In the class “We Are Making a New World,” we often talked about how little we know about the First World War and its impacts on the world, but I did not know how great my own disconnect with the First World War was until I came on this trip, especially with regards to environmental destruction. Even though there are many pictures of barren dead trees and the great scars upon the earth from mine craters, shell holes, and trenches, the environmental destruction still seems unimaginable and even to a certain extent impossible. Even now, after I have seen preserved trench lines, mine craters, and the damage from artillery on the land in person, I cannot picture myself in the midst of the destruction as it must have been during the war. Throughout our trip, I have tried to imagine the places I have been as they would have looked after bombardment, but for the life of me I could not.
Many wounds lay upon the environment still today through careful preservation of trenches and shell holes in memorial parks and some forests in France and Belgium. Even in some places where very little or nothing at all was done to preserve the state of environmental destruction, environmental impacts remain visible, especially in forested areas. However, in fields, one usually cannot tell that any fighting went on there at all. Human intervention on the land both wipes out the effects of World War One and keeps it around for all to see. I suppose that keeping the destruction around helps us remember the horror of the war to some small extent, and it is useful for historical and commemorative purposes, yet I feel that perhaps we do a disservice to the land by slowing its healing process. Thanks to human efforts, many types of plant and animal life do not inhabit preserved park sites. Even though these preserved sights are not common, it seems so selfish of humanity to refuse to let nature take its course, to forbid healthy ecosystems to regrow in the places where we have so cruelly killed them. It speaks to man’s want of dominance in the world as a whole.
Man feels that he has power over the world and can use the world as he pleases, but such behavior is irresponsible as man does not make reparations for the damages done after he exploits the land. Man creates great machines and weapons for the purpose of destroying other men, and unknowingly or unintentionally kills the environment too. The environmental destruction of World War One was not predicted. We take great pride in our technological achievements, yet we do not know the potential consequences of such technology. Either that, or we know that we hurt the environment with our technology, but we do not take the destruction seriously and let things get out of hand extremely quickly. We prove this again and again: atomic bombs, oil spills, pollution, global warming. World War One’s environmental destruction is evidence of man’s great ignorance of the dangers of his own technology.
We have made a new world, literally.
Now, here is what this new world looks like…
Some trenches at Newfoundland Memorial Park
The remains of a tree original to the war in the same park
Part of the grounds-keeping team at the Newfoundland park, helping to keep the trench lines visible
Lochnagar crater, so large that I could not capture it in one frame
A shell crater in Thiepval wood
The effects of artillery fire as seen at Vimy Ridge, a site that has been actively preserved
Hill 60, minimal preservation work has been done here, except by some sheep
A slope that is part of a large mine crater, again at Hill 60