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Focus Politics

What You Need To Know About the Armistice Centenary

Pearl Joslyn January 10, 2019

November 11th marked the hundred-year anniversary of the end of World War I. Around the world, nations involved in the war held ceremonies remembering those who perished, commemorating those who fought, and reflecting on the horrors of war. Commemorations took place across France, the U.K., Ireland, Germany, the U.S., and other countries, as the world marked a century since the armistice took effect on “the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.” The war has gone down in memory as one of the most horrific in human history, and was one of the first modern wars, fought in trenches with advanced weaponry. Many of the commemorations included calls for strengthening of international cooperation and an emphasis on global peace.

Multiple ceremonies in Paris and other parts of France were attended by about seventy national leaders. These ceremonies included a meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron at the site of the 1918 armistice in Compiègne. U.S. President Donald Trump caused an outcry after withdrawing from a ceremony he was scheduled to attend because of rain. Aisne Marne American cemetery, about an hour from Paris by car, lies on a WWI battlefield. Trump was scheduled to visit the ceremony and lay a wreath, but cancelled his appearance. Trump’s excuse that the rain prevented Marine One from landing was decried by many, who compared the cancellation with Obama’s 2009 visit to the cemetery, during which it was also raining. Trump instead visited a cemetery closer to Paris the following day. In their speeches during Sunday’s ceremony in Paris, both Macron and Merkel warned against nationalism and isolationism, with these statements coming in the wake of Trump’s support for nationalism expressed during a rally.

Many artists also paid homage to those who fought in the First World War. Danny Boyle’s “Pages of the Sea” garnered international attention. Across the U.K. and Ireland, large portraits of World War I soldiers appeared in the sand on beaches. Thousands of attendees listened simultaneously to a poem by Carol Ann Duffy, and observed as the portraits were eventually washed away by the tide. Additionally, the moat around the Tower of London was filled with 888,246 poppies to commemorate each World War I British military fatality. There were multiple commemorative events throughout Ireland, in what many see as a step toward reconciliation after Ireland’s difficult history with World War I commemorations. This history is rooted in the legacy of conscription during World War I, in the midst of the Irish war for independence from Britain.

Around the world, and particularly in Europe, people gathered to not only honor those who fought and died in the First World War, but also to remember the value of peace, in light of the Second World War that followed shortly after. Many leaders expressed their continued commitment to openness and cooperation, and reflected upon the horrors of not only World War I, but of all wars. Although a century may seem like a long time, it is far more recent than we often realize. The centenary events remind us of the value of remembering the past and peace, and ensure we never return to the horrors of the war.