terça-feira, 11 de novembro de 2008

Em Verdun

Sarkozy memorializes France's World War I dead, including the mutineers
The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 11, 2008
DOUAUMONT, France: President Nicolas Sarkozy of France paid tribute Tuesday to hundreds of World War I soldiers who were shot for disobeying orders in a mutiny in 1917. It was a change of tone on the first Armistice Day without a living French veteran.
More than 600 French soldiers were executed by their own side during World War I, many for refusing to obey orders to continue to fight after a bloody and failed series of offensives in northeastern France in 1917.
"France will never forget its children who died for it," Sarkozy said in a speech paying tribute to the French and allied war dead that explicitly included those shot for "cowardice" or acts of mutiny.
"I think of these men of whom too much was asked, who were too exposed, who were sometimes sent to be massacred through mistakes by their commanders, of those men who, one day, no longer had the strength to fight," he said.
The 1917 mutinies, in which many regiments refused to move from their own lines, raised fears among French leaders that the army could collapse and led to harsh reprisals against those who disobeyed orders to fight.
World War I, fought out in large part on French soil from 1914 to 1918, cost 1.4 million French lives and remains firmly anchored in French memories. But there has been a growing debate here about the best way to mark the event.
At Douaumont, the governor general of Australia, Quentin Bryce; Prince Charles of Britain; and Grand Duke Henri of Luxembourg laid wreaths at the foot of a huge French flag that soared over an esplanade between two large fields of white crosses.
The president of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and Peter Müller, president of Germany's upper house of Parliament, were also on hand.
Armistice Day was marked for the first time without the presence of a French veteran. Lazare Ponticelli, an Italian-born immigrant who joined the Foreign Legion at 16 and who was the last French survivor of the war, died this year at 110.
Gerard Aprile, 59, once a military parachutist and a regular at Armistice Day ceremonies in France, said Ponticelli's death changed the tone of the event. "The ceremony will always be there, but without a human witness, there is an emptiness," said Aprile, who wore his military uniform.
In London, three frail British veterans in wheelchairs honored the deaths of more than 700,000 British comrades. Henry Allingham, 112; Harry Patch, 110; and Bill Stone, 108, were among those at the Cenotaph war memorial near the Houses of Parliament.
In the Belgian region of west Flanders, thousands of people stood in driving rain in the town of Ieper - better known to British soldiers by its French name, Ypres - at the annual poppy parade commemorating Armistice Day.
Flags fluttered across the Polish capital, Warsaw, on Tuesday as President Lech Kaczynski was expected to receive a host of dignitaries, including the presidents of Afghanistan, Ukraine and Georgia, at an evening gala. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany was expected at an earlier event.
In his speech, delivered near the site of the Battle of Verdun rather than at the traditional site at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, Sarkozy said the time had come to recognize that many of those executed had been pushed beyond endurance.
"Many of those who were executed at the time did not dishonor themselves, were not cowards, but went to the extreme limits of their strength."
His speech contained no mention of a possible posthumous pardon, but the minister in charge of veterans affairs said this year that France would consider clearing the names of many of those shot for refusing to obey orders.
In 2006, Britain posthumously pardoned 306 men shot for desertion or cowardice during World War I, many of whom were believed to be suffering from psychological trauma.

Copyright © 2008 The International Herald Tribune www.iht.com
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