Photo Gallery Remembering 'La Grande Guerre'

The passionate commemoration of World War I is a vital element of France's contemporary national cohesion. But before a momentous turning point in August 1914, the country looked to be on the brink of defeat.
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The passionate commemoration of World War I is a vital element of France's contemporary national cohesion. But before a momentous turning point in August 1914, the country looked to be on the brink of defeat. This photo shows French soldiers moving into attack from their trench during the Battle of Verdun in eastern France in 1916, which cost hundreds of thousands of French and German lives.

Foto: ARCHIVES/ AFP
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The memory of the last war of the modern age from which France emerged victorious -- and the invocation of those four years in which a united, heroic and self-sacrificing people (at least in the prevailing self-image) passed a test of global history -- provides contemporary France with an excellent source of meaning amidst the current economic and political upheavals. Here, an Allied gun crew fires against German forces on the Western Front in 1918.

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French Legionnaires carry the casket of Lazare Ponticelli, the last recognized veteran of World War I in France, during a funeral ceremony at the Les Invalides complex in Paris on March 17, 2008. The funeral mass was broadcast on live television and attended by some of the country's highest ranking leaders: then-President Nicolas Sarkozy and his predecessor Jacques Chirac, the presidents of the National Assembly and the senate, the prime minister and key members of the cabinet.

Foto: epa Lucas Dolega/ picture-alliance/ dpa
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In contrast to Germany, France does not treat the war as a remote and de-emotionalized part of history, but as the vivid subject of what historian Nicolas Offenstadt called a "social and cultural practice," or "Activism 14/18." The nation, internally divided, plagued by self-doubts, and at greater risk than ever of falling behind in the competitive struggle of a globalized economy, is turning inward to find refuge and protection. Here, a French soldier's grave, marked by his rifle and helmet, on the battlefield of Verdun.

Foto: Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
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So many of the milestones of Franco-German reconciliation lead back to the First World War. Here, former French President François Mitterand (left) is seen with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl at a ceremony in Verdun, France, the site of a major World War I battle with mass casualties on both sides. The 1984 meeting there is viewed today as a symbolic moment of reconciliation between the countries.

Foto: A2588 Wolfgang Eilmes/ dpa
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French soldiers inspect equipment captured from German forces during the Battle of the Marne of September 1914. The battle, known in France as the "Miracle of the Marne," was a dramatic turning point in the war. French and British soldiers halted the German advance across Europe, but at the cost of some 250,000 casualties.

Foto: Corbis