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October 26, 2006

Normandy

At the end of my trip, Nelson and I spent a few days exploring Normandy and a bit of Brittany as well. On the first day, we trained to Caen, picked up a car and drove to Bayeux.

Bayeux is the home to the 1000 year-old Bayeux tapestry which tells the tale of the Norman conquest of England. This was fun as David and I had encountered a lot of William the Conqueror history in London (the Tower of London and Westminster Abbey, most notably).

Seeing an embroidered representation of Edward the Confessor, whose tomb we had seen a couple weeks earlier, made me appreciate my 10th grade world history lessons all the more. It turns out Mr. Sheppard was correct when he stressed that 1066 was one of only two dates you needed to know for a proper understanding of European history (the other being November 11, 1918).

We spent the night just outside of Bayeux in a classy ch√Ęteau (not sure if there are unclassy ones). And in the morning we set off to see the Normandy Invasion sites.

There are a number of places you can stop along the way. At Arromanches you can see the remnants of the concrete blocks used to create the so-called Mulberry Harbors that allowed the transport of men and equipment into France. At Longues-sur-mer you can see a number of German emplacements that were bombarded during the invasion.

Most impressive to me was Pointe du Hoc, the site of a famous Army Ranger assault that took place before the beach landings. The entire site is pock-marked with craters. When you look at the cliffs the Rangers had to scale to assault the German artillery it's easy to understand why so many men died. There's a similar feeling standing on Omaha beach and looking up at the bluffs that would have hidden entrenched machine gun nests.

Visiting Normandy was a great experience. As a California liberal pants-wetter I not only believe that all wars are regrettable but that war-making is something we should be able to transcend as a people. So being at the site of justly-celebrated use of American might made me feel a strange mix of emotions.

On the one hand, I believe that the unquestioning reverence given to the Greatest Generation has mythologized their significance to the point where it is no longer accessible. That being said, I can honestly say that in standing there I felt proud of being American for the first time in as long as I can remember. You're looking at a largely intact piece of German artillery and you know that this was the German Army and not the Nazis who were (you try not to over-dramatize) killing your people and you can't help think to yourself "Yes, this is good. It's good that this was destroyed. The people who destroyed this were right and I'm proud of them for having done so."

There's something both undeniably inspiring and simultaneously tragic in visiting the place that marks the last best military accomplishment of your nation.

1 comment:

hyacinths and biscuits said...

Hi. I just found your blog, and all the pictures are gorgeous, but these in particular.