Promotion S.R. (Siri) Driessen
War and tourism often seem at odds with each other. Still, iconic war sites such as the Nazi German extermination camp Auschwitz receive millions of visitors a year, and this number is growing. Why are visitors drawn to such locations?
In my dissertation I research four specific groups of ‘war tourists’: Dutch army members who undertake battlefield tours to sites associated with the First and Second World War; Dutch veterans who undertake return trips to their former area of deployment in Bosnia and Herzegovina, young Europeans who engage in volunteer work on former war sites during their summer holidays, and participants of the yearly peace march to Srebrenica. By means of in-depth interviews and ethnographic field work, I analyze the motivations, experiences, and reflections of these four different groups of visitors.
My research indicates that contemporary war tourism is a diverse form of tourism that is undertaken for varying reasons. These reasons range from highly personal to more professional: from processing traumatic war memories to educational battlefield tours. Despite these differences, all researched groups show a desire for personal, affective and meaningful encounters with the past – encounters that are created in the confrontation with physical traces of the past. My dissertation shows that contemporary war tourism allows many visitors to learn about and reflect on the history of war in a personal and intimate way. As such, the societal critique that is often aimed at ‘sensationalist’ war tourists does not always do justice to the intentions and experiences of the visitors.