The camaraderie between Germany and France may have been purely symbolic
A hundred years ago, French and German leaders, nudged by others, signed an armistice, signalling the end of the First World War. On Saturday, Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Emmanuel
Macron clasped hands, as they honoured those who lost their lives, of which there were 17 million.
Seventy heads of state and government were in attendance at the small cemetery, marking the railway line point where the armistice was signed. It was a re-created railway carriage that Merkel and Macron sat in and clasped hands, sending two messages: Such wars should never happen again, and the lives lost were not in vain.
To some, the symbolic event was overdoing the current camaraderie displayed by France and Germany in championing a multilateral and collaborative Europe. That the owner of the land allowed it to be used as a cemetery was due to an agreement that it would be used to inter bodies of all nationalities.
It was a war that did involve most of the world, with even Iran being invaded, and suffering a famine. Using the venue as a point of moving ahead, rather than live in the past, is a courageous initiative that will have detractors, not least in the families that suffered losses.
As the current chancellor, Merkel has had to stand up to, and condemn, the Nazi concentration camps and gas chambers set aside for Jews during the Second World War, but on this occasion, she wasn’t required to offer apologies, she just needed to be the first German leader to have visited the place in 78 years.
Contrarily, now that Merkel has said she will step down in three years time, it was Macron who brought out the ire in Donald Trump by suggesting a European army be set up to protect Europe from China, Russia, and the US.
That was just hours before the symbolic red poppy event.
This isn’t the first time we have heard of such European ambitions, ever since Nigel Farage of England’s UKIP party hinted at his firm opposition to it. And it would appear from Macron’s half-explanation that the army was designed to ensure everyone in Europe pulled their weight in paying their NATO dues.
The silence over having an army to combat the US was as meaningful as two powers, winner and loser, clasping hands in a symbolic rejection of war. That may be welcome on another stage, but perhaps on this occasion, it could have been spared.
Mahmudur Rahman is a writer, columnist, broadcaster, and communications specialist.