1941 Allied Invasion of Lebanon & Syria: an Assemblage of Accident and Design in Aerial Bombardment

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Article published in The Funambulist 11 (May-June 2017) Designed Destructions. Click here to access the rest of the issue.

This research observes the controversial strata of accident and design that occurs in aerial bombardment, focusing on this evolving lived material condition in Lebanon and Syria. A long history of perpetrated violence, understood through the risk of armed conflict effects the built environment, domestic spaces and the people that live within this context. Creating an assemblage, whereby the intentional engineering of destructive force becomes disguised behind a series of state-led legitimating factors, which manipulate and make elastic, restrictions imposed through international laws on war. In the case that weapons are engineered to forcibly produce what might be considered “an accident” — inducing a break, fissure, or crack — a process of distantiation occurs, whereby the effects of violence are perceived to be beyond human control.

A detailed observation of the nuanced interplay between the accidental, or designed, destruction of the built environment in Lebanon attempts to produce a better understanding of the relationship between violent force and the value and profit it incurs through the necessary redevelopment of a city. Although aerial bombardment is largely understood as a spectacular form of violence, it also manifests and evidences itself structurally, through the evolving materiality of the urban environment, which rebuilds itself in response to both the worst-case-scenario (that has just occurred) and the further potential continuation of this violence into the future.

Accident and Design in Aerial Bombardment ///

In 1912, whilst Italy and Turkey were engaged in the Tripolitan War, two Turkish warships named the Awnullah and the Ankara, stopped at the Port of Beirut. The Italians soon followed and on the morning of February 24, three warships, the Garibaldi, Ferruccio, and Varese, arrived. Having challenged the Turkish warships to surrender with no answer, the Italians opened fire, engaging the Turkish ships in battle. After some resistance, the Turkish ships surrendered and the Ankara was sunk.

Kazan Funambulist 1
Damage done to the Salonica Bank, the Ottoman Bank, and the Customs House as they were left by the bombardment of Turkish warships named the Awnullah and the Ankara by Italian Forces / Illustrated London News of 16 March 1912.

The backdrop to this battle was the town of Beirut. The “misdirected fire” from the Italian squadron had killed and wounded a large number of civilians along with many buildings on the harbor front. The Italian forces declared that the damage caused to the town was unintentional, and appealed to the terms of Article 2 of 1907 Hague Convention, which stated that a naval commander is not answerable for unintentional damage caused by bombardment. The Turkish Government protested against this violation of The Hague Convention with no outcome as Article 2 allows specifically for the bombardment of “men-of-war in the harbor” in an undefended town or state. Therefore no accountability was incurred for damage or lives lost to the Port of Beirut, establishing it as a very early example of how international laws on war have been manipulated to legitimize violence.

International laws of war are rationalized around the desire to humanize war. They attempt to balance humanitarian concerns with military necessity. There are two fundamental principles that international law adheres to in keeping this balance, that of distinction and proportionality, which restricts belligerents from causing a disproportionate amount of damage for the advance of military gain. The changing nature of war between the First and Second World Wars, spurred on by advances in new technologies and developing rivalries between newly formed nation-states, first revealed the potential difficulties in applying international law as a restrictive force. The laws drafted in the 1899 and 1907 Hague conferences produced the fundamental foundation of modern laws on war, however the reluctance of the states involved in developing international law as a limit to sovereign power, meant the laws served to uphold rather than restrict the limits of military necessity.