chapter  12
Making history: The destruction and (re)construction of old Belgian towns during and after the FirstWorldWar
ByEvert Vandeweghe
Pages 16

WorldWar I was, without any doubt, one of the most traumatic episodes in the history of Belgium, one which left almost no town or village unaffected.The hundreds-if not thousands-of commemorative initiatives planned by the local, regional and national governments for the years leading up to the centenary of the war in 2014, testify to its lasting impression. It is a well-known fact that the worst cases of destruction in this war primarily occurred in small historical towns, rather than in the large cities or the countryside. The image comes to mind of Ieper with its medieval cloth hall, which was left completely razed to the ground after four years of trench warfare. However, it seems clear that this internationally-renowned case eclipses a much more diverse landscape of destruction. Examining four Belgian towns (Aalst, Dendermonde, Oudenaarde and Veurne), this chapter will give a glimpse of this complex reality, and address some key questions.What was the degree of destruction in these four towns, and what were the motives behind it?To what extent was the historical townscape targeted deliberately? How and why was this destruction of the historical townscape used in German and Allied propaganda, and was it also exploited for other reasons (such as tourism)? Finally, what role did these destructions play in the historical townscape after the war?