Fallen lauded on eve of armistice centennial
As leaders mark WWI end, Trump takes jab at Macron
PARIS — Traveling from across the world to monuments honoring soldiers who fell 100 years ago, victors and vanquished alike marked those sacrifices Saturday ahead of Armistice Day and assessed alliances that have been redrawn dramatically since the dark days of World War I.
The leaders of former enemies France and Germany, in an intimate gesture that underscored their countries’ current roles as guarantors of peace in Europe, held their heads together at the site north of Paris where the defeated Germans and the Allies signed the agreement that ended the 1914-18 war.
After Chancellor Angela Merkel briefly snuggled her head into the neck of French President Emmanuel Macron, the two went inside a replica of the train car where the armistice was reached and put their names in a guestbook.
Macron then took Merkel’s hand in his, again highlighting the changes on the continent where two world wars were fought in the 20th century.
“Our Europe has been at peace for 73 years. There is no precedent for it, and it is at peace because we willed it and, first and foremost, because Germany and France wanted it,” he said.
The open show of affection was a welcome antidote for Macron.
Earlier Saturday, the French leader had a somewhat awkward meeting with his American counterpart. As Air Force One landed in Paris on Friday night, President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter he had been insulted by comments Macron made in the days before that he considered anti-American.
Macron said last week that Europe needed to protect itself against “China, Russia and even the United States” in terms of cyberspace. Later, Macron reiterated that Europe needs to build up its own military because it can no longer depend on the U.S. for defense.
Trump tweeted in response that Macron’s words were “very insulting” to the U.S. and suggested that “Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO.” Macron’s office said Trump had misunderstood his remarks and on Saturday the two men appeared to take pains to display their friendship.
Trump himself was to visit a cemetery Saturday, but the White House canceled the trip because of bad weather, which grounded the presidential helicopter that was to fly him to Belleau, about a two-hour drive east of Paris. The White House sent a delegation that included chief of staff John Kelly in his place.
David Frum, once a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, tweeted that he thought it was “incredible” that a president would travel to France for a WWI ceremony and not pay respects to the U.S. servicemen who died in France during WWI.
Trump is to visit a different cemetery Sunday.
In the four years of fighting of World War I, remembered for brutal trench warfare and the first use of gas, France, the British empire, Russia and the U.S. had the main armies opposing a Germanled coalition that also included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
Almost 10 million soldiers died.
Yet, despite a war that was supposed to end all wars, World War II pitted both sides against each other once again in 1940.
Across the line that once marked the Western Front, leaders lauded the courage of soldiers who were killed during the unprecedented slaughter, before converging on Paris for a dinner.
On Sunday, 69 world leaders will commemorate the centennial of the armistice that ended the war at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, underneath the Arc de Triomphe in central Paris.
A tweet by President Donald Trump caused pre-meeting awkwardness with French President Emmanuel Macron.