I can't remember exactly when I blogged about this - sometime around the New Year I think (yes, I am too lazy atm to use the nice search function, because that's how I usually end up putting off writing posts). The backstory is that sometime in the 1990s I read a fascinating article in Smithsonian Magazine about how France has the continuing problem of removing old ordnance from two world wars. The amount of bombs just sitting under the surface dirt (if even that deep) amazed me. So I tracked down the book and eventually gave in and bought it. (Without waiting for a sale, which is how you know I really wanted to read this.)
Book: Aftermath: The Remnants of War
Author: Donovan Webster
It's not just about landmines - any kind of unexploded shell that ends up in the ground is potentially a bomb. Even after decades underground.
It's every bit as fascinating as I remembered, and written in magazine style - which means very much as a narration about a series of interviews with bomb removal team members, with lots of history tossed in. The book itself is about more than just France - it's about how leftover explosives happen in every war, and then that country has to figure out ways to safely find and dispose of the stuff. I'm still on the chapter in France though.
I should add two things here:
1) I'm not usually fascinated by war history alone - there has to be a social or human element in it. I do not enjoy simple tales of battlefield strategy and I need more details than just what the officers were up to.
2) I think the majority of Americans are utterly clueless as to what so many other countries have suffered by having wars fought on their lands. The last war that really impacted the lands and cities of our country was the Civil War, and that didn't have the lasting devastation that something like WWI continues to have. Every year so many French folk die or are injured because they accidentally find a bomb while farming, gardening, hiking, taking a boat ride, etc. etc. etc. There are still areas off limits because the years of shelling has made the land too dangerous. Just from the first two world wars. And the poison gas in the shells from WWI can still kill you.
Americans really could use some thankfulness about things like this. (As it is we don't think much about the chunks of our own land that we've made toxic ourselves via ordnance testing - and that's not just counting nuclear.)
Anyway, having said that - here are some quotes that give you examples of what I'm finding interesting. If you enjoy "spend some time with an expert going about his job" type articles, then the chapter on France demolitions experts is something you'd enjoy. Not to mention facts I'd not known or considered about changing war tactics.
3% in, a section explaining how Nobel's inventions changed architecture, building, and (in so many ways no one foresaw) warfare:
...Nobel's smokeless powder not only had artillery shells and bullets traveling farther when shot, it had a simultaneous effect on battlefield dress as well. Coming from an age when thick clouds of cannon and rifle smoke obscured vision, soldier's uniforms had been designed for visibility. They were red or bright blue - often with white diagonal accents and brass buttons - to be better seen on cloud-draped battlefields. With smokeless powder, the opposition was suddenly visible across a battlefield's reach, making whole armies easy targets for the more efficient weapons, inspiring the drab greens and browns of today's military dress.
5% in, the author is with a team of men whose job it is to find and collect the bombs/shells and take them away to safely dispose of them.
...Belot is six feet tall and sturdy, with big hands and feet. He is forty-six years old, which makes him the oldest demineur in this squad by fifteen years. He has a large, expressive face and a crew cut. He laughs a lot, and his professional title - with protestations - is Chief of Deminers; Metz Division, France. ...Beyond question, though, he is special. In a young man's job - an occupation where one-fifth of the workers are killed or injured in explosions every year - Belot has survived more than two decades.