Saturday, June 21, 2008

War and Peace

Before moving to Paris, I wrote down a list of places outside of the city that I wanted to visit while I was here. Brussels, check. The Loire Valley, check. Stockholm...well, there just isn't enough time for everything. But, in addition to the Belgian capitol and the land of castles, I was also able to check one other place off my list of must-dos: the D-Day beaches of Normandy. When a friend who was visiting Paris from Minneapolis also expressed her interest in such a trip, we quickly booked our train tickets as well as a full-day guided tour and set out to see one of the world's most famous battle sites.

A lot of people in Paris will shy away from taking a day trip to Normandy's various WWII sites. They shouldn't. Yes, you have to leave very early in the morning and return very late at night, but the long, tiring day is totally worth it. Between the Caen war museum, the American Cemetery, the landing beaches, and the other coastal sites, you will find yourself completely immersed in the touching, tragic history of the time. Seeing the craters that still exist in the ground on the tops of the Normandy cliffs - left there more than sixty years ago by Allied bombardment trying to take out the German gunners, which are also still there - will transport you to a different world, when the peaceful beaches were anything but. A good guide is a must; he or she will give you tons of interesting bits of knowledge that you wouldn't get on your own.

We didn't stop being amazed the entire day, and while you might think that such a day trip would be more depressing than not, I felt the opposite to be true. Yes, thousands of men lost their lives. Yes, it was war, civilians were caught in the crossfire, and entire villages were destroyed. But there was hope to be found in the visit as well. The stories of the Frenchmen and women who shared the movements of German soldiers with the Allies at great risk to themselves, the heroics of the soldiers sent to fight a terrible battle, and the tranquility of the area today, proving that life can go on peacefully after war - all of this and more will uplift rather than depress you. Sometimes it's nice to be reminded that good can come from bad.


Greg Wesson said...

Being a Canadian who has recently moved to London, both the memorial at Vimy Ridge (battle from WWI at Vimy in northern France, in the Pas-de-Calais département) and Juno Beach (the beach that the Canadian soldiers landed on during the Normandy invasion during WWII) are on my list of places to visit.

I am someone who was born in the 70s, and as such I am too young to remember Vietnam, so I am basically someone who has grown up never having to face a country at war (other than the smallish wars that North America has fought in Grenada, Haiti, Kosovo, etc. I will admit they were important to those folks, but didn't mean much to us back home).

Never having faced a war, though, has made me really respect those that had to. I can't imagine going overseas as a 19 year old to some place you've never been, risking life and limb, seeing your friends die, marching across Europe and into the concentration camps, freeing an entire continent and then going home to live a "normal life." After all that you have seen and done, how could you?

It takes something special to fight so hard for so much and then return without malice, hatred, or frailty to build (or perhaps rebuilt) the world without war as those of us born in the 70s grew up living in.


Tanya said...


I totally agree with you on this - I can't imagine doing what these young boys did. At the Caen war museum you are shown a film that lasts about 30 minutes and only contains images, no narration. One of the images that will stay in my mind forever in film of the Allied soldiers on the boats that will take them to Normandy. They're all smiling, playing cards to pass the time, joking around. It's pretty amazing - they're about to fight a huge battle and they look so nonchalant about it. They just did what had to be done.

I hope you get a chance to see the Canadian sites. The museum is great too because it gives information about all the different groups that were involved, for example, the video shows the movements to the British, American, and Canadian troops as they worked to liberate towns in France.