World leaders should never forget history
On November 11, we had the ceremonial centennial commemoration of Armistice Day. On this day, a century ago, an armistice was signed ending fighting on land, sea, and air in World War I between the Allies and Germany.
This meant Germany’s surrendering of aircraft, warships, and military equipment, the release of Allied prisoners of war and interned civilians, eventual reparations, no release of German prisoners, and no relaxation of the naval blockade of Germany.
The armistice ended the fighting, but it needed to be prolonged three times until the Treaty of Versailles -- which was signed on June 28, 1919 -- came into effect on January 10, 1920. Around 9.7 million soldiers and 10 million civilians died in World War I, which lasted from 1914 to 1918.
This year, nearly 70 world leaders attended a ceremony in Paris commemorating the centenary of the armistice that ended WWI. This included Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Emmanuel Macron, and Angela Merkel, who gathered for a service near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
November 11 also saw Macron and Merkel visiting the town of Compiegne in northern France where they signed a book of remembrance in a railway carriage identical to the one in which the 1918 armistice had been sealed.
Trump, however, caused controversy by cancelling a trip to a cemetery because of bad weather.
It may be recalled in this regard that nearly 1.3 million troops served from undivided India. The former British colony joined the allied war effort and 74,000 troops amongst them died fighting. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke of the importance of remembrance, and correctly pointed out that people need “to learn from the past so that we can better navigate the changing currents of our own times, for our own children, and for the next generations.”
Analysts, while generally praising the efforts undertaken by Macron and Merkel have however focused on Trump with some degree of criticism. He has been criticized for missing important moments that might have enabled him to discuss important political and economic issues with his counterparts who were also present in France for the event.
The observance of Armistice Day gained special attention because of the manner in which the French president rebuked the growth of nationalism and how it was casting a long shadow on human rights, social responsibility, and liberalism. There was also the symbolical gesture by Vladimir Putin who arrived separately near the Arc de Triomphe and flashed Trump a thumbs up before taking his place on the riser.
This dynamic has left leaders, such as Angela Merkel and Macron, who put forth well-publicized displays of unity, to urgently warn of backsliding into history’s darkest moments.
Many analysts and strategists did not quite understand why Trump had to be so drastic in his observations. Some have drawn particular reference to Trump’s umbrage over a recent interview in which Macron talked about the need for a European army, and cited the US, along with Russia and China, as potential security risks.
In any case, the world and its leadership have to understand that in today’s digitalized matrix, is a world without frontiers. There is the question of osmotic effect. We all have to work together to ensure stability. That is the only way to move forward.
If harmony is hampered through selfish national ends or through discrimination or through misuse of the social media, then there can be only one conclusion -- tragedy for common citizens. The most important thing that one needs to realize from Armistice Day is that peace is always better than conflict and war.
Muhammad Zamir, a former ambassador, is an analyst specialized in foreign affairs, right to information, and good governance. He can be reached at [email protected]