Paris — World leaders with the power to make war but a duty to preserve peace solemnly marked the end of World War I’s slaughter 100 years ago at commemorations Sunday that drove home the message “never again” but also exposed the globe’s new political fault lines.
As Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and dozens of other heads of state and government listened in silence, French President Emmanuel Macron used the occasion, as its host, to sound a powerful and sobering warning about the fragility of peace and the dangers of nationalism and of nations that put themselves first, above the collective good.
“The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death,” Macron said.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” he said. “In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important: Its moral values.”
Trump, ostensibly the main target of Macron’s message, sat stony-faced. The American president has proudly declared himself a nationalist. But called the commemoration “very beautiful.”
As well as spelling out the horrific costs of conflict to those with arsenals capable of waging a World War III, the ceremony also served up a joyful reminder of the intense sweetness of peace, when high school students read from letters that soldiers and civilians wrote 100 years ago when guns finally fell silent on the Western Front.
As bells marking the armistice hour rang across Paris and in many nations ravaged by the four years of carnage, Macron and other leaders were still on their way to the centennial site at the Arc de Triomphe.
Under a sea of black umbrellas, a line of leaders led by Macron and his wife, Brigitte, marched in silence on the cobbles of the Champs-Elysees, after dismounting from their buses.
Trump arrived separately, in a motorcade that passed three topless protesters with anti-war slogans on their chests who somehow got through security and were quickly bundled away by police. The Femen group claimed responsibility. French authorities said the three women faced charges of sexual exhibitionism. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders cited security protocols for the presidential motorcade’s solo trip down the grand flag-lined avenue, which was closed to traffic.
Last to arrive was the Russian president, Putin, who shook Trump’s hand and flashed him a thumbs-up. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was positioned in pride of place between Trump and Macron, an eloquent symbol of victors and vanquished now standing together. Overhead, fighter jets ripped through the sky, trailing red, white and blue smoke in homage to the French flag.