Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Grim Tourist Sites Around the World

While it may sound like a morbid oxymoron, war or battlefield tourism, even genocide tourism, is in fact quite real. In the aftermath of horrific events that have cost countless lives, the inevitable outcome is that years later, people want to bear witness to history. From South Africa to Normandy, New York City to Hiroshima, millions gather every year to breathe in the past and contemplate the horrific scope of war, terrorism, genocide and crimes against humanity.

Waterloo, Belgium

Way before it was a hit song for ABBA, Waterloo was the famous site of a battle between the First French Empire of Napoleon Bonaparte and the Alliance of the Seventh Coalition under the Duke of Wellington and General von Bl?cher. Napoleon’s epic defeat on the Belgian battlefield on June 15, 1815 coined a now familiar phrase and when the dust settled, more than 50,000 men had either been killed or injured.

Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

The surprise attack by the Japanese navy on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 is a date that as then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt put it, “will live in infamy”. More than 2,400 American lives were lost and the event prompted the inevitable entry of the United States into the theater of World War II. The U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, west of Honolulu, Hawaii, is now a National Historic Landmark District.

Robben Island, South Africa

A foremost symbol of the oppressive apartheid regime that held sway in South Africa for decades, Robben Island became a maximum security prison in 1959. The island was the home of Nelson Mandela for twenty years, Amos Masondo, mayor of Johannesburg, and current President Kgalema Motlanthe between 1977 and 1987. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is now one of the most popular tourist attractions in South Africa.

Choeung Ek, Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge genocide, under the tyrannical direction of Pol Pot, that took place in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979 was one of the most complete in history. The totalitarian communist regime cost the country 2 million lives and spawned the term and subsequent film The Killing Fields. Choeung Ek, just outside the capital of Phnom Penh, was a paramount execution site for the Khmer Rouge that today contains a grim reminder of the past: a Buddhist stupa with more than 5,000 human skulls.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Iconic battlefield and site of a famous address by President Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is a popular tourist destination, especially with American Civil War buffs. Lincoln dedicated the Soldiers’ National Cemetery on November 19, 1863 and today, Gettysburg National Military Park receives more than 1.5 annual visitors. Over 50,000 men lost their lives in the Battle of Gettysburg.

Hanoi Hilton, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi is a beautiful city with a turbulent past. Under the brutal colonial rule of France, then Hoa Lo Prison was a notorious symbol of torture and execution, most notably for thousands of political dissidents in favor of independence for Vietnam. The term Hanoi Hilton stuck when American POWs became prisoners at Hoa Lo between 1964 and 1975. John McCain spent part of his POW sentence at the Hanoi Hilton; his flight suit and parachute are on exhibit in the museum section of the facility.

Colleville-sur-Mer, France

The American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France is a potent reminder of the mass slaughter that took place on the shores of Normandy in World War II. The site overlooks Omaha Beach and contains over 9,000 graves of U.S. soldiers whose lives were lost on and after D-Day.

Ground Zero, New York City

A stark reminder of the worst terrorist attack on U.S. soil, thousands of people visit the former site of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan every day. The future home of the Freedom Tower and a memorial complex, Ground Zero is a powerful symbol of the events of September 11, 2001.

Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, Hiroshima, Japan

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the first “ground zero”, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park commemorates the over 140,000 lives lost on August 6, 1945 when a U.S. nuclear bomb hit the city. Thousands more lost their lives in the deadly aftermath, with 80,000 more dead three days later in the Nagasaki atomic attack. Incredibly, 3,200 Americans of Japanese origin perished as a result of President Harry Truman’s historic order.


Hitler’s most infamous concentration and extermination camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau was active between 1940 and 1945 and cost the lives of 1.1 million, 90% of whom were Jews from all over Europe. The worst symbol of Nazi atrocity, the complex receives some 700,000 annual visitors.

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