U.S. President Donald Trump departed early Friday for his trip to France where he and dozens of other world leaders will mark the centenary of the Armistice, which brought an end to the fighting in World War I.
His trip comes as relations between the United States and many of its allies remain tense. French President Emmanuel Macron warned that the geopolitical climate is reminiscent of the buildup to the world wars.
Touring wartime battlefields in the east and north of France this week ahead of Sunday’s Armistice ceremonies, President Macron warned of ongoing threats to Europe, saying the continent must create its own army.
“We need to protect ourselves from China, from Russia and even the United States. When I see President Trump announcing a pullout from a big disarmament treaty that was taken in the middle of the 1980s in the middle of the missile crisis which had affected Europe, who is going to be the main victim? Europe and its security,” Macron told France’s Europe 1 radio station.
WATCH: As WWI Centenary Nears, Macron Warns of Threats to Europe
Talks with Macron
French officials said relations with the U.S. would be unaffected by President Trump’s Republican Party losing control of the House of Representatives in the recent midterm elections.
The U.S. president will hold talks with Macron Saturday. It’s not clear whether a rumored meeting between Trump and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, will go ahead.
Donald Trump will later visit Belleau Wood, scene of one of the most ferocious battles fought by U.S. troops in the war. More than 1,800 American soldiers were killed as they attacked German positions. Much of the fighting was hand-to-hand combat. After more than three weeks of fighting, American troops took Belleau Wood on June 26, 1918. Historian Jean-Michel Steg says the bravery of U.S. Marines is legendary.
“They were confronted as we will see by intense enemy fire, instead of ducking, instead of retreating, which by the time of the war would have been the normal attitude of troops and waiting for the artillery barrage to relieve them, they charged.”
By the end of the war, more than 116,000 American troops had died defending Europe. More than 14,000 are buried at the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, the largest on the continent.
“Relations between these powers, they’re not always easy. And there are reasons for that. But when you get out here, where the people in these villages remember, there’s a great respect for the American soldier.”
The nearby "Romagne 14-18" museum depicts life for soldiers on the frontline using thousands of items recovered from the battlefields, most of them by founder Jean-Paul de Vries. His grandfather fought for four years on the front lines.
“What I try to show in this museum to the visitors is if you take off these helmets, it’s all the same. It's all human beings,” he told VOA.
Forty million people were killed on all sides during the conflict. They will be remembered Sunday at the Armistice Day ceremony at Paris’ Arc de Triomphe, attended by dozens of world leaders.
President Trump will later take part in a separate Veteran’s Day ceremony at an American cemetery.