Normandy’s Violent History

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Fantastic towns scatter the Normandy coastline, including Honfleur and Deauville, which I hear serves as the Parisian equivalent of the Hamptons.  So, you know, if anyone has some extra cash lying around, feel free to give me a call.  I’d be happy to research both Deauville and the Hamptons for you, and I assure you, I’d offer an extensive, thorough report.  This is the Macaroon vs. Cupcake Debate Extreme Edition.

(So macaroon or cupcake?  Anyone?  Any preferences?)

Personally, I chose Bayeux as my home base, which houses the Tapestry of 1066, depicting William the Conqueror’s conquest.

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Bayeux, Normandy

And no.  This particular location was not an accident.  The sleepy town completely charmed me; I didn’t want to leave!  I couldn’t quite capture the photo but at night, a full moon hung low in the sky–a brilliant orange so bright I thought it might be a street lamp.  Set against a blue sky, not quite yet indigo, and from my point of view, tucked into the crevice of the steeple.  It was simply stunning.

The landscape vacillates between vast and striking, and quietly pretty.  An expansive field stretches towards miles of ocean, and a stone cottage covered in red ivy on a fall day.

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Oooh.  And the cider.  Mmm.  With kir?  Mmmmmm.

Saturday, I toured the World War II sites along the coast.

A full day of facing startling realities and a grim history, coupled with the quaint, sweet atmosphere of Bayeux, made for a rather bipolar vacation.  I suppose saying “I liked the World War II beaches” sounds insensitive but I can suggest visiting them.  If you have access to a car, you can navigate the route yourself but I’d suggest joining a small tour group, as I did.  The depth of knowledge is worth the few extra euros.

There’s a fine line between respecting those who’ve died in wars and glorifying the wars themselves.  To be clear, I don’t have a conclusive answer as to where that line is.  However, when visiting the Normandy WWII sites, my friend and I began discussing the cemeteries and whether or not we should celebrate the lives of all those fallen soldiers.

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American WWII Cemetery. It’s the resting place for 9,387 people.

Why celebrate the life of someone who didn’t have a chance to live?

Essentially, does the celebration of a fallen soldier manifest as the celebration, and thus glorification, of war?  Or does it speak more to what they died for?  What about for the many who didn’t have a choice but to fight, simply because they were of a certain age in the wrong time?  Does our celebration of these people indicate that war is, or ever should be, the proper solution to our problems?

Personally, I believe that every life ought to be celebrated, simply because they lived.  And every fallen soldier should be honored, simply because they fought for something greater than themselves.  They made sacrifices.

So let’s just move forward from that basic premise.

When plaques commemorate the “glory” and “honor” of a soldier’s service, what’s the message we’re receiving?

The men were drafted, forced to fight a war for the political powers who, quite literally, were changing the world, altering country borders, and forming new alliances.  A street of alternating British and French flags in a small northern town particularly stands out in my memory, evidencing the massive shifts in culture and friendships cultivated out of shared misery.

The soldiers were no more than pawns, following commands as we used violence yet again to solve world problems.   I’m not arguing America shouldn’t have interceded.  Rather, I simply hope for all of us to be more aware, myself included.

So go to Normandy.  See the breathtaking coastline, be properly astounded that such a peaceful, picturesque place knew such violence.

The war itself, the act of resorting to bloodshed to solve problems, resulting in the loss of thousands upon thousands of lives, was not, and never is, a glorious occasion.  Taking action against evils in the world is.  And you see, that’s where the line blurs.  So simply remember what you’re celebrating, what you’re grieving, and why.  Remember what deserves glory and what does not.  See it and be mindful because the forgotten memories of these haunted beaches deserve the consideration.  The war doesn’t need to be glorified, but the soldiers deserve our respect, and the beaches deserve our understanding as places of horrific violence and the constant inner battle for hope.

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