People have a curious fascination for war and war zones. Long after the blood has dried on the killing fields of Vietnam or the cries of the victims faded from the walls of Dachau and other concentration camps in Germany -- venues of past horrors have now become tourist destinations. It is no wonder then, that War Tourism is also called Dark Tourism or Trouble Tourism.
Instead of the fun in the sun most conventional holidays are associated with, a visit to a concentration camp, old battlefield or a new battle zone is often more in the nature of a pilgrimage or a voyueristic peep into a disaster that is thankfully not one's own.
Understanding War Tourism
The link between war and tourism has been explored and expounded by many persons including historians, media persons(especially war journalists), and writers of travelogues. It has now well established that war in any region affects tourism in a negative way. It not only affects the particular region that is affected by war but also the surrounding regions. For example, the Gulf War has affected tourism in West Asia per se. India witnessed declined inbound traffic post the Kargil War. War has affected the tourism industry in Sri Lanka, Nepal, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Lebanon, Israel, and Iraq. Even after the September 11 attacks, the United States saw a decline in tourist inflow, although the events did not strictly qualify as war.
On the other hand there is a brand of tourists who actually prefer to visit war zones. While active war zones are frequented by journalists and correspondents covering the war, the inactive war zones are frequented more for recreational purposes, sightseeing and collecting war memorabilia. This brand of tourists, often termed war tourist, seek thrills in dangerous and forbidden places.
As a war tourist one can even live out the experiences of a war by trying out some of the arms and ammunition that were used at the time of the war. Like one can go to the National defence Shooting Range in Vietnam and fire rounds from the AK-47s which were used by the Vietnamese to win the war against America. It’s a chance for tourists to live out the war. One can go to the tunnels and hidden caves in the mountains which were used as part of the guerilla war adopted by the Vietnamese. All this amounts to an exciting time for tourists.
War Museums are also a good way of recounting history and tourists find the experience exciting, informative and sometimes even exhilarating as they go through the prisons, tunnels, shelters, photos and paintings of torture and other war crimes, army ammunitions or army quarters. Like in El Salvador, tourists love to visit Perquin, a mountain town where the guerillas once established their headquarters. Visitors can live out the experiences of the civil war in the “Museum of the Revolution,” which features uniforms and remains of Soviet weapons.
In Bosnia, war Tourists visit Srebrenica, site of the 1995 massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims. Also an attraction is the bright yellow Holiday inn that was the war time home of the International Press.
The entire concept of war tourism was started by a collection of stories by P. J. O'Rourke in ‘Holidays in Hell: In Which Our Intrepid Reporter Travels to the World's Worst Places’. O'Rourke was the first person who showed that war correspondents are after all war tourists of sorts on a payed and planned account.
An excellent book on this misunderstood topic is Dark Tourism (Tourism, Leisure & Recreation) by Malcolm Foley and John Lennon. The authors explore here the fact that people do flock to places where a war has taken place (also referred to as battlefield tourism in such a case), a death camp or a site where a certain celebrity has died. Often the places are played up by the media which becomes a driving force for tourists.
Top of the List Destinations
The Killings Fields in Vietnam, Beirut, Berlin Wall, German World War II Fortification, Ground Zero in New York, the Atlantic Wall, the Maginot Line in France, Bosnia, war zones in Poland, Fortifications in Denmark and Norway, and Korea are among the more prominent tourist destinations. El Salvador is the first Central American country to have opened its doors to war tourists making most of its 12 year civil war.
The Business of War
War Tourism flourishes in all such places that were once considered the abattoirs of human flesh. All the mindless violence, the tensions, the death and the destruction is replaced with a sense of tranquility, interspersed with the bonhomie of war tourists who look at the whole place with emotions ranging from wonder, amazement, dismay, and sometimes with reverence. However what is common is a tendency towards voyeurism, being privy to the sufferings others have undergone and is what is often exploited by the people profiting from the tourism industry. Sarajevan Zijad Jusufović, Bosnia’s first tour guide makes a living out of the suffering of the war between the Serbs and Muslims in Bosnia.
War memories are painful memories, especially for the people who have lived to tell the sad tale. However, countries and the people are fast opening up to such business possibilities. In doing so, the entire region gets a fillip via the multiplier effect. So in the end, war tourism is all about economics and exploring the immense market opportunities that come with war and war related tales. Places such as Bosnia or even Vietnam have opened up to tourists and this is more than evident in the lessening of red tape, police hassles and other administrative troubles that a person would have to go through till some time back. In some places the communal quotients were also a matter of concern. All of these have been lessened to encourage such tourism.
Marketing war memorabilia is also an important aspect. This is a booming industry in places like Vietnam where street artists are known to craft toy tanks and planes from Budweiser and Coca Cola cans. Dog tags and jewelry made from bullet shells are also sold along with fake Zippo lighters which are good imitations of the lighters that were carried by American GIs during the Vietnam War. Likewise parts of the Great Berlin Wall were for sale as souvenirs.
The grimness of the entire situations is hardly a spanner in the works and it is this that the tourism industry cashes in. So it is a kind of an ironical situation that the grisly experiences become the hottest attractions and people come to hear about it, learn about it and often carry back the wartime experiences in the form of the memorabilia that are out on sale.
However not all places attract tourists. Afghanistan, which is still a hotbed for terrorism and also has the presence of the Al Qaida is a deterrence to many visitors. Again, Pakistan does not inspire too many tourists as the politics of the region and its proximity to Afghanistan, the real life stories with gruesome endings such as that of Daniel Pearl’s are factors that inhibit tourists from going there.
Likewise the Bosnian War or the Gulf War desist people from talking about the painful experiences since they are quite recent. Tourist operators are eager to deflect people from the battle zones to more peaceful attractions. War tour operators therefore find it difficult to conduct their business. For countries new to this form of terrorism, they are eager not to scare away people with tales of gore and morbidity.
War tourism and Ethics
So is it really ethical to gnaw at raw wounds and dig into bleeding hearts?
The answer is not so straight-laced especially where there is a question of people wanting to know more about the war and the entire aftermath so that they can let the world know of the sufferings the people have gone through. As Jusufović, guide in Bosnia’s killing fields says, "Don't think they're crazy or like blood. They want to understand what happened here, and they just want to compare their lives with people's lives here."
War Tourism is not only about ethics or about money and the market. It is also about history, of the suffering that people went through and the strength of character and purpose that they revealed under these very punishing times. Every place of tourist preference reveals aspects that must have surely tested the physical endurance and mental strength of the people who lived there and this is something that war tourism brings to the forefront. The fact that war escalates tensions and suffering is best appreciated by a war tourist.