Paris, September 11, 2011. With the Eiffel Tower as backdrop behind two 80-foot replicas of the Twin Towers, an American and a French flag flying to either side, France commemorated the 10th anniversary of the attacks on the United States by the Islamist Fundamentalist network al-Qaida today with a ceremony in Paris organized by the association “The French Will Never Forget.”
Though not an official state- or city-sponsored ceremony, the event was attended by high-level representatives: French Minister of the Interior Claude Gueant, whose ministry is responsible for state security and police, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, and Brigadier General Gilles Glin, chief of the Paris Fire Department, among other others. U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin was also in attendance.
Several days ago, President Nicolas Sarkozy paid his official respects to Ambassador Rivkin to honor the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on behalf of the French people.
Today’s two-hour ceremony was held on Place des Droits de l’Homme, Square of Human Rights, at Trocadéro on a rainy afternoon in real time with the events on the East Coast, six time zones away.
Informal speeches, interviews, testimonials of children, presentation of medals, French and American national anthems and other music were punctuated with minutes of silence corresponding to major events of ten years ago: the impacts on the South and North Towers of the World Trade Center, the crash on the Pentagon, the downing of the United Flight 93 in Pennsylvania, and the collapse of the one tower then the other. Unfortunately, each minute of silence lasted no more than a few second before being interrupted by music.
It was nevertheless dramatic music, with the songs in English (from Gospel to “Imagine”) sung by two young singers from Ohio. A French children’s choir sang pieces from the classical moving mourning repertoire.
Several men in the crowd had American flags draped over the shoulders. Someone had a large light-blue European Union umbrella. One man had a USA sweatshirt. Another had a France sweatshirt. The latter two did not appear to know each other.
About 1500-2000 people attended (my guess), including one man who asked me how to get to the Eiffel Tower from there.
A statue of Ferdinand Foch, French marshal of France, Great Britain and Poland, a major military figure of WWI, stood behind the crowd on Place du Trocadéro et du 11 Novembre.
In a video appearing on two large screens, former New York City Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen, commissioner at the time of the attacks, spoke of the historic and continuing close relations between France and the United States as exemplified by the French reaction to 9/11. The video was pre-recorded near the very site of this ceremony during the former commissioner’s recent visit to Paris.
“Vive la France et Vive les Etats-Unis d’Amérique,” said the American Ambassador. Long live France and long live the United States of America.
Later, the young firemen received a medal from Brigadier General Glin and gave the general one in return on behalf of the Fire Department of New York.
Children read brief texts of condolence and hope. CNN correspondent Jim Bitterman remembered the day and its aftermath. Far too many participants were put on the spot by the MC and asked to comment on their memories of September 11 or on the significance of the day ten years later. What can you say? What the ceremony lacked in eloquence it made up in presence.
Most moving was a man who was working on the 53rd floor of one of the towers that morning and managed to escape down the stairs while crossing firemen going up the stairs. He spoke in a shell-shocked tone of the horror of the day.
The French Will Never Forget (FFWNF), the association organizing the event, was created in 2003 by four Frenchman living in New York. According to the FFWNF website, the association “was created in reaction to the anti-French sentiments which prevailed in a large portion of the American population, following the diverging analysis of France on the situation in Iraq and her ensuing refusal to commit troops to operation Desert Storm.” (They apparently meant the War in Iraq that began in 2003 since Desert Storm took place in 1991.)
The association’s site continues, “A standard cliché regularly returning in several American media, and hammered by various pundits and political figures was that France did not remember what the United States had done for her during the First and the Second World War , and was just ungrateful.”
The association is therefore “Committed to fight this perversion of the truth and to heal, as much as possible, the French American friendship, in these portion of the American population most affected by it… [by launching a] series of actions demonstrating the gratitude of the French people towards their oldest ally for its decisive help in the past century.”
The event ended under blue skies.
A rain-free candlelight vigil took place in the evening.
© 2011, Gary Lee Kraut