When the guns fell silent at the 11th hour of the 11th month 100 years ago today what we now refer to as the First World War had left 16,5 million dead and 20 million wounded. Of these, 5,5 million were French; including 1.4 million men who died, 10 percent of the male working population, only Russia and Germany suffered more casualties.
As anniversaries go today is something special. It seems reasonable to expect that the French weeklies give it the attention it deserves. In the event, some do, some do not.
Le Point is alone in giving over its entire cover to the war. The first of its 19 page report declares “As we mark the centenary of the armistice and as Europe is prey to new tensions, the Great War still has much to teach us.”
Le Point says it's difficult to resist the invitation to travel in the past to understand what did not happen, that's to say peace. 1914 offers the perfect case of a cataclysm which, as one historian put it, "was far from inevitable, at least until it broke out."
The paper reminds readers that, after today's armistice ceremonies, some 60 heads of state will attend the inaugural Paris Peace Forum to imagine "a new organization of the world". Almost a century after the opening of the Peace Conference in Paris in January 1919, the themes reflect a broader vision of peace, it says, spilling over to the environment, sustainable development and inclusive economy.
After the magazine went to press it emerged that US President Donald Trump will not attend the forum. Make of that what you will.
An abyss in the history of France and Europe
Marianne’s top story is about Lactalis, the second largest food products enterprise in France and one of the world's largest dairy groups, which had to recall 12 million tins of baby milk because of salmonella contamination. Marianne calls it "a French scandal" and offers fresh revelations about tax avoidance, the concealment of positive tests for other bacteria and ruined farmers.
Given that there’s a new scandal almost every week here in France, the latest is the alleged racial profiling of wannabe young footballers by Paris Saint Germain, we don't need to revisit baby milk.
The mag does find space on its cover for World War One and runs 20 pages inside, beginning with columnist Natacha Polony who wonders whether “A century later, we able to understand, we who have so much trouble thinking about the concept of sacrifice, what pushed these men to accept the supreme horror? In our eyes, they are only victims. . . . Yet we must free them from clichés . . . It is more than ever necessary to look in the face of what was the Great War, and to understand that it has dug an abyss in the history of France and Europe.”
She argues that it is not only men who died between 1914 and 1918, it is a bit of European civilisation; the unshakable faith in progress nourished since the Renaissance. All the scientific capabilities developed served to organise the largest butcher's shop in the history of mankind, Polony says.
She asks whether Europe and France can turn the page of the Great War? Can they renew the thread of humanism and the Enlightenment, re-defining progress to give hope to a calmer humanity? Answers on a postcard please.
Marianne rounds off its coverage with a piece on what it calls "the literature of the front,” noting that the conflict doesn’t cease to inspire writers.
It delivers examples from across one hundred years, including this from Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s 1932 novel Voyage to the end of the night : “At the moment the world has turned upside down and it is crazy to ask why you are murderer, it becomes obvious that one goes crazy at little cost."
Forget the Great War. Here's the latest on Johnny.
What were L’Ob’s editors thinking when they opted for a cover story headlined “Johnny – family secrets, tax arrangements, hidden homes…” That’s Johnny Hallyday, the late French rock star. I know Johnny was popular in France, for reasons known only to the French. But it's a story more suited to a celebrity scandal sheet than a serious news magazine.
The cover of l’Express goes one better, or worse, with “Without Gluten, Meat, Milk, Alcohol … Arguments at table.”
Like baby milk, these need not detain us on the 100th anniversary anniversary of what was called ‘the war to end all wars.” Though, as you will know, it wasn't.