An artist paints a peaceful scene on at the Louvre museum, originally a 12th-century defensive fortress. (William Roubicek/Contributed)

The Guns of 1917: A History of Violence

For romantics, Paris may be the City of Lights. But for historians, it’s the City of War. A tour of the French capital helped prepare us for our trip to Vimy Ridge.

The streets of Paris tell stories of conquest, occupation, resistance and victory. We visited the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel, which stands near the Louvre museum complex.

The arch was built to celebrate the military victories of Napoleon Bonaparte. Its chariot statue reminded us of what European warfare was like for thousands of years.

It depended on horses to haul equipment. It was fought face-to-face with swords and muskets. And for many soldiers, it fed an appetite for adventure and honour.

The war that Germany declared on France on August 3rd, 103 years ago, would brutally transform the character of combat.

At the Eiffel Tower, built for a world’s fair that commemorated the bloody start of the French Revolution, I experienced a reminder that our world is still scarred by violence.

Waiting in line, I was giddy. Then a security officer barked, “You cannot enter.” He pointed at my phone’s portable amplifier. “That speaker isn’t allowed on. Get out.”

Its blinking lights had raised suspicions. Denied entry, I consoled myself with melon flavoured ice cream on the Champs de Mars, the boulevard named for the Roman god of war.

Luckily there were no problems when visiting Napoleon’s tomb at Les Invalides. It’s in a building commissioned by Louis XIV as a residence for veterans.

Napolean’s sarcophagus is made of red quartzite on a green granite base. The ornate tribute to an icon of European military history stood in contrast to what I would experience at the Beaumont-Hamel Newfoundland Memorial.

We were about to feel the awful reality of the First World War at close range.

William Roubicek is a recent graduate of Charles Hays Secondary School and member of the Captain Cook Sea Cadets. This is the second of six columns that chronicle the journey by his corps to the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

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