Friday night I was watching part of a TV series called “D-Day to Victory.” It was about the European War after the Allies' 1944 landing in Normandy. This particular episode explored the effort to capture the Nazi-occupied French city of Caen, located near the northern Normandy coast.
According to the original plans, the city was supposed to be taken quickly, spearheaded by the British who had landed at nearby Sword Beach. But that did not happen. The town and its surroundings were packed with German troops and they dug in. For weeks the battle continued with little success, then the Allied commanders changed their strategy. They sent hundreds of bombers (British and Canadian) over the city and the carpet-bombing was devastating. At the cathedral, built by William the Conqueror, rescue workers placed a sheet with a cross painted in blood on the roof, as a signal not to bomb there. Still, little was spared. The old medieval town was mostly destroyed. Ultimately, the Germans were chased out, leaving behind a city of rubble.
While watching, I would occasionally switch channels to get news of the terrorist attacks in Paris. Then, I realized what I was experiencing. On one channel was the brutal bombing of a French city 71 years ago. On the other, the aftermath of suicide bombs detonated in another French city only a few hours earlier. In both incidents, the bombs were accompanied by gun fire and many civilians were killed.
Paris is one of the world’s great cities—a stalwart of democracy inspired by its own philosophers and the American Revolution, which it helped fight. France, a country known for it elegance and culture, has often been a stage for conquers heading to the sea or the mountains. Its history over centuries is both joyous and brutal.
At Caen the bombings were carried out by the liberating forces, the Allies who had come to help clear mainland Europe of the Nazis. Flying the planes were boys from Canada and England who may not have totally understood the war, but at least knew they were fighting for liberty.
In Paris, the terrorists create havoc not for liberty but for terror. They can disrupt the moment but time is against them. The life experience that thinking people of the world want is not what terrorist organizations have to offer.
Last Friday night, in Paris, the French and the Germans were battling each other again – only this time it was a soccer match.
Peace has made great advancements; nevertheless, there is still thunder in the distance. When dealing with the heartless there can unfortunately be no peace without war.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s new book, “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2013), has been released. It is now available at local bookstores and at book web sites.