Courage and wisdom
The author is a senior columnist of the JoongAng Ilbo.
There are grand moments in history, and they often involve heads of state. The celebration of the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I in France was one of those moments. The highlight was the joint event in Compiègne. At the commune, the Armistice of Nov. 11 1918 was declared, ending the war that lasted four years and four months. It was the day that determined the fates of France and Germany, as Germany surrendered.
A day before Armistice Day, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel visited the memorial. The exhibited articles contain vivid memories. The small museum displays the Compiègne Wagon, a train carriage in which the Armistice was signed. The carriage was an office for Marshal Ferdinand Foch, the Supreme Allied Commander. There, Foch made Germany accept defeat.
On Nov. 10, the BBC broadcast the meeting. I visited the memorial a long time ago. The footage was interesting. Compiègne was a drama of reversals, with winners and losers, joy and despair, revenge and grudges. Nov. 1918 meant joy for France, and redemption after 47 years. In the Franco-Prussian War in 1871, France was crushed. Prussia was the core of the German federation.
The situation changed 22 years later. In May 1940, at the beginning of World War II, Nazi Germany aggressively expanded and France surrendered after six weeks. Hitler reenacted history and brought out the carriage where the armistice was signed for World War I. There, he pursued extreme revenge with the same ceremony at the same place. France signed the surrender document and Hitler sat where Foch had sat 22 years before.
In the 1950s, France restored the relics of World War I. The carriage is a replica. The Alsace-Lorraine Monument was restored, showing the German Empire’s eagle stabbed by a sword representing France. The eagle is upside down and impaled. It is a fierce expression of contempt and revenge.
Many Koreans are not familiar with World War I as Korea was under Japanese occupation at the time. Most of the battlefields were in Europe. But lessons of history transcend space: World War I began romantically, but the warfront turned into a human slaughterhouse — the battles of Verdun and the Somme were the worst tragedies imaginable. It is shocking that a total of 10 million people were killed on the winning and losing sides during World War I.
Representatives from more than 80 countries attended the Armistice Day ceremonies at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, filled with the French historic perspective and cultural sentiments. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma played Bach’s Sarabande and singer-songwriter Angélique Kidjo from Benin performed. Macron’s speech stimulated the imagination, his direct language elevating the tension. “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism.” His words were aimed at U.S. President Donald Trump who was in attendance. Trump’s America First clashes with Macron’s multilateralism. However, his words cannot maintain their destructive power. The momentum of international politics is national strength.
Macron said that the bells rang 100 years ago and it was the end of the fighting, but the armistice was not peace. A war is inspired by the ambition and will of a leader. World War II exploded because of Hitler’s madness.
The Korean War began with Kim Il-sung’s ambition for communist unification. Denuclearization talks with North Korea are a long journey of ups and downs. North Korea will constantly test Korea’s security stance. Peace is maintained by power. If one side is weak, the other side is tempted to break the deal. Peace through armament induces North Korea to give up nuclear program.
Macron’s language at the banquet at the Orsay Museum was poetic. He quoted French poet Jacques Prévert, “you recognize peace, like happiness, by the noise it makes when it leaves.”
JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 15, Page 31