US Airstrikes Since Barack Obama Won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2009

On September 23, 2014, President Obama authorized air strikes against Islamic State targets in Syria. Glenn Greenwald, writing for The Intercept, published the article entitled “Syria Becomes the 7th Predominantly Muslim Country Bombed by 2009 Nobel Peace Laureate”. Inspired by the article, I decided to create an accompanying interactive map visualize the locations of the strikes.

Since there is no central source for this data, I had to find and merge it into a unified dataset, which required finding data for all seven countries. After extensive searching, I found Dronestre.am offered the data for Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, US Airdrops and Airstrikes (though the site is now defunct) listed instances of aerial attacks in Iraq and Syria, the Guardian had data pertaining to the NATO bombings of Libya, and Wikipedia was the only source I could find for airstrikes in Afghanistan.

These datasets include other information about the bombings, such as the intended target or operation name, but almost all also included the estimated death toll of the individual strikes. While initially looking for instances of aerial attacks in the Iraq Body Count data (of which there were actually none, and ultimately this dataset was not used), I found myself filtering through the data and deselecting events where the death was due to a ‘booby-trapped dog’, or a ‘bomb in a child’s toy’. Paging through thousands of these descriptions crowded my imagination with harrowing and vivid detail of what life must be like in a war zones.

Because news and statistics relating to military strikes are often abstracted away from the reality of witnessing this type of violent action, I felt like my visualization would be incomplete if I didn’t attempt to honor the dead in some way, regardless of the justification for why anyone had to be killed. And since US General Tommy Franks somewhat famously “We don’t do body counts”, I had to include the bodies in the graphic.

Photographs might be interpreted as too violating. Instead, I was inspired by Slate’s “How Many People Have Been Killed by Guns Since Newtown?”, I decided to fill the screen with graphical representations of people as the airstrikes occur over time upon the map.

– December 2014