Lead­ers honor fallen sol­diers of WWI

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Obituaries - BY RAF CASERT AND AN­GELA CHARL­TON As­so­ci­ated Press

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.

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.

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

A flurry of Ar­misticere­lated 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.

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 1939.

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, and on Sun­day 69 world lead­ers will com­mem­o­rate the cen­ten­nial of the event at the Tomb of the Un­known Soldier, un­der­neath the Arc de Tri­om­phe in cen­tral Paris.

At dawn Satur­day, Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau went to Vimy Ridge, the bat­tle­field in north­ern France where Canada found its sense of self when it de­feated Ger­man op­po­si­tion against the odds.

Stand­ing amid the white head­stones against an ashen sky, Trudeau ad­dressed the fallen, say­ing what Canada has achieved in the past cen­tury has been “a his­tory built on your sac­ri­fice. You stand for the val­ues on which Canada was built.”

In south­ern Bel­gium’s Mons, Cana­di­ans were also laud­ing Ge­orge Price, the last Com­mon­wealth soldier to die in the war when he was shot by a Ger­man sniper two min­utes be­fore the ar­mistice took ef­fect.


French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron and Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel visit the site north of Paris on Satur­day where the agree­ment was signed to end World War I.

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