Photograph of the Memorial Statue of Man Rising from the Waves at Normandy
|Copyright © 2004, 2005 - All rights retained by author and photographer|
|Written and Photographed by: C. W. Booth|
Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
Why do men die? Why do they sacrifice themselves during war? Some die in a vain chase for greed and power. Others, because men having been created in the image of God still bear the imprint of their Creator, however imperfectly, which causes them to love. To love one another, to hate evil, and to oppose oppression.
A Whistle Stop in Normandy
My trip to Normandy was prompted at the request of a work colleague to accompany him on his personal pilgrimage (a word which is not here used lightly). Born American, part of his family is of Asian decent. His pilgrimage was rooted in the desire to have a living family member see, photograph, experience, and return with sand from the beach where his father-in-law landed in the second wave on D-Day, fought, and ultimately survived. This pilgrimage came three years following his father-in-law’s death.
At the time of his father-in-law’s landing, the fighting was still heavy and brutal. A young wounded soldier he had helped drag from the water’s edge died but moments later when a German artillery shell landed in the bomb crater which was serving as the wounded man’s improvised clinic. The events of the day etched themselves deeply into the fiber of my friend’s father-in-law.
Only the word "sobering" can describe the emotional effect of seeing the American Cemetery as it is today. Even with the most festive of weather which we experienced that day, there was a certain somber mood to the very air. This was in stark contrast to the sight of French families on holiday, taking advantage of the good beach conditions below the bluff on which the cemetery resides. Windsurfers glided past in the ocean winds unseen by the gravemarkers high above them, and themselves unseeing as they concentrated on leaping the waves.
Our trip from Paris to Bayeau Station (in the direction of Cherbourg) took several hours, and our schedule did not accommodate touring any of the many museums in the area, nor visiting any of the other nearby D-Day beaches. If your own timetable permits, there is a D-Day Invasion museum right around the corner from the Bayeau train station, which may lend greater context to your visit.
Our tickets were "coach class." There was one coach car at the extreme end of the train. Coach class means none of the seats are reserved and competition for seating can be intimidating. Few riders will simply offer to move their coats, backpacks, and packages so as to allow one to sit beside them, even as the train fills up. It is necessary, even expected, that if you wish to sit down, you will have to politely but firmly say, "Pardonez moi, s’il vous plait." The usual response is the quiet removal of the seated rider’s belongings, freeing up the seat for use.
1st and 2nd class tickets can also be purchased. 1st class will gain you a semi-private compartment. 2nd class will give you a reserved seat and a bit more elbow and leg room than your unreserved coach seat affords.
Traveling from the Bayeau station to the cemetery can be accomplished by taxi or by local bus. Expect to pay a steep price for the taxi (about 40 Euros one way which is about $50 or more depending on exchange rates). During our visit the local bus Ligne 70, Bus Verte, was the one which visited the cemetery on a limited specific schedule; get the updated schedule and line numbers in advance and plan accordingly. Bus rides cost about 3.60 Euros. Upon arrival, stop first at the visitors center, pick up the literature, and verify return bus schedules or make taxi arrangements.
At the main entrance walkway to the cemetery there is a massive statue of a man rising from the waves, reaching toward heaven (see the photograph at the top of the page). It is entitled "Spirit of American Youth" and symbolizes the spirit of the fallen dead being reclaimed from the ocean and called into God’s presence. There is an inscription about the virtue of sacrifice chiseled into the marble monument surrounding the statue. For myself, tears welled up and it was hard choking back an outward emotional response.
While battle plans are displayed in alcoves of the main memorial, it is simply impossible to envision how those first days of the invasion must have looked, sounded, and smelled. There is a certain peace imposed on the immediate area which seems to negate the ability to imagine the past.
In fact, time has very much erased the tableau of that brief moment in history when men rained down hellfire upon their fellow man. Some machine gun nests remain, some concrete bunkers and tunnels, even bomb craters are still in evidence. Yet, the green grass, shade trees, and ocean surf more than compensate for what remains by imposing a garden-esque feel to this one time battlefield.
That any of the bunkers, machine gun nests, gun emplacements, and underground passages remain so much intact after the unrelenting pre-battle bombings and even following the invasion assault itself, is to some degree frightening. What does it take to obliterate these modern subterranean fortresses?
Still, time itself has eroded the soil coverings over the tunnels, returned earth to the bomb holes, and filled up many of the bunkers--time is doing what the armed forces of the world could not and is slowly making these fortresses useless for further conflict.
While not my first choice as a vacation destination, this short excursion to Normandy was a hard hitting emotional reminder that freedom is not a universal right of humanity, it is a privilege that is only bestowed on those people who are willing to earn it through self-sacrifice and defend it with bravery against all tyrants.
Back to Paris
To my foreign American eyes, France appears to be an odd land. It seems filled with contradictions. Religious statuary is everywhere, religion is celebrated on seemingly every corner, and there are magnificent cathedrals and churches on most any street. At the same time there is nudity everywhere as well, in the artworks hanging in every museum, in the street-side advertising, and hardcore sexually explicit materials casually appear without warning on the cable TV networks. A land of contradictions.
Fine art is on display to the public and is freely accessible for one to view, human nose to painted nose; even works such as original Van Gogh’s, right there at your finger tips to touch if you were bold enough and disrespectful enough. Yet, around their most unassailable monuments to strength and endurance, such as the Eiffel Tower itself, armed guards with machine guns at the ready abound, as if someone might walk away with the tower’s south pier. Quite a city of contrasts and seeming contradictions.
City public transportation is impressively efficient, convenient, and inexpensive. One can ride the metro (subway) to anywhere in the city for 1.40 Euros (about $2), but take a taxi and it can cost a mind-numbing 50 Euros.
As elegant as the public transportation network is in Paris, navigating the surface streets is unusually difficult, even for locals. There is no real pattern to the street flow, and tiny dead-end alcove-style streets abound, making them virtually invisible and anonymous. Parisians who are stopped and queried for directions to that small hotel at which you have reservations may want to help, but they cannot. Directions such as, "walk two blocks north, then turn right" are meaningless in many parts of Paris. Streets turn, curve, intersect, merge, and change names with dizzying rapidity. All a native Parisian can do is often say, "walk the direction I am pointing, keep looking." I might add, keep asking the locals as you go that direction. Even the taxi drivers use global positioning satellite units (GPS) regularly since they also do not know the entire maze of streets. Great subterranean public transit, a confusing bustle of surface streets: contrasts and contradictions.
Perhaps the world’s most celebrated museum, this one time palace is itself a tribute to contrasts. Though the Louvre is a classic palace, built of stone and decorated with marble statuary, its cobblestone courtyard houses the museum’s welcoming center, an ultramodern glass pyramid.
Once inside the museum, visitors are offered an immense selection of art to peruse. However, the visitor must plan his tour carefully, for it is unlikely that any but the most persistent, eager, industrious, able bodied, sneaker-wearing individual who has a short attention span can see all that he really desires to see in but one day. Admittedly, I came as close to achieving this goal as one may hope to reasonably get.
My personal favorite is Greek statuary. And these abound in the Louvre. Greek and Roman statues, busts, and friezes are all on display, including fully intact statues carved some 2000 years ago. Likenesses of such Roman emperors as Marcus Aurilius, Hadrian, and others are arranged in impeccable and impressive settings. Approaches to some of the most famous pieces, such as Winged Victory, are breathtaking as they can be viewed from afar surrounded by collections of art that line the grand vaulted passageways leading from exhibit to exhibit.
Still, I am mindful that much of what passes for Greek statuary are actually idols of Greek gods. What makes them idols? They are, after all, nothing more than carved rock representations of the gods which the ancients imagined must live around and over them. Yet they became idols because the statues were not mere reminders of what they thought their gods looked like, but as such, became surrogates of the gods, at the feet of which prayers could be uttered with the expectation that the gods would favor these prayers because the faithful said them while worshipping at the feet of the images. Such is the definition of idolatry.
Idols did not answer prayers, and people must have known this intuitively. They surely considered idols to be a conduit for their prayers to the ears of their various unseen gods. All that was necessary was to favor the gods by praying to their likenesses.
This form of superstition has not become entirely obsolete. Idol worship, in the USA, in Paris, and elsewhere is alive and well. Idolatry was a constant battleground for the Apostle Paul. Paul warned that communing with idols (talking to them or through them) was a form of demon worship. Idols themselves were nothing but stone carvings, but the demons used them to accumulate worship, servitude, devotion, and affection for themselves and away from God. One cannot commune with stone statues and with God. God simply will not countenance any intermediary, living, dead, or carved in stone, other than the person of Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5).
This is always something to contemplate deep within us as we look at the use of statues during worship, even in the Christian sanctuary. What would Paul say regarding statues of saints, statues of Mary, even paintings of God Himself?
God the Father is never to be represented in statue or painting form. Surely this is what He meant when he had Moses write:
"Then the LORD spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words, but you saw no form--only a voice. So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone. The LORD commanded me at that time to teach you statutes and judgments, that you might perform them in the land where you are going over to possess it. So watch yourselves carefully, since you did not see any form on the day the LORD spoke to you at Horeb from the midst of the fire, so that you do not act corruptly and make a graven image for yourselves in the form of any figure, the likeness of male or female…" (Deuteronomy 4:12-16)
And statues and paintings should not be the objects at the feet of which we pray. Consider the brass snake and pole that Moses was commanded to make. It was meant to be a one time use item, at which the sinning Hebrews were to gaze when they were bitten by the poisonous snakes sent from God. These living snakes represented their unrepentant sins. The Hebrews would be bitten by real snakes (a symbol of their spiritual sins), then they would come to their senses and remember their devotion to God as the poison worked its way into their flesh, and they would look to the bronze snake on a pole for healing. That bronze snake represented their sins being lifted up in front of them, and to look on it was to acknowledge they had sinned, and this bronze snake acted as a type of bloodless sacrifice, indeed, a foreshadowing of how Christ would take on all our sins while on the cross.
But that brass snake served its one time use out there in the wilderness. They never prayed to the image of the snake even in their time of distress, but rather they prayed to God for forgiveness once they looked at the snake on the pole, reminding them they would die in their sins if they did not believe God and repent. In time, the people forgot this lesson and began to burn incense at its base, making it an idol. This very object of art that God commanded Moses to fabricate which was to draw men back to Himself by way of remembrance, it became an idol. It was for that reason King Hezekiah destroyed it. And God approved of that king’s faith and actions (2 Kings 18:4).
All such objects of art, when they become an idol, when they become an object of prayer, an object of adoration, or something to which we burn incense, it is to be destroyed. For what stands behind it is not a channel to God, but a channel to a demon which uses it for its own purpose to draw our attention and affections away from God (1 Corinthians 10:19,20).
We Christians are a group of odd people, full of contrasts and contradictions.
Watching Television In Paris
Since I do not subscribe to cable television or satellite services in my home, this latest trip was my first opportunity to watch Al Jazeera TV, which bills itself as the Arab news network. Suddenly I began to understand the violence and hatred expressed toward Christians and Jews by certain Muslim extremists.
This station seems to run day and night. It is a master work of high propaganda. There does not even appear to be a pretense to bring balance to anything shown. Acts of terror by militants cause blood shed, and calculated acts of murder which result in the death of the murderer are improperly labeled "martyrdom." Legitimate governments respond by pursuing the terrorists, resulting in the deaths of would-be murders and those who shelter them. This then is used as fuel to rally more terrorist actions under the guise of revenge for the purpose of being able to broadcast images of even more widows. It is a seemingly mindless cycle of blood letting for the purpose of causing yet more blood letting.
However, behind the self-perpetuating cycle of violence is a larger plan. Domination, control, lust for power. That Islam has many vast and rich home countries while Judaism has but one small one seems lost in the wave of electronic fanaticism. Domination of the sacred and the secular, if even through violent means, is the not so subtle message. World history has seen such tendencies in seasons past, but has the world learned from what has gone before?
Then I wonder who it is that provides the funding for such non-stop programming as put on by such violent fanatics? Subscribers? Donations? Charity drives which serve only as fronts which do not provide as much financial relief for the poor as they do propaganda TV to the masses? Could it even come from the talented children actors recruited and trained to beg professionally from tourists in front of Notre Dame? Maybe the money does not come from these sources, but maybe it does. Who does actually pay for such inflammatory non-stop television programming?
Before watching Al Jazeera TV I used to be somewhat ashamed of being an American while abroad. For many years we have been in a tangible way the police force of the world. Defending South Korea, liberating Granada, stopping the ethnic-cleansing massacres in Bosnia, restoring Kuwait’s government, confronting both Germany and Japan in World War II. For some reason and in some odd way it was our own mass media news that helped generate within me that feeling of embarrassment regarding US involvement in arresting world conflict.
However, after seeing Normandy, and the insane and deadly landing conditions through which our military, and others, persevered to bring peace to Europe; and by contrast, after seeing Al Jazeera inciting blind hatred and calling for holy war (not holy peace) from among everyone who identifies with the Muslim religion, I have a renewed sense of pride in America.
For all her flaws, America as a country, and Americans as a people, are largely driven by a love for freedom and justice. This historical intolerance of genocide and hatred of terrorism is a good quality, an attribute in which to take pride. I am not ashamed to be an American. I am proud of most of what we have stood for and undertaken down through the years.
If such a pride in freedom and a pride in the stand against terrorism results in fear in the hearts of those who espouse terrorism as a means of spreading religious domination and political conquest, then let the terrorist be afraid. For I do love my country, I do love freedom, and it is my hope that America continues to stand tall, if not alone, on these virtues for centuries to come, should God so ordain it and should He stay His certain return.