“These honored dead shall not have died in vain”

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No, this isn’t Normandy. A look in the other direction and you can see…

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…Paris and the Eiffel Tower in the distance. Against the blue sky, the American flag flies at half staff in honor of those killed in Dallas on July 7.

This is the Suresnes American Cemetery just outside the city, the only American Military Cemetery in Europe where the dead from both World War I and World War II are buried: 1,541 from World War I and 24 unknown dead from World War II. 974 Americans buried or lost at sea from 1917-1920 are also commemorated.

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It was a beautiful day to explore parts of Paris we hadn’t been to. After the coldest, wettest, most-Seattle-like-spring we could’ve ever imagined, summer seems to have finally arrived for good in time for our last few weeks here. I’d been scouting out some parks with views of the city that we hadn’t seen before and discovered Fort Mont-Valérien, perched on a hill not far away in the suburb of Suresnes. The cemetery sits just below the fort and behind the Terrasse du Fécheray, a lovely observation point that looks toward Paris.

The view from the terrace was the real reason we came, and it wasn’t a bad view…

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The Eiffel Tower just beyond the sea of green that is the Bois de Boulogne, a huge park on the western edge of Paris.

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Looking toward La Defense, the modern district of high rises to the northwest of central Paris.

…but visiting the cemetery was more moving.

As an American, of course the American cemeteries I’ve seen are striking because I feel a connection to them. But as we’ve driven through small towns around France, almost everywhere we go we come across monuments and memorials to those who died in the wars, especially World War I. They turn up in plazas, in churches, and even at humble intersections. Every city and every town records those who were lost, their names etched in stone. In the U.S. you can visit Washington D.C. and see such memorials, and occasionally you find them elsewhere around the country. But here they are everywhere; every place you go has been touched.

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The World War II memorial at Fort Mont-Valérien.

It’s sobering to look at the rows and rows of memorials to those who died fighting and killing their enemies. The hope is that they will not have died in vain. But in this world, the fight is–and ever will  be–ongoing. World War I was called the war to end all wars; it didn’t work out that way.

War is hell–so said General Sherman, although when (or if) he spoke that famous phrase is apparently a matter of debate. But he did address a crowd in Columbus, Ohio and declare, “There is many a boy here today who looks on war as all glory, but, boys, it is all hell.”

I have no illusions that we will see the end of war anytime soon–or even of hatred and malice and infighting and racism and prejudice and bias and every sort of enmity. But while we have breath, may we live by these words: “blessed are the peacemakers.” Oh, how we need them now.

Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord…
He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths…
He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.

–from Isaiah 2:3-4

 

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