Aftermath: The Remnants of Warby Donovan Webster
In riveting and revelatory detail, Aftermath documents the ways in which wars have transformed the terrain of the battlefield into landscapes of memory and enduring terror: 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 1950's, 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 psychological and genetic devastation; in Kuwait, where terrifyingly sophisticated warfare was followed by the Sisyphean task of making an uninhabitable desert capable of sustaining life.
Aftermath excavates our century's darkest history, revealing that the destruction of the past remains deeply, inextricably embedded in the present.
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.
- Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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- 5.20(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.60(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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