Leaders laud the fallen of WWI, 100 years later
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 Ger-
many and France wanted it,” he said.
Merkel was equally convinced of the power their friendship exudes.
“The will is there, and I say this for Germany with full conviction, to do everything to achieve a more peaceful order in the world even though we know we have very, very much work still ahead of us,” she 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 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.
French officials later said the Trump administration had agreed to consult with NATO partners on its plan to pull out of an arms control treaty with Russia.
Trump himself was to visit a cemetery Saturday, but the White House canceled the trip because of bad weather, which grounded the 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, but the cancellation drew bipartisan criticism back home.
David Frum, once a speechwriter for President George W. Bush, tweeted 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 there.
Ben Rhodes, a deputy national security adviser in the Obama administration, said the White House should have had a fallback plan for the president.
“There is always a rain option. Always,” Rhodes said.
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 German-led coalition that also included the AustroHungarian 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.
The armistice entered into force on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. 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.