I don't know if Brexit was a factor, or if Britain was content on doing "its own thing", suffice to say that while British viewers were watching many many troops walking in London to lay their wreaths, probably everybody else would have been watching a huge anniversary taking place in Paris. An anniversary of 100 years of the Armistice, attended by Germany's Merkel, Russia's Putin, Trump&Melania, Ireland's Taoiseach, and many other dignitaries from around the world representing those countries affected by the 1st World War, with the notable absence of any reknown British person. There was somebody near the end of a row wearing a red poppy, but nobody that I recognised.
Watch the video below (live stream from EuroNews) to see what you missed:
The politics of war
Earlier in the week, President Macron made something of a PR blunder by wishing to honour Philippe Pétain. He was a military commander who did great things for France in the First World War. A reputation solidly tarnished by his actions in the Second World War. To put this into context, a man called Adolf Hitler did some good things for Germany such as the creation of the "people's car" (literal translation of Volkswagen) and also the Reichsautobahn, a cross country motorway system. History, however, does not tend to remember Hitler's attempts to mobilise the German people and more than it remembers what Mussolini may or may not have done with regards to train schedules. Neither should history remember Philippe Pétain as anything other than a nazi collaborator and titular had of Vichy France - who was eventually stripped of all honours except Marshall of France for his 1st World War contribution, and sentenced to death for treason against France - though due to his age the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment. He died six years later, in 1951.
I can sort of see Macron's reason for wishing to honour him because this remembrance is for the first war, but given what happened afterwards I think it might have been more... prudent, shall we say, to have simply not.
As I said at the start, one does not tend to remember Hitler for the Volkswagen. One remembers him more for the concentration camps and the destructive war waged across huge swathes of Europe. One does not think of Hitler kindly. One watches the news and the slow empowerment of the extreme right and hopes like hell that such a person never again has that kind of power.
In what might be another PR gaffe, President Macron's call for a unified European army (of some description) included China, Russia, and America as potential enemies. You can imagine how well Trump took that.
The thing is, he is right even if it was rather a case of spectacularly bad timing. At the moment the EU consists of a number of countries with their own military setup who will, generally, defend each other within the remit of NATO and the UN. The problem is, for a long time Europe has generally considered that America would come to Europe's aid, should an external force attack - though I'm not sure that either China or Russia have much appetite for all-out war, but Russia's recent aggressions in the Ukraine should warn everybody that old habits die hard.
The truth of the matter is that Trump earlier asked why Europe was still relying on America for its defence. In other words, a strong wake up call to Europe (and likely much of the world) - don't rely on us any more. In response to this, it was Macron who came straight out with it and said that Europe needs to be capable of defending itself in a sovereign manner. The suggestion will hit obstacles, such as Germany's constitution which greatly restricts the country's military operations. Besides, the generally glacial speed of European decisions means that the idea of a European Army might be decided some time after WW3...
Which brings us to the typical corruption of soundbites by right wing media with an agenda - Macron did indeed suggest that Europe should defend itself - quote - with respect to China, Russia, and even the United States. Of course Trump took that as a great insult, and tweeted as much. What nobody bothered to point out was that this quote was made referring to a completely different discussion about a completely different topic - namely electronic/online security and the obviously fading multilateralism from these countries. In other words, Trump, you don't start trade wars without the other countries considering the effects of the inevitable consequences. In this respect, America is indeed an enemy. Existing agreements torn up daily in order to "Make America Great Again". That's fine Trump, go ahead and MAGA - just don't act even remotely surprised when your friends and allies put some distance between themselves and you. Remember, it's you Trump who has repeatedly threatened the EU with tariffs, it's you who walked away from the negotiations with Iran (that the EU is basically ignoring you over, trying to keep the agreement alive), and it's you that has made quite clear that you want to bring into question the very future of NATO (clearly not realising that NATO actually does a lot of geopolitical work to bring peace so the very soldiers you expect to see are needed as peacekeepers rather than active combatants).
In short, the world is a messed up place and really there are only two options - help to make things better, or help to make things worse.
# Remember boy that your forefather's died, lost in millions for a country's pride [...] The same old story again, all those tears shed in vain, nothing learned and nothing gained, only hope remains.
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Gavin Wraith, 12th November 2018, 01:15
I once had lunch with Harold Macmillan (and half a dozen colleagues) in the early 60s. I recall him saying that while he feared the Russians he feared the Americans more.
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