Nicolas Sarkozy is said to be the first French president in a long time who doesn’t nourish all manner of grudges and resentments against the United States. “U.S. Go Home,” used to be a very popular slogan in France, chalked up on walls here, there and everywhere. And now consider what just happened at Saint Pierre de Varengeville, in Normandy. After D-day, from September 1944 to February 1946, 20,000 American soldiers had tents in a beech forest there, and called it Camp Twenty Grand. Beech has a nice soft bark, and the soldiers used bayonets or knives to carve their own or their girlfriend’s names, and their home states. Since then, the trees have grown, and the carvings with them, into something like a living museum. The Times of London reports that the locals hit on a phrase, “The Trees of Names.”
Ah, but officials deemed that overhanging branches had to be pruned. The cost of pruning is four times the cost of felling, so they simply cut the trees down. This unusually evocative memorial is no more. Here’s “U.S. Go Home,” in practice, as at least some French people are freeing the future from these traces of the men who liberated them. The attitude conditioning this act can only be heedless or outright nasty, and in either case too ingrained for Sarkozy or anyone else to be able to change it.