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Inf@Vis!

The digital magazine of InfoVis.net

War
by Juan C. Dürsteler [message nº 115]

War, like any other human activity, is susceptible to being the subject of visualisation. It can also be used for its own purposes. In this article we’ll see some examples. 
DragonNRL.jpg (45094 bytes)
Dragon Battlefield Visualisation System in 3D. Developed by the Virtual Reality Lab of the Naval Research Laboratory of the  US Navy.
Click on the image to enlarge it. 
Source: NRL Naval Research Laboratory 

I never thought that I would write an article about war and visualisation. Nevertheless the perturbing events that surround the current situation of Iraq have motivated me to write this article

Several aspects attract my attention:

Visualisation in and for war.

From a technical standpoint visualisation will be evermore present in the battlefield. The science fiction scenarios where combatants can see images about the environment superimposed on normal vision, with information related to the position of friends and foe, are on their way to becoming reality.

The US Navy Naval Research Laboratory is working, in its Virtual Reality Lab, on several projects among which stand out the Dragon Battlefield Visualisation System and BARS (Battlefield Augmented Reality System)

Knowing what the surrounding environment looks like and where the friend and foe troops are located have been and continue to be key aspects of military tactics. Dragon  substitutes the “sand table” where the battlefield is simulated for its virtual 3D equivalent (see the attached illustration), BARS is a wearable computing system that provides information overlapped onto normal vision about the surrounding buildings, their functions and structure the position of friends and detected foes along with other relevant information for the urban battlefield.  

But the visualisation of the different facets of the conflict appear to me to be more relevant than these technical aspects.

I’m not aware of visualisation systems that cover all the aspects in an integral way. But some visualisation can help us to understand better some facets of its geometry. For example the on-line version of the Spanish newspaper “El Mundo” offers an interesting infographic about the positioning of the different countries in the U.N. security council.

Regarding the relevance of oil in the conflict you can take a look at the data about consumption, reserves and global production that BP gives in Excel format. You can see that Iraq is the world’s second largest oil producer and the US, with about 5% of the world’s population is the first oil consumer accounting for 25% of the total yearly consumption. 

An example of thematic maps is the Perry-Castañeda collection of the University of Texas  that contains maps mostly originated by the CIA that cover from politically dissident areas to the supposed location of biological weapon production facilities.

Regarding the effects of the embargo and child mortality in Iraq you can see the 1999 UNICEF report that shows the increment of mortality in the recent years. To some civilian organisations they show the uselessness of the embargo in helping to disarm Saddam Hussein and the cruelty of ruining the civil population that suffers him. 

On the other side, the US state department, in the document Saddam Hussein's Iraq argues, using their own charts, that it’s Saddam’s regime who is creating obstacles to humanitarian help.

Last week’s global mobilisation against war in many cities has also received graphical attention. An example of this are the graphics of the demonstrations in Madrid and Barcelona made by “El País” newspaper in its issue of Feb, 16th.

ManiBarna.gif (274424 bytes) iraq-explained.gif (60248 bytes)
Demonstration against war in Barcelona, Spain. The completely crowded streets of the city are depicted in black. The foreseen route was scheduled between points 1, a and B. Wider streets are 65 m wide. This route summed up 1.9 Km.
Click on the image to enlarge it (268Kb). 
Source: EL PAIS, Sunday Feb 16. 2003. Page 24.
Satirical strip about the war. Logotypes of several oil trading companies used to illustrate a satirical text. 
Click on the image to enlarge it .
Source: Democracy Means You. Based in an anonymous e-mail, illustrated by Ian Kleinfeld.  

Finally, activist organisations like Democracy Means You use very efficient visual representations to satirize the US government’s pro-war arguments. 

It’s impossible to summarise here the many forms of visualisation that address in one way or the other this worrisome situation. Maybe the most relevant conclusion is that Information Visualisation, as any other branch of science, can be used to enlighten the mind so as to obfuscate it, to support one side or the opposite side’s arguments.

Disinformation and biased information bloom in situations like this. As Hiram Johnson* said “the first casualty of war is truth”. 

Let’s hope that the war can be avoided since, besides the truth, the main victim of it will be the Iraqi people, who have suffered too much already.


* Hiram Johnson, republican senator for California in 1918, to whom the phrase “The first casualty of war is truth” after World War 1 is attributed.

Links of this issue:

http://www.ait.nrl.navy.mil/vrlab/   Virtual Reality Lab of the Naval Research Laboratory
http://www.ait.nrl.navy.mil/vrlab/projects/Dragon/Dragon.html   Dragon Battlefield Visualization System
http://www.ait.nrl.navy.mil/vrlab/projects/BARS/BARS.html   BARS (Battlefield Augmented Reality System)
http://www.elmundo.es   Website of the Spanish newspaper El Mundo
http://www.elmundo.es/elmundo/2003/graficos/feb/s1/onu.html   Infographics about UN Security Council (in Spanish)
http://www.bp.com/centres/energy2002/2001inreview.asp   Review 2001 by BP
http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/iraq.html   Perry-Castañeda map collection, Univ. of Texas
http://www.unicef.org/reseval/iraqr.html   UNICEF's 1999 report about child mortality
http://usinfo.state.gov/regional/nea/iraq/iraq99.htm   Saddam Hussein's Iraq State Dept. USA
http://www.elpais.es   Website of the Spanish newspaper El Paísl
http://www.democracymeansyou.com/   Democracy Means You website
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