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- Author: Chris Pearson x
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This book traces the creation, maintenance, and contestation of the militarized environments from the establishment of France's first large-scale and permanent army camp on the Champagne plains in 1857, to military environmentalism in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In doing so, it focuses on the evolving and profoundly historical relationship between war, militarization, and the environment. The book treats militarized environments as simultaneously material and cultural sites that have been partially or fully mobilized to achieve military aims. It focuses on the environmental history of sites in rural and metropolitan France that the French and other militaries have directly mobilized to prepare for, and to wage, war. They include such sites as army camps, weapons testing facilities, and air bases, as well as battlefields and other combat zones, but not maritime militarized environments, which arguably deserve their own book. First World War cemeteries and the memorial landscapes of the D-Day beaches remain places of international importance and serve as reminders of the transnational character of many French militarized environments. And although the book focuses on the environmental history of militaraization within metropolitan France, it speaks to issues that mark militarized environments across the globe, such as civilian displacement, anti-base protests, and military environmentalism. By focusing on the French case, the author aims to encourage reflection and discussion on the global issue of military control and use of the environment.
Militarization and post-armistice demilitarization had been active and hybrid processes. This chapter explores the history of militarized environments between 1918 and 1940 that was characterized by the lingering physical and cultural legacies of one war and the ever-heightening fears, and then arrival, of another. It begins the story with the devastation wreaked by the First World War. As battlefield tourism increased after the cessation of hostilities, the guidebooks portrayed a war-ravaged land. War-damaged forests that pre-existed the Western Front would simply be subsumed within the new forest. The afforestation programme was therefore poised to transform the region. Cemeteries and memorial sites gave sections of the red zone a national purpose by turning former battlefields into sites of remembrance and commemoration. The trauma and immense loss of life during the First World War made the French determined to avoid another war.
This chapter considers how the French experienced and challenged the foreign militarization of their country from the German occupation that began in 1940 to the withdrawal of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in 1967. It examines how Axis, Allied, and NATO forces mobilized nature during this period. As well as establishing the Colleville-sur-Mer and other cemeteries in the postwar period, the USA occupied other sites across France under the framework of NATO agreements. With French armed forces defeated and reduced to 100,000 men charged with maintaining law and order under the terms of the 1940 armistice, German occupation troops were the main instigators of environmental militarization between 1940 and 1944. Occupation forces did not monopolize the mobilization of nature between 1940 and 1944. As the occupation continued, the hills, mountains, and forests of France became places of refuge and resistance.
This chapter explores the 'greening' of French militarized environments. It argues that since the 1990s the military has tried to 'green' its relationship with the environment, motivated by the desire to reduce the likelihood of civilian complaints and to align itself with an environmentally attuned age. The military mobilizes animals to justify its presence and control of national territory. Sheep, birds, snakes, and butterflies have unwittingly become militarized 'companion species'. The presence of endangered species has drawn the military into collaboration with civilian environmental organizations. Whatever its flaws, the inclusion of militarized environments with the Natura 2000 network aligned military environmentalism with civilian sustainable development goals. Neutralizing the remnants of wars and military training contained within the French soil is an extended and ongoing process. Farmers and others have unearthed the explosive debris of war from former battlefields for decades.
This chapter focuses on the civilian mobilization of nature, which turned militarized environments into zones of conflict between civilians and the military. Cries of alarm from civilian officials and local populations greeted the government's 1962 decision to create France's largest military base on Canjuers plateau in the Provencal hinterland north of Draguignan. The decision to create Canjuers was a fait accompli. Protesters therefore turned their attention to securing maximum compensation rates. Efforts to maintain hunting rights fitted seamlessly within long-standing concerns of civilian protests against militarization. Although the army tried to gloss its activities at Canjuers as environmentally friendly, it faced other criticisms regarding its stewardship of the French countryside. Despite some local cooperation, foresters across France attacked the army's environmental credentials in the early 1970s. In Cold War France, military planners repeatedly toyed with the idea of expanding Larzac Camp.
Decolonization gave the French Cold War-era militarized environments a particular twist. Through a focus on militarized environments this chapter sketches out some of its environmental dimensions. France's humiliating and rapid defeat in 1940 underscored the need for military reform in the postwar era. As it battled against civilian opposition in metropolitan France, the army engaged in bloody and morale-sapping wars against decolonization as the Fourth Republic struggled to hold onto France's colonies. Forged within the context of Cold War geopolitics, Gaullist foreign policy and the development of ever more powerful weaponry prompted the military to seek new and larger territories. Alongside strengthening France's conventional forces, Gaullist foreign policy placed the possession of a nuclear strike force as a central pillar of French national security and a technological guarantee of French autonomy.
From the creation of Châlons Camp to military environmentalist policies in the twenty-first century, the French and other militaries have mobilized nature within France to prepare for and wage war. Although war and militarization are profoundly human activities, they can only take place through the active and at times difficult mobilization of nature. Dead animals, flattened forests, ruined fields, polluted sites, and lost homelands need to be added to war and militarization's impact on France. At Suippes Camp, the civilian presence within the militarized environment is hidden but largely consensual. Beyond military-civilian cooperation over hunting and the management of the Natura 2000 site, Suippes Camp is a site of memorialization. In the 1970s and 1980s Abbé Kuhn, priest of Sommepy-Tahure, produced a number of publications on the ruined villages, outlining their 'calm and peaceful' pre-1914 history and subsequent destruction during the war.
This chapter outlines the Western Front's environmental history to show how the First World War was fought in, through, and against nature. If sterility implies the absence of life and infertility, it seemed that the war had sterilized vast swathes of northern and eastern France. The mobilization of terrain and topography had begun before the establishment of trench warfare during the initial war of movement. The military mobilization of animals during the war was, at times, symbolic. As well as featuring on propaganda posters, animal imagery appeared on actual war machines. Bases and training grounds served a variety of purposes during the war. Among them were training troops in trench warfare, testing weapons, and providing places of repose for soldiers recovering from life in the trenches. The mobilization of nature for military training and weapons testing militarized sites beyond northern and eastern France.
In 1871, G. T. Robinson, the Manchester Guardian's special correspondent, published a book on his experiences of the Franco-Prussian War. The French experience of the war was painful, traumatic, and humiliating. The war militarized urban centres and their hinterlands, including Paris, which held out against Prussia and its allies until the conclusion of the war in January 1871. The war's geographical aspects and the relationship between terrain and tactics fascinated non-combatant military observers. During the siege of Paris, Prussian troops feared that the freezing weather would render useless their flooding of the countryside. Animals inhabited the war as symbols. Military culture and experience shaped how the different armies mobilized the same animal species. By the end of January 1871 the French army was demoralized and depleted after a series of military defeats in the provinces.
In the wake of defeat and under the shadow of German military might, the Third Republic remade France's militarized environments. The Third Republic's attempt to rejuvenate France and rebuild its army reverberated environmentally through the creation of new militarized environments. Although most scholarly attention has focused on the creation of urban militarized environments, this chapter argues that rural sites were integral to the efforts to remake army and nation. The chapter explores the army's mobilization of forests to strengthen France's eastern border and the harnessing of ever-larger expanses of the French countryside for its training purposes. As the army mobilized new sites for war preparation, thousands of new recruits came to live and work in the camps under universal conscription laws. The chapter also explores the testing and development of new military technologies and weapons.