Battlefields and little boys

Here on the blog, I try to stay away from politics. Politics and fashion, while they may crossover in real life for important people at times, don’t really cross paths in my life.

However, from time to time, I do get to writing about my miserable parenting skills and being a mom to boys. These, this week, met a deep trench of politics that scared the living daylights out of me.

This incredibly hot week in July, my husband and I both received our second dose of vaccine (this is not a political statement. This is just fact.) It so happened that last week, the President of France announced the implementation of a “Pass Sanitaire”, which meant that entry to any number of spaces would become dependent being able to present either a negative COVID test or the possession of a document proving the holder to be fully vaccinated (that was at least 7 days old, because in France, we are considered fully vaccinated 7 days after our second dose.)

Believe it or not, not even this is going to be the subject of my political discourse. It is just setting the stage for how we ended up not going to the little theme park that we now have season passes to attend. The Pass Sanitaire requirement became active this week, but neither of us met the 7 day criteria, so we got turned back at the gate.

You can imagine the disappointment of the two scalawags who thought they were going to go ride on roller coasters and were told they couldn’t.

A change of plans

Le Parc du Petit Prince is halfway between where we live and the Vosges Mountains. The boys love the idea of the mountains. It was a beautiful day. So we started driving towards the mountains. The last time we had been to the Grand Ballon was six years ago, when I was heavily pregnant with the first scalawag. We thought it was about time to go back so that the boys could visit the highest point in the Vosges.

We had a great time. My boys are vocally appreciative of everything they like, and the number of times they said, “Look at the view!” or “Did you see how beautiful the view is!?” made me proud of how we raised our scalawags. They even made other people laugh with their outsized, but perfectly genuine, appreciation. (Apparently they have been raised by enthusiasts and it shows.)

We stopped for a picnic lunch, then had ice cream on the patio of a little restaurant overlooking the Alsatian plain. It was a memorable, beautiful, sun-soaked day.

A turn of events

My boys are four and a half and five-almost-six years old. I never know exactly how they are going to respond to anything. As we started our drive home through the mountains, we arrived near a World War 1 Memorial at a mountain pass called Hartmannswillerkopf (yes, welcome to Alsace. Place names like that are not unusual.) The monument is also known as Le Vieil Armand, and you might have even heard of it before. It was the first WW1 monument built in France.

The idea of anything military intrigues my boys, and has since any of us can remember. Right now, they are heavy heavy heavy into the idea of canons, which I cannot explain nor do I want to understand.

Although I had no idea how they would react to a military monument honoring the brave men who fought for France, I suggested we stop for a visit. They were ecstatic, because, well, canons.

Honestly, I myself didn’t know what to expect. I have never been a history buff and aside from a class trip to Gettysburg in eighth grade, I have managed to stealthily avoid painful reminders that war exists. The region we live in, Alsace, was impacted by both World Wars. There are elderly people in our circle who have intimate, personal memories of WWII and whose families still bear the emotional scars and repercussions of this reality. More than I would like to admit, my own mother’s family bore very similar scars from when her father returned from Normandy. These are not rare scars–the difference between what my mother’s family lived through and the families who live here experienced is that here, the battlefield was in their own back yards.

Hartmannswillerkopf is a war monument of monumental proportions. Really. It is impressive. You have the time to start feeling a near-dread of what you are going to see, as you walk down the walkway towards the monument building. The walkway walls are tall, and the way is narrow, much like a trench. I am certain that this is intentional. It is suffocating. The monument itself is cold and sterile.

Once you are back outside, there is another level of anticipation, as you walk atop the monument. It feels like it is a city block in size. The view is across to a huge white cross on a peak across a valley which you cannot see until you are nearly on the precipice of the huge monument.

And then you step one step further and see the crosses. One thousand six hundred forty of them. It takes your breath away.

What is there to say?

My boys, I suppose, were hoping to see canons. Instead, they saw crosses.

My eldest asked lots and lots of questions of his indulgent father, who answered as best he could. My youngest, ever more interested in actual experiences than in the theoretical questions his brother was asking, took my hand and walked me to the first cross in the line and asked me what it said on it. So I read it to him. I read to him the name and birthdate of a very young man who died for his country in 1915.

Then we went to the next one. I read it to him. The next one. I read it to him.

We were five crosses in when I started crying. I couldn’t read anymore.

My little one was asking to know more about the people I was reading about. I wished I knew more than just his name, his rank and the day he died. But there was nothing more to say. I just told him, “He was a very brave young man who died protecting his country.”

Boy moms should not go to military cemeteries

I take that 100% back.

Maybe this should be required in the boy-mom manual. Chapter One, Section One of the Boy Mom Manual: Visit a military cemetery and read the names and dates of the men and women buried there. Do this holding your little boys’ hand and remember that the man buried here under this cross was some other woman’s little boy.

I hate what I saw at Le Vieil Armand. I hate it that 1640 mothers lost their little boys. I cannot stomach the thought that 100 years ago, I could have been one of those mothers. There were boys as young as fourteen years old who fought in WW1, boys who might have loved canons too, and thought that military things were cool…until it got real and took their lives.

Yes, those boys probably lied about their age so that they could participate. No, they probably had no understanding of the authoritarianism and fascist powers that they were actually fighting against. They were just boys. It was the politicians, the military leaders, the voting public who allowed authoritarianism to grow and become a danger. It was the adults who allowed tyranny and racism and hatred to become so out of control that it killed those boys who are buried at Hartmannswillerkopf.

This must not happen again

This is where it is going to get political, so forgive me: On January 6, 2021, there was insurrection at the Capitol Building in Washington DC. The people who attacked the Capitol did so in order to disrupt a Constitutional process, the peaceful transfer of power from one US presidential administration to another.

Out of some misinformed ideology, they believed were doing the right thing.

The were not doing the right thing. What they were doing was laying the foundation for tyranny and authoritarianism. They were there as part of a rise in ideologies that could, by the time my boys are old enough to join the military, take deep enough root to bring about enough conflict to cause a civil war in my own country.

What is being permitted to happen by the Republican party in the United States right now: the calling into question of our elections, the willful ignorance regarding the health of the nation, the militarization of those who support conspiracy theories…these are stepping stones to an authoritarian future in which conflict is inevitable.

Memory is a virtue. That is why there are Memorial Day events and Veteran’s Day events…not just parades, not just barbecues. That is why there are solemn 21-gun salutes and speeches. We must not allow ourselves to forget the people who died for our freedom, lest we become so detached from history that we allow it to repeat itself.

How we Americans vote in our elections over the next decade, how we participate in the democratic process will be a make-or-break period for the United States. Please, hear this from an American boy-mom who lives in France: do not allow history to repeat itself.

Do not, by your willful abstention from the political process, put the lives of children at risk. That’s right, children.

Today, they are children. They are children. By “staying out of the fray”, by not voting for justice and democracy at every presented opportunity, you are permitting the endangerment of the young men and women who will one day have to fight to protect justice and democracy. Today those young men and women are children.

I will take you to Le Vieil Armand in Hartmannswillerkopf. I will read to you the names of every single one of those 1640 young men if I have to…if that is what it takes for you to understand that it is urgent to protect democracy. With history as our guide, we are only a few years off from conflict.

It is urgent to protect the right to vote for every American. It is urgent shut down the authoritarians and wannabe tyrants so that they can never serve in elected office again.

Published by Lily Fields

I am passionate about contentment. This is a challenge, because I am equally passionate about progress. I get up at 4:00AM to chip away at a solution to this monolithic problem: how to make progress on my contentment. Born and raised in the USA, I married a French philosophy teacher in 1999. We have lived in France since 2007. We stayed young and carefree until life threw us two curveballs in the form of little humans one after another in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Now I am a slightly older, slightly more exhausted version of myself, but with mystery stains on my walls and a never-ending pile of laundry.

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