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Unto the third and the fourth generation

Belated musings on Veterans' Day got me thinking about this this photo I took in France a couple of years ago.







This memorial is in St. Germain-du-Teil, but there's one like it in every French town.

St. Germain-du-Teil is a tiny village perched on a hillside in Languedoc-Roussillon, population today maybe a few hundred.

I don't know if its population was much greater back in 1914. But look at that memorial: St. Germain-du-Teil very likely sacrificed every single one of its able-bodied sons to the First World War. Three Astrucs. Four fine young Bernon brothers or cousins. Two Birons, two Boudons. And that's just on the first face of the memorial. The second side runs to Radeille, and I think the S's and T's were on the third face. Almost every surname represented appears at least twice.



Ninety years later, I'm sitting in the courtyard of St. Germain-du-Teil's only public house, drinking cassis vin blanc and chatting about interior decoration, divorce and estranged children, and life in rural southern France, with a guy a little younger than myself. He'd once lived and worked for a decorator in Paris and was now working as a roofer in the next village.

He would have been the great-grandson--possibly the great-great grandson--of someone who fought in the First World War. We didn't discuss that. Those memorials are everywhere, and I doubt most people today really see them.

I don't know if the displaced decorator was an Astruc or a Clavel or a Lacas. But he was French and therefore by definition a descendant of someone who lost more than one beloved young man to that war. What I'm pretty sure of is that a mere ninety years, a tiny century, can't have erased the effects of that degree of loss.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
executrix
Nov. 12th, 2005 02:05 pm (UTC)
World War II was a war. World War I was a concentration camp.
emeraldsedai
Nov. 12th, 2005 05:55 pm (UTC)
So my WWI history is a little fuzzy in my mind because nobody could adequately explain it?

WWII is comparatively easy to understand. You get a sense of clear purpose: a real attack on (proto-)American soil, and that new, World-Superpower rush of swooping in to tip the balance for our beleaguered friends in Europe who were having trouble defeating the evil Hitler on their own.

Interesting that it's taken the U.S. this long to make its wall of names for WWII. Maybe because we didn't emotionally "need" it following a war that was perceived as just, honorable, and won.

But I'm far too much of a cynic and tinfoil hat to believe that even in WWII, events weren't manipulated for someone's maximum profit and without regard to the loss of working-class life.
emeraldsedai
Nov. 12th, 2005 05:31 pm (UTC)
I've always felt that same way about war memorials. "My" war was the Vietnam debacle, and there's nothing like the big, black, name-encrusted Wall in Washington to distill one's sense of meaningless waste of life. I don't think there's anyone who still believes that the Vietnam war-thing was really about anything noble. I'm astonished that anyone still thinks we're in Iraq for any nobler purpose than Halliburton's profits.

But if "your" war was a real one--if the enemy was at your gate or just across your river and your able-bodied men went off to repel him--then you'd see war, and its memorials, quite differently.

I'm still troubled by Veterans' Day, not because those who "gave their lives to protect our liberty" aren't worthy of our remembrance, but because they almost all died, in actuality, to aggrandize some sociopath and his cronies.
executrix
Nov. 12th, 2005 06:38 pm (UTC)
In my estimation, every man ever got a statue made to him was some sort of sumbitch or another.

The thing about WWI, though, is that the ruling class was willing to see a full generation of its *own* sons slaughtered.
emeraldsedai
Nov. 12th, 2005 07:16 pm (UTC)
The Kool-Aid was very strong back then, I guess.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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