The Permanent Scars of WWI
Carved into landscapes for generations to witness
You can visit museums, read books, and watch documentaries, but to really feel history, to breath it in, is a completely different thing entirely.
WWI might not be a war that is on the top of most people’s minds, but in some places, it is a daily reminder.
From the border with Belgium at Lille to the border with Switzerland near Strasbourg, this most brutal of wars had torn a rupture through the land: It was ripped, cratered, pitted, charred by a billion artillery shells fired over four years. “Where there are no dead,” wrote Henri Barbusse, “the earth itself is corpselike.” A Frankenstein landscape, stitched and stapled together, which harbored in its flesh millions of tons of unexploded munitions and chemical weapons enough to kill an army, all over again.
Economically hobbled by war, and awed by the scale of the problem facing them, the French authorities developed a triage system: They surveyed the régions dévastées and drew up a series of maps that charted areas believed to be devastated beyond repair. In total, more than 460 square miles were classified in this way, shaded with a red pencil and declared no‑go areas. Though over the following decades, this total was much reduced, but near Verdun, where the land was choppier, steeper, more remote, and the damage total—a “biological desert,” as the French botanist Georges H. Parent described it—much remains off-limits.
Go out, travel, learn, and experience the world.
Especially while you still can.
Your humble servant,
P.S. The fun doesn’t stop when the episodes end! Come join me and let’s chat on MeWe!
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