Newspaper article International New York Times

Remembering the End of the Great War ; London Honors Flanders with Poppies; France Adopts a Universal Theme

Newspaper article International New York Times

Remembering the End of the Great War ; London Honors Flanders with Poppies; France Adopts a Universal Theme

Article excerpt

The remembrance culminated in months of preparation, exhibits and re-examination of a murderous conflict.

In Britain, there were commemorative poppies by the hundreds of thousands, bright red ceramics that filled the moat of the Tower of London.

In France, there were names, hundreds of thousands of them, too, engraved in a solemn ring on a hillside that was once a theater of war.

In Belgium, schoolchildren and military pipers joined others in a procession to the memorial marking the onetime killing fields of Flanders.

On Tuesday, Europeans paused, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month, to remember the moment the guns fell silent to end World War I in 1918. In London, the clock of Big Ben signaled the beginning of two minutes' silent reflection that stopped traffic as crowds gathered in Trafalgar Square.

This year, because it is the centenary of the beginning of the war on July 28, 1914, the remembrance was particularly poignant, culminating in months of preparation, exhibits and re-examination of a murderous conflict that redefined the very notion of mechanized carnage that killed millions.

And perhaps magnified by more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a familiar debate over the nature of remembrance and the place of the past and of patriotism itself in modern society seemed more intense than ever.

"British society divides at this time of year," the columnist Alex Stevenson wrote in the newspaper Metro, referring to divisions over wearing a commemorative lapel poppy sold by the nonprofit British Legion, and complaining about the social pressures brought to bear by politicians and charities to display one.

"Remembrance is important," he said, "but it's something that should happen all year around, not just when a national charity campaign tells you to."

It is, of course, a debate not confined to Europe. World War I drew in combatants from the United States and the farthest reaches of empires.

In London, the installation of the ceramic poppies around the Tower of London was intended as a memorial to the 888,246 British and colonial soldiers who died. …

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