of grain for the bay side flour mills, and haul out tremendous loads of this good or that good in container vessels for trips back inland. it is a vast assemblage of warehouses, docks and all night diners and filling stations which service the trucks and truck drivers.
it is concentrated, and it is highly vulnerable to disruption and damage. it is where the markets and brokers are, for shipping, produce, meat and poultry and the other links to the great futures’ markets of the midwest.
if you will look at any map of any city and its environs, you will find places where the roadways are exposed to attack, sabotage and destruction. and, at almost every point along a roadway, the route’s into a major city are subject to interdiction. were things to come to a pass where the major cities of the united states found themselves in conflict with the rest of the country, say, hypothetically speaking a split along social and economic and political values, it would seem that those people who have what are called conservative values have a real source of leverage on the modern city. what goes into a city from the country, simply put, is far more important to the city folks than what comes out of the city for the “benefit” of the country cousins. quite frankly, the city makes fashion and controls economic values, whereas the country makes raw goods and food. we country types can do without the fashion, but i don’t think the city slickers can do without water and food for very long.
in this analysis, it truly would make no difference of any substance were the city folks to interdict the usual items of commerce going to us country folk: we really do not need a new i-pod every year, when it comes right down to it. but, for country folk to systematically interdict produce and food stuffs going into the cities by the truckload, it would make a major impact on the cities, very quickly. if you don’t think so, please remember what a few tractors on the freeways of france did to the parisian breadbaskets and markets a few years ago: they crippled commerce, until they got the government concessions they were after.
the roads and the trucks are the esophagus to the city’s stomach. and, just as a city thirsts, attack it here, or attack this system, and it hungers. mightily. again, you will notice the hayseeds do not need a massive military force to interdict freeway commerce, as every modern country still beset by roadside banditry will show.
the other key public work is the electrical utility. people are familiar with substations and the like, but for every neighborhood substation, there is a giant system which is in charge of carrying electricity from where it is generated to where it is used, in the city.
each city will be something of an entity unto itself, given the differences in topography and the like. that is why each city has to be studied individually, to find where its vulnerabilities lies, and where they may be exposed and attacked.
let’s go back to the water system, and let’s look at new york city.
every now and again you read of some farfetched plot of someone wanting to poison an open reservoir, and killing in that manner. far simpler to turn off the entire water supply.
new york city is blessed with some of the best drinking water on earth, and that is because new york city does not take it out of the mouth of the hudson river. the water that feeds new york city is drawn from the lakes and streams of upstate new york, in the catskills, and then is carried in conduits, ditches, aqueducts to large holding systems just north of the city, and then pumped at huge pumping stations into town. there are older aqueducts and tunnels and such that are remnants from an older era, and might be pressed into service if the modern systems were damaged, as soon as the tunnel explorers could be hustled out of them, but they do not have the carrying capacity of the newer systems, nor do they deliver water to all points of the city.
this system is vast, and it is complex, and it is open and it is vulnerable to attack at almost all points along its route. it is a vast network, and comprises 100’s of miles of target which cannot be adequately guarded. were a person to disrupt the main flow of water into new york for a week or more, he could do much to weaken new york city, and could very well throw the city into chaos.
let’s look at the water system which feeds los angeles, california.
that water supply is basically the colorado river, diverted to first feed the massive orange groves of los angeles, and now devoted to supplying the thirst of its inhabitants. it, as new york city’s, is a vast structure of dams, tunnels, ditches and aqueducts, which lie open and unguarded for much of their length. it is a huge, and tremendously expensive infrastructure, and incredibly vulnerable to attack along is entire length. the center piece of the entire system is a series of dams and lock works, tremendously open to attack by explosives.
now, were a person seriously interested in laying siege to a modern industrialized city, he could do far worse than laying systematic and well thought out attack upon the water and sewage systems, at the same time as interrupting commerce in and out of the city. sorry, but you could not truck enough bottled water to new york or los angeles to water the people, … , and, from a lack of water, keep them from swimming in their own feces. the other aspect of attacking a sewer system is that doing so raises the specter of disease pandemic almost immediately, in the form of typhus and other such diseases.
how would you take out a municipal sewer system, if you had a brain in your poor stupid feeble head?
well, you could get about 100 foot soldiers, sappers and demolitions guys altogether, plan and train, and then attack a sewer treatment plant, and hold it against determined counterattack for the several hours it would take you to lay your explosives, and detonate them, and then you could fight your way out of the whole thing. you would get pounded.
or, you could get a little gas delivery truck, and go around the various parts of the city where your public works department has indicated as a matter of public record the location of main sewer trunk lines, drain some gas into adjacent storm sewer lines, wait a bit, and touch it off. this has happened inadvertently in several places, and it just takes a street, and all the utilities under and about it, including sewer mains, power boxes, and the like, and churns into a huge pile of rubble, towering above the former street level about 6 or 8 feet. it makes an unholy mess, and it just destroys all the utilities buried beneath the street, and often times, servicing the buildings along the street. a commercial building is like your house, it has an electrical service where it taps into the electrical grid: when these things are blown up, or flooded (as happened several years ago in chicago’s business district, and which is a recurrent public works night mare given the location of the city and the water level of the lake), then commerce stops being had in that building. simple as that.
a modern city is absolutely vulnerable on this score. what is a city to do, block off every storm drain, and cement shut every man hole in a city, or put two armed policemen on each such facility city wide. it simply is not in the cards.
the same principles apply to attacking roads and rail links into cities.
you don’t have to blow up every foot of roadbed in a highway or a rail way, to isolate a city. just a little bit will do, at the right places.
take for example seattle, washington. seattle is built on elliot bay, and sits astride lake union, lake washington, and numerous water ways. from the north you get into the city by i-5 and old u.s. 99, and numerous other roads and older arterials. from the south, the same. from the east, you come across several floating bridges spanning lake washington: the bridges are essentially highway decks layed across moored barges. occasionally they sink, when a workman forgets to close a hatch.
an absolute piece of cake to sink.
were somebody to take out the floating bridges, (the approaches on either side of which on the lower end of the lake are through massive tunnels, … , hello?), and several bridges on 1-5 north and south, traffic in and out of seattle would be severely curtailed.
but, remember, someone intent on interrupting the services to a city doesn’t necessarily give a rip about disrupting the daily commute.
no, if you are intent on laying siege to a city, you are intent upon interrupting the life line of that city, destroying its water supply, and cutting it off or restricting its food supplies. and, here, seattle is very vulnerable, because a lot of its distribution and docking facilities are very concentrated, and connected by rail and truck traffic which moves along very narrow and restricted arterials, and which must cross a whole series of bridges and elevated roadways to reach its destination.
what would atlanta, georgia be without its water supplies and air conditioning during the summer?
were this country to become engaged in protracted civil conflict, it would not make much sense for those opposed to cities to do battle in great set piece battles against city slickers somewhere out in the open countryside, in my estimation.
were it just so to happen that rural types, who don’t tend to live on the high rent high ground big scenery high priced real estate shore front property in the cities, to take on the city slickers, it would seem to make more sense, say, for a hypothetical right wing extremist type, to carry the fight right to the city slickers where they live, e.g., drink water & eat food and eliminate it. give those people a scarcity of the former and an over abundance of the latter around and up over their ankles, and see how much fight is in them.
the city slickers want food, let them drive from seattle to yakima to buy apples. the city slickers in new york city want food, let them drive to seneca to buy apples, or, to yakima, for that matter. (do you know that the port of walla walla county, right on the mouth of the snake river where it enters into the columbia, near the tri-cities, washington has a rail terminal that ships rail cars on express trains, e.g., they have the right of way, they do not get shunted off for other trains, … , directly to new york city, the freight being general produce, fruits and vegetables. i have bought fruit on the streets of lower and mid manhattan, and guess where it was shipped from? where do you think you get your fresh cherries? oh, yes. and, if you are a new yorker, you don’t think 3,000 miles of railroad track is not susceptible of interruption and/or destruction?)
these are just theoretical mumblings, of course, much along the lines of war gaming and the like. it does make, however, for interesting speculation, doesn’t it.
if you are interested in such matters, you may simply get on the computer and look at the public works web sites for a given city, or, if you are local you may access the auditor’s or assessor’s office of the appropriate jurisdiction, or the county or city planning department, and right before you, as a matter of public record, are the locations and values of the little bits of infrastructure i have discussed above.
i do not know how many persons who were relatively serious and bent to the task it would take to lay siege to seattle. but, you know, not really too many with the proper skill sets could do quite a bit of mischief in a short matter of time.
take for instance, what is called a high tension electrical transmission line. they are all over the northwest, and if you are too damned retarded to figure out where they are, i suppose you could go to the great hydro-electric dams and coal fired generators which dot the landscape, and simply follow one in the right direction. (anyone ever been to wyoming and montana, and seen the incredible power plants there? any of you ever stop at the jim bridger plant, to look at the 4 smoke stacks and scrubbers at this place, towering 500 feet into the air. you ever wonder where the power transmission lines go? well, i can guarantee you, not many go to cheyanne. they stretch for hundreds of miles into the power grids going to southern california, and they are unguarded the entire way. absolutely unguarded, in the middle of more nowhere than you have ever seen in your life. some of you really ought to get out of the city, and see how much “here” is out here: it would literally boggle your mind. the space and emptiness, you would probably find profoundly disquieting.)
do you know that high tension wires are not insulated?
if you could manage to drape a heavy cable or chain over such a system of lines, to the ground beneath, (without frying yourself to an absolute crisp) you would put the entire current carried on that line to “ground.” (that is why they call the “ground” the “ground,” because the current goes to the place of infinite attraction and capacity to absorb it, … , zip zip, just like that.) it would cause a situation, depending upon the skill of the mischievous types draping the cable & and their skill in choosing the place to ground the lines, well something along the lines of a great blackout.
it is precisely the situations which have caused the great blackouts on the eastern seaboard, specifically new york city. someplace in the system, and excess of demand is created, in essence creating ground. all current seeks “ground,” along the path of least resistance. so, the blackout is caused by all systems in the grid dumping current into the ground, and the ground simply absorbs all the power and all the electrical current. at the risk of being repetitive, zip zip, just like that.
what if new york were to have the function of its water supply and sewer systems significantly impaired, so that water was curtailed and sewer backed up, about the same time as it were to suffer a black out or series of blackouts, (remember, there is a lot of “ground” out there, a whole world of it, you might say), and to have it food supply and distributions systems curtailed.
for a week? for a month?
new york city is the center of a vast power grid, where electricity is moved from one part of the region to another to cover local demands, and to make up for local shortages of power, such as are covered by the scheduled shut down of coal fired generator plants, or co-gen plants which supply power and heat to large structures or manufacturing facilities.
new york has as a principle supply of power a great hydroelectric facility at niagra falls, new york. giant transmission lines from this facility lead all over the northeastern united states. and, oddly enough, in that part of northern new york, there are vast tracks of land where those transmission lines are vulnerable to sabotage and other forms of damage. great majestic sweeps of transmission line are strung between lattice work towers, huge erector set structures that are engineering marvels, … , and marvels that are horrendously susceptible to being knocked over by having a “leg taken out” by skillful sappers. were one or several or perhaps more of such towers toppled all at once, blackout would be almost sure to occur.
a series of such attacks upon major cities, or a series of such attacks upon the great cities of the eastern seaboard, could in fact kill one or more cities, but plunging it into an abyss of chaos and disorder, and public disturbance. were such a city an opponent in a civil dispute amongst a divided citizenry, it would be to effectively take that city out of the fight.
now, cities could retaliate i suppose, in some sense, by bombing corn fields and defoliating or burning vast stretches of wheat field, and severally damaging the productive capacity of the country side. and, just whom, i might inquire, would that hurt? the country folk of this nation produce more than enough to feed themselves on a very miniscule percentage of the acreage that is put into agricultural production: the great percentage of their produce goes to feed the cities.
do you get the picture?
i have this general observation, then I will cease all this hypothetical meandering.—
when i was a kid, and well beyond being a kid, i used to love reading isaac asimov. he was something of a genius in looking at things like this, and he made a wonderful general point. edifices, structures, systems and the like, are really increasingly weakened as they assume a seeming strength and imposing aspect, due to ever growing layers of complexity and interconnectivity: asimov knew targets when he saw them. it is because the larger and more complex a system is, the more interdependent are its parts, and the more vulnerable the whole of the structure is to attack and destruction of those parts. and, of course, the larger the edifice, the more points open which are vulnerable to attack.
the modern city is like the cartoon characters “the incredibles.” lots of muscles, little tiny delicate feet. they are robust economic and social dynamo’s, yet they are sustained by incredibly delicate systems, which are always working at absolutely the brink of full capacity, with very little margin of error or supply.
disrupt the water supply to los angeles for a couple of days? maybe you got some reasonable angelians?
disrupt the municipal water supply to milton freewater for a month? hells bells, i will carry water from the river for what i need: i hunt elk, i do not require smelling good, just so long as i am not thirsty.
john jay @ 07.31.2009
sounds plausible enough, doesn’t it. but, there is something that must be taken into consideration here.
and that is, all these great systems are more than just buildings and dams and water purification plants. they are also people, comprised of systems engineers, and people who keep track of snow packs and make estimates on reservoir capacities and stream flows, and who account for disparate water flows from year to year, and droughts, and how to compensate for injuries to the system, … , and, how to keep the water flowing. i am not sure but that the new york city water system does not have a contingency plan for an absolute failure of the system, and perhaps pumping out of the hudson river.
but, they really don’t expect it to happen, now, do they.
yes, they have reservoirs to cover low water situations.
but, what is this reservoir? it is a point of attack, it is a target of opportunity.
each pumping station that delivers water to a localized neighborhood, is a target of opportunity.
and, there is another factor at work here, and it is topography. now, you could attack the erie canal from now until doomsday, and you would accomplish very much: i don’t even know if there is any flow to the erie canal, and if there is, it is just enough to keep it from becoming a stagnant pond. blow up the stone work along it course, and the net effect is, … , well, … , nothing.
not the case with the water system for new york city coming out of the catskills. now, the catskills are not much for mountains by my standards, really pretty small. but, there is fall, and there is gradient, … , and what this means, is that the waters flow. if one were to breach a canal at any point where there is slope away from it, while damaging a “head gate” above it regulating flow through the canal, then the rush of water through that breach would do the rest, taking away vast stretches of canal wall, and draining vast amounts of water essentially unrecoverable.
now, i can go down to the walla walla river and get a gallon of water a day, and i have the ability to make it potable even if the electric grid is down. i just don’t think new york city, however, could deal with the prospect of 8 million people going down to the hudson and trudging back to their high rises, and dealing with the issue of boiling the water and maintaining basic sanity in their dwellings and surroundings.
the modern city is a finely tuned, and acutely balanced mechanism. it simply will not stand much sand in the works.
so, yes, i believe my hypothetical meanderings show the way for an opponent of the city structure to bring it to its knees, and relatively efficiently, at that, and before defenses could be mobilized to cover its weaknesses.
the city is a might bulwark of a nation, if it chooses to be so. separate and apart and perhaps warring with that nation, which finds itself politically, socially, morally and ethically estranged with that nation, and the city is a colossal weakling, really almost defenseless.
along this line of discussion, that being the estrangement of urban populations from the hayseeds like myself, one should note something. if you will look at the u.s. dept. of defense statistics for war fatalities in iraq and afghanistan these past years, which i have, you will find an arresting fact: you will note that the cities of this nation have not given the life blood of their youth to the nation’s defense, or to its strategic interests. city slickers are too fucking sophisticated to imitate the rubes and go off to war to be killed.
and, there is something else. if you look at the state of washington dept. of labor statistics on on the job fatalities, you will find far more washingtonians killed in industrial accidents than in our nation’s wars. and, the most dangerous occupations are farming, logging and fishing. in my mind, there is little to keep me from understanding why i like and adore sarah palin so much: she is simply one of us. she understand us, and we understand her, and we like each other. we regard genuine men and women when we regard one another.
we have the people with the military experience, and the job toughness, to kick the living shit out of the urbanites. we have the mountains, and we have the hills, and we know how to get in and out of them. i betcha there are more milton freewaterites who know manhattan, than the opposite. eh?
considering the matter in a purely hypothetical sense, if it comes to it, and this country tussles on a division of political, social, ethical, moral and religious grounds, … , roughly the split between the city and the country, i am thinking that the countryside takes the city down. just kicks the living shit out of it. jjjay