YPRES, Belgium (AP) — With somber bugles and bells from Australia to western Europe’s battlefields of World War I, people around the globe on Saturday remembered the slaughter and losses just over a century ago that was supposed to be “the war to end all wars.”
Yet the rumble of tanks and the screeching of incoming fire from Ukraine to Gaza pierced the solemnity of the occasion and the notion that humankind could somehow circumvent violence to settle its worst differences.
“This time last year, our thoughts were focused on Ukraine. Today, our minds are full with the terrible images emerging from Israel and Gaza. These are just two of the more than 100 armed conflicts in the world today,” said Benoit Mottrie, the head of the Last Post Association in western Belgium’s Ypres, where some of the fiercest and deadliest World War I battles were fought.
During a ceremony with Prime Minister Alexander De Croo and dozens of dignitaries, Mottrie expressed the sense of powerlessness that so many feel that the lessons of the past cannot automatically be translated into peace today.
“It would be naive to think that our presence here in Ypres will have any direct impact on any of the 100 conflicts. The emotions of those involved are too raw for us to understand, and for them to see the light of what we regard as reason,” Mottrie said.
At the same time as French President Emmanuel Macron was saluting French troops in Paris and honoring the eternal flame to commemorate those who died unidentified, war and destruction was raging Gaza. In Ukraine, troops have been fighting Russian invaders along a front line that has barely moved over the past months, much like in Western Europe during most of World War I.
Still Armistice Day largely stuck to the primary purpose of the occasion — to remember and pay respect to those who died for their country.
“’Lest we forget,’ — It should not be forgotten,” said Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, reflecting on the carnage of the 1914-1918 war that killed almost 10 million soldiers, sometimes tens of thousands on a single day in a war that pitted the armies of France, the British empire, Russia and the U.S. against a German-led coalition that included the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires.
Generally the most peaceful of occasions, the ceremony in London was held under strict police and security surveillance for fears that a massive pro-Palestinian protest could run out of hand and clash with the remembrance ceremonies.
“Remembrance weekend is sacred for us all and should be a moment of unity, of our shared British values and of solemn reflection,” said British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.
Casert reported from Brussels