7 Spaces 7 Spaces

Situation room

(T)he ultimate form… of the use of space to constrict perception and as alienation of some people from others, occurs in the ‘war rooms’ and operations planning rooms of military bureaucracies.

Murray Edelman, From Art to Politics, 1995

Any meeting separates its participants from the environment from which they are drawn. It constitutes a space apart, a vantage point from which participants view – that is, remember and imagine – the world around them. It’s a place of withdrawal, in the same way that churches have spaces for reflection and prayer. And some rooms are devoted explicitly to understanding, assessing and ultimately defining the situation.

I was greeted by my contact person from International Organization, who had little news but was eager to bring me upstairs to the recently established Situation Room. The ‘Sit Room’ – something assembled at the outset of any crisis as a nerve center for receiving and coordinating information – had three banks of phones, roughly 20 people milling in and out, and a makeshift map of Rwanda hung on the wall, the only marker of why we were all there. As we entered the room, my contact person requested everyone’s attention to relay news of the current situation in Kigali, which was rather sparse and highly speculative.

Michael Barnett, ‘The UN Security Council’, 1997

Salam Pax blogged from what was something like his own situation room. Living in war put information at a premium: his blog is shot through with references to sources of news and rumour, including Iraqi tv as well as other satellite, free-to-air, private and state-owned channels broadcast from different countries in the region; international news outlets such as ABC, the BBC and Reuters; party newspapers; other blogs, email and the phone.

We start counting the hours from the moment one of the new channels reports that the B52s have left their airfield. It takes them around six hours to get to Iraq. On the first day of the bombing it worked precisely.

4:41pm 23 March

Salam Pax, Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqi, 2003

Underground is a kind of inverse correlate of the situation room: underground activities are carried on surreptitiously, sometimes in disguise, always out of sight of those who might sit in situation rooms.

Underground is sort of a state of information control, rather than a place. It means having a lot of control about who knows what about who you are, and where you are.

Bernardine Dohrn, in Sam Green and Bill Siegel, The Weather Underground, 2003

‘The ultimate form…’: Edelman, ‘Architecture, spaces and social order’, op cit, p 86

‘I was greeted: Michael Barnett, ‘The UN Security Council’, op cit, p 552

‘We start counting…’: Salam Pax, The Clandestine Diary of an Ordinary Iraqiop cit, p 131

Bernardine Dohrn is interviewed in The Weather Underground, dir Sam Green and Bill Siegel, US, 2003, and this remark comes at min:sec 57:01