Pvt. Hailaga 1ste Inf. 11/11/2015, Atheist
Native American’s that engaged in the tradition of carving totem-poles are said to have denounced any creativity on the part of the carver. The animals and shapes were already in the wood and it was the carver’s only task to discover them and remove the excessive wood. I wonder if it is the same with the white marble we use to make the soldiers’ graves in our gardens of stone.
I was tigering through the tunnels of a Nazi bunker-complex within shots-range of Utah- and Omaha- beach in Normandy, France when a German voice came screaming through the sound system “Alarm! Alarm!…” Today it sounds like the plot for a retro-first-person-shooter but when I was in those tunnels yesterday this concept and the makeshift German voice sounded nothing less than sacrilege. 70 years ago paratroopers (and in the following days infantry) tried to dislodge the German defenders of this underground-fortress through bitter fighting. It was an underground labyrinth beneath the guns that in the days after the D-Day invasion were still laying waste to the beaches. When an allied shipsgun at long last finally managed to place a round clean through the bunker-opening of one of the German guns it proved to be a ‘dud’. Despite not exploding the mere air-pressure killed the 15 Germans operators instantly and the German station-commander decided, having anyhow shot most of his ammunition in the three days since the invasion, that there was not dishonor in surrendering. The approaching Sherman-tank and flamethrower indeed played an important part in that decision.
On 6th of June 1944 allied forces mounted the largest amphibious operation to date to liberate Europe from its Nazi occupation. This was also the start of the race to Berlin they were engaging in with their Russian ‘allies’. Towards the end of the war there actually were German troops expecting the allies to join them in a war against bolsjevism. That was perhaps somewhat blind towards the gravity of the things fascism had done, but they were correct in that with the end of the war an new Cold War followed suit. While we in the West think this war was in turn won by endurance as the Communist
Russia Sovjet Union collapsed, wars are usually won only when the other recognizes defeat. It must be stressed that Putin did not do any such thing. On 6th of June 2014 the next installment of this war may be decided again on the beaches of Normandy, when all parties involved will meet each-other for a round of ‘remembrance’ as well as for some heated back-room negotiating over the likes of Ukraine.
The annexation of Crimea and the artificial unrest in the East of Ukraine coupled with broken promises of withdrawal and loan-shark practices regarding gas-provisioning signal an expansive phase of the Russian bear. In part this is driven by the ego of one man, again one man, but like with Nazi Germany much has to do with vengeance for perceived past humiliations and desired outcomes for the economic crises. It is uncanny the way similarities with Nazi-Germany stack one on top of the other: marginalization of minorities including turning a blind eye to organized mobbing; authoritarian state; assassination-democracy including large-scale election irregularities and a silencing of the opposition;
Hitlerjugend Childrens-army with military training and full indoctrination focusing on the nation, its leader; actions to protect one’s own ‘ethnic minorities’ in neighboring countries. Like in Nazi-Germany this system has a large base of approval with the ignorant population. Equally though, there is also no room for diverging opinions.
On the optimist side this Russian politics is still far from the outrageous moves the Third Reich took in the days preceding the declaration of war by Great-Britain: Techo-Slovakija, Austria and finally Poland fell to the land-hungry Hitler. Still we may start to take reasonable bets on what it will take for the West to swallow a spoon of 1940-British courage, ‘to take up arms against a sea of troubles’. Will it be Ukraine, the Baltic States or Poland again perhaps? Or will the events unfolding this week on Normandy’s beaches once again save the European continent and assure the European citizens their rights to vote, engage in sex with members of the same gender, not pray to the Christian or any other God and speak any non-Russian language they bloody well like.
Still as a historian I must take a step back and flatten the black and white “NATO: Good Russia: Bad” rhetoric. Russia’s anti-fascist comments regarding Ukraine and Europe may be largely for public relations and image building. There’s still a root of truth to it that was rather visible in the results of the last European election on 25/05. A considerable part of the continent has forgotten about the sands of Normandy on which the price was paid in order that a democratic Europe might live. That in a war neither side is entirely selfless or that no side is entirely without moral becomes clear when you also visit the German ‘peace-garden’ cemetery in La Cambe. And while the world slowly winds down the spiral-staircase towards another global war of attrition this will again be entirely relevant as well as disregarded. Perhaps we can avoid it for the immediate future. But with global population as it is and the resource-scarcity as it is becoming war may be like radioactive decay: random, unavoidable and, on a statistical scale, frighteningly predictable.
This historian is wondering if perhaps there is a piece of marble with his name pre-inscribed in the memory of the stone. Or perhaps it is inscribed on the bullets that would reduce him to bug-food. If it is the case let it be clear that it would be of great insult to me to be buried in a garden of stone that assumed I was comforted by the God my enemies revered or any god for that matter. There are plenty of atheists in foxholes, there always were. Regardless I think, as soldiers, we are not defined by where we think we end up, but by where we were when we bought the farm and what we did just before it happened.
The morbidly beautiful sight of the burial ground at Omaha beach, striped of its illustrious atmosphere by the preparations for the coming international event, including seats, stages and television-towers, at ones seemed terribly out of place to me. These men, who here gave the last full measure of devotion, did by and large not do so for any God. By and large they did what needed to be done for the living and those of us that were still to come. While many of them would not have minded the marble cross that would forever come to represent them, others for instance were more concerned with being a soldier than with being a Christian. Still, only the lonely Jew is granted an exemption to the uniformly crossed stele that dominates this garden of marble. Out of the thousands who lay here, how many would not hesitate to profess their disregard for any faith today were they given a real chance? How many were so much more than attached to some imaginary friend through emotion? Do we really honor the dead by taking away their individualism in death as we did in life, for reasons pertaining their job? Perhaps it doesn’t matter. The dead are gone and I for one do not think there is an essence of them that lives on to witness in what way we remember and subsequently forget about them. It is not for the dead we make these gardens of stone, but for the living; and we obviously do not intend for it to be a uniformly pleasant experience.
The dead live on only through the ripples of the effects of their deeds. For the men that died on the 6th of June 1944 those ripples are ostensibly starting to die down, even before the last of their brothers has perished. History is a cold mistress.
“…years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that this nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate…we cannot consecrate…we cannot hallow…this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us, the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us…that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion, that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation,
under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”