Outside Caen's Normandy Invasion Museum is a giant statue recreating that famous Times Square kiss. You know the one, of the sailor who grabbed a nurse and kissed her at V-J Day. It's a temporary exhibit. It's accompanied by a plaque talking about how uncertain the attempts to identify the people in the photograph are. It's also accompanied by a plaque explaining the request by the group Osez Le Féminisme! 14 (Dare Feminism! 14) to have it removed, on the grounds that a man grabbing and kissing a woman is sexual assault. Celebrating that is dangerous, especially --- to quote the plaque --- ``when one considers the number of rapes committed by the Allied soldiers'' and ``the use of rape as a weapon of war''.
It's not a thought I had ever had about the photograph. Given the argument, I realize, the kiss does meet any reasonable definition of sexual assault I can think of. Yet it also doesn't seem to be that. There's some important element I hadn't identified and still haven't. We hadn't even been admitted and I was forced to look at something familiar in a challenging light. The whole museum would not be that grueling. But it's a good mark that it did force the question. How long can you spend watching the History Channel and not have to consider anything?
It would have been odd to overlook the Normandy Invasion entirely while in Caen, especially since we were there in early June. We looked into taking a tour to the beaches but that would be quite expensive and would have eaten up the whole day, and we didn't think we had time for that. The museum was easier to access and was a spot of historic importance --- it's built over the (few) tunnels which the German resistance to the invasion was led --- and it would be fascinating.
We'd end up spending the whole day there, touring their review of the world from the end of the Great War through to 1945, and we'd not have time to see the World Since 1945 exhibit. They had headphones in French, German, and English. The guide renting them out said they had American and British English versions and sad to say bunny_hugger and I were both given American English. We have no idea what the differences might have been, but we could make jokes about how the British probably try to make it sound like they did everything themselves with a spot of assistance from Canada and some other countries, when we all know it was America with a tiny bit of help from some countries entirely dependent on us.
As ever I was fascinated by the parts of artifacts that didn't get explained. For example, they had a poster for the Ordre de Mobilisation Générale issued in September 1939. The poster summons tous les hommes in the Armées de terre, de mer, et de l'air, a poetry I didn't realize was in the hearts of the Defense Ministry. The posters are printed up with a blank space, and the mobilization date written in by hand. So they were printed up sometime before the start of September 1939. When? How long were they sitting in stockpiles? I suppose by mid-1938 or so war seemed so inevitable that getting the posters ready was sensible, but when were they published? Are there modern equivalents sitting in a provincial warehouse? And who wrote in the mobilization date? Was it done centrally or were the posters shipped out and the postmaster general of each town tasked with writing out ``Samedi deux Septembre 1939 à [ something ] heure''?
Also endlessly fascinating were resistance newsletters. Many were obviously reproductions of typewriters, with nameplates a reproduction of a pen-and-ink drawing by a non-artist, almost fanzines of national liberation. Other symbols were no less compelling. How, in the midst of terrible years like 1942, did the Free French hold on to a sense of graphic design that their posters still wield power? It's unanswerable, really. Powerful times are like that.
Small things from vast times are compelling. One of the little exhibits near the end is one of Hitler's suitcases. It's there, propped on, a small tan thing with ``A H'' imprinted near where the lock had been. How had it got here? And how had a world leader got by on a suitcase smaller than the duffel bag I need for a weekend trip? One supposes he had other suitcases, maybe some that were bigger, and people did re-wear shirts and pants more often than we do today but still ... And isn't that a strange thought to have? Or to have again?
Trivia: Around 23,000 people remained in Münster when Allied forces occupied it in April 1945. The population doubled by August. The city held about 140,000 in 1939. Source: Germany 1945: From War to Peace, Richard Bessel.
Currently Reading: Opus: The Complete Library, Berkeley Breathed. And why not, since I got started on this.
PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: well-posed problem, coming near the conclusion of this project!