The Fallen
September 25, 2013 7:48 AM   Subscribe

On the 21st September 2013 it is International Peace Day. We are making an event called ‘The Fallen’ on the D-Day landing beach of Arromanches in northern France that illustrates what happens with the absence of peace. It was on the 6th June 1944 that a total of 9,000 civilians, German forces and Allies lost their lives. Our challenge is to represent those lives lost between the times of the tide with a stark visual representation using stencilled sand drawings of people on the beach. Each silhouette represents a life and when it is washed away its loss. There is no distinction between nationalities, they will only be known as ‘The Fallen’.
posted by chavenet (20 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I like this temporary art. Ephemeral. Like all of us, really.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:59 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why a D-Day landing beach? There are still people alive who fought there for very good reason. Peace was not a realistic option for them and treating all soldiers the same is an unnecessary slap in the face.

Choose one of the poppy covered fields of France. A hell of a lot more people died there anyway.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 8:18 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


There is no distinction between nationalities,

Actually, there was a distinction between nationalities at Arromanches in June, 1944. Any veteran of the First Canadian Army who had to go into battle against the Hitler Youth Division (12th SS, Kurt Meyer's unit) would look at you as though you were mad if you said there was no distinction.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:29 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Its cute how certain Europeans like to pretend that if it was all up to them, it would be a world of puppies and kittens and flowers.
posted by wotsac at 8:31 AM on September 25, 2013


I don't think the point of this is to paint all the fallen soldiers as equivalent. I think the point is to show that a lot of people, good, bad or indifferent, died there.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 8:32 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


There is no distinction between the dead.

Most of them were frightened kids doing what they'd been told by adults, then dying miserably.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 8:34 AM on September 25, 2013 [8 favorites]


The more I read, the more irritated I get. A bunch of figures presented as "facts" with no insights and a second-hand citation of an Anthony Beevor book.

And the anodyne tagline, "the absence of peace."
posted by KokuRyu at 8:35 AM on September 25, 2013


Most of them were frightened kids doing what they'd been told by adults, then dying miserably.

Actually, the German forces were split between the very old (over 25, to around 40) and the very young (e.g., Hitler Youth Division, which would have been around 20).

The Waffen SS divisions were very motivated.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:37 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Peace was not a realistic option for them and treating all soldiers the same is an unnecessary slap in the face.

I'd wait for actual D-Day veterans to be offended before being offended on their behalf.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:16 AM on September 25, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just favourited lupus_yonderboy's comment. Not because it was literally true (it isn't really), but because it was true true.

Everyone there was a child to someone. From the kids dressed up in uniforms to the old men, to the many, many ordinary people who just didn't have a cellar to hide in when the bombs started crashing down and the bullets started flying through the walls of their houses. Every one of them was a child who lived and learned and grasped the hand of somebody they thought would protect them forever.

And yes, they had motives. And some of them were hateful, and some of them were glorious, and some of them were somehow both at once. And all those motives blew away like smoke when they fell or drowned or just blew apart. And each of them died frightened and surprised and alone, and facing the deep unknown. Each of them was a child when they died.

I've never fired a shot in anger, but I know what it's like to see death, and I know what it's like to have something horrible burned into your brain forever. And as a 'professional' observer of military history, somebody supposed to have a much more nuanced understanding of war than these artists, I have to say that they got it essentially right.

Ignore the art-speak and go look at those pictures again. Take a look at what 'nine thousand' actually means.

It is my duty to remember all of these people, even the ones who would have hated me. When the hammer of fate cam down upon them, they became our children.
posted by Dreadnought at 9:29 AM on September 25, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why a D-Day landing beach?

I assume because the "mechanism" of the artwork requires a beach? I guess you could do the same thing in a poppy field by mowing the shapes and then letting them grow out, but it wouldn't work as well from a visual standpoint.

I think mourning the dead as a whole does not require forgetting that one side were the aggressors and that Nazis were about as close to pure evil as we have seen humans be....
posted by GenjiandProust at 9:30 AM on September 25, 2013


Its cute how certain Europeans like to pretend that if it was all up to them, it would be a world of puppies and kittens and flowers.

It obviously wouldn't be, but since European peace was built on the ashes of the two world wars, this comment would be more relevant in a thread about Bosnia etc.
posted by ersatz at 9:47 AM on September 25, 2013


Hitler was just a guy, and the French Third Republic was decadent anyway, right?
posted by KokuRyu at 10:12 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


ha. this thread is everything i knew it would be.

Thanks for the post.
posted by IvoShandor at 10:31 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Yeah, forget about the facts for a second. Any professional or amateur D-Day historian could pick this apart until the cows come home. I don't think the point of this is to be factually accurate. This reminds me a bit of the Vietnam Veterans memorial or other memorials I've seen that clearly illustrate what a WHOLE FUCKTON of dead people look like.

It doesn't look pretty.
posted by bondcliff at 10:36 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


There was a great D-Day documentary that I saw on the Beeb last anniversary that at the very end had a British and German soldier meeting on the beach where they both were on that day trying to kill each other. It was so incredibly raw, human and beautiful to see them acknowledging each other in a way that some of us, who were never even there or even alive at the time, can't seem to do today.
posted by srboisvert at 10:38 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


srboisvert: "It was so incredibly raw, human and beautiful to see them acknowledging each other in a way that some of us, who were never even there or even alive at the time, can't seem to do today."

My parents and I (Germans, for the record) met and became friends with an older English couple during a vacation in Spain back in the 70s when I was still a kid. The husband of the couple had served on a British destroyer during the war that was actively hunting down German subs. They found and sank their first one and took the survivors on board as POVs. He told us they expected to meet monsters. Instead he met mostly kids more or less just like him. Draftees and volunteers, who, with the exception of some, were not really driven by ideology, wondering how they got into this mess and what the fuck was the point of it anyways. Pretty much everybody on either side really just wanted to go home and live a normal life in peace and had no interest in conquering or killing the other. He became friends with one of them, a friendship that, if I remember correctly, lasted beyond the war. He said this experience shook him up more than anything... to realize that, at least in part, the enemy wasn't really an enemy at all at least as far as enemy soldiers were concerned.

The Waffen SS was the ideologically pure paramilitary arm of the Nazi party. You pretty much had to be a fervent believer in order to join. Its units were usually under the command of OKW/OKH (Wehrmacht) but my understanding is that they ultimately acted more like 4th branch of the military. On the other hand being a true believer was not a requirement for volunteers or draftees joining the Wehrmacht's regular branches. That is not to say that there wasn't plenty of believers in the Wehrmacht. There were. But there was also plenty of soldiers who weren't. This is also not to say that the Wehrmacht wasn't a crucial element of and a willing participant in Nazi Germany's crimes. They absolutely were. All I'm saying is that not everybody wanted to be where they were and not everybody supported the ideology behind it all.

Case in point: my grandfather was drafted into the Wehrmacht and ended up fighting on the eastern front in Russia. He was anything but a Nazi and hated war but as a draftee didn't have much of a choice. We do have some Jewish ancestry in the family but apparently it wasn't enough at the time for our family to become a target. I'm sure they would have gotten around to our family eventually as they were working their way down the lists but luckily for us the 3rd Reich fell somewhat short of the projected 1000 years and so all we lost because of this aspect was my grandfather's uncle's position as director of the Egyptian department at the Royal Museum in Berlin. They told him he could keep his position if he would denied his Jewish ancestors. He basically told them, very, very politely, to essentially go fuck themselves in a letter which I still have a treasured copy of. Anyhow, apparently his nephew was still good enough to fight for Germany regardless. He didn't talk much about his experiences in the war but one of the things he mentioned eventually was that hardly anybody in his unit wanted to be out there and most didn't believe in the cause and that they were effectively trapped between the Russians on the one side and the fired up true believers of the SS troops behind them that threatened to shoot anybody who wasn't moving forward or fighting.

I guess my bigger point is that Dreadnought hit the nail on the head above. And the end of the day all that is left is a lot of death and suffering of individuals who should not have had to be there in the first place. Some bore more responsibility than others, some bore a lot, some were heroes, some fought for reasons most would acknowledge has right and good, some fought in the name of a terrible ideology. None of them were carbon copies of some prototype or of each other. And even a good guy killing a bad guy for a justifiable reason is still an act filled with tragedy and sadness because it shouldn't have had to happen in the first place and because the act of having killed will probably fuck up that good guy for the rest of his life no matter how justified it was.

There already is plenty of memorials to the heroism of that particular day as well as to the other sacrifices made and accomplishments achieved by the allied forces in their efforts to defeat Nazi Germany. There is also plenty of memorials and reminders of the crimes and horrors committed by Germans and their allies during this time. I think it's good to add something into the mix that reminds us of the simple basic atomic unit of these events: human beings suffering and dying.
posted by Hairy Lobster at 11:47 AM on September 25, 2013 [11 favorites]


I don't have a comment on the art or ideology itself, only note how coincidental that I was on Arromanches on a brilliant summer afternoon not more than one month ago.

Having grown up with a German-American grandfather from Chicago, drafted, combat medic, who landed on Omaha in August 44 and made it to hold St Vith, in the Battle of the Bulge, then go home to build houses and grow veggies and take grandsons fishing and never leave the midwest again, talking about how cold Europe was (the Bulge was in a 1/100 year freeze during the battle).

I always had an interest in how the global war and individual lives intersected, and always wanted to see for myself some of his trajectory.

I have pictures of my two boys playing in the sunshine around the bunkers over Omaha, where the Big Red One met the MGs of the defenders. Its an odd world.
posted by C.A.S. at 1:47 PM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Peace was not a realistic option for them and treating all soldiers the same is an unnecessary slap in the face.
I'd wait for actual D-Day veterans to be offended before being offended on their behalf.


I'd rather the default to be to go out of our way to avoid offending them rather than just doing random crap and hoping they'll speak up.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 9:23 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This isn't so much random crap as much as it is just a simple celebration of peace and condemnation of war. If anything, I'm a little offended by your assumption that D-Day veterans would automatically disapprove of this, which isn't borne out at all by any of the interviews I've seen of the surviving soldiers. Your move!
posted by forgetful snow at 5:55 AM on September 26, 2013


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