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During the First World War, on the eve of the Battle of Messines (Belgium), British general Herbert Plumer reportedly told the men under his command, “Gentlemen, we may not make history tomorrow, but we shall certainly change the geography.” On the following morning, June 7, 1917, his soldiers began detonating a series of large mines, resulting in German casualties surpassing 10,000. The explosions were reportedly heard as far away as London and are estimated to be the largest detonations in history, until the advent of nuclear weapons some 28 years later. Plumer’s warning, underwritten as it was with characteristic nationalist bravado, represents the symbiosis of warfare and geography on the continent and but one moment in the near permanence of warfare in western Europe.

Western Europe ...

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