Tuesday, November 11, 2014

America Saved the World

Wow, could I get a little more presumptuous? 
I mean, isn't the whole point of moving to another country to appreciate their culture, not your own?
It's not like we were the only ones in the war, ya know.
How typically American of me. 
No wonder other countries hate us...

All the thoughts that raced through my mind when I wrote the title of this blog post. And yet, I'm still going to write it. Because sometimes we get caught up focusing on our modern problems and forget the good this country has done. Because this Veterans Day is different, because today I'm living in a country that is celebrating a freedom we helped win for them.

I remember in high school, every Veterans Day I would cluster in the bathroom with the other show choir girls, plastering my hair with $3 Rave hairspray, shimmying into that tacky kelly green dress overrun with gold sequins, and swooshing out into the auditorium in front of the whole school and two rows of veterans the school admin always seemed to be able to whip up out of nowhere. After a majestic "God Bless America" intro, we'd fly into a jivin' rendition of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B." Our vocal director's strict instructions to "give the old men a good time" resulted in a bunch of 16-year-old girls in garish costumes furiously batting their over-sized false eyelashes, shrugging their little shoulders, and sometimes even sidling up to sit on the lap of some perfect strangers and bestowing a peck on those wrinkly old cheeks. It was always a bit of a ridiculous scene. But even after I moved into my college years and put my show choir years behind me, Veterans Day was more of a second hand memory that warranted a day off and phone calls to my grandparents.

But this year, I am living in Paris, and I decided to go visit the Musee de L'armee, a war museum in the heart of Paris located inside Hotel des Invalides. I have to admit, the real draw of this museum was that it didn't have any trippy insightful paintings or inaccessible fashion trends. (Sometimes you just need a break.) The museum was actually four museums in one, and I opted for the WWI and WWII exhibitions. This turned out to be a unexpectedly wonderful choice.

The two museums run together harmoniously in chronological order from the first whispers of conflict in the early 1900s through the restructuring of Europe after V-J Day. The story is told in English and French, and interestingly enough, the WWI museum was far more extensive than the WWII museum. There were perfectly preserved uniforms, weapons, propaganda, cannons, photos. In particular, they did a splendid job of weaving multimedia into both. The authentic footage from WWII rolled across 3 juxtaposed movies screens was simply mesmerizing. This wasn't the short, edited clips polished off for family-friendly films. This was the real deal, real people, real bombs, real Hitler. It was the closest thing I've ever felt to really being there.

I was going along reading and moving into the despair of WWII, and then in came the Americans, and suddenly I found myself crying, weeping really. After being immersed in this world of destruction and oppression for the last hour, I felt, as if it was my own, the despondency of war I saw in the eyes of the occupied French. Would it ever end? And then (how sharply!) I felt the hope, the hope our boys must have brought to people who were losing everything they knew. I realized how different my beautiful Paris-town would look if not for our brave veterans. I realized how close we came to losing what this city represents, a beauty that keeps the world breathing.

According to the museum's own account of the war, without the sacrifice of those few and brave men and women we call our American veterans, France may have never known freedom again. What a humbling moment. It's one thing to celebrate Americans defending American freedom on Veterans Day. It's quite another to be living out the freedom our veterans brought to another country so many years ago. That not only my life, because I am American, but the life of every person I see here every day has been fought for and protected and saved by some Yanks so many years ago.

So as you celebrate Veterans Day today, take a moment to be proud to be an American. America is truly an incredible country, and despite all the trouble we are still wading through, let's take a moment to remember the good we have brought, and remember that time in history when America saved the world.

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