Yesterday was the 90th anniversary of the armistice that ended the first world war. In celebrating this event, the French media followed the memorial ceremony live from Verdun during the afternoon and then with an intense documentary covering the war in incredible detail last night.
As I sat with Hubster watching those thousands of soldiers digging the trenches, the same men then being slaughtered by the waves of bombs and bullets, others walking over the corpses of their comrades, vainfully trying not to fall into the vast puddles mud that seemed to be everywhere, it took everything in me not to rush upstairs, grab my boys, hug them tight and cry.
There is a memorial in our village, as in most French villages, that lists the names of the young men who died pour la France during WWI and WWII. Sometimes the ages are listed too: 18, 22, 24, 19. The only sons, brothers, uncles and cousins of a rural village. A village not unique in their loss.
I get chills when I read the names. These same family names that are now at school with my children.
It strikes me every time I see the monument that the family that originally built our house back in 1857 lost a son in WWI. I try to imagine him playing in these halls, slamming the front door, or getting warm by the huge fireplace in the dining room. I have no idea what he was really like but as I watch Mini-Husband and Bubba-Love play in this old house, I hope that he is pleased to see other boys playing where he probably played too.
Eight and half million people died during the four year war, leaving at least 4 million widows. President Sarkozy said yesterday at the ceremony:
"Imagine the infinite pain of each victim, the pain of the child standing by his father's grave; that of the father and mother learning of the death of their son; the pain of the wife receiving a last letter from her husband.
"Behind each destroyed house, each devastated village, there was a deep wound that will never fully heal."
Understanding this is crucial to understanding the French. It may have been 90 years ago that the "war to end all wars" was finally over. But as we well know, the horrors of war continue and through a nation's character, it's fears, and it's hopes for it's people, these wounds rest visible 90 years on.