More Golf Ball than Moonscape: The Red Zone in France


Serving in Bavaria during the last years of the Cold War, the battalion’s officers took a bus trip to Verdun, for a professional development weekend. The terrain, even in 1988, was a stark, silent testament to the horror that reigned between trenches in the Great War. Moonscape? Try golf ball, for the ubiquity and closeness of deep dimples in the ground. Thirty more years have not erased the scars.

The French designated the swaths of land “Zone Rouge.”

Zone Rouge (English: Red Zone) is a chain of non-contiguous areas throughout northeastern France that the French government isolated after the First World War. The land, which originally covered more than 1,200 square kilometres (460 sq mi), was deemed too physically and environmentally damaged by conflict for human habitation. Rather than attempt to immediately clean up the former battlefields, the land was allowed to return to nature. Restrictions within the zone rouge still exist today although the control areas have been greatly reduced.

The “zone rouge” was defined just after the war as “Completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to Agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible.”

The land is carpeted in green, but you could not take two steps in any direction without climbing or descending in and out of the old artillery shell craters. As President Trump meets with the North Korean dictator, it is worth reflecting on what wars fought with massive artillery, and air power, can do. Life goes on, nature renews growth, but time does not heal all things.

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  1. Arahant Member

    Clifford A. Brown: Life goes on, nature renews growth, but time does not heal all things.


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  2. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member

    There is good article on Zone Rouge at National Geographic.  The article is written for school children, but it is concise and has sone very good pictures, including one taken in 1929. Apparently there is a thriving lumber industry there and it is also popular with hunters. Farmers still plow up unexploded munitions.

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  3. Kozak Member

    Son and I visited Verdun and the Somme in spring 2016.

    Amazing that the land is still scarred and deadly a century later.

    We had a great guide in the Somme (former Grenedier Guard) who helped us grab some souvenirs from a farmers field.   nearby you could see the Iron Harvest, the shells they till up every spring, marked for disposal by the roadside.

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  4. Hypatia Inactive

    OH,,I wanna see this!  

    Has everyone read Testament of Youth? The Great War and Modern Memory?   Do it?  I spent over a year immersed in,  kinda obsessed with WW I history,  literature, and of course, the “endless poetry”, as Blackadder had it.  God, how must that generation have felt at the prospect of doing it all again?  

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