Battlefields are poignant landscapes where
physical geography has been
transformed into symbolic space through war, pilgrimage, memorialization and
tourism, and by its ambiguity as a living tomb for the missing. The vivid, visceral
imagery of battlefields, cemeteries and memorial monuments has impressed itself
on historical consciousness and on our cultural memory of war. For most people
these mental impacts come from pictures and words. Visits to actual battlefields
are not necessary to encounter them.
Battlefields are significant on a number
of levels: as places where major geo-
political issues were decided through conflict; as places of triumph and tragedy;
and as the source or inspiration for tactical or technological advances. Places like
the Somme, Verdun and Gettysburg are historic sites, sacred places, and the focus
of complex issues surrounding cultural heritage and the commemoration and
presentation of the past. At sites where authentic battlefield terrain has been
preserved, such as Vimy Ridge or Vicksburg, the visitor stands in a trench, or at the
edge of a shell hole or crater, or deep inside subterranean tunnels, and there is an
emotional sense of place, of intersecting the lives of the soldiers. Such locations
offer a reaffirmation of personal ties, a way of remembering, and of exploring
individual and collective identities.
Many of the past battlefields throughout
the world are considered if not exactly
sacred sites, then places of reflection and contemplation, where dozens or
thousands died defending some notion of nation. Whether battles were fought for
good reasons or bad, they are part of our collective history.
To the extent that battlefields are regarded
as holy sites, visitors might think of
themselves as pilgrims. This notion is apparent in Walter's (1993:72) study of a
World War II battlefield in which he describes what he and others experienced,
where "for a few moments [visitors] cease to be tourists and have connected with
something very deep."
Many old soldiers suspected that the withered
landscape of northern France and
Belgian Flanders would swarm with tourists once the First World War had ended. .
David Jones a survivor of the First World War Western Front campaign expressed
it this way
difficult with the weight of the rifle.
Leave it – under the oak.
Leave it for a salvage-bloke
let it lie bruised for a monument
dispense the authenticated fragments to the faithful.
… but leave it - under the oak.
Leave it for a Cook’s tourist to the Devastated areas and crawl
as far as you can and wait for the bearers.
Another war poet, Philip Johnstone, wrote
a sardonic poem about the sightseers
who would be drawn to the killing fields out of dread fascination and morbid
Ladies and Gentlemen, this is High Wood,
Called by the French, Bois des Forneaux,
The famous spot which in Nineteen-Sixteen,
July, August and September was the scene
Of long and bitterly contested strife,
By reason of its High commanding site.
Observe the effect of shell-fire in the trees
Standing and fallen ; here is wire; this trench
For months inhabited, twelve times changed hands ;
(They soon fall in), used later as a grave.
It has been said on good authority
That in this fighting for a patch of wood
Were killed somewhere above eight thousand men,
Of whom the greater part were buried here,
This mound on which you stand being …
You are requested kindly not to touch
Or take away the Company’s property
As souvenirs ; you’ll find we have on sale
A large variety, all guaranteed.
As I was saying, all is as it was.
This is an unknown British officer,
The tunic having lately rotted off.
Please follow me – this way …
the path, sir, please,
The ground which was secured at great expense
The Company keeps absolutely untouched,
And in that dug-out (genuine) we provide
Refreshments at a reasonable rate.
You are requested not to leave about
Paper, or ginger-beer bottles, or orange-peel,
There are waste-paper baskets at the gate.
1 David Jones, In Parenthesis (1937) part 7, pp. 183–186
2 Philip Johnstone, High Wood, cited in Paul Fussell, The Bloody Game (Scribners, London, 1991)
God - The belief in a Supreme Being
(or beings) continues to shape the lives of
billions, and forms the cultural and social framework of most modern
societies?even those that recognize religious freedom and diversity. Believers will
tell you that faith can provide comfort in times of sorrow, hope in moments of
desperation, and strength against temptation. But religion also defines the common
values of many societies, and provides a sense of group identity. Religious law
often forms the basis for civil law, helping to provide order, structure, and a sense of
Houses of worship the world over serve
as central meeting places, where members
of large and small communities gather to exchange news and discuss politics.
Religious leaders often wield great influence over their congregations, influencing
and informing their opinions on the critical questions of the day. Followers are
urged or encouraged to contribute money or labor to the faith, thereby increasing
and maintaining the power and prestige of their religious leaders.
Since the dawn of civilization, societal
leaders have sought to wield even greater
power by declaring themselves to be super- believers, high priests, or even minor
gods. The pharaohs of ancient Egypt were worshipped as earthly embodiments of
various gods, and the Kings and Queens of medieval Europe claimed to rule by
?Divine Right.? Conversely, Roman Catholic Popes have led armies in battle, lived
in luxurious apartments, kept mistresses, and even had children?behaving very
much like earthly kings.
Even in the most secular modern societies,
religion continues to play a major role in
politics. One of the largest political parties in Germany is the Christian Democrats.
The national flags of most Northern European nations are based on the Christian
Cross. The British monarch is also the titular head of the Church of England. In
America, where freedom of religion is Constitutionally guaranteed, politicians
continue to visit churches to make political speeches, and religious leaders
sometimes run for public office. Indeed, after the terrorist attacks in September
2001, President George W. Bush addressed a grieving nation with a stirring
address from Washington?s National Cathedral.
When piety and religious identity are
raised as virtues above all others, however,
the effects can be poisonous and divisive. Religious wars were the curse of
medieval Europe, when heretics and unbelievers were often tortured or burned at
the stake. Christian Crusaders visited terror upon the Arab Muslims in the Levant
for centuries. Strife between Anglicans and Catholics in England led to many
bloody conflicts, and still haunts Northern Ireland to this day. Muslim imams and
mullahs declare jihad against the ?Zionists and Crusaders? that occupy lands they
consider holy. The fundamentalist Taliban in Afghanistan destroyed centuries-old
Buddhist statues, oppressed the local populace, and harbored anti- western
terrorists. A theocratic government in Iran continues to arrest and brutalize those
who dare to oppose their rule.
mother's cousin, Walter Charles Kemp, Sergeant 46007, 120th Heavy
Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. Died 07/09/1918. Age 28 Son of Henry
and Emma Kemp of Aldeburgh. husband of Mary Teresa Kemp of
Rambler Cottages, Great Barton, Bury St Edmund's. Buried at Fins New
British Cemetery, Sorel-Le-Grand