Are we learning the lessons of history? (Paris, November 13, 2015)
06 Sunday Dec 2015
November 19, 2015: We arrived back in Normandy tonight by ferry, and there seemed to be a greater presence of customs officials and security staff at the port than when we left.
I imagine a few of your readers may be able to say what it’s like to be under fire. The closest I came was when I lived in London, and the IRA began their bombing campaign. I saw the first two bombs go off from the window of the college, across the river from where I was teaching. Car bombs were the usual method of causing mayhem, but you still had to continue walking past parked cars and get on with life. Otherwise the terrorists would have won. I grew up with stories about the London Blitz from my mother and grandmother who, from September to December 1940, had to put up with constant air raids. And then towards the end of the war the V1s and V2s started to arrive, totally without warning, and fearfully damaged the capital. My father and uncle were with Montgomery’s 8th army, and their survival was nothing short of miraculous. My attitude towards the IRA was that my parents had coped with the war, so I was not going to change my lifestyle simply to accommodate the IRA attacks.
I grew up thinking that nothing like the war could ever happen again, and that the task of my generation was to make the world they had pulled back from the brink of disaster a better place to live in. We supported civil rights, fought apartheid, tried to facilitate integration, and promoted tolerance and equality. Unfortunately, somewhere along the line we took our eye off the ball and didn’t notice that there were some people who were taking advantage of our tolerance. These extremists have been difficult to identify, and successive governments in many countries have taken care not to offend wider community in their attempts to suppress extremism. At worst these governments could have been guilty of the same kind of appeasement that let the Nazis off the hook in the 1930s.
A major concern is that there will be a backlash after the November 13 Paris atrocities, and innocent people will be tarred with the same brush. The special powers that have now been extended for the next few months will no doubt result in many people being turned out of bed in the early hours, but hopefully will lead to dangerous characters being caught. It’s more important than ever for communities to denounce acts of terror that appear to be carried out in the name of the religion that they all share. I haven’t seen any mosques lit up in the colours of the tricolour, unlike many other public buildings around the world. Maybe that would be a first step towards disassociating themselves from the terrorists.
The people of Paris had a lot to contend with during the war, but since then have shown themselves to be welcoming to foreigners. Parisians do not just to tolerate our different ways of doing things, but also encourage them. I hope their spirit will not falter.
I look forward further articles and hope life is kind to you and your family.
All the best,
Acknowledgements: Alyssa Noel, student of French and Italian, and Journalism at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and English editor for A Woman’s Paris.
Alan Davidge was born in London two years after World War II ended. Now, after forty years of working in education, he lives with his wife Carol in a part of Normandy that was liberated by U.S. troops who landed on D-Day. They have recently moved out of the Norman farmhouse that took five years to renovate and are now taking on the bigger challenge of restoring an old cottage that carries a 1785 datestone above the door and sits in an acre of land. Since 2009, Alan has been using his knowledge and experience as a historian to accompany visitors around the Normandy beaches and battlefields. He may be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From A Woman’s Paris®:
How horrible the terrorist attacks on Paris on the 13th of November, 2015! We offer our sincere condolences to Paris. Our heart goes out to those who have suffered in Paris and communities worldwide; we are deeply saddened by the loss.
Liberté, égalité, fraternité “liberty, equality, fraternity,” is the national motto of France and the Republic of Haiti. How true this is to our experiences with French friends, expatriates and colleagues living in France, and people from around the world.
Take care. Be well. Tell us that you and your family and friends are safe.
Love to all,
A Woman’s Paris®
Text copyright ©2015 Alan Davidge. All rights reserved.
Illustrations copyright ©Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.