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Report on the World Wars (April 18, 2002)

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World War I was begun when the nephew (and the last heir) to the Hapburgs was assassinated by a group of separatists (people who want to separate). It was "the war to end all wars." It invented machine guns, mustard gas, grenades, airplanes, and many other things. It was the first war that soldiers were able to kill somebody without looking them in the eye.

To experience this, we went to a museum of WWI in Ieper. It was called "In Flanders Fields" because it was sited there. After we bought tickets, each of us got a little card that represented a person that was alive during the first World War (I was Ren Colaert).

As soon as we entered, we were greeted by the sound of bombs. Joss plugged his ears. Dad and I read a text on the wall about Christmas during the war. The soldiers were supposed to dig trenches when they were unable to advance any further. During Christmas, the men in the trenches came out with gifts for one another. One of the paragraphs said: "They came out of their trenches, unarmed, with boxes of cigars and sausages. What were we to do? Shoot? You cannot shoot an unarmed man."

The French were invaded by the Germans because they left their north-eastern border undefended, because they thought that the Germans wouldn't attack through Belgium.

We went through a small, dark room that showed what it was like to cross No-Mans Land (the area between both sides' trenches). On two of the walls, there were large screens showing soldiers running around shooting at things and screaming. Another section showed six plastic tubes and two poems on the wall. One of them continued broadcasting through the speakers. When it got to the "GAS! GAS!" part, the tubes, each of which had a metal figure in it, lit up and a yellow fog started rising (to symbolize mustard gas). Each of the figures had a gas mask on. All except for one. This was the "But one man had been two slow, and was now stumbling towards me…" section of the poem. It was pretty scary.

There was one problem with airplanes: they couldn't fire without shooting their propellers off. Pilots tried shooting out the sides of their planes, but if their targets flew in front of them, then tak tak tak tak tak, and off with the propeller.

After WW I, Germany was forced to pay for the damage it had caused A) By paying with money B) by paying with portions of land. Germany was in a very bad state.

The winning countries, which were Great Britain, France, America and sort of Russia, made a League of Nations. Think of it as some sort of a club where the leaders and representatives of different countries went to tell each other their problems. The trouble was, only the winners of the war were allowed in. Russia wasn't considered a winner, even though it had been an Ally, because, in the middle of the war they said: "Hey, um, we need to overthrow our government so we're just going to stop fighting them so we can fight us."

Because Germany was in such a bad state, Hitler gained power by making lots of promises; things like taking back all of the territories they had lost. Unfortunately, France and Great Britain didn't do much. Actually, they gave Germany Czechoslovakia to make him go away. It didn't work. Poland signed an agreement with France and England that if Hitler were to invade Poland, they would have to help protect it. But Hitler invaded Poland anyway. That was how WWII began.

Germany was taking over lots of countries: Czechoslovakia, Poland, Austria, Hungary… and the Allies weren't really doing anything about it. So Italy said: "Hey, if we isn't allying with dem Germans, we gonna' miss out on all dem nice countries!" The fact was, Italy was two years away from having anything that even looked like an army.

Russia was better. It also became an Axis, and started taking over most of the eastern countries. France was taken over again because they didn't think anyone could invade through the Ardennes Forest. Wrong! I don't think France strategically places its defenses. The northern half of France was officially part of Germany, and the southern half was still France, but with a ruler picked by Hitler and it was allied with Germany.

Next, Germany tried taking Great Britain, the last Ally. Now that Hitler had France, he could attack right over the Manche. But England bombed France's Navy (because it was really Germany's), so the Axis used its planes.

The problem with the planes (off with the propeller) had been resolved by connecting the propeller gears and the machine gun gears together so that the gun would only fire right after one of the blades had gone by and before the next one came. I didn't quite understand that either.

London was bombed day and night. The RAF (Royal Air Force) was stopping was many planes as it could, and so were the Anti-Air guns, but it still wasn't enough. I learned this at the Memorial De Caen, a WWII Museum. We watched a film on how London was bombed, how pilots with almost no experience went out to confront hordes of swarming German planes. Children were sent to the countryside while the parents stayed in the underground metro lines, making parts for tanks and keeping the country running.

Luckily, Germany gave up on England. It decided to attack Russia instead, hoping Italy would take care of the south and Africa. A few things happened: A) Italy didn't do anything. B) Russia waited until the winter to defend against the German invasion, switched to the Allies, and forced Hitler back. C) Japan bombed Pearl Harbor, making the United States enter the war.

Imagine you are Hitler. One of your messengers comes in and says: "Um, sir, we couldn't really capture England, and we're pulling back." You've got a headache. Then another messenger comes in and says: "Sir, well, you know how we attacked Russia? Well, they're now an Ally, so we're fighting to the east and to the west." Your headache is bigger. A third messenger comes in and says: "Er, you know how we were trying to stop the U.S. from entering the war? Well, the Japanese attacked them and now they're an Ally also." You are now reaching for your bottle of Aspirin.

The Allies took profit of Germany's stumble to plan. Germany now owned most of Europe, so England and America had to do something. This something was D-Day.

D-Day, or "Operation Overlord," was to begin at Great Britain and was to attack to northern border of France. A little diversionary force was sent somewhere else to confuse the German army. There were five beaches (with code names) that the Allies were going to attack: Great Britain would attack Sword and Gold, the U.S. would invade Utah and Omaha, and Canada would strike at Juno. Our hotel was at Gold beach.

In six days, the allies had made an artificial harbor for tanks to drive on. As the main force came in, two of the landing crafts split off from the main group to confuse the enemy even more. Luckily, Hitler thought the main attack was one of the diversionary forces, so he put most of his men there.

At the five beaches, the fighting was bad. There were anti-tank mines, which looked like spiky things, cannons, pill boxes that where camouflaged against the ground or as houses and enemy gunners.

We visited an American Graveyard and read about three people who had earned Medals of Honor. One of them had climbed up a hill without anyone telling him to, killed eight enemy soldiers and captured thirty-five other soldiers and an enemy pillbox. Pillboxes are little bunkers that are underground and have guns sticking out of them.

We also went to Utah beach where we looked at the bunkers and bomb craters (I sprained my ankle running down one). There were lots of secret passages inside the bunkers, and Joss and I had a lot of fun.

D-Day won the war; and Germany, once again, was forced to pay. The east side of Germany was given to Russia, and the west side was part of the Allies. The rest of the story is in my Berlin letter.

War is evil, and I hope another world war does not happen when I am alive.

 

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