As the U.S marked Veterans Day, seventy world leaders gathered in Paris, France on November 11 to mark the centenary of World War I.
The ceremony was held at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the iconic Arc de Triomphe, on a somber, rainy day. It was led by French President Emmanuel Macron. Those who attended included U.S President Donald Trump, Russian leader Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and U.N Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
In his speech, Macron warned about the rise of nationalism. Patriotism is important, he said, but when countries say "our interests first... who cares about the others?", it can lead to deep divisions. These are the kinds of divisions that led to the World Wars of the last century.
Did you know that Veterans Day has its origins in the armistice agreement signed at 11 a.m on November 11, 1918, that ended World War 1? To learn more about Veterans Day, read our article here.
World War 1: The Great War
World War 1 came at a time when nationalism was high. In the early 19th century, Europe was a collection of kingdoms -- the main ones being the Kingdoms of Austria-Hungary, Germany, Russia, Ottoman Empire, Serbia, and Italy. In a terrible conflict between the kingdoms, Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia and Herzegovina from Ottoman Empire in 1908. This angered the rulers and peoples of the Kingdom of Serbia because a lot of Serbian nationalists lived there.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Kingdom of Austria-Hungary was visiting Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia. Gavrilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist, assassinated the Archduke while he was in a convoy.
Austria-Hungary tried to pin the blame on Serbia. But Serbia denied playing any part in the assassination. With support from Germany, Austria-Hungary sent Serbia an ultimatum, asking the country to give up its sovereignty. Serbia agreed to all the conditions, except two. This was enough for Austria-Hungary to declare war on Serbia and the first shots of World War I were fired on July 28th, 1914.
Two Sides In The War
The hostility between Austria-Hungary and Serbia led to the formation of two alliances. The Allied Forces consisted of the United Kingdom, Russia, France, Serbia and Belgium (later joined by Italy, the United States, and Japan). The Central Powers consisted of Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria.
Since Britain had colonies around the world, Asia and Africa entered the war as well, fighting for their colonial masters. These two alliances fought for more than 4 years. There were more than 37 million total casualties on both sides. Towards the end of the war, the Allied Forces had made several gains and this led to the signing of the Versailles Treaty with Germany on November 11th, 1918 that ended the war.
Commemorating World War I
Besides the ceremony in Paris, countries around the world marked the end of World War 1 with parades and wreath-laying ceremonies.
In the United Kingdom, volunteers etched faces in the sand of the men and women who lost their lives in World War 1. At 11 am, the country fell silent for two minutes to remember the 900,000 citizens who were killed. In the Australian city of Adelaide, planes dropped 30,000 poppy flowers made out of paper by school children. In New Zealand, a 100-gun salute was held in the capital of Wellington.
In Paris, following the ceremony, President Macron hosted a Peace Forum to reflect on the events that led to World War 1 and to make sure the mistakes are not repeated.
Sources: CNN, HuffPost, History.com