Skip to main content

First World War/commemoration

Published on November 17, 2011
National ceremony in honour of soldiers who have died for France – Speech by Nicolas Sarkozy, President of the Republic

Paris, November 11, 2011

Here we are today, 11 November, gathered as every year to pay tribute to the memory of those who fought in the Great War. Since the last of them passed away, personal recollections of the suffering and sacrifice have given way to history.

But in order for so much suffering and sacrifice not to have been in vain, we have a moral duty: to ensure that this history – built on so many tragic destinies – remains a shared history we all recognize as a part of ourselves and from where we draw that pride in our country that we want to keep and pass on to our children. (…)

In order to retrace the steps of our history – because it is our own – we mustn’t merely commemorate: we must share in it.

Share in it, not only through gestures but also in our thoughts, with the virtues of duty, courage and sacrifice shown by those who fought so much for us, but also with their pain, for the pain was immense. (…)

Europe is an enterprise of peace built on the blood shed in three wars, including two world wars, thanks to men of goodwill. What was built for us by Winston Churchill, Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet, Alcide de Gasperi, Konrad Adenauer and General de Gaulle is our most precious asset. We have a duty to preserve it at all costs.

But must we then conceal our wars?

Must we forget our soldiers, who died in order that we might remain free, that we might be a nation that continues to write its own history? (…)

To conceal the tragic dimension of history would be to condemn ourselves to being excluded from history. Peace isn’t built by giving up defending oneself.

Peace is built on courage, loyalty and a sense of honour.

Peace is built on the certainty that a people’s honour and dignity can’t be haggled over.

What would remain of the honour and dignity of a people who didn’t honour the memory of those who loved their country so sincerely and deeply that they risked their lives for it? (…)

On this day, 11 November – to which the worst of wars gave such a profound meaning – the nation will now also honour all those who have died for France: your brothers in sacrifice.

Let it be clear that no commemorations will be eliminated and that it’s a question of giving even greater solemnity to 11 November, now that those who witnessed [the Great War] first hand are no longer with us.
It’s not a question of honouring war.

It’s a question of honouring those who fell while doing their duty to their country.

It’s also a question of honouring those who have never been honoured, those who have been forgotten, those to whom we merely say “thank you” at their funerals but whose memory we then abandon because we prefer to forget the wars in which they fell.

That’s why, in the coming weeks, the government will present a bill that will make the anniversary of the 1918 Armistice a date for commemorating the Great War and all those who have died for France, thus giving full meaning to the title of the law of 24 October 1922 establishing 11 November as the day of “commemoration of victory and peace”.

The government will also provide its support to a private member’s bill to make obligatory the inscription, on war memorials, of the names of all those who have died for France.

I’m thinking in particular of all those who have died in operations abroad.

Those who died in Indochina, Suez and North Africa, but also in the Balkans, the Middle East, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire and Afghanistan have a right to respect and to the honour the nation reserves for those who have sacrificed their lives for it.

We owe it not only to their memory but also to their families, their brothers in arms and those who continue to risk their lives to serve the cause of France.

And in the same spirit, a memorial will be built in Paris to the soldiers who have died in operations abroad, on which their names will be inscribed.

In the past 10 years, 158 soldiers have lost their lives and nearly 1,500 have been injured in those operations.

Today, 11 November, when for the first time we pay solemn tribute to all our dead, I’d like our thoughts to go out in particular to the 24 soldiers who have died in Afghanistan in the past year.

We pay tribute not only to the dead but also to those who bear the physical scars of war: the wounded, the maimed, those who will suffer for the rest of their lives for doing their duty.

I want to tell them today that the nation hasn’t forgotten them, and expresses its gratitude to them.

Soldiers risk their lives; they know it. It’s the destiny they’ve chosen for themselves.

But it’s a unique destiny, a tragic destiny which means they deserve an exceptional place in the Republic and which, in turn, demands of them extraordinary virtues of courage and commitment.

The honourable role of a great people is to respect its soldiers and honour those who died to defend it.

Long live the Republic!
Long live France!./.

      top of the page