austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,
austin_dern
austin_dern

Turned suddenly to grey

We anticipated some of the ways the Caen's Normandy Invasion Museum would be distinctive. As we expected it focused a lot on life in France during the occupation, and the invasion. It would do a lot to crystallize something I don't suppose I'd quite realized: in many ways the Battle of France, the struggle the Allies had expected to grind through the country, was all concentrated into Normandy, and to the vicinity of Caen. It took forever for the German resistance to crack, but once it did, the Allies could move almost freely, to the point that outrunning their own supply line was for a while the biggest danger.

Even then, there were embedded surprises. I'd expect an audio reenactment of a circa 1942 schoolchild snarkily explaining the geography of the country --- ruled from Vichy, occupied by an invading army in the north and west, despite the official and ever-flimsier party line that Vichy France was a free partner state to Germany --- as a show of how people might know the difference between propaganda and reality, even in trying circumstances. Pamphlets about how the new regime was sold to the people, attempts to build up a cult of personality around Marshal Pétain, sure. Cookbooks about how to carry on in the trying circumstances? A neat, small bit of life as it was.

And then there's wanted posters and recreations of walls beside which lone resisters were gunned down. Some of them have plaques explaining facts without making reasons clearer. What to make of someone who, apparently on his own, takes to sabotaging telephone lines and trying to break railroad equipment, on the 23rd of June, 1940? Could any action have been less useful? But what else was there to do?

The museum also has a fairly large room devoted to the end of the war, and the ways that French society reassembled. One good-sized wall was dedicated to the shaving of women, the public humiliation of people who were --- or were accused of being --- collaborators. It's presented as shameful. It is, certainly, though it reminded me of the way United States museums present atrocities like the gathering of Americans into concentration camps. (It goes along the lines of ``well, sure, imprisoning Americans because they were ethnically Japanese might have been a racially-tinted overreaction but don't you understand there was a WAR on and hey FDR said it was OK and you like social security so why are you giving us a hard time about THIS? and besides we gave them some money forty years later so shut up''.) The museum isn't shy about calling things like area bombardment evils. There might not have been a better alternative available, but that doesn't mean it wasn't still wrong.

The power of the war artefacts was somehow heightened by their setting. A diary from a Holocaust victim would be powerful enough, but placed a few dozen feet from church sculptures twisted by bombardment into screeching, howling faces ... it shakes.

On to the trivial, because I did photograph it and the detail captivated me. The Paris Edition of Stars and Strips for the 2nd of May, 1945 shows an Extra, with the headline --- in the biggest typeface possible --- being ``HITLER DEAD''. I can't question this news judgement. There's a side article in the left column, ``Churchill Hints Peace Is at Hand''. (Possibly by Saturday, the 5th, according to the first column.) Also quite fair. And then in the bottom of the last column is this item:

Truman Names New Aide

WASHINGTON, May 1 (AP) --- President Truman today appointed Edward Daniel McKin, an Omaha, Neb., insurance executive, to be his chief administrative assistant.

How did that rate a column-inch? (The Churchill story was continued on page 8, so they could have filled it out with that.) Who figured that yeah, ``HITLER DEAD'' will draw in some readers, and Churchill predicting peace by the weekend might draw in some more, but they've got to get the people looking for news on whether the President was filling in his chief administrative assistantship? His name was McKim.

We were strikingly near the close of the museum's main building, although the outdoor areas would be ... well, outdoors. Over coffee and tea and snacks we worked out that the cafe, Pomme de Pain, with its pinecone logo, was some kind of pun or at least wordplay.

We also stopped in the gift shop. Among other gifts they had actual ashtrays, like you used to get in gift shops but don't anymore. bunny_hugger considered getting one for her mother but also considered whether there was something vaguely disreputable in getting ashes over a Normandy Beach memorial. They also had mousepads that showed off fake newspapers for the D-Day invasion. The text was in French, though it was bannered ``The Headline'' and ``Le [ something ] des Etats-Unis et the monde depuis 1888'', which made me almost think they were ripping off the Paris edition of the New York Herald Tribune for their banner, but with a much worse sense of graphic design.

I did a fair bit of searching and finally, finally, found some merchandise with a 48-star United States flag, and the old British Red Ensign-based Canadian flag. Not much, though. It's nearly all 50-star and Maple Leaf flags. They also had some reprints of ration books. One page of a British children's food ration book had the instruction to do nothing with this page ``until you are told what to do''. So bunny_hugger and I debated whether this instruction to do nothing until you are told what to do is, in fact, telling you what to do. I took the ``needlessly difficult'' side while bunny_hugger took the ``only possible interpretation that makes a lick of sense'' side. You know how these things go.

Trivia: From D-Day through the 19th of June the allies shipped an average of 22,000 tons of supplies every day. The three days after that (and the conclusion of a story which destroyed the American Mulberry harbor) barely more than 1,000 tons per day moved across the Channel. Source: Why The Allies Won, Richard Overy.

Currently Reading: Lewis Carroll in Numberland: His Fantastical Mathematical Logical Life, Robin Wilson.

PS: A Summer 2015 Mathematics A To Z: xor, drawing into the real dregs of the alphabet in my little glossary. Four. No, you didn't miss yesterday's post; I didn't have one, for a change.

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