Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2000 years of Conflict – A Review

Battlescapes: A Photographic Testament to 2000 years of Conflict (General Military)
Alfred Buellesbach and Marcus Cowper
Osprey Publishing, 2009 220pg

Battlescapes is a beautiful collection of photos taken on the battle fields of Europe showing what they look like now. It’s a truism to say that the older the battle field the less field has obvious marks of the battles fought. At best, there are monuments places over the last hundred and fifty years. Often, as the text makes clear, the monuments say more about those who erected them, than those who fought the battle. If one did not have the accompanying text the photos would just look like lovely photos of fields full of crops or freshly plowed waiting for the coming season’s planting. It is all very bucolic and without the text you wouldn’t know that 100,000 died here, 50,000 there. It is only the more modern wars, especially World War I where you see the evidence of war. This is partly because the fields have been preserved, but it is also due to the intensity of the industrial war that reshaped the land so thoroughly and left large sections of it unusable, which the French called the Red Zones where the mix of biological waste and unexploded ordinance made for dangerous going. It is that intensity that make the images of the World War I battle fields the most interesting, especially those of the Italian front where they fought even more pointless battles in the Dolomites. The photos of the Dolomites are stunning and it is a wonder why anyone would bother. Moreover, while the old battle fields often have markers that have more to do with an growing sense of nationalism, and less to do with the battles, the markers for World War I have an ironic gesture, massive sentinels to massive waste and dedicated only shortly before the start of the next one. It makes for a good companion to Nigel Jones, The War Walk: A Journey Along the Western Front .

It is unfortunate, though, that such beautiful photos obscure what really happened. It is not the fault of the authors, it is the way nature erases what humankind destroys.