I don’t need a red flower on my lapel to remember the tragedies of human history. You would think they wouldn’t be needed.
Yet apparently, they are. We as people need reminders of the senseless waste of humanity. We have poppies for the red ocean which watered the fields of Verdun, Ypres, the Somme. What do we have to remember the lands too defiled, too poisoned, too devastated, for even poppies to grow?
This is the Zone Rouge, the Red Zone, photographed by Olivier Saint Hilaire. This was the name given to those areas of France which were so devastated by artillery fire in two world wars that it contaminates the earth to this day. Originally 1,200 square kilometres of this blighted landscape covered France: to this day, 100 square kilometres are still forbidden to entry. The water and soil was sick with arsenic, mercury, lead, and zinc. There are places in the red zone where 99% of all animal and plant life cannot survive.
Whole villages were relocated. Even farmers from the presumed “safe” blue and yellow zones are killed by unexploded shells, while they work their “iron harvest” – the hundreds of tons of metal turned up by their ploughshares. Those who survive build military museums, memorials, and shrines from the detritus of slaughter, or help the French Government’s dedicated cleanup department. Some experts think it will take centuries to cleanse the Zone Rouge. Others claim it will never be fully clean.
There are Red Zones throughout the world as the products of human conflict, greed, or carelessness. Agdam; Centralia; Varosha; Pripyat; Namie. Gruinard Island. If it weren’t for the likes of Willie Macrae, we could have added Ayrshire and Caithness to the Forbidden Lands of the world. There are places in Scotland which still could be the next Chernobyl, or Fukushima, if we fail to be constantly vigilant.
One of those Chernobyls sails past my window, gliding through the Clyde. And the worst thing? Chernobyl was a power plant. Its purpose was to provide light, heat, and energy to people; to protect them from Ukainian winter; to keep them warm and safe. Trident submarines’ purpose is to kill, maim, destroy, annihilate. Even if it fails in the most catastrophic way possible, it is still carrying out the reason for its existence – to blight the land, extinguish life, and spread suffering. This is what I will never – can never – forget. All the politicians with their gentle words and teary eyes, promising to ensure this will never happen again, all while nuclear death lurks miles from hundreds of thousands of people.
That is what Benchmark 6 is. That is the shadow over Scotland.