A big Bastille Day for Amer­ica

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary - BY WES­LEY PRU­DEN

The Don­ald fi­nally caught a break in Paris, bask­ing in rare Franco-Amer­i­can bon­homie as he joined the new pres­i­dent of France on Bastille Day, this year to cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of the Amer­i­can ar­rival on the bat­tle­fields of World War I.

A con­tin­gent of Amer­i­can troops even led the pa­rade down the Champs-El­y­sees. Not even a pres­i­dent can re­sist a pa­rade, es­pe­cially a mil­i­tary pa­rade with march­ing bands and ser­ried ranks of fight­ing men. On Thurs­day, Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron of France did not even try.

Nei­ther did Don­ald Trump, once a school­boy at a mil­i­tary academy. Reg­i­men­tal flags float­ing on a peace­ful breeze, de­spised as na­tion­al­ist sym­bols to some, are but re­minders to all that “greater love hath no man than this,” in the words of Christ as recorded by the Apos­tle John, “that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

Few na­tional lead­ers have traded such fierce hos­til­ity over so short a time than Messrs. Trump and Macron. When the two men met for the first time at a NATO sum­mit two months ago, Mr. Macron seemed to avoid a Trump em­brace, mov­ing out of the way to greet other lead­ers first, a snub much re­marked on.

When Mr. Trump an­nounced that he would with­draw the United States from the Paris cli­mate-change agree­ment, bro­kered in Paris, he em­ployed a par­tic­u­larly sharp ver­bal el­bow: “I was elected to rep­re­sent the cit­i­zens of Pitts­burgh, not Paris.” Pres­i­dent Macron then re­leased a video, in English, invit­ing U.S. sci­en­tists to live in ex­ile in France, with a par­ody of the Trump cam­paign slo­gan, “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

This was for­got­ten this week in Paris, with both men ea­ger to over­look past slights and snubs to get on with what binds the two frac­tious al­lies. “It is high time to fin­ish with the ju­ve­nile ri­valry of hand­shakes,” the in­flu­en­tial Paris daily Le Monde warned Mr. Macron not long ago. The French pres­i­dent “may have copied the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent’s monopoly on be­ing un­pre­dictable . . . but [he wants] to be­come the Euro­pean leader of the in­ter­na­tional po­lit­i­cal scene, and to achieve this he’ll have to go be­yond im­ages and sym­bols.”

Bastille Day, after all, com­mem­o­rates the storm­ing of the Bastille in 1789, copy­ing the ex­am­ple of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion. Not bad as ei­ther im­age or sym­bol. The day was a happy sym­bol for Pres­i­dent Trump, too, to re­store sheen to Amer­ica’s transat­lantic ties and to re­new the an­cient Franco-Amer­i­can friend­ship which has sur­vived harsh words and some­times bit­ter mis­un­der­stand­ings.

Mr. Macron, who has clashed with Mr. Trump on cli­mate change, im­mi­gra­tion and other is­sues, in­vited the pres­i­dent and the first lady only last week to Paris for Bastille Day. “What our coun­tries share,” Mr. Macron said, “is stronger [than our dif­fer­ences], given our peo­ples and our his­to­ries and our val­ues as well.”

The 100th an­niver­sary cel­e­bra­tions are par­tic­u­larly poignant re­minders of Franco-Amer­i­can friend­ship when it was backs-to-the-wall time. Amer­ica ar­rived late to the war, as it al­ways does, and just in time, as it al­ways is. The Ger­mans had or­dered an ad­vance on Marigny through Bel­leau Wood, and the newly ar­rived U.S. Marines were or­dered by the French to dig de­fen­sive trenches in the rear.

The Amer­i­can gen­eral coun­ter­manded the or­der, telling the Marines to “hold where you are.” The Marines dug po­si­tions in the dirt with their bay­o­nets, tak­ing prone fir­ing po­si­tions, and waited with bay­o­nets fixed. When the Ger­mans, ad­vanc­ing through a grain field, got within a hun­dred yards, the Marines opened fe­ro­cious ri­fle fire, mow­ing down the ranks of the Bosch un­til the sur­vivors fled into the woods.

Much of the lore of the Ma­rine Corps grew from Bel­leau Woods. Hav­ing suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties, the Ger­mans dug in on the road to Paris and the Marines were urged by the French to re­treat with them to the rear. It was there that Capt. Lloyd W. Wil­liams of the 5th Marines re­torted, “Re­treat? Hell, we just got here.” It was at Bel­leau Wood that Sgt. Daniel Daly, twice awarded the Medal of Honor in other wars, fa­mously led his com­pany against the Ger­mans with the cry: “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live for­ever?”

A Ger­man of­fi­cer re­called later that “the Marines do not un­der­stand this ‘live and let live’ at­ti­tude by the French, they sim­ply wanted to kill Ger­mans.” Said a French of­fi­cer at the time, “the Amer­i­cans were ir­re­press­ible! They climbed like cats into the high­est trees to ‘kill the Bosch’ and be­gan to fire into the en­emy sen­tries or on the Ger­man pla­toons run­ning be­tween the first and sec­ond line of trenches.”

Paris was saved, and the Marines and the Amer­i­cans have been pop­u­lar he­roes in France since (“the devil dogs of Bel­leau Wood”). Bastille Day is some­times nice for Amer­i­cans, too. You could ask the Don­ald. Wes­ley Pru­den is ed­i­tor in chief emer­i­tus of The Times.

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