Haven Blackmon: France as Text 2019

Welcome to the manifestation of my journey studying abroad in France! My name is Haven Blackmon, and I am originally from Orlando, Florida, and moved to Miami to earn my B.A. in psychology, minoring in biology at FIU. I am interested in studying molecular biology and genetics, focusing on the genetic factors of neurological cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. However, having an interdisciplinary education which explores the relationship between different subjects is my utmost priority.

Paris as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

The United States and France share many commonalities; however, there are stark differences between the two. The American Revolution and French Revolution occurred closely together, and aimed to achieve the same principles of democracy and universal human rights. In these centuries following the revolutions, the implementation of these principles into the fabric of society have manifested in different ways and at different speeds. One principle emerging in the last century throughout the developed world, environmental protection and conservation, has been approached quite differently in the U.S. and in France. In the U.S., commodities such as fast food and single-use plastics have been readily embraced. Interestingly, the long-standing tradition of fresh, market-bought food has largely prevented the proliferation of these products. In the markets of Paris, paper bags are standard, plastic utensils are provided sparingly or at cost, and straws are rarely used. With the Western world focused on faster food, faster deliveries, and faster results, old habits seen in the heart of Paris have largely protected it from the modern problem of plastic pollution, seen overwhelmingly in the U.S. In addition, sodas are almost exclusively sold in cans, and water is more sparingly used in toilets and water fountains. Outside of Paris, wind turbines are generating renewable energy in large fields. While modernization has provided for increased productivity and wealth, the carelessness with which society has approached it is quickly creating new and urgent problems to solve. In cases like the markets of Paris, adherence to old habits and traditions has lessened the burden of plastic pollution in this corner of the world.

Versailles as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

The Palace of Versailles, the largest palace on earth, has solidified Louis XIV one of the most significant spots in European history. While being a king of France ensures your name being documented in some history books, greater achievements are necessary to secure such a prevalent place in world history. Of course, this achievement did not come without the suffering and death of many, but a king must not be so concerned as to relinquish such a coveted place in the minds of people for generations, centuries, and millennia to come. To be remembered for a few decades after your death is much easier than to guarantee that you will be remembered 2,000 years after your death. What better way is there to be remembered for a thousand years than to create the most extravagant palace in history and repeatedly plaster your face onto the god of the sun? Will maintaining peace and feeding your people for a few decades be enough? Surely writing a book or a symphony will not guarantee your long-standing spot in history like creating an extravagant palace that stands for centuries or founding a new nation (like the founding fathers of the United States). Acts such as maintaining peace or writing books are undoubtedly too much of a gamble, and the large risk is simply not worth the uncertain reward.

Lyon as Text

Photo by Haven Blackmon

After visiting Montluc prison, hearing Claude Bloch tell his story of surviving the Holocaust, and seeing World War II artifacts in the Resistance and Deportation History Centre, I realized that my education in the United States had never really taught me what it felt like to live in a time and place where your leaders and your government saw you as nothing more than a pest to be exterminated. I learned that approximately six million Jews were murdered over a time span of six years, and that many of these people were gassed and their bodies burned- but I never learned what it felt like to be imprisoned in a cell of only a few square meters with seven other people for weeks at a time. I never truly understood the details of how every step of the deportation and internment process was intentionally designed to rob all humanity from humans who were the victims of this genocide. It is one thing to be taught and another to truly understand. It is one thing to teach the number of people targeted and murdered, and another to demonstrate to students the reality of being packed into a prison cell. As the memory of the Holocaust fades away with time, I feel it becomes even more necessary to educate youth in a more tangible way than history books. While American students may not be able to visit concentration camps, Holocaust history can still be taught in more tangible ways, including Holocaust museums and classroom demonstrations of food portions in concentration camps and weight loss of those who survived. Ultimately, future generations will prevent this from happening again not by regurgitating textbook facts, but by seeing and understanding that this terrorization of people resulted in the few adult survivors that were rescued weighing nothing more than that of an eleven year old child, and that people are only capable of this magnitude of terror with the complacency and inaction of many.

Jean Moulin by Haven Blackmon

Jean Moulin c. 1937. Photo by public domain

Life of Jean Moulin

Jean Moulin was born June 20, 1899 in the city of Béziers in southern France. His father was a history professor who was actively engaged in political organizations such as the Radical Socialist Party and the League of Rights of Men. Jean was heavily influenced by his father, and they were known to be inseparable in his childhood. After the death of his older brother, Jean’s performance in school declined, and he was a mediocre student. He developed and interest in drawing cartoons, which became quite popular. In 1917, he began studying for a law degree at the Law Institute of Montpellier, but shortly thereafter was drafted into the Army during World War I in 1918. For a short while he was an engineer in the military, but he never engaged in battle and the war ended not long after he was drafted. The most important work Jean did while in the army was his duty to bury soldiers who died in battle. With the help of his father, he was discharged from the army after only one year. 

After leaving the Army, he quickly returned to his studies and graduated with his law degree in 1921. Following his graduation, Jean became a civil servant, and through his hard work eventually earned the title of youngest sub-prefect in France in 1925. He was later promoted to become the youngest prefect in France. Not long thereafter, Jean married Marguerite Cerruti in 1926, but their marriage was short lived and they divorced only two years later. 

As Moulin continued working for the government, he achieved higher titles and took on more administrative responsibilities, and in 1937 became the youngest prefect in France. In February 1939, he transferred to be the prefect at Chartres. However, France soon became involved in WWII and Moulin’s department faced an influx of refugees. He saw firsthand the struggles of the refugees and voiced his sympathy despite the growing hostility of many citizens. During this time, Jean was preparing to resign from his position as prefect in order to join the Air Force. Although he did not meet age and certain physical requirements, Jean was persistent and worked fervently to obtain a position in the military. Unfortunately, Moulin was still denied a position. As the Germans moved into the region in which Moulin served, the French people suffered and died at the hands of Nazis. As this became apparent, German officials blamed these killings on France’s Senegalese soldiers. The Germans tried to force Moulin into signing a document faulting the French soldiers for the murders, but Moulin new it was the fault of the Nazis and refused to sign. Consequently, Jean was captured. Fearing he would be tortured and made to sign the document, he attempted suicide by cutting his throat with glass, but he did not succeed. He was soon found and given medical attention, and he survived the attempted suicide. For the rest of his life following the incident, Jean wore scarves to conceal the scar across his neck.  

Following this incident, Moulin assumed the responsibility of uniting numerous resistance groups against the Germans. By uniting these resistance groups, they joined and he then became the chairman of the National Council of the Resistance. He did this in collaboration with General Charles de Gaulle, who was the leader of Free France at the time. This occurred in May 1943, and the very next month he was captured and imprisoned by the Gestapo. He was brutally tortured by the Gestapo, but refused to share any information. As he was being transported to Germany by train, Jean Moulin died on July 8, 1943. After his death, he was revered as a hero by the French resistance. 

Personal Relevance

In the years leading up to and during World War II, Jean became increasingly more vocal about his political opinions and his opposition to Nazi Germany. Upon German occupation of France, he repeatedly risked his life to resist their regime. The aspect in which I relate most to Jean Moulin is to his personal convictions and the way in which his actions aligned with them. Neither I nor most anyone else can say for certainty whether they would risk their life in such brutal ways to protect those who are innocent and defenseless. However, one thing I consider to be most important to my character and my self-worth is my integrity, and the degree to which I strive to carry out actions that align with my convictions. I make conscious decisions every day to make sure that my actions align with my most core beliefs. Every day is another opportunity be active in creating change to benefit the lives of others, and my activism is a reflection of my most fundamental beliefs that all people should be equal under the law. Jean Moulin embodied these convictions in the most fundamental way, and we can all draw inspiration and courage from his actions.

Sources:

Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Jean Moulin.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 4 July 2018, www.britannica.com/biography/Jean-Moulin.

Clinton, Alan. Jean Moulin, 1899-1943 the French Resistance and the Republic. Palgrave, 2002. 

“History – Historic Figures: Jean Moulin (1899 – 1943).” BBC, BBC, www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/moulin_jean.shtml.

“Jean Moulin Biography.” The Famous People, 8 Nov. 2017, www.thefamouspeople.com/profiles/jean-moulin-6071.php.

Marnham, Patrick. The Death of Jean Moulin: Biography of a Ghost. John Murray, 2001.

Simkin, John. “Jean Moulin.” Spartacus Educational, Spartacus Educational, Aug. 2014, spartacus-educational.com/2WWmoulin.htm.

Zimmerman, Dwight. “The Death of Jean Moulin: The French Resistance Gets Its Greatest Martyr.” Defense Media Network, 28 July 2013, www.defensemedianetwork.com/stories/the-death-of-jean-moulin-the-french-resistance-gets-its-greatest-martyr/.