In 1944 and 1945, John Brinckerhoff Jackson surveyed the French and German countryside for the advancing US army. At the military intelligence training centre in Maryland, Jackson had been taught to see the territory he surveyed as an empty stage on which certain choreographed actions were to be performed, and others improvised in the event that the enemy, or the land itself, threw up surprises. The landscape, as far as possible, was to provide a backdrop for the movement of the principals. Crossing France and Germany, Jackson writes in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984), he began to feel like an 18th-century landscape gardener, corralling the natural world in the name of order and design. The landscape of war, he concludes, is not in principle very different from that of peacetime cultivation: they are both 'intensified and vitalised by one overriding purpose which, of necessity, brings about a closer relationship between man and environment and between men'. Gardens and battlefields are at once antithetical and oddly alike; among other (usually more pressing) things, they display our confusion about the opposition of nature to culture.
LRB 26 April 2007 | PDF Download