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Bibliographic Data: Hevia, James L. The Imperial Security State: British Colonial Knowledge and Empire-Building in Asia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012.

Main Argument: Hevia states at the beginning that "the Indian Army Intelligence Branch, and the forms of knowledge it produced, is the focus of this study. The records of the Branch, its library, archives and correspondence, make quite clear the scope and depth of the epistemological project at the core of British imperialism" (2). Hevia argues "that military intelligence was a product of the new mechanisms of state formation, the disciplinary and regulatory regimes, to use Michel Foucault's terms, that transformed European states in the second half of the nineteenth century into militarized polities" (5). Hevia argues that studying the imperial intelligence apparatus leads one to appreciate "the role of the military in initiation, influencing, and implementing policy" (16). Also, "military intelligence not only framed imperial strategies vis-a-vis colonized areas to the east, but produced the very object of intervention: Asia itself" (ibid).

Historiographical Engagement: Foucault; Latour; Mitchell

Chapter 1: Argument, Sources, Examples Hevia notes the short shrift military intelligence has received among historians, particularly C19 military intelligence. He argues that the development of military intelligence cannot be understood without "the inauguration of a merit-oriented civil service system" and "the impact of empiricism and the natural sciences on modes of governance in Britain" in the second half of the C19, with the result that military intelligence became "a discipline believed to be governed by rational principles" (4). Military intelligence was, for Foucault, a key part of the military-diplomatic apparatus, which was itself "a network established between a heterogeneous set of elements such as discourses, laws, police measures, philosophical propositions, buildings and institutions" with "a clear strategic purpose and is always part of a power relationship" and, to quote Agamben quoting Foucault, "appears at the 'intersection of power relations and relations of knowledge'" (7). Military intelligence was one of four parts of this military apparatus within the system of peace. Hevia argues that this framework helps avoid the teleological trap of looking at C19 intelligence as the inferior predecessor of C20 by helping to recover what it meant to intelligence officers at the time; it "directs attention to the diverse techniques and technologies available at a particular moment and explores how their presence interacted with the broad task of intelligence" (8); and third, it de-romanticizes it, questioning sacred tropes such as the "Great Game." This term in particular is questionable given that it was not used by its players, it makes light of what was a real and violent struggle, and its origins are third-hand and romanticizing and from Kipling--it is in other words an ahistorical projection. Furthermore, it obscures the relation between science and empire, and also obscures the perception of empire in Asia in two distinct frames: the "Eastern Question," and the "Defense of India." They also obscure the fact that, as Hevia argues,
The information system the intelligence officers created was designed to command and control the space of Asia. Their efforts produced what Timothy Mitchell has termed a "rule of experts," a form of power/knowledge that has been either obscured or misunderstood by the Great Game emphasis to be found in most historical studies of Anglo-Russian relations in Central Asia. (14)
Chapter 2: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the military revolution of the C19 across Europe, changes partly driven by technology and partly by the emergence of managerial thinking, which transformed armies no less than it did business. On the continent, "the war-planning regime, with an attendant set of tools for reevaluating and re-engineering plans, became a permanent part of governance and hence a significant raison d'état from roughly 1871 forward throughout much of Europe" (20). The intelligence gathered by these war-planning units took two forms: military geography and "statistics," which included positivist descriptions of factual matters as well as figures. It is important to note that "war-planning always involved a comparative understanding of the military capacities of states," with the result that the same categories operated at home and abroad and rendered these regimes optically consistent (22). Britain did not adopt these particular institutions until after the Boer War exposed the Army's shortcomings.

Chapter 3: Argument, Sources, Examples That said, Britain did form an intelligence gathering apparatus in the second half of the C19, developments that "were directly connected to the development of a new imperial state formation" (34). These changes were a direct result of the institution of Royal and Parliamentary commissions, which combined with changes in the form of British colonialism to form a new kind of state. In the military and in civilian government, a "techno-elite" of experts came to the fore whose holding their jobs was based on their mastery of scientized knowledge and principles. All this together had the effect of refashioning imperial masculinity into a new form, "one associated with intense study and the capacity to manipulate complex technologies skillfully" (50). As a consequence of this, military engineers entered "into a new class of professionals" (ibid) who "not only had a major impact on state formation in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, but played a similarly critical role in India and other colonies where they were involved in road, railroad, harbor, bridge and telegraph construction projects, as well as being the key figures in the Trigonometric Survey of India and administrators for the Government of India" (51). All together, these officers learned "how to produce consitenly legible information and how to organize such information into a memory bank, a permanent archive" (52)--these are the skills of information systems, and these experts were above all masters of producing and using those systems.

Chapter 4: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the process of forming intelligence and making an archive, in which the printing press, and the role of print in fixing knowledge as current in time, was a key technology of information storage: "What came to constitute intelligence operated as heterogeneous elements of a network linking the arts of governance with new information technologies to create a security mechanism. Equally significant, it was through practices of collection, compilation and notation that intelligence gained its authority" (59). Hevia employs Latour's notion of the "center of calculation" to discuss the fact that "collecting, summarizing and updating are the activities by which data from far-flung regions is organized to enable fewer and fewer hands to command and control a vast store of information and allow for planning vast projects from great distances. … The raw material made into fact in the Intelligence Branch was part of the more general process of developing comprehensive knowledge in the domain of empire, knowledge that could then be deployed to reproduce the very disciplinary apparatus of its creation" (ibid). This information was categorized in a series of classification schemes that was universally applied and thus universally legible to any trained reader, and beyond distributing data into these categories, "it was also a map for the storage and recovery of data;" i.e. it formed both data storage and data recovery (i.e. a filing cabinet and an index) (60).

Chapter 5: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at disciplining the space of Asia through triangulation and route books, "one of which was produced by geographic survey and the other by peacetime reconnaissance" (73). They both involved manipulating space; "the disposition of bodies in space and the disposition of space itself were correlated and aligned with each other through the knowledge practices that were emerging in Europe in the nineteenth century" (ibid). Military surveyors and intelligence officers, often the same personnel, were the gents of this process. In the case of route books, space was organized "as a dismissible series of highly textured time/distance segments, resulting in a sequence of 'elementary stages of action' designed to make it possible for field commanders to strategically reduce friction all along the lines of communication" (78). Mapping similarly subordinated space to the imperial scientific gaze, passing from raw data to the Royal Geographic Society to the entire empire. At the same time, although intelligence officers imagined a complete imperial archive in the future, the archive was never finished, but was always in the process of becoming, and route books in particular needed care and updating. In the mean time, however, "route books and trigonometric mapping served to produce Asia as a series of known segmented spaces, locations that acted as either hindrances or facilitators to the flow of men and materiel" (91).

Chapter 6: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at military reports and the Intelligence Branch Library and their interactions in regulating the facts of Asia; as Hevia puts it, "the combination of reconnaissance missions, the library, and source materials generated by agents operating between Mesopotamia and North China was, by the 1890s, making legible an Asia constituted as a geo-strategic space; that is, as a space knowable in the service of potential defensive and offensive military operations" (110). Because the military reports were consistently formatted, they "produced a legible and optically consistent 'Asia,' an Asia that could be regenerated and regenerated on the basis of a fixed set of 'schematic categories,'" giving the illusion that Asia was knowable and known on these bases (111). They also constructed the Intelligence Branch as "the privileged vantage point' from which the facts and the space of Asia might be controlled and commanded" (ibid). Looking at the buildup of these reports over time in the case of Afghanistan, Hevia identifies "a kind of overlapping of military and diplomatic duties on the frontiers of empire, a blending or crossing of boundaries that might be contrasted with the seemingly clear division of labor that operated within the military-diplomatic apparatuses in Europe" (123). Hevia sums it all up by discussing the "military intelligence colonization" of Central Asia and later of China, concluding that "intelligence transformed China and the rest of Asia into a terrain of calculation and surveillance, into a geography to be rationalized, organized, and made visible through the expertise of intelligence officers, surveyors and draftsmen. This China was then incorporated into a security regime that few, if any, Chinese people were aware of" (151).

Chapter 7: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter looks at the uses of intelligence, and at the fact that outside of the library and the archive, there were "elements of uncertainty and indeterminacy in the usages to which the intelligence genres were put" (152). Evidence for these elements can be seen in "the growing strategic divide between the War Office and the Indian Army establishment," despite the fact that both bureaux were working from essentially the same, allegedly factual and objective, information (164). The human element intervened in the form of persistent allegations by both sides that the other's perspective was fundamentally incorrect (because not objective), whether that took the form of focusing too much on the grand scheme of things or on the local. The end result was that the intelligence genres the Indian Army Intelligence Branch pioneered "seemed to have been more useful for the critique of its practices than for formulating an authoritative techno-military plan for the defense of India and of the empire" (172). Far more disturbing than the ironies of military preparedness, however, is the way in which the military intelligence created "the essentialization of the martial races and the systematization and naturalization of particular characteristics imputed to those who resisted British hegemony in the region" (190)--in other words, the production of Orientalist stereotypes as objective fact, as well as the common-sense Orientalism that structured the whole thing, construing Asia as a realm of "savagery." Through these workings of the human element on the products of military intelligence, "the fanatic became an epistemological category," and it and other such categories accrued a real truth value over the decades as it "produced and justified from one generation to the next the forms of violence directed against the various Pathan tribes" (191). As Hevia says, "such fantasies inscribed within the scientific rationalists that blurred and confounded the line between fact and fiction, between the imaginary and the real" (192).

Chapter 8: Argument, Sources, Examples This chapter takes a further look at the effects of the imperial security regime in Asia and Great Britain. One such effect was the military reforms undertaken in Japan and in China, with wildly divergent results--in 1902 Japan signed a security alliance with Great Britain, while the haphazard military reforms undertaken in the Qing Empire after 1900 led directly, after its collapse in the 1911 revolution, to the era of warlordism that followed. In the question of military operations and colonial policy, the dissemination of stereotypes as intelligence had led to the promulgation of "the notion of savage warfare, as distinct from the civilized warfare held to be carried out among European powers, had become a norm in the military literature on warfare in Asia and Africa," and even more devastatingly, "it had also become common sense" (215). This binary of "civilized" versus "irregular" warfare was broadly acknowledged, but there was a fundamental asymmetry in the military intelligence apparatus: all the practical experience lay in Asia, whereas all the statistical knowledge and the imminent threat lay in Europe, and particular in Germany. [Under these circumstances, it is easy to see why colonial violence was exported back to the imperial metropole; it was what the Army knew.] It is also easy to see that military intelligence led, on the Northwest Frontier, to "a security regime of perpetual war and perpetual acts of revenge," and in China, "British atrocities became the key events in a 'century of humiliation,' the ideological cornerstone of Chinese nationalism to this day" (232). The counterpart of the imperial lessons delivered to fanatics and coolies were the imperial entertainments of pop culture served up at the metropole through popular media, with the result that in them "colonial warfare was elevated above the basest instincts of human nature onto a plane where duty, heroic masculinity, sacrifice and Christian piety found ample room for expression. Beside these selfless virtues also stood images of empire as high adventure and as an opportunity for almost light-hearted excitement" (247).

Chapter 9: Argument, Sources, Examples Hevia argues that
Asia was reconfigured through the same sorts of knowledge technologies that had earlier produced European states as precisely bounded, sovereign entities. Relations between such sovereignties would now be organized through military-diplomatic forms of knowledge and practices, and in this way, help resolve one of the problems presented by Asia: the chronic uncertainty over the strategic and political map of the vast continent. (249)
These technologies–the theory and practice of security–both allowed for the conceptualization of Asia as a whole and also constituted it "as a problem, one that demanded and justified interventions of many kinds…as unstable terrain occupied by suspect populations" (251). Hevia finds many continuities between British and American security practices in the region, most insidiously in Charles Callwell's theory of counterinsurgency resurfacing in such texts as the Petraeus counterinsurgency manual and other writings by U.S. Army thinkers. Although the British regime of military intelligence was predicated on engineering, and the 20thC American regime is "based on managerial science and technologies of administration, with social scientists added to government agency research teams" (258). The U.S. Army thus takes a systems-based approach, and it sees counterinsurgencies themselves as complex systems--or as new challenges requiring new tactics, such as "social network theory" [do you hear the drones? Network theory is how the Army decides which people to kill], with the end result that "much like the British before them, U.S. leaders seem to prefer military solutions to what are essentially political problems" (265), and the "tools of empire" common to both "obscure, however, the human costs of security regimes, the lost, shattered and warped lives created by military techno-scientific interventions and by the application of instrumental knowledge" (267-68): "The issue lies in the inability of those, be they engineers, artillery officers or systems analysts, to see beyond their technologies of knowledge, beyond the devices they place faith in to produce order. British and American security regimes provide no equations to calculate the tragedies to which Hafiz bears witness. There are no differential equations or metrics for life without life" (269).

Critical assessment: James Hevia's English Lessons is easily one of the best books I've read in graduate school, and I'm not surprised to be saying that this is another excellent study, although somewhat more restricted in scope. But the final chapter in particular brings it all home brilliantly--how empire perpetuates itself after its death, how colonial processes are turned on the metropole and vice versa, how no knowledge is ever neutral or apolitical and how history has real consequences. Brilliant.

Further reading: Hevia, English Lessons; Kipling, Kim; Mitchell, Rule of Experts; Charles Callwell, Small Wars

Meta notes: In the current phase of this story, we should all be very clear that we in the metropole are not the British Army intelligence officers, but rather the Chinese--and the subjects of these regimes in Asia and elsewhere are still subject to them, in an evolved form.


ahorbinski: shelves stuffed with books (Default)
Andrea J. Horbinski

August 2017

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