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🏝Let's talk about Omaha Beach

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Liam Boogar

July 2 · Issue #11 · View online

A weekly newsletter about what's important to me: technology, France, politics, culture & opinions. Lots of opinions.


It was the night before we were set to drive back from Brittany to Paris, and Olivia turned to me and said “what if we got up early and saw some sites on our way back?” Olivia knows I’ve wanted to see Mont St. Michel & Omaha Beach for a long time, so our six hour drive home turned into a nine hour drive home and last week I got to see Omaha Beach for the first time.

Driving out to the beach from Normandy, just past Caen you begin to see American flags. The Allied Forces represented 18 countries in World War II, but it was U.S. troops who were responsable for taking the beach known to Americans as Omaha Beach. 
It’s hard not to be overwhelmed. As a kid, the two most impressive war movies I saw were Apocalypse Now & Saving Private Ryan, the later opens with Americans storming the beaches of Normandy. We came at high-tide and it was still easily a five-minute walk through the damp sand from the breakers to the water front. Looking back from the seaside, the hills loomed over, breaking only in the middle at the valley that was deemed strategic enough to warrant 425,000 lives being lost in the Battle of Normandy.
I’m not a history buff. My family didn’t fight in WWII - my mom’s parents came over to America from Ireland after WWII - but WWII was the last time in history that objective good came together to triumph over objective evil. The world was so polarized at the time that you were either an Axis or an Ally (or Switzerland), and many fought on lands that they did not know against enemies who posed no direct threat to them.
What does it take to fight for a cause bigger than youself?
It feels today like we’re being asked to take sides between Axis & Allies. Everything is black or white, and it’s hard to have a discussion about anything, even with the people we agree with. 
Have differing views on immigration policy? Try having a moderate discussion about it in the context of mothers being separated from their children. Europe is tearing itself apart trying to figure out what to do with a boatful of refugees who would rather drown than go back to where they came from, all while unemployment hovers around 8-9% depending on country and age group - youth unemployment was 21% in France in March 2018 (here). How do you have a reasonable conversation about helping others when you’re struggling to help yourself?
Our household is overwhelmingly pro-environment, and despite the fact that France has a Environmental Activist acting as Minister of Ecological Transition, France continues to endorse pesticides & imported products despite their known effects on the local ecology & economy. It feels like we’re constantly asked to let ecology take a backseat to the economy, all while France champions itself as the face & voice of climate change.
What do we do when we don't go to war?
The industrial revolution brought two wars that dragged every major economy into battle. We bled, we cried, we built, we survived, we thrived. 
The information age has brought all of the same economic displacement, and while we seem to be constantly at war with someone, there isn’t nearly as much resolution as the end of a war used to bring. 
To be clear, I’m not advocating for war. I’m advocating for resolution. Resolution requires resolve. Resolution requires compromise. Resolution requires sacrifice. Who among us is resolved to make their opinions become a reality? Who among us is willing to compromise to make that happen? What are we willing to sacrifice if we’re not willing to go to war for what we believe, and what are those who oppose us willing to do?
I also visited Mont St. Michel, just thirty minutes from Omaha Beach and a monument to what resolve can accomplish. There is much to be said about the quaint nature of a village built atop a one square kilometer rock face, but nothing is more indicative of its resolve than the Abbey which sits atop it.
Mont St. Michel was used as a prison by Louis XI. It was occupied by Germans in WWII. It remained uncaptured throughout the Hundred Years War, and it sees more than 1 million visitors per year despite having a population of less than 50.
You don’t need to believe in the underlying drive that has driven leaders for over a thousand years to invest in, protect & glorify this tiny pile of boulders with homes built atop. You need only look upon it as you drive along the northern Normandy coast (you can see it for miles before you arrive) to understand.
The countryside has an amazing ability to remind us about what’s real.  It is primordial in its nature, even if we bring civilization with us. Lawns revert to fields, cities to villages, roads to paths, sinks to streams. 
It also reminds us about what’s important. A pile of rocks strategically and precariously placed in an unexpected location, often our only way of leaving some trace that we were ever there. And if we seek to leave a trace of our existence, how do we want future generations to look back on our existence? With envy? With shame? With reverence? With glee?
Hit reply and I’ll reply,
-Liam
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