ve day in normandy

Victory in Europe: Can a war be just?

Today was Victory in Europe Day, or VE Day, which is when the Allied forces finally defeated the Germans in World War II.  I spent my day, rather fittingly, touring the beaches of Normandy, where the Allied invasion of France – the one that resulted, ultimately, in the defeat of the Nazis – began.

I have the same basic feelings about war as I have about getting my asshole waxed.  I don’t really want the experience, but I want to see what it feels like afterwards.  I usually think of myself as a lovable coward, but it’s hard to know what I’m really like in extreme situations because I generally go out of my way to avoid them.

But today, I stood at the edge of the tide on Omaha Beach.  The beach is shallow, so while at high tide, the waterline is up by the dunes, at low tide, it’s several hundred yards out.  That space is flat and featureless, and on the hills above, you can see the cement remains of gun pillboxes pointing down at the beach.  Those pillboxes would be a very good place to shoot little pieces of hot metal out of in a menacing manner.

Standing at the edge of the tide, I thought, “Yup, I’m a coward.”  Throughout the day, me and my Dad would trade facts we knew about D-Day, and the rest of my family and I had long discussions about the nature of war, whether a war could be just, and where, possibly, they might sell good cheese sandwiches.

Part of me wished that, while I was standing on the beach, I could slip through a wormhole and onto that beachhead nearly 70 years ago, under (and possibly on) fire.  I’d like to see if I would shit my pants.  I’m pretty sure I would, even allowing for a moment of orientation after my time travel.

I’ve thought excessively about war, and about what causes I’d be willing to fight and die for.  I would not be willing to fight and die blindly for my country, as the title of my blog might suggest.  I do have a lifelong love of supporting underdogs, though, so I can see myself as being quite amenable to fighting fascists to the death.  Whether I could do so without soiling my pants is another matter.

Another thing I noticed about Normandy was that most of the American graves were crosses, except for the few with the Star of David.  There weren’t any other types of graves, which I’d assume accounted for the general lack of Muslims in the armed forces at the time, but I was expecting a few non-crosses, non-stars for the nonbelievers.  There HAD to be some killed at Normandy.  If it were only Christians and Jews killed in World War II, if all the atheists got off the hook, I would think it would sow a bit more doubt into the hearts of the believers.

My point is that the assumption that they died for their country – as the memorials all said – seemed a bit presumptuous.  I wouldn’t die for my country, but I’d fight with it if it were fighting fascists thugs, if I believed it was going to do the fight right.  And why wouldn’t that earn me my own type of tombstone?

Normandy is beautiful, for those who are thinking of coming.  If you go with your family, you can talk about war one moment and then giggle about how your little sister actually says “Hiccup” when she hiccups, and how your Mom, despite the fact that she is over half a century old, still cannot even think of the word “fart” without laughing.

It’s pleasant.

Happy Victory in Europe day, everyone.  Here’s to the memory of the people who fought for reasons we know nothing about.  Here’s to the memory of the people who died for reasons we know even less about.  Here’s to fighting fascists.

“What shall we drink to, sir?”

“Down with Hitler.”

“All the way down, sir.”