Wednesday, January 28, 2009

War Tourism in the Gaza Strip

BOULDER, Colorado -- Did you ever wish that war was a spectator sport? Well, in Israel it can be. Danish television station TV-2 Nyhederne produced this report about spectators of the Israel assault on the Gaza Strip. Most of the segment is indecipherable to me, because it is in Danish, but the interviewees speak in English:

Because Israel is such a small country (it's about the size of New Jersey), it has not been hard to find a front row seat for the country's various wars over the years. However, it still remains rare for civilians to seek out the conflict zone to witness Israel's dazzling military strikes against one of the poorest and most destitute populations on earth. I was under the impression that everyone in Israel was cowering in their basement awaiting the next Hamas rocket to fall on them.

There are always accidental tourists in war zones - Israel's last war, this one in Lebanon, sparked huge evacuations by foreign government of their citizens from the war zone. Itchy and I were even mistaken for Russian refugees from Lebanon while on vacation in the Caucasus that summer (yeah, I didn't know what the hell the guy was talking about, either.)

So-called "war tourism" is a rare phenomenon - few people actually travel to active war zones for leisure, but venturing to more dangerous parts of the globe has gained some popularity. Filmmaker Robert Young Pelton has made a career out of traveling to such places, and he encourages others to do the same with his website, which also features the Dangerpedia, a wiki of adventure (and horror) stories from the world's political black holes. Personally, I would like to take my next vacation to Pakistan's tribal areas to pick up some homemade machine guns.

This sort of tourism could also fall under the classification of "dark tourism," which involves visiting sites of death or tragedy, like battlefields, cemeteries or prisons, but it is usually done after the dust has settled and the unexploded ordnance has mostly been cleared away. Britain's University of Central Lancashire hosts an online forum on the subject, replete with excellent resources for further research. If you would like to experience a war zone from the comfort of your own chair/couch/bed/toilet, you can take a virtual tour with visual artist Emanuel Licha. On his War Tourist website, you can travel the streets of Sarajevo during the siege, the crime-ridden alleys of Mexico City or a Parisian banlieu, or the tourist-filled grounds of contemporary Auschwitz.

But perhaps the most famous incident of "war tourism" was during the opening battle of the Civil War, when adventurous sightseers from Washington traveled out to nearby Manassas, Virginia to have a picnic and watch the federal troops rout the rebels at the first battle of Bull Run. Of course, the Union forces were driven from the field in what became known as "the great skedaddle," and the picnickers had to retreat in a panic along with the troops.

No such luck with this "little fascist," who continued to sip her latte undistrubed. Of course, if "Joe" the "Plumber" had his way, no one - not tourists, and certainly not journalists - would be allowed anywhere near war zones, just like the good ol' days of the horrific world wars: "I liked back in World War I and World War II, when you’d go to the theater and you’d see your troops on the screen and everyone would be real excited and happy for them."

Thanks to Adam for the link.

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