France has put forward 80 World War I sites for listing by the Unesco World Heritage Organisation. The sites include some battlefields but above all cemeteries and memorials. To the criticism that a massacre cannot constitute a heritage site, the proposers point out that Auschwitz and Hiroshima are already listed by Unesco, as are monuments to slavery.
They point out too the historic significance of the mass cemeteries containing graves marked with the names of the dead – an innovation in war. Before World War I, soldiers were buried in mass, unmarked graves. It was the Germans who first ensured that their soldiers were given the dignity of a marked grave, followed by other countries as they responded to the pressure of public opinion.
The list of sites put forward includes cemeteries and memorials to the troops of the many different countries who participated in the fighting: the English at Beaumont-Hamel (Somme); South Africans at Longueval (Somme); Portuguese at Richebourg (Pas-de Calais); Chinese at Noyelles-sur–Mer (Somme); Americans at Saint-Mihiel (Meurthe-et-Moselle); Germans at Langemark (Belgium). Australian and New Zealand troops are recognised by the cemetery at Fromelles and the stone at Quesnoy.
The author of the article in Le Monde (Benoît Hopquin, ‘Les sites de 14-18 au Patrimoine de l’humanité’ 11.01.14) points out the significant economic interest in seeking recognition for these sites: in other cases, Unesco recognition has led to a 30% increase in ‘war tourism’. Although it will probably be 1918 before a decision is made, too late therefore to benefit from inclusion in the four years of Centenary commemorations.