On July 28, 2014, the world observed the 100th year of the outbreak of World War I, also known as the Great War because of its unprecedented magnitude.
Today (Nov 11, 2018) marks the centenary of the armistice that ended the protracted hostilities between nations that cost millions of lives, felled four empires and changed the course of history.
Dozens of prominent world leaders have gathered in Paris, France, for a special commemorative event organized in remembrance of the estimated 16 million casualties of the four-year-long conflict, including nine million soldiers and seven million civilians.
“In the name of remembrance and peace creation,” French President Emmanuel Macron led the Armistice Day commemorations, at 10 am today, at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier whose mortal remains lie buried at the site of the Arc de Triomphe monument in Paris.
More than 60 heads of state and 120 foreign dignitaries graced the somber remembrance with their presence.
Later in the day, the two leaders will attend the Paris Peace Forum where Mrs. Merkel is expected to deliver the opening address in front of the attending dignitaries, including the likes of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
At 5 pm, Paris authorities will inaugurate the Parisian War Memorial set on the outer wall of the Père Lachaise cemetery.
On Saturday, President Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the forest near Compiègne – a commune located on the Olse River in northern France – where the Armistice was formalized 100 years ago.
The two leaders unveiled a plaque to celebrate the cementing of relations between the two European neighbors and former arch enemies who fought against each other in both the world wars.
“Europe has been at peace for 73 years. It is at peace because we want it to be, because Germany and France want peace,” Macron said, obviously referring to the peace that has prevailed in Europe since the World War II ended in 1945.
“And so the message, if we want to live up to the sacrifice of those soldiers who said ‘Never again!’, is to never yield to our weakest instincts, nor to efforts to divide us,” said the 40-year-old French leader.
The message on the plaque read:
“On the centenary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, Mr Emmanuel Macron, president of the French Republic, and Ms Angela Merkel, Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, here reaffirmed the value of Franco-German reconciliation in the service of Europe and peace.”
It was aptly laid alongside another plaque that dates back to the Armistice itself and reads:
“The criminal pride of the German empire died here on 11 November, 1918, vanquished by the free people it had sought to enslave.”
Macron and Merkel also laid a floral wreath at the site; signed a guestbook inside a replica of the railway wagon where the 1918 Armistice was actually signed; and met French soldiers as part of the ceremony.
On Friday, British Prime Minister Theresa May joined President Macron and Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel for the remembrance ceremonies at military cemeteries in France and Belgium.
Here’s what May had to say on the occasion:
“A century ago British forces fought side by side with our allies in Europe on the Western Front.
“Today in France and Belgium we reflect on our shared history, but also look ahead to our shared future, built on peace, prosperity and friendship.
“We remember the heroes who lost their lives in the horror of the trenches. As the sun sets on one hundred years of remembrance, we will never forget their sacrifice.”
The day was observed in the UK, too, as thousands gathered at the Cenotaph memorial in Whitehall to pay their respects to the British and Commonwealth soldiers who lost their lives in the two world wars and subsequent conflicts.
Queen Elizabeth led the wreath-laying ceremony, followed by Prime Minister Theresa May and leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn who also laid wreaths at the memorial.
The ceremony was also attended by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson as well as former prime ministers John Major, Gordon Brown, Tony Blair and David Cameron.
Other main political party leaders, religious ministers, top military brass and Commonwealth dignitaries were also present at the ceremony.
Members of the royal family attending the remembrance included Prince Andrews (Duke of York), Prince William (Duke of Cambridge), and Prince Harry (Duke of Sussex).
The seed of World War I was sowed on June 28, 1014, when a Bosnian-Serb nationalist by the name of Gavrilo Princip assassinated Austro-Hungarian heir-apparent Archduke Franz Ferdinand, leading to what is known as the July Crisis, which in turn culminated in Austria-Hungary declaring war on Serbia.
Then, Germany invaded Luxembourg and Belgium, followed by other European players declaring war on each other, all of which ultimately escalated into a full-blown global conflict that saw the mobilization of more than 70 million troops.
“The world came undone during those years. And if it was ever really put back together, it was put back together differently wearing the wounds of World War One that we continue to live with today,” said Matthew Naylor, the president and C.E.O of the National World War One Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Missouri – as quoted by CNN.
“It was a war which completely changed the trajectory of the United States and had such a profound bearing on the globe, the first war that people from all inhabited continents of the globe participated in, truly a global war” Naylor noted.
“There never was enough coffins, never enough ways to bury the dead, such was the degree of carnage,” he said, adding that “it reoriented the world, helped us learn what we can do to one another, and caused the world to gasp and step back.”