Last weekend, I had the opportunity to go see Omaha Beach in Normandy. For those who aren't 100% familiar with the location, it is the beach where the Allies attacked the Germans on the coast of Normandy. Omaha is the specific beach that the United States had their regimes attack. This event is better known as D-Day, June 6, 1944.
For some reason, I was overtaken emotionally by the thought of literally touching the sands on which thousands died to fight against the Germans in WWII. Our entire group was in the little museum that was off the beach a little bit, and I simply could not maintain enough focus to stand still and read about what happened on the beach. I needed to interact with it personally. So while everyone else was looking at relics from that day, I snuck off to see the ultimate relic: the beach. I hiked a good 15 minutes down the banks to the shore, each step bringing me closer and closer to an emotional mourning for the soldiers and their families.
Whenever I finally got to the beach, I was practically in tears. I began to feel silly because I was crying for no personal reasons, but simply for the overwhelming history I was getting to experience. I was all alone on a peacefully haunting beach where, 67 years ago, thousands of men fought and died.
Standing on the edge of the water, closing my eyes while trying to picture the ships, submarines, airplanes, guns, troops, noise: the chaos, I was taken aback by how peaceful the beach still seemed. It was if the air was saying, "yes, the history here is terribly haunting, but everyone who died here is now in peace." Although, maybe I simply heard what I desperately wanted to hear.
Throughout my studies here in France, we have been studying both WWI and WWII. Prior to studying here, I understood the major countries, political figures, and general reasons for the wars, but until now I have yet to really humanize the wars and appreciate the little consequences that mean so much more than the overarching ideas. My whole life, I have been so anti-war. I never have, and have yet to understand what part of the human condition leads us to make points and take power by killing massive amounts of men and why so much of our money goes to developing the next best way to kill large amounts of people, when we could be putting that same money to SAVING even larger numbers of people.
I have learned two major factors that have, although not changed my perspective, opened my understanding of war. There are people, governments, out there in the world that will terrorize and have their way with the world and it's population despite any civil efforts to stop them. Sometimes, the tough choice between two evils needs to be made. The men that fought on the beach I got to personally experience, they were fighting an evil that needed to be stopped at all costs and they were willing to have the price be their lives. They traded their lives on that beach for the lives of thousands more that would have been murdered had they no one to fight for them. The other thing I have learned is that the soldiers, on both sides of the war, are merely men, my age, with parents, wives, siblings...lives back home. Sometimes we forget about that when we develop biases against "the enemy." We need to learn to humanize seemingly inhumane conditions. The German soldiers were just as human as the soldiers fighting for the Allies, and despite what they were fighting for, coerced or not, they deserve to be remembered as well.
I admit that I did take some sand from Omaha Beach, and it is currently displayed on my desk in my apartment as a reminder of all that I have learned and have yet to learn about the history, present day, and future of France, the world around me, and myself.
over and out.