Paris, France: November 13, 2015
November 13, 2015 will go down in French history as their 9/11. It will be remembered as the day that everything changed, the day that innocence was lost.
France has certainly suffered in the past from attacks like the Charlie Hebdo shootings but what happened that night was something far more sinister, far more evil than anything since World War II. It was a senseless, barbaric attack where the motive was to murder for the sake of murder. 130 people died, with hundreds more injured for no sane reason.
As I watched from afar, separated by the Atlantic Ocean and the 3,000 miles of the United States, I couldn’t help but feel a profound sense of sadness and anger. While we hear of shootings, bombings, and deaths almost everyday, most of these incidents happen in some dark corner of the world, where the people have little in common with us. We read about these incidents, process the information, feel a tinge of sadness, and move on with our lives.
But this time it was different. This time it was France. And not some small village in France but Paris, the City of Light, the cultural epicenter of the world. A place that all of us know and many of us have been. It happened to people like you or I, doing things that we would do on a Friday night: eating dinner, going out to bars, going to a concert. It happened in a country that happens to be our oldest ally, a loyal friend, and in many ways, a brother who’s been with us since the beginning.
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You might think that last sentence I wrote was a mistake. After all, it’s easy to think of all the negative French stereotypes. But all that really does is surface the ignorance of the people who see France that way. A lot of people forget, or simply don’t know, how deep our relationship with France is.
If it were not for the French, America would not exist.
Back in 1775, France sent generals, men, supplies, and money to fight against the British in the American Revolution. The French General Lafayette, for which many American parks and towns are named after, helped destroy the British fleet and played a critical role in the Siege of Yorktown which proved to be a turning point in the war. Without French help, it is almost certain that the United States would have lost the war.
The Statue of Liberty, the most famous landmark in all of America, was a gift from the French to commemorate the ideals of freedom and democracy that were being realized in America at the time.
D-Day, the largest invasion in human history, occurred on the beaches of Normandy. Thousands of Americans died on French soil and to this day, towns in that area honor the American dead by flying American flags and decorating the soldiers’ graves.
The people of France stood with us after 9/11, remembering the victims the day after with a laying of the American flag in front of the Eiffel Tower.
On the 10th anniversary of the attacks, they erected a memorial signifying they have not forgotten and that they never will forget.
Think about all the French influence in our daily lives. The culture, food, and art that have become as Americana as hot dogs and hamburgers. Longer than England, Canada, Germany or any other country on this planet, France has had our backs for as long as we’ve existed.
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And so we will press on, together. As the initial shock and terror subside, those feelings will soon be replaced with grief and sorrow. But as the French did for us, we will stand with them and support them.
I used to be highly cynical towards what has been dubbed as “slacktivism”: the Twitter hashtags, Facebook profile picture filters, and any other low effort, low commitment change that people make in the wake of a tragedy. I used to think it was all bullshit self-gratification, a way to pat yourself on the back for doing something.
But I think I’ve wizened up over the years. I’ve come to realize that it isn’t all bullshit and that it can do something. It’s not about patting yourself on the back. It’s about showing that people care and stand together with the victims. That, to those affected, means a lot. Will changing your photo take down a terrorist leader? No. But it may very well lift someone’s spirits to see that solidarity expressed around the world.
It proves that even in a world as large and different as ours, people do care about each other. People will stand together, support one another, and fight the good fight. And it’s also a reminder that despite what evil may come from this world, good will always, always, triumph.
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France will move on. It will move on with it’s own people and the rest of the world behind it. The people of Paris will return to the restaurants, the bars, and the concert halls. Laughter and smiles will yet again fill the boulevards. The way of life these bastards sought to disrupt will return to normal. This return to normalcy will mark the ultimate victory over these barbarians. It shows that as hard as they may try, they cannot change what is good.
The scars of November 13 will slowly fade with time but it will never be forgotten. I will never forget, nor will the world, and, certainly, not the resilient and courageous people of France.
Vive la France.