Around 8:30 AM, our class boarded the bus and headed out on our next adventure. Today, we visited the Verdun memorial, a WWI museum, the Verdun museum, and the Verdun trenches. During the bus ride, we shared our feelings of anxiety about the upcoming exam. I felt prepared but anxious because I do not like tests. However, all of us were grateful to get the exam out the way before going to Brussels. I took a short nap, as many others did, during the bus ride. 40 minutes later, I awoke to sites of manicured fields and rolling hills. The landscape of Verdun was absolutely breath-taking. The juxtaposition of the calm green environment against the somber war memorial was stark and quite jarring.
We got off the bus and entered the memorial through the gift shop and visited the chapel and memorial area. Verdun is essentially a giant mausoleum. There were scores of names written on the white walls. Then, we went to the movie theater and watched a film about the memorial. The film began with saying that it was a one of kind theater because behind it were the bones of 130,000 men. It gave some general background on the battle and discussed the development and creation of the memorial. The memorial was built in order to commemorate the Verdun battle of WWI. The project was spearheaded by Maurice Genevoix, a veteran and member of L’Académie Française. The memorial was constructed in the 1960s and opened to the public in 1967. Many prominent politicians have visited the site to pay their respects. The most interesting part of the film was the commentary on tragedy and peace. Despite the mass damage and death caused by WWI, another war occurred. While I am fortunate to have never lived through a war of such magnitude, war and violence persist. I am reminded of the countless civil wars and terrorist attacks. When will humanity learn that war only causes death and destruction?
After the film, we went outside and ambled about the graves. Each grave was marked by a white cross. There were hundreds and hundreds of crosses. They seemed to go one forever. From the names, you could see French and German soldiers. It is alarming to hear that thousands of people were killed in a battle, but it is terrifying to see all of their graves. It visually demonstrates the true price of war. Before we boarded the bus, we peaked through the bottom windows of the memorial and saw piles and piles of skeletons. It was surreal and extremely haunting. Some students were to freaked out to peek through the windows, and I can’t blame them.
Our next stop was the WWI museum. This museum gave a holistic perspective on the war. It showed what equipment soldiers had, explained their duties, and the effects of society. I found it pretty cool that women were able to work during the war. They took men’s places in the factories, trained to be nurses, and joined associations. After the war, French women still could not vote unlike women in the UK and USA. Citizens were affected by the war through rationing. I saw a little ration card for bread, and I wondered what would happen if you lost your card. If I lived during that time, I would probably lose my card. Another segment of the museum talked about the medical and technological advances of the war. Firepower and the number of guns utilized increased. Camouflage was also invented by two artists. Aviation was not only used for observation, but also for combat through bombardments. Additionally, there were several medical advancements such as a recognition of the importance of hygiene and psychiatry becoming a field. We ended our visit by going outside to the gardens and celebrating one of classmate’s birthday. It was a nice break from the somber mood of the exhibits.
Next, we visited the Verdun museum which went into great detail about the battle. There were numerous exhibits about very specific aspects of the battle such as the food eaten, letters sent and received, and clothing worn. This museum was very interactive in that there were numerous video and audio exhibits. You could also walk on fake mud among military equipment. My favorite exhibition was the letter section because it gave great insight into the life and feelings of the soldiers. Interestingly, letters were to be censored in order to keep locations and military strategies secret and families from getting too upset. There was this one letter I read that was from a soldier to his wife. He told his wife how he loved her and that he may be dead soon. He told his kids that he loved them and the child to come. He also told his other family members to take care of his wife and kids if he did not return to war. The letter was beautiful, and I could tell how much the soldier loved his wife. I really hope that woman’s husband returned to her.
The last site we visited was the Verdun Trenches. It was a small exhibit, but it has some interesting characteristics. The trenches were real except for the wood plats on the ground. We walked around and went through the tiny walkways covered in wood. The living conditions were awful. It was hot, humid, and cramped. The living quarters were comprised of small rusty bunk beds and dirt floors. The second and last part of the tour was going over the equipment found at the trenches. There were French and German equipment at the site. The tour guide compared the different weapons. The French had the better bayonet while the Germans had a better gas mask. The tour guide also brought up the fact that this was the first war in which gas was used. They used chlorine gas which has prevented crops from growing in certain areas in Europe. Finally, the tour ended and we took the bus back to the dorm.
The visits today were very informative and reminded me of the perils of war and how society is affected by war. There were impressive technological and medical advancements made, but families were torn apart and entire cities were destroyed. Are wars worth the cost? Nonetheless, it is amazing to see how far Europe has come from the war-torn continent it once was to 70 years of peace. The EU is most definitely responsible for the continuing age of peace and unity in Europe. Overall, I now have a greater appreciation and understanding of the achievements of the EU in bringing peace to Europe.