On a recent European trip that included Belgium, we chose to spend a day visiting the Flanders Fields WW1 battlefields in southwestern Belgium around the village of Ypres.
This was a place that gave us the opportunity to pay respects and reflect on the tragedy of war, the meaning of self-sacrifice, the idea of a "band of brothers," and what has been called "man's inhumanity to man."
As Rick says in his Belgium guidebook, "Because American forces played a relatively minor role in the fighting at Flanders Fields, its history is obscure to many visitors from the US" (italics are mine). His book has a helpful 11-page summary of the multiple battlefields around Ypres, where at least five major battles were fought between 1914 - 1918.
The many cemeteries and monuments to those who fell here, from all participating countries, give an opportunity for the visitor to pay respects and reflect. Walking through reconstructed trenches, seeing unexploded artillery shells unearthed in the last hundred years (including recent years, the Belgian bomb squads are still kept busy), and seeing the grave of reportedly the youngest soldier killed in WW1 (he was 15) are just a few of the many memorable experiences we had.
This was one of the biggest battles, and one of the most appalling in its human cost, in WW1; the light research I've done indicates it may have been the second costliest battle of WW1 in human terms. The perfection of the machine gun, the first use of poison gas and flamethrowers, the five years of fighting, and the rainy wintry climate--these were just some of the causes of one of the more appalling tragedies in the annals of 20th century war.
We chose to visit Flanders Fields from our home base in Brugge/Bruges, using the Quasimodo bus tour out of Brugge, which was excellent. For reasons Rick explains, this series of battlefields is more challenging to do on one's own.
While it is understandable that visiting battlefields, death camps, and other places of horror and tragedy are not a priority in some persons' European vacation, we found the experience to be profound, thought-provoking, and a memorable day that was well worth the time and effort.