Fallen sol­ders lauded on eve of ar­mistice cen­ten­nial

The Times-Tribune - - OBITUARIES / WORLD - BY RAF CASERT AND AN­GELA CHARLTON

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 191418 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.

73 years at peace

“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.

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.

Meet­ing with Trump

The open show of af­fec­tion was a welcome an­ti­dote for Macron. Ear­lier Satur­day, the French leader had a some­what awk­ward meet­ing with U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. As Air Force One landed in Paris on Fri­day night, Trump wrote on Twit­ter he had been “very” in­sulted by com­ments Macron made in the days be­fore that he con­sid­ered an­tiAmer­i­can.

A cen­tury ago, the en­try of U.S. troops into World War I tipped the mo­men­tum to­ward its al­lies, in­clud­ing France and Bri­tain. Even as he em­barked on two days of ob­ser­vances for the Nov. 11, 1918 ar­mistice, Trump said the United States now bears far too much of the bur­den to de­fend the West.

A flurry of Ar­misti cere­lated diplo­macy once again turned Paris, the jewel that Ger­many sought to take in 1914 but which the Al­lies suc­cess­fully fought to de­fend, into the cen­ter of global at­ten­tion Satur­day as dozens of world lead­ers ar­rived in the French cap­i­tal on the eve of the solemn cen­ten­nial com­mem­o­ra­tions.

Merkel’s ap­pear­ance in Com­piegne marked how her na­tion’s blood­stained his­tory with France has be­come a close al­liance that is now the driv­ing force be­hind the Eu­ro­pean Union.

In the four years of fight­ing, re­mem­bered for bru­tal trench war­fare and the first use of gas, France, the Bri­tish em­pire, Rus­sia and the United States had the main armies op­pos­ing a Ger­man­led coali­tion that also in­cluded the Aus­tro-hun­gar­ian and Ot­toman em­pires.

Mil­lions died

Al­most 10 mil­lion sol­diers died. France lost 1.4 mil­lion and Ger­many 2 mil­lion.

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.

At the din­ner, Macron warned world lead­ers against tak­ing peace for granted, say­ing “we will talk about this peace that our pre­de­ces­sors tried to con­struct 100 years ago but failed to pre­serve, be­cause 20 years later a new war broke out.”

MICHEL EU­LER / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, right, and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel lay a wreath of flow­ers dur­ing a cer­e­mony in Com­piegne, north of Paris, on Satur­day. The lead­ers of France and Ger­many held an in­ti­mate com­mem­o­ra­tion at the site where the van­quished Ger­mans and vic­to­ri­ous but ex­hausted Al­lies put an end to World War I.

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