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It should have been the ‘last of the last’ war

As we mark Armistice Day, we also honor the soldiers who die in today's battles to defend France's core values of democracy, freedom and respect
A general view over the cemetery at the World War I Vieil Armand "Hartmannswillerkopf" battlefield in the Alsace region, eastern France, where around 30,000 French and German soldiers died in the Vosges mountain battles in 1915, Friday, Nov. 10, 2017. The presidents of France and Germany say Europeans must stand up to nationalism and build a “common future,” as they mark 99 years since the armistice ending World War I. (Patrick Seeger/Pool Photo via AP)
the cemetery at the World War I Vieil Armand "Hartmannswillerkopf" battlefield in the Alsace region, eastern France, where around 30,000 French and German soldiers died in the Vosges mountain battles in 1915. (Patrick Seeger/Pool Photo via AP)

Today, November 11th, is a special day for the people of France.

We commemorate the signing of the Armistice of 11 November 1918, which marked the end of World War I, the “Grande guerre” as it is referred to in France, and which brought illusory hope for a new era of peace. Those four bloody years had undoubtedly been a turning point in the history of mankind. The first global war, drawing on and exhausting the industrial resources of the dozens of nations engaged, tragically deadly with a toll of more than 18 million dead, of which ten percent for France alone, and with one billion shells fired on French territory. We still bear, on our lands and in our hearts, the scars of its painful wounds.

At a time this war was nicknamed the “Der des der” (the last of the last), as no one could even imagine that World War II would occur two decades later, involving that many horrific acts of violence and ravaging a nascent peace.

Last year, in France and in many countries, we commemorated the centenary of the Armistice. I was then in Paris, where more than 120 foreign dignitaries representing the belligerent states, the European institutions, the United Nations and several other international organizations gathered at the Arc de Triomphe on the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron. After the ceremony, he invited them at the Paris Peace Forum – whose second edition takes place today – and urged them to address the challenges of the contemporary world and the emergence of new tensions. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended this meaningful event, alongside with Donald Trump, Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin.

A few years ago, it was also decided that November 11th would be, for the French people, Remembrance Day. Like Yom Hazikaron commemorated throughout Israel on the eve of Independence Day, on this date the French pay tribute to the soldiers killed in military operations.

Our country is indeed engaged on many fronts: in France and overseas, our soldiers fight with courage and determination to defend our territory, our families, our culture and our core values: democracy, freedom, and respect for the whole human person. They fight for peace and security, and they combat terrorism.

Sadly, although “the only battle worth fighting for is peace”, this commitment comes at a high price: at least 272 French soldiers have died in military operations abroad since 2000. In the Sahel region (Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mauritania), where France has been involved since 2014 in Operation Barkhane to fight jihadist groups, following the French intervention in Mali (Operation Serval, 2013). In Iraq and in Syria, through our involvement in the Coalition against ISIS and the deployment of operation Chammal. Over the past twelve months, nine French soldiers have died in the fulfillment of their duties. I praise their heroism.

Today, in every city and village in France, and in our embassies around the world, we remember, we honour and pay tribute, and we pass on to the future generations the lessons of our history. In addition to the annual commemorations at the Caffarelli Veterans’ Square in Akko, I am hosting this year, for the first time, a commemorative ceremony at the Residence of France in Jaffa. I have invited many Israeli officials, Ambassadors and members of the diplomatic corps to participate, along with pupils from the French school Marc Chagall and from the Israeli-French high school Mikve. Children and teenagers are actively taking part in the ceremony as part of a pedagogical project focusing on our common heritage and the duty of remembrance. Because this transmission to young people is one of our greatest responsibilities: being mindful of the lessons of the past is a requirement to enable them to build their own future.

About the Author
Eric Danon is the French ambassador to Israel