October 08, 2016

Battle Field Archeology

A Syrian fox hole (hoel in the ground with a truck tire around it. The Mudeirej Bridge (Italian built, 44 million US$,)
in the backjground.

When the Lebanese government, half-wittedly, invited the Syrians in, exactly 40 years ago, in order to help out with skirmishes between christians and Palestinians, little did they know that these guys were not planning on leaving.  Like asking for a favor from your Mafioso neighbor, and when he generously complies, assume he will leave promptly and quietly after the deed. Not in your life time.

The Syrian Army did eventually leave, in my lifetime. Although not totally voluntarily, in the spring of 2005, some 35,000 Syrian troops that had been deployed all over the place , left Lebanon, leaving behind signs of 30 years of occupation.
And these signs, I find mighty intriguing. I encounter them regularly on my hikes through the Lebanese mountains. Trenches, fox holes, anti-aircraft installations and tank placements are all over the place. Some sites have buildings, guard houses, water wells and bunkers, most of them in poor condition.

A Syrian construction to house tanks

Like this morning, when I hiked the upper parts of Dahr el Baidar, the highest mountain pass between the coastal area and the Beqaa Valley. This area was significant, as they could shell Beirut from a safe distance, while at the same time controlling the road that linked Beirut to Damascus. (Both sides of the highway; I have also hiked the other side)

Syrian built water well
For years and years this entire mountain region was basically off limits for everyone except for Syrian soldiers; you could only drive the road, but not park or go on walks. Well, maybe you could, but I don’t think anyone would take the risk. The Syrians were notoriously shifty; you never knew what would set them off, and an unfortunate encounter could easily result in a one way ticket to Mezza, which was a (now defunct) jail right under the presidential Palace in Damascus.

A house, confiscated by the Syrian army, above Dahr el Baidar, with a view on Beirut

Now the area makes for some great hiking as years of Syrian deployment did not exactly entice urban developers.  Not much of their bases are left now; Syria being a rather poor country, its soldiers left nothing of value behind.  But the signs of occupation are everywhere.
Who were they? According to one (rather unreliable) internet source, it was the was the 10th Mechanized Division, that had its main units along the strategic Beirut-Damascus highway with the 85th Armored Brigade, deployed around the complex of positions at Dahr al-Baidar. (Source)

And as I hike through the remains, I would love to have some type of explanations on the site, just like they do with World War I battlefields in Northern France and Belgium.
There they have information pamphlets and visitor centers in just about every major spot, complete with extensive libraries and museums.  Of course, that took a while to establish. WWI started some 100 years ago (1915), and although battlefield tourism took off pretty soon after the end of that war (1918), it took another 50 years before anyone even thought of writing visitor guides.  There is even an actual science, called Battlefield Archeology.

A shelter that leads all the way into the mountain, must have been great during Israeli bombings

Trench soldiers, such as Robert Graves, Wilfried Owen, Siegfried Sassoon and Henri Barbusse  started publishing almost immediately after their ordeal. Erich Maria Remarque, from the German side, published a book, some 2 years after the war, which eventually sold over 30 million copies. The book was eventually banned by Hitler, who deemed it poor for moral. 

We, however, are some 26 years after the civil war, and some 10 years after the Syrian occupation, yet  I know of no soldiers/militia members/writers (that I know of) recounting their experience in Lebanon. We do not even have a history book regarding the civil war yet, and it is a topic that is carefully avoided in the current history curriculum in Lebanese school.  Let alone provide leaflets with background information on places that were interesting enough for the Israelis to regularly bomb the smithereens out of them.

Which is a pity.


Anonymous said...

Another insightful post. Thanks once again!

Anonymous said...

so why don't you write that book?

Joseph said...

Try finding work by Paul Andari - both in English and Arabic

Fabulous said...

Another interesting post, although WWI started in 1914, not in 1915... ;)

Greetings from Germany!