World War Winning
2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. It is a time for reflection, sadness and shed loads of profit making. I realized this when an ad for a hotel in Ypres randomly popped up on my webpage. Or maybe not so randomly, it could just be because I clicked on something about World War One somewhere, sometime. On the day that Facebook are accused of monitoring links in users’ private messages to better target advertising, who knows.
Those who profit from knowing my clicks may never be aware or acknowledge that they benefitted indirectly from one of history’s worst disasters. Not that being aware would likely make any difference to their business models.
As anyone interested in World War I will know, the Belgian town of Ypres was the center of some of the fiercest fighting between German and Allied forces during the war. There were three defined battles of Ypres, the third (also known as the Battle of Passchendaele) being the most infamous. Almost half a million casualties across all sides occurred during that battle.
A hundred years later, these are happier times for the town as they prepare to welcome a fifty percent rise in tourist numbers in 2014. The ad on my page reminded me of a BBC article that talked about people in the European battlefields region benefitting, more knowingly than those in cyberspace, from the World War I brand.
According to the BBC, Ypres hotelier Dries Loontjens, “owner of Kasteelhof’t Hooghe – a 15-bedroom English cottage-style hotel restaurant on the former front line 3km (two miles) from Ypres” said, “he had received so many large group accommodation requests he decided to build a new 12-bed hotel on adjacent land.”
All over the region parking lots are being expanded, hotels are being newly built or enlarged, and café owners are trying to find sidewalk space to fit extra tables.
I don’t wish to directly criticize these business owners. They are naturally going to try and accommodate the extra visitors who want to do battlefield tours on the 100th anniversary. Nor is this an out-and-out criticism of war tourism; I have been to the World War I battlefields as a tourist and it was a thoroughly interesting experience. As long as they don’t start building theme park rides like an underground rollercoaster called ‘Trench Terror’ or something then I don’t really have a problem with it.
It is just a bit of a weird thought, though, profiting from something so awful as World War I, either financially or as a leisure activity, educational or not. And we have to be careful that we do things respectfully and mindfully of what went on between 1914 and 1918. This sort of goes without saying, but when you consider the way in which the poppy symbol of the First World War has become a marketing tool, appearing on wine, mugs, umbrellas and even chocolate helmets, then we have to be a bit cautious.
Belgium’s centenary commissioner, Paul Breyne, is said to be keen to ensure that the centenary events strike the right tone. “We don’t use words like won or lost,” he said. “After 100 years we don’t care about us and them. We remember all the victims of the First World War.”
When you consider that the Call of Duty franchise is the highest selling thing on Amazon during the site’s 15-year history, it is fair to say that those in the Belgian tourist trade are a drop in the war brand ocean. They can sell a few extra cups of tea in 2014 as far as I’m concerned, as long as they don’t put poppies on the mugs. Taking winnings out of war is odd though, be it cyber clicks, video games or battlefield towns in Belgium.
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