Military occupations are a time of great pain for everyone involved. Occupation can be made for altruistic reasons to keep the peace and prevent conflict, but in many other cases the causes are much more sinister, and the wounds run deep. We’re going to show you the most heartbreaking photos taken during military occupations, such as this one during the British occupation in Northern Ireland.
Unfortunately, it seems as though the world is constantly in war. These photos of military occupations from across the globe are both harrowing and heartbreaking in equal measure. From the British occupation of Northern Ireland through to Nazi occupation in Europe, these photos will bring a tear to your eye.
British Occupation of Northern Ireland
Belfast was the Ground Zero of the conflict. It was a city torn in two by age-old conflicts waged with modern weaponry and guerrilla tactics. The city was blown apart by bombs, fortified by armed groups, and eventually rebuilt once peace finally came. Looking at these photos, though, peace seems like a distant dream for the people of Belfast.
The extent of the damage to the old neighborhoods of Belfast is likely why much of it was rebuilt in the peaceful years that followed. Many remnants of old Belfast still exist, but painful memories are always hard to wash away. The distinctly British architecture of old Belfast has been replaced with something more European and continental. While theoretically still part of the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland has consciously set itself apart from its colonial ruler.
The History of Britain vs Northern Ireland
The social conflicts that turned Northern Ireland into a war zone are many. First of all, we have the long-lasting resentment of the British holding onto this small chunk of Ireland. The Republicans wanted a united Ireland, and by any means necessary would reclaim the remains of their country. This is a conflict that has been waged for far longer than the occupation, and cost countless lives on either end of the spectrum.
The religious divisions in Northern Ireland also played an influential part in tearing apart the social fabric of cities like Belfast. Protestants and Catholics have had a terrible history together, dating back to the initial formation of Protestantism. Admittedly, the Catholics suffered more thanks to the British establishment being the figurehead for Protestantism in Europe, and subsequently authorized prejudice that at its worst put forward the choice of conversion or death.
A Never-Ending Battle
The conflicts of Northern Ireland have been ongoing for the longest of times, in no small part due to the passing down of opinions and prejudices through the generations. These preconceived notions do not go away quickly, and even today the remnants of these conflicts linger. The Irish Republicans have moved away from bomb-making, and are instead fighting for a united Ireland through political means, but Protestants and Catholics still have an uneasy relationship because of sectarian groups such as the Orange Order.
Northern Ireland, though much calmer and unified these days, still feels like it teeters on the edge of an abyss. Like a powder keg ready to blow, all it takes is one rogue spark to set things off and turn cities like Belfast back into living nightmares for all involved. It could be that the wounds and divisions are just too deep to heal permanently, and that so long as the social barriers between people exist there will never be a real or lasting peace.
Japanese Occupation of Hong Kong
The occupation of Hong Kong by Imperial Japanese forces is one of the least remembered military occupations in modern history, in the West at least. The reason why is because of how swiftly Hong Kong recovered afterward, and how easily it was occupied. The territory was British at the time and they were wholly unprepared for the onslaught from the Japanese. The island was captured easily in brief skirmishes that left most of its major population centers untouched.
To say there was no damage at all would be a lie, however. The Japanese’s vicious botched rationing left many of the residents of Hong Kong to starve to death, and there have been countless reports of civil rights abuses committed by the Imperial soldiers on the natives. While the West is largely ignorant that this ever took place, many of the older generation in Hong Kong remember the brutality and fear that came with the occupation.
Russian Occupation of Crimea
One of the most recent and publicized military occupations in the world is occurring right now in Crimea, with the Russian Army having stationed themselves in the region of Ukraine to protect territory. Ukraine, as a former Soviet state, had very close ties to Russia under the previous administration. There was, however, a growing political opposition than favored cutting relations with Russia and instead looking towards the West and partnering with the EU and NATO.
A minor civil war erupted on the streets of Ukraine, and the previous regime found their position untenable and gave in to the opposition. As you can expect, Russia was not happy about this. Having Western NATO military bases practically on their doorstep was something they were clearly not keen on. Distance needed to be put between the new pro-Western Ukrainian administration and themselves. Crimea would become that distance.
Russian separatist groups in Crimea took advantage of the chaos and disorganization that came out of regime change and declared itself independent of Ukraine. Of course, there is far more to the story than what we know on the surface. Right from the start of the separatist campaign, there were rumors that the Russians were sending in troops covertly, disguised as Crimean militia. This level of political puppetry is fully within the wheelhouse of Russian leader Vladimir Putin and his cabal, and it didn’t take long at all for the international community to react.
Crimea’s heavily ethnic Russian population was part of the smokescreen that allowed Putin to unfurl his plan for the annexation of the region. Russia initially pledged to protect ethnic Russians from harm that may come from Crimea’s independence and sent “aid” to them. It is believed many of these aid trucks were anything but, and contained military weaponry for the militia to use if the Ukrainian army attempted to take back the territory.
A Strategic Buffer
The attempt to make Crimea a part of Russia was not entirely based on military strategy. Russia aimed to use political means too, by way of the independence referendum which was of course handily won in favor of separation from Ukraine. Given Russia’s well-documented ability to manipulate political results, it did not take long for the suggestion to be made that the results of the referendum were illegitimate with a UN resolution emphasizing this.
Of course, with no desire to escalate the conflict brewing on the border between Ukraine and Crimea, and few political options left to utilize against Russia; the global community was unable to act. Russia was effectively given carte blanche to use Crimea as both a political and strategic buffer from the influences of the West. It was not long until Russia started sending in its army in force, and undisguised; knowing no challengers would dare oppose them.
A Wedge Between Neighbors
The annexation and occupation of Crimea are already an extensive and important point in current geopolitical affairs. Although it may have only happened in 2014, it has shaped and strained the relationships between individual nations for generations to come. You can be confident that it will be on the minds of most major world leaders for years to come, and giving sleepless nights to military strategists everywhere. The human cost of the Crimean occupation is unknown as of now, as the border scuffles have finally calmed down into a steady but temporary truce.
It’s impossible to know exactly where the compass of the populations of Ukraine and Crimea are pointing right now, but the fierce nationalism on both sides seems to have driven a wedge between people who may at one point have been neighbors. Resilient though they may be, the people here are not expecting peace anytime soon. Not only have fresh divisions between people been opened, but outside players in both the East and the West are pulling strings for their own gain. The true victims of this occupation and annexation are the civilians of both countries, who ultimately only wish for a peaceful and safe life.
Nazi German and Soviet Union Occupation of Latvia
The little-known Eastern European country of Latvia endured turbulent times during the 40s as a result of occupation by both Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union. The country already had connections to the Soviet Union before World War II, but the encroaching power of German forces presented a difficult situation for Latvia; where invasion became inevitable from either side.
Latvia changed hands three times during World War II. Despite the best efforts of resistance fighters trying to keep Latvia independent, they were unable to stem the tide of occupation. Numerous killings and civil rights violations were perpetrated by both the Nazis and the Soviets during the war, and even afterward when the USSR imposed their way of life on the Latvians.
Israeli Occupation of Palestine
Complicated beyond end, vitriolic on every level, and bloodier than you could ever imagine; the Israeli occupation of Palestine is a depressing blotch on human history. It is the coldest and most stark reminder that conflict begets conflict, as evidenced how this state of this occupation seems only like a modern advancement of the age-old conflict between Muslims and Jews. The blood-soaked history of this dispute is not easily ignored.
Following the end of World War II, the Jewish homeland of Israel was established in a British-occupied Palestine. Fighting immediately broke out between the Arabic and Jewish populations with little peacekeeping done by the British as they pulled out of the territory. This would be the first of many conflicts that saw Israel’s territory grow and Palestine’s shrink.
Taking Over Palestinian Land
Many of the conflicts in Israel during the 50s and 60s were retaliatory measures to attacks on their soldiers and territories by Palestinian freedom fighters, many of which had lost their homes in the territory grabs of the Arab-Israeli wars of the 40s. Little by little Palestinian land was chipped away at, as Israel repeatedly fought back and captured territory. By now, the cycle of violence and its causes should become apparent.
It wasn’t until the Six Day War in 1967 that Israel flexed its military might in such a way that it could significantly expand its territory. This is the point in history when the scales would be forever tipped in favor of Israel when it came to fighting against Palestine and its allies in the neighboring Arab nations. Palestinian territory continued to shrink as its people became desperate, disenfranchised, and isolated on the world stage.
A Modern War
As Israel flourished, Palestine declined. Israel’s military might grew exponentially year on year, while the Palestinians relied on help from neighboring Arab countries. Eventually, the Palestinians were left standing alone in these conflicts and relied on guerrilla tactics to wage war. Although so far it may seem like there is a thirst for blood on each side, not all Palestinians or Israelis were opposed to living side by side in peace.
Unfortunately, you do not heal wounds like the ones between Israel and Palestine overnight. Literally millenniums of prejudice have led up to this point, and leaders are more than happy to utilize that for their own gain and to advance their own ideology. Israel’s current Government is defined by its hawkish, right-wing militaristic attitude towards Palestine, whereas the Palestinian people have been pushed into the arms of radical terrorist groups with no rules and no remorse.
Two to Tango
Given that there is definite aggression to Israel from within Palestine and from neighboring Arab nations, why do they face so much criticism for their military action? It is because Israel’s response is far disproportionate to the threat. Israel’s blood for blood policy when it comes to attacks on their country returns the pain tenfold, and in ways Palestinians cannot match or protect themselves from.
Missiles headed for Israeli cities are almost always shot out of the sky by the “iron dome” missile defense system, and in return Palestinian towns are bombarded with airstrikes until there is nothing left but corpses and rubble. Saying that Israel’s military responses are heavy handed is not incompatible with saying the acts of Palestinian terrorist groups like Hezbollah are deplorable. It takes two sides to perpetuate a cycle of violence.
Fixing the Problem in Palestine
The Israeli and Palestinian people do mingle together in society, but as Israel is the controlling factor, the Palestinians are submitted to practices many say are in violation of their human rights. Even when Palestine and Israel are not at war, tensions are high, and the military is regularly deployed into Palestinian territory to force order on their communities when civil unrest rears its head.
Some say a two-State solution with a guarantee of rights and a return of some territories will help to solve the historical conflicts between these people.There’s no way of knowing if it will or not, but it is certain that things cannot go on the way they are. The Palestinian people are at genuine risk of being driven out or disappearing entirely. As long as the hawkish right wing of Israeli politics uses the conflict to remain in power, however, it seems unlikely peace will progress.
Nazi German Occupation of Poland
If humankind as a species is to succeed in the future, it is imperative we learn from our past. The Holocaust, and the events leading up to it, are a constant reminder of how brutal people can be to one another even in a modern context. More importantly, it needs to serve as a reminder of how far prejudice and hate can escalate. The military occupied Kraków ghettos in Poland acted as a way to collect Nazi Germany and its annexed territories’ Jewish population, and strip them of their rights and their possessions.
Civil rights were a thing of the past in the Kraków ghettos. The Jewish people were treated as criminals, unable to pass the borders of their squalid neighborhood without having their papers checked. Failure to properly identify yourself resulted in dire consequences, and even death. This is the place where the concept of Liberty went to die.
Disease and despair were rife in the Kraków ghetto. These people were stripped of their valuables and their homes and placed in cold, cramped buildings that were clearly unfit for living in. What little the population of the Kraków ghetto had in its possession was bartered away for food and resources. Family heirlooms and valuable jewelry could be used to buy food to supplement what little they already had. Furniture would be chopped up for firewood to keep residents warm in the brutal winters.
The people of the Kraków ghetto were forced into what amounts to slave labor. The majority of the Jews in the area were forcefully deported, but the workers that were kept ended up in the employ of their oppressors. They worked in German factories, constructing goods and utilities for both domestic use, and the mounting war effort.
Families Torn Apart
Displacement during the second World War was rife. Families were torn apart, and some never reunited even after the war stopped. There are people even today who don’t know their family because they were given away as babies by their Jewish parents to be kept safe as they fled Europe. The desperation was so great that many parents trusted strangers to hide their children’s identities than suffer the consequences if they were caught up to by the Nazis, and found to be Jewish.
Those that kept hold of their children and stayed put in Europe had a worse fate coming for them. The concentration camps were the next stop for the men of the Krakow ghetto, forced into even worse conditions and put to work on hard, physical labor. For those who remained in the ghetto, the situation looked increasingly hopeless for them.
Resistance Groups in Kraków
There was resistance, however. No occupation in history has avoided being met with a force that aims to disrupt them, and Krakow had many resistance groups banding together to fight back. Militarily, they were outgunned. The aim of the Krakow resistance was to outsmart the Nazis, and fight back using anti-Nazi propaganda in the hopes the non-Jewish citizens of Poland would wake up and rebel against the Germans.
Outside of the ghetto, the resistance was getting traction, but the results were limited at best. One of the most significant victories of the resistance was getting medical treatment and pharmaceuticals into the Krakow ghetto. It wasn’t much in the larger context, but people were sick and dying without any medical aid.
‘The Final Solution’
As we all know, by now the Germans were changing their plans towards the Jews. Forced labor and expulsion from Europe were now secondary, as the “final solution” was quietly being put into place. The ghettos, Kraków included, were eventually liquidated. Its population was then split, with some going to the work camps, and others towards their death in places like Auschwitz.
This is the horrifying end-game that many fear unchecked military power can end in. While these images have shown that occupations can be quite different from each other, it illustrates how the abuse of people from an outside military force can cause great suffering and pain. Wishing for a world without war is unrealistic, especially in these troubling times, but a lack of compassion, understanding, and diplomacy is what paves the road to the worst examples of military occupation. Hopefully one day we can learn from our past, rather than repeating it.