Last week, my wife and I retraced (too quickly) part of my father's 1944-45 path across western Europe, spending a couple of days in Normandie (we spell it Normandy), France and counting coup with the Ardennes in eastern Belgium on our way back to a flight home from Amsterdam (from October through the end of the war, he was with the 28th Infantry Division in the Huertgen Forest, Ardennes Forest ("Battle of the Bulge"), and Colmar Pocket areas, among others).
My dad's initial unit, the 2nd Infantry Division, landed on Omaha Beach at the village of St.-Laurant-sur-Mer on 7 June 1944 (D-Day+1). The previous day's initial invasion had cleared most of the resistance from the Germans on the beach, so as the division moved inland, it passed through two villages that had already been liberated, but engaged the Germans a few kilometers inland at Trévières, liberating that small town. From there, they kept moving south, fighting what became known as the Battle of the Hedgerows -- the nearly impenetrable walls of stone and tall hedges that surrounded the many small fields.
About 20 km south of the beach, they then engaged in an assault from 11 June to 12 July on a German installation on Hill 192, so named because, at 192 meters above sea level, it gave the Germans a very wide overview of the entire invasion area. Hill 192 is a large feature with a gradual slope, the top of which is about a kilometer north of the highway which connects Saint-Lô with Bayeux and a kilometer west of St.-Georges-d'Elle. That little hamlet changed hands five times during the battle.
A more peaceful and bucolic setting you couldn't find. The viewpoint is about a kilometer west of St. Georges d'Elle. It's located between the top of the hill, about 200 meters to the south, and a farm, about 200 meters down the hill to the north. The sign there provides a visualization of the final attack in which the 2nd Division passed right through the farm in the orchard where the cow above is standing.
As I was viewing this scene, there was a clank-clank-clank sound coming from the farm and I noticed a farmer crouching in front of a shed hammering on something metallic. It's likely that his grandfather was the farmer in 1944 and that he and his family were driven temporarily from the farm and that the farm largely destroyed by the month-long operation -- cows killed, apple orchards uprooted, buildings shot up, crops trampled. My dad was on a Howitzer crew until he was wounded on 23 June, so he no doubt launched countless shells into the farm and German outpost, now a barley field.
There were big things at stake in WW-II -- liberation from a foreign power, ethnic genocide -- about which few could question. Yet the justification for the good guys and the bad guys at Hill 192 blasting each other might have seemed pretty remote to the farmer whose family and farm was being destroyed (many "locals" throughout Europe, including I'm sure some whose physical assets were being destroyed, joined the resistance and provided valuable assistance to the Allies). And this is no doubt only one of many wars fought in the area over the centuries since the top of the has so much strategic importance. Go back some 40 generations and a different group of bad guys who were my cousins and some of this farmer's ancestors sailed up the Seine nearby to the east, took over the area, and gave their name to it. So dozens of generations of farmers have had to put up with these interruptions of their livelihood. It would be tempting to put aside whatever issues caused these battles and just wish that people would leave them alone to farm.
I thought first how remote is our experience with resident wars as Americans. The various Indian wars of the 19th century are the most recent example. Our distance from that time might have contributed to our outrage over the 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center.
In that reflective mood -- and I'm now finally getting to the point of adding this to a technology blog -- it also occurred to me that this was maybe a good metaphor for why change is so hard. I've been discouraged of late by how slow real change within the media -- particularly within the public media sector where I make a living. I'm a natural optimist, but it now seems to me that change will come too late for many of us.
But maybe the natural way for humans to respond to disruptive activities -- whether it's the disruption of battle or the disruptions of innovation -- is to stick to the knitting. "Just let me do what I know and enjoy," whether it's our mode of production or our linear programming tradition or our business model, is probably a very human way to react to big but but lumbering external forces. "Yes, we'll probably suffer under the bad guys' regime, but it will be awhile before it really hits home."