Most of you know the story where the British and the German troops stopped the war, the first of the world wars in fact, for a few hours on Christmas day, so they could escape the devastation of the battlefield and the lack of logic behind the mindless killings, freeze death in its tracks for a fleeting few hours – to play soccer.
The game may since then symbolize a peace of mind, I am not sure. Not really a big fan but nevertheless I hold deep respect for those who are passionate about it – much as I respect anyone who is deeply passionate about anything, whether I agree with them or not.
So why now? Why after an entire year of feeble entries and reposts of my past materials on this blog am I writing an entry about a soccer game that froze time, froze the war, at least for those who held the truce on that day in Belgium, at the heart of the Western Front? Ok, well, I am in fact not going to write about this epic truce, it is just something that sparked a memory as I prepare to write about something completely different: the ecological damage wars and conflicts inflict on the environment. In places in fact where biodiversity is rampant, and I will soon start posting examples and short articles about all of these, and all throughout 2020! So that is the final big news of this year on my end, as it draws to a close.
The fact that the will of men is capable of calling truce, even for a few odd hours, or a day, imagine what can be done if that will is diverted to calling a permanent truce on man’s ongoing war on the environment. So, yes, this post is a quick heads up, but it is also a briefer about what went down in the Western Front between 1914 and 1918 – from an ecological perspective.
In Flanders where soldiers from the two sides played soccer, the trenches were so closely dug that should they wish (and they did) they could converse with each other. The forest was a labyrinth of these defensive gorges. The ecosystem all across the Western Front in fact was ploughed up by trenches, craters dug deep by aerial bombardment, and land left barren by scorched earth tactics. As the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line in 1917, they set ablaze anything and everything behind them. This was part of Operation Alberich, and the aim was to leave a “desert” for the enemy in which they could find nothing to feed on, shelter under or keep warm with. Entire villages, the whole of the countryside was annihilated, and yes, all these happened in the heart of Europe. Here is a wonderful site where you can read in great detail about Operation Alberich and other instances of wartime and ecological ruin conducted between 1914 and 1918 by both the Axis and the Allies.
The destruction in the boreal forests of Białowieża, where herds of the European bison was driven to near extinction by those stuck and starving, is one of the many instances where wartime destruction almost removed a keystone species from its ecosystem. Well, the bison is doing relatively well, thanks to conservation efforts in the area, but the will and the potential of human species to wipe out entire ecosystems remain solid.
And wars continue to rage on, devastating sensitive habitats in their wake. And the war-scapes look much the same as they did a century ago. Here is an excerpt from Keller’s recap of World War I:
In the heat of battle, artillery units fired several hundred rounds an hour. Although their range rarely extended beyond twenty kilometers, the guns obliterated nearly everything within reach. Chemical weapons added to ecological turmoil. Chlorine, phosgene, and mustard gases asphyxiated animals and humans alike. The deformed landscape trapped the deadly vapors in shell holes and the seams of trenches. Burnt earth, rotting corpses, and craters like cauldrons with a horrid brew of mud, gore, and the green-yellow mists of stale gas struck the troops as the very image of hell.
Battlegrounds left barren, piles of dead bodies left to rot and the smell of death sticking to every single thing, dead or alive. Imagine. Not a single blooming flower left in the barenness. That is what war looks like. And it is being fought all over, in the Middle East and elsewhere.
Like I said, this is just a minor heads up. More will follow in the year ahead, so stay tuned, subscribe to the mail list or drop in every once in a while to check. And as you do all that do not forget to have a happy new year!