While millions of people have lost their lives in the past in order to assure a better future for the generations to come, we still do not have the future we dreamed of. In the wake of the recent events from the US, Belgium and France, we do not have to ignore the fact that hundreds, maybe thousands of people die daily in many of the Middle Eastern, African and Asian countries. As the following article will reveal, not all those affected by conflict have chosen either the cause or the fight. Let us remember why our ancestors sacrificed and let us finally create the environment where no one should fear losing their life for their background or beliefs.
What is your perfect holiday destination? A sunny beach perhaps?
For those of you who would like to tread a different path, you might want to hear my unexpected discovery in France. To be fair, my travel was not intended to be a chill out vacation at all. It was planned as a journey in discovery of war memorials.
It all started at a cold spring dawn of 2015, when I arrived in the French city of Caen after spending a long night on ferry. With plenty of sites to see including its Medieval streets and castles, Caen was a nice town to explore. I couldn’t really associate the prosperity I saw with Europe’s war-torn past.
Like many visitors to Caen, I took a day to go to the Omaha Beach. More than 70 years ago, thousands of American soldiers gave their lives during the infamous D-Day landing, followed by more casualties also from the Allied Forces in the next few days. As I walked along the Omaha Beach, the cold wind was blowing harshly and I could almost hear the murderous machine guns firing across time and space. Then, at La Cambe German cemetery, I saw German crosses made of black granite everywhere in the vast cemetery space. There lied more than 21000 German soldiers without individual headstones or glorifications. These were the defeated, the “perpetrators”. These were, “soldiers not all of whom had chosen either the cause or the fight.” as says the sign at the cemetery site.
I felt the same enormous silence standing on the Omaha Beach, at the American Cemetery and at La Cambe. The dead do not speak, but their sheer number represented by the seemingly endless lines of headstones quietly reminded me of that horrific loss of the last century.
Each year, visitors come to see their family members, tend the graves or remember the past. Much of the work done at the German cemetery in fact depends on the effort of international volunteers. I stopped in front of the La Cambe cemetery site, pondering what it means to visit a cemetery. At that time, I noticed several poppy wreaths and a handwritten note left by perhaps a middle school student during his study trip:
We appreciate the bravery that you showed on the beaches, after all not all of you will have wanted to fight for a cause like this. We thought that you were monsters, but you had orders too. Woodland Middle School, Flitwick.
Today, around 72 years after the turning point of the World War II, remembrance and reconciliation of the World Wars are still such important aspects in our personal narratives of the collective human history. I hope the poppies I saw at La Cambe last spring keep blooming in all corners of the world.
Freya Ziyan Lu
Featured image rights go to Tim Wolverson/Wordpress.
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