I’m not usually this enthusiastic about stars, stripes, and brass instruments, which is not to say that I’m not patriotic, but simply that I’m cynical. But since my cynicism is the driving force behind this blog post, bear with me.
“Live free or die.”
This nicely condensed quote conveys a major American ideal, one that in my opinion is sometimes considered a given in our society when it is actually a striking idea. In any case, American society embraces freedom in every respect, fighting for Constitutional rights given to its citizens even when the majority of them (us) will not need to exercise each right.
This, then, may have been the reason behind my legitimate confusion as to why the French government “capitulated” to the Germans in World War II. For better or quite often for worse, the American government rarely capitulates unless it is to ensure the freedom of its people, most recently in the case of Sgt. Bowe Berghdahl. So while I wholeheartedly agreed with the decision to send American soldiers to fight against Germany, I rather unfairly refused to understand why the French surrendered.
It wasn’t until we reached the towns in Normandy that I understood that no French person could have been truly ambivalent towards their occupation. With Allied forces bombing their homes and their ways of life overturned by German troops, change barreled its way through their lives. The French people must have been terrified both before the invasion as well as after 1940.
As we drove through the Norman towns, both the French flag and the flag of the country that liberated it flew from many houses, as well as in the town square. Watching French soldiers visit the World War II museums, I had a much greater respect for what gratitude on this scale looks like.
In the American cemetery for those who lost their lives in the war, there is a quote from René Coty, a former president of France, which reads, “Nous n’oublions pas, nous n’oublierons jamais, la dette d’infinie gratitude que nous avons contractée envers ceux qui ont tout donne pour notre liberation.” Roughly translated, this says, “we do not forget, we will never forget, the infinite debt of gratitude that we owe to those who have given everything for our liberation.”
The French have done the most important things they could have done, which is to respect the troops that gave them back their liberty and to uphold the restored democracy with everything in their power.