Aftermath: The Remnants of War

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In riveting and revelatory detail, Aftermath documents the ways in which wars have transformed the terrain of the battlefield into landscapes of enduring terror and memory: in France, where millions of acres of farmland are cordoned off to all but a corps of demolition experts responsible for the undetonated bombs and mines of World War I that are now rising up in fields, gardens, and backyards, in a sixty-square-mile area outside Stalingrad that was a cauldron of destruction in 1941 and is today an endless field...
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Aftermath: The Remnants of War: From Landmines to Chemical Warfare--The Devastating Effects of Modern Combat

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Overview

In riveting and revelatory detail, Aftermath documents the ways in which wars have transformed the terrain of the battlefield into landscapes of enduring terror and memory: in France, where millions of acres of farmland are cordoned off to all but a corps of demolition experts responsible for the undetonated bombs and mines of World War I that are now rising up in fields, gardens, and backyards, in a sixty-square-mile area outside Stalingrad that was a cauldron of destruction in 1941 and is today an endless field of bones; in the Nevada deserts, where America waged a hidden nuclear war against itself in the 1950s, the results of which are only now becoming apparent; in Vietnam, where a nation's effort to remove the physical detritus of war has created biologic and psychological devastation; in Kuwait, where terrifyingly sophisticated warfare was followed by the Sisyphean task of making an uninhabitable desert capable of sustaining life. Only now, at century's end, can we begin to see how the destructive, often lethal remnants of past wars remain deeply, fatally embedded in the present.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
War scars land as well as people. That is the truth that Webster, a former senior editor of Outside magazine, explores in his evocative first book, expanded from an article he wrote for the Smithsonian magazine. Webster proceeds by examining the physical legacies of 20th-century conflict. In France, the legacy consists of unexploded shells and bombs12 million of them at Verdun alone. At Stalingrad, there are the bones of 300,000 German dead. In Nevada, Webster surveys the results of a decade of open-air nuclear testing, and of disposal sites poisoned for the next 12,000 years by stored nuclear waste. Vietnam, devastated by high explosive and chemical defoliants, continues to pay war's price in mutilated adults and malformed children. The author finds that the deserts of Kuwait are sown with seven million land mines left behind by the armies of Desert Storm and that, in Utah, the U.S. seeks to destroy chemical agents no less toxic for being obsolete. Webster tours these sites himself, personalizing his narrative. He describes their origins and introduces the people who seek to mitigate their effects. More than many academic analyses, this finely written work provides a compelling story of what humanity is willing to do to its worldand itselfin the name of national interest. (Sept.)
Library Journal
In 1991, 36 French farmers died when their machinery hit unexploded shells left over from wars going back to the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. Journalist Webster's fascinating book explores a subject that is only now being considered: What happens to all the bombs, mines, and other killing materials after the treaties have been signed and the war has stopped? In chapters covering France, Russia (around Volgagrad, formerly Stalingrad), Vietnam, Kuwait, the atomic test sites in Nevada, and the stockpiles of chemical weapons stored in the salt flats of Utah, Webster presents the historical background and then interviews the people who seek to live amid these silent but still very much alive artifacts from war. His work is intriguing yet sobering and smoothly written. The reader comes to the chilling conclusion, especially with our nuclear weapons gathering dust in their silos, that radioactivity lasts a very long time and that wars, rumors of wars, and the detritus of wars are with us always. Recommended for all collections.Edward Goedeken, Iowa State Univ. Lib., Ames
Booknews
A survey of the ways in which wars have transformed the earth's terrain, leaving a legacy of detritus with both physical and psychological consequences. Free-lance writer Webster writes an elegant travelogue, visiting France where undetonated bombs from World War I are still appearing in backyards, Stalingrad's fields of bones, Nevada's nuclear testing sites, Vietnam's scarred landscapes and peoples, and ending in Kuwait where efforts are being made to recover the devastated desert. Lacks a bibliography and index. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Kirkus Reviews
An eloquent and startling reminder of the long-term, even permanent, destruction wrought by this century's wars.

Webster, a freelance journalist, begins by reflecting on the complex, contradictory figure of Alfred Nobel, the engineering genius who, along with his eponymous prizes, gave birth to dynamite, blasting caps, and smokeless powder. Webster follows members of the French government unit devoted to the clearing of WW I and WW II bombs as they find and destroy some of the millions of shells still embedded in the soil of northern France. Although the shells are as much as 80 years old, many are unstable, still capable of exploding or leaking poisonous gases, and the work is hazardous: Several men are killed each year by exploding or toxic bombs. Webster then offers a grim tour of a field filled with the skeletons of thousands of Germans and Austrians who died in the WW II battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) and have yet to be buried; the ongoing process of identifying and burying the dead may take generations. And the Cold War spawned horrors on US soil: Webster notes rising cancer rates and groundwater contamination in towns near atomic testing sites in Nevada and describes a chemical- weapons demolition site located dangerously near Salt Lake City, Utah, where a single accident could cause a disaster of biblical proportions. Webster relates how horrifically American high-tech war has transformed the landscapes of Vietnam and Kuwait. In Vietnam, the spreading of defoliants and toxic agents continues to cause birth defects, while in many former war zones hundreds of thousands of land mines pose ongoing hazards to local populations.

A horrifying reminder that the full costs of this century's wars have yet to be calculated.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780679431954
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 9/3/1996
  • Pages: 279
  • Product dimensions: 5.91 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 1.01 (d)

Meet the Author

A former senior editor at Outside magazine, Webster has written for The New Yorker, National Geographic, and Smithsonian.
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Table of Contents

Prologue - Prometheus: Beginning of the Century 3
1 A Forbidden Forest: France, 1914-1918 11
2 Ghosts: Russia, 1941-1943 81
3 Playground: The Nevada Test Site, 1951-1963 130
4 Torn Leaf: Vietnam, 1965-1975 160
5 Eating the Elephant: Kuwait, 1990 218
Epilogue - The Furnace: End of the Century 253
Acknowledgments 275
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