by Rich Broderick | August 1, 2009 • Montlivault lies about 15 kilometers from the monstrous Chateau de Chambord, the largest (and surely one of the ugliest) of the Loire Valley manor houses.
|Ground Zero – Rich Broderick teaches journalism, serves on the board of the Twin Cities Media Alliance, and sometimes still finds time to write for the TC Daily Planet.|
There is nothing in Montlivault of the pretense and grandiosity, the overbearing arrogance and wretched excess of Chateau de Chambord. It is a modest hamlet, home to some 1000 souls, little more than a crossroads around which cluster a handful of shops and cafes, a small Romanesque church, L’Eglise de Saint Pierre, and a chestnut-shaded parking lot situated between the church and a pair of primitive public toilets. The toilets were the proximate cause for our stop that warm Wednesday afternoon. While we were waiting for my daughter to decide whether she dared risk using les sanitaires, I suggested to my 12-year old son that we peek inside the church.
During our recent French sojourn we visited Chartres, Notre Dame, a couple of cathedrals in Lyon and numerous other gothic or neo-gothic churches, but it was St. Pierre that I would unexpectedly find most beautiful – and moving. It was not large, with room enough for perhaps 100 congregants, and almost ascetic in its simplicity. A display by the main entrance explained that the church had been first built early in the 11th century, then renovated and expanded –a little – over the centuries since. Signs of its immense age were apparent everywhere, in the gentle groove worn down the middle of the central aisle, the eroded baptismal fount carved from a single block of stone, the warped pews, the splintering foot-thick crossbeams, the small, flame-shaped windows set deep in their casements. How many marriages and funerals, baptisms and confessions had taken place here over the past 1000 years? How many prayers of supplication and gratitude offered up to the still air gathered beneath the vaulted ceiling? How many tears shed, homilies delivered, eucharists performed, communion wafers placed upon the tongues of shriven parishioners?
Eventually a bronze plaque near the altar seized my attention. France, as anyone who has traveled there knows, is a country littered with “Les Monuments aux Morts” – statues and obelisks dedicated to the memory of French soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the service of La Gloire. Ubiquitous, they serve to press the seductive claim that it is, indeed, sweet and fitting to die for one’s country. But there was no mention of the Glory that is France on the plaque inside L’Eglise de St. Pierre. Below the heading “1914 – 1918” there was a simple list of the men from this one small parish who perished during the First World War, which erupted exactly 95 years ago this month. The Great War. The War that was going to end all Wars. There were 26 names in all. Twenty-six fathers, brothers, sons and husbands consumed by the hecatomb, surely a significant percentage of this church’s adult male parishioners at the outbreak of the war. Yet only a tiny fraction of the 1.7 million French – 4.29 percent of the population, or the equivalent of 12.9 million Americans today – who died in a pointless conflict that, far from ending war, merely set the stage for a later, far more destructive catastrophe two decades hence.
I called my son over and showed him the plaque. Look at this, I told him. Try to imagine what these names mean in terms of the grief and regret, the bitterness and haunting sense of what might have been for those left behind in Montlivault. Nothing in American history (at least of the country’s dominant white culture), with the sole exception of the losses in manhood suffered by the South during the Civil War, comes even close to what happened to the families who worshipped at L’Eglise de St. Pierre early in the 20th Century. We cannot, I tried to explain to Gabe, truly conceive of the suffering that took place in this village, in this pays, in France as a whole. It is beyond our comprehension.
And remember, too, I thought, the American chickenhawks, class of 2003, and their well-orchestrated campaign of contempt aimed at France because of its refusal to be bullied into supporting the Iraq War: the Bill Kristols and Rush Limbaughs, the “Freedom Fries” jackasses, and _The National Review’s_ odious Jonah Goldberg with his sneering insult, “Cheese-eating surrender monkeys”; the Dick Cheneys and George Bushes and Frank Gaffneys and Paul Wolfowitzs; the whole parade of vainglorious cowards who, though they themselves never faced hostile fire, though they managed to duck every opportunity ever afforded them to see combat, nonetheless cheered on a criminal war of aggression – based, like all wars, on lies – ultimately ensuring that other, less-well-connected men and women would die in vain.
People like the men listed on the plaque in Montlivault. Think of the promoters of the Iraq War and of how, instead of slinking out of sight, they still strut among us, chattering away on Sunday morning news shows, popping up on op-ed pages to urge new hostilities against today’s enemy du jour, even while the 26 dead of L’Eglise de St. Pierre go on paying silent witness to the horror and futility of war.
Remember the fallen. Remember, too, the hyenas in every era who sent them to their deaths. Never forget the havoc the warmongers have wrought – and will go on wreaking, just so long as we let them.