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Toward a Deeper Understanding of History: War, Tourism, and their Links – The Case of the First World War

Bertram M. Gordon
Traduction(s) :
Vers une meilleure compréhension de l’histoire :Guerre, tourisme et leurs liens - Le cas de la Première Guerre mondiale [fr]

Texte intégral

1Yves-Marie Evanno and Johan Vincent (eds.), Tourisme et Grande Guerre : Voyage(s) sur un front historique méconnu (1914-2019), Éditions Codex, 2019

2The relationship between war and tourism was a relatively unexplored area of research as late as the end of the twentieth century, when John Walton wrote of his surprise that so little attention had been devoted to the study of the impact of the First World War on touristic towns (Walton, 1996) and I noted that the history and uses of tourism under the difficult conditions of wartime “an almost unexplored area” (Gordon, 1998). In the years since then, however, the many linkages between war and tourism in history have drawn more attention (Butler and Suntikul, 2013; Elliott and Milne, 2019).

3If there had been any lingering doubt about the cultural and social importance of these linkages, a new book, Tourisme et Grande Guerre. Voyage(s) sur un front historique méconnu (1914-2019), edited by Yves-Marie Evanno and Johan Vincent, will put them to rest. Focused on the many aspects of tourism largely on the Western front during the First World War and to battle sites there in the years thereafter, Tourisme et Grande Guerre is a splendid collection of twenty-eight essays by specialists, all making excellent use of local archival resources, largely in France but also in other countries, including neutral Spain, Portugal, and Switzerland. As Evanno and Vincent write, their purpose was to bring together disparate archival work to enable specialists and the public at large to have a “new look at the times of conflicts” (Evanno and Vincent, “Introduction”, 2019) (Translations from the text of sources are my own).

4Tourisme et Grande Guerre is divided into three sections, the first focusing on tourism during the war, the second on tourism to war sites after the war, and the third on the war as a “motor” (Evanno and Vincent, “La Grande Guerre, 2019) actually helping to expand the tourism industry, already growing during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, even if the numbers of tourists declined during the fighting. A key point, expressed in the preface by Emmanuelle Cronier, was the increase in state involvement in the tourism industry in many countries during the war, paralleling the growing governmental role in their economies in general. Tourism was becoming more accessible to middle and eventually working classes in addition to the elites, a process that was underway in the early twentieth century. It continued, even if diminished in some ways, during the war, only to be intensified in the interwar years (Cronier, 2019).

5The essays in the first section focus on tourism during the war, which, rather than tourists actually watching battles, as in the prior cases of Tchernaya during the Crimean War or Manassas during the American Civil War, were primarily examples of tourists finding new destinations when the war made their previous sites unavailable. A case in point was Scotland, where tourists who prior to the war had flocked to spas now moved inland as the spas were taken over to become military hospitals (Durie, 2019). Tourism within the different national territories of the Austro-Hungarian Empire increased as international destinations which they had frequented before the war were now closed to them (Malzner, 2019). Profiting from its location in neutral Spain, San Sebastián lured American civilian tourists away from resorts in countries at war (Larrinaga, 2019). American soldiers after four months of active service in France were given seven days leave, during which they frequently toured in the Dauphiné region.

6Sex tourism with prostitutes, a topic that receives relatively little attention in this book, was also part of the experience of the American soldiers in the Dauphiné, who were seen as “rich” by many among the local population (Perrin, 2019). French soldiers stationed in Salonica on the Macedonian front also engaged in sex tourism, where a kind of exotic “orientalism” added to the appeal (Schaeffer, 2019). Another form of tourism, reminiscent of zoo tourism, included French civilians who visited prisoner of war camps where captured German soldiers were held in places such as Carnac (Richard, 2019).

7The second section of Tourisme et Grande Guerre shifts the focus from the tourists themselves to the tourism industry, with changes in the hotel trade and tourism seasons, impacted by the war. Addressing these changes, the essays in this section make important contributions to business history, placing the war-related shifts in the context of the economic development of an industry that by the early twenty-first century had become one of the largest in the world.

8The outbreak of the war in August 1914, during the height of the summer tourist season, was an economic disaster for coast cities such as Saint-Malo in Normandy, and although 1915 was equally difficult, the 1916 season brought a new influx of visitors, largely women and children. Describing the shifts in summer tourism to Saint-Malo during the war, Erwan Le Gall suggests a sense “of making do” [“faire avec”] among the civilian visitors to the city, parallel to what Philippe Burrin called the spirit of “accommodation” that characterized the behavior of many in France during the Second World War (Le Gall, 2019; Burrin, 1995).

9Beginning in 1915, hotel guests were monitored in Britain, a practice that had been restricted to aliens prior to the war (James, 2019). Some Swiss hoteliers, hard-pressed for funds because of fewer guests, sought to increase their income by shifting their meals from lower priced table d’hôte (all-inclusively priced) to à la carte, where each item was offered separately and with higher prices. The shift, as Mathieu Narandal writes, led to changes in the kitchens. Chefs now needed to be skilled in the preparation of larger repertoires of dishes (Narandal, 2019). Another increase in state involvement in the tourism industry was the establishment and government funding of national tourism organizations (NTOs), for example in Switzerland, where the government helped fund marketing campaigns aimed at rebuilding the postwar tourist trade (Hoppler 2019).

10The war also impacted the tourist guidebook trade with the appearance of battlefield tour guides, notably the Michelin Guides Bleus, which engaged in their own war with the German Baedeker guidebooks and began directing tourists to war sites within a year of the end of hostilities. Several of the contributors to Tourisme et Grande Guerre differentiate between “pilgrimages” and “battlefield tourists,” the former being friends and relatives of soldiers visiting sites where their loved ones fought and died, the latter being curious onlookers less emotionally involved in the war. Pilgrims tended to visit immediately after the war. “Battlefield tourists,” sometimes viewed negatively by pilgrimage tourists and the local population, came later (Morlier, 2019; Connolly and Godden, 2019; Roy, 2019; Lloyd, 1998; Lefort, 2019; Mariotti, 2019). The negative views of tourists, some of whom visited battlefields to collect souvenirs (Mogavero, 2019), was an attitude that has frequently been expressed toward tourists in history (Christin 2017). Tourist guidebooks helped make the war sites “immortal” and the increased use of automobiles in the postwar world added to the numbers of visitors and the sanctification of the battlefields (Connolly and Godden, 2019).

11The third section of Tourisme et Grande Guerre, the largest of the three with twelve essays in contrast to eight in each of the first two, is devoted to some of the longer term impacts of the First World War on the tourism industry. As the authors note in their introduction to this section, tourism to war sites reflected power relationships, an example Verdun, where they suggest that the tourist literature glorified the French combatants to the detriment of the Germans (Evanno and Vincent, “La Grande Guerre,” 2019; Gordon, 2018). As the years went on and nature did its work of changing the physical characteristics of the battlefield sites, the tourist quest for “authenticity” expanded. By the late 1920s, veterans returning to battlegrounds where they had fought could, on occasion, no longer recognize the sites. Graves and memorials had replaced the actual battlefields (Gregor, 2019).

12As in the first two sections of the book, the essays in part three show the many variety of ways in which tourism in general and war tourism in particular intersect with other aspects of social history. The power relationships inherent in tourism were especially clear in the case of Hartmannswillerkopf, a mountain in the Vosges in Alsace, which had been under German control prior to the war and had been the site of a battle during the conflict. As elsewhere, different groups in France wished to honor the dead but, as Nicolas Lefort points out, the majority of the dead from Alsace and Lorraine had served in the German army during the war. Entirely new itineraries were drawn up by several French organizations to convert the memory of the fighting at Hartmannswillerkopf from a German to a French narrative (Lefort, 2019). In another case, the sacralization of the Verdun battlefield extolled the French and paid little attention to the Germans who had fought and died there. Tourism revived the economic fortunes of Verdun, devasted during the war (Roy, 2019). Reflecting the political implications of war tourism, the numbers of Italian visitors to sites of memory in France, where their compatriots had fought and died, diminished after 1936, when Fascist Italy allied with Nazi Germany (Buzzi, 2019).

13The takeoff of tourism to First World War battle sites coincided, not only with the popularization of automobiles but also increasing use of postcards, many of which showed the destruction of the war, and small Kodak cameras, used especially by American tourists. A growing industry of cinema also contributed to the popularization of wartime sites for tourists. Discussing the ways in which time changes the sites [“Le temps fait son œuvre”], Olivier Verdier writes that in Lorraine, Verdun became the focal point of popular war memory tourism, so much so that a myth was created around the “trench of bayonets,” a “falsification consecrated by popular fervor” that became a monument in the 1920s and remains so to the present (Verdier, 2019). A line of buried soldiers had been discovered with fixed bayonets, presumably by nearby explosions as they were defending their trench. More likely, however, the bayonets had been placed there later (Prost, 2002).

14More recent source material used includes web sites, which not only address the war but also help bring the current accounts of war tourism up to date. Commemorations of the centennial of the war in 2014 and the years that followed also heightened interest in many of the sites and led to an increase in war-related material on the internet (Pavan Della Torre, 2019). This even included the participation of the Musée de la Grande guerre de Meaux in the creation of Léon Vivien, a fictional poilu who communicated his wartime experiences on the front to his friends via Facebook in 2012 to show how frontline soldiers lived during the war (Deraedt, 2014; Gordon, 2019).

15The many uses of the internet highlight the variety of ways in which tourism, in its broadest sense of “curiosity in motion,” intersects with war (Gordon, 2018). As Franck David suggests, the process of identifying a space as a site of heritage [“patrimonialisation] with monuments to the dead bestow identity upon it and this patrimonialisation is made real by tourism. This process, he continues, is enhanced by the spread of m-tourism, namely the dissemination of tourist information on mobile devices (David, 2019; Di Meo, 2017). The management of sites of memory is paralleled by the task of museums, which also seek to convey a sense of the past to a continually changing audience. With the last survivors of the war having died, museums need to engage their visitors emotionally in a struggle between the tensions of preserving memory and the enhancement of tourism (Artico, 2019).

16In summary, the essays in Tourisme et Grande Guerre make a superb contribution not only to our knowledge of the relationships between war and tourism but also to our understanding of the continuities in the development of modern tourism. In many ways, the memory and battlefield tourism cases studied in this book help create a broader understanding of war itself, notably in the seemingly everyday activities that humanize it and, in a broader sense, make war acceptable. In their conclusion, Evanno and Vincent call for future work to study other wars in other parts of the world (Evanno and Vincent, “Conclusion” (2019)). It can no longer be said now that the study of the links between war and tourism are “an almost unexplored area” (Gordon, 1998).

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Bertram M. Gordon, « Toward a Deeper Understanding of History: War, Tourism, and their Links – The Case of the First World War », Via [En ligne], 16 | 2019, mis en ligne le 30 mars 2020, consulté le 13 avril 2021. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/viatourism/4611 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/viatourism.4611

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Bertram M. Gordon

Mills College, Oakland, California, bmgordon@mills.edu

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