Staying in France opened my eyes to how perspective plays a role in remembering the war. I have learned about World War II in a way that I thought was universal; I have discovered that is not the case. I have studied the history of World War II all the way through high school and taken three college classes for my own interest, and each class was generally about the same. I started out by learning just the most basic parts of the war. I learned generally about battles and that was the extent of it. As I got older it became more specific, politics became more central and the approach more detailed. The way that I viewed not only the war but America was challenged during my time in France. I began to think about the role politics play a role in how things are taught and that just because I was taught something my entire life doesn’t mean it is correct. There is always more than one perspective to events.
When I went to the Arromanche’s 360 Theater, a 15-20-minute video showed the Battle of Normandy from a French perspective. I had not realized that I will probably see different perspectives of the war. We learned about the French perspective in class but it is one thing to read it and another to witness it. At one point in this film showed, a map of France with flags of the invading and occupied countries and their movements as the battle progressed. The French flag was included in the invasion. When the Allies were surrounding Paris, the French flag was shown to be the first one advancing. Talking about the Battle of Normandy this past semester, we focused on Omaha and Utah Beach invasions. I never questioned learning more about these invasions than the others because I knew that these invasions were focused on because they were the bloodiest parts of Normandy. In the past, the French troops wasn’t focused on in the American school systems because they didn’t play a central role in the campaign as the other troops. However, the French made it look like they were more a part of the liberation of France than I have previously learned. The French portrays themselves more as victors than victims and align with the Allies even though they were the ones liberated by the Allies. The pride and ego of the French was seen in every museum that I entered and that portrayed themselves in the war.
In my time in Normandy I had the opportunity to visit German, American and British cemeteries. In each cemetery, you could see how the culture influences the design and structure of each location. The German cemetery was very simple. It had groups of larger headstones and the larger headstones were in groups of five stone crosses. The rest of the graves just had plaques. Then in the center of the cemetery there was a larger cross on a raised mound. In my opinion, this showed the German culture. The stone crosses aren’t the most beautiful things to look at but they do their job in memorializing the men who were lost. The German cemetery was very simple, to the point and very well kept. My dad’s side of the family is heavily German and the German cemeteries that my grandparents are buried in have a similar look to as the German cemetery that I walked through in France which is why I think it fits the culture.
The American cemetery was extremely emotional for me. I was moved by seeing the numbers of the dead in person and knowing that this is only a small portion of those who died in the war. The American cemetery is beautiful, massive and well kept; however, I think it was one of the flashier military cemeteries in Normandy, because I think its was design shows the people look at all our countrymen who died for you. This place overlooks the water and is designed very well, but I think that the intentions behind the design was that “we did this for you and we suffered saving you.”
The British cemetery is not as flashy as the American cemetery but it personalizes the dead soldiers. The British cemetery is medium sized compared to the previous two. There was a plant or flower placed in front of each tombstone and most of them had a personalized statement written on it. The British designed this with the idea of memorializing these men in the most honorable way possible. They personalized it and brought a piece of home to France for the fallen, and it was a truly beautiful sight.
The French film that I watched and the cemeteries that I visited altered my perspective and helped me to accommodate other cultures and histories. Each culture, American, Germans, British and French, all have a different take on the war. It was a check on reality knowing that just because I learn something one way does not mean it is the only way. After visiting all the cemeteries, I could glimpse how each culture represented the war and how they honor their fallen. By doing this, I can get a better outlook of the war. This will allow my perspective and opinions on the war to grow more nuance over time.