Trump Fails His Rendezvous in France

A century after thousands of Americans laid down their lives, the president of the United States absented himself from the ceremony commemorating their sacrifice.

Charles Platiau / Reuters

Donald Trump decided, it would appear, to skip attendance at a ceremony honoring American war dead because of rain. The site was the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, where lie the remains of 2,289 American soldiers and marines. The occasion was intended to commemorate the end of World War I and, among other things, the Battle of Belleau Wood in June 1918.

That epic fight is commemorated chiefly by the U.S. Marine Corps, which had a brigade in the fight, but the U.S. Army had two divisions present. It cost the Americans nearly 10,000 dead and wounded. During it, Sergeant Major Dan Daly famously urged his men on, shouting, “Come on, you sons of bitches. Do you want to live forever?” He became one of fewer than 20 who have won the Medal of Honor twice.

This was not the first battle of World War I that Americans took part in. Even before the official American entry in the spring of 1917, young Americans had volunteered to serve with the British and French forces, and many of them paid the ultimate price.

To Trump’s decision to stay away because of rain from a solemn occasion to honor these dead, none of us living today can offer an adequate response. So perhaps it is best to let one of the more famous of those early volunteers, Alan Seeger, deliver a rebuke from beyond the grave.

I have a rendezvous with Death
At some disputed barricade,
When Spring comes back with rustling shade
And apple-blossoms fill the air—
I have a rendezvous with Death
When Spring brings back blue days and fair.

It may be he shall take my hand
And lead me into his dark land
And close my eyes and quench my breath—
It may be I shall pass him still.
I have a rendezvous with Death
On some scarred slope of battered hill,
When Spring comes round again this year
And the first meadow-flowers appear.

God knows ’twere better to be deep
Pillowed in silk and scented down,
Where Love throbs out in blissful sleep,
Pulse nigh to pulse, and breath to breath,
Where hushed awakenings are dear …
But I’ve a rendezvous with Death
At midnight in some flaming town,
When Spring trips north again this year,
And I to my pledged word am true,
I shall not fail that rendezvous.

Seeger, a Harvard graduate, had shortly passed his 28th birthday when he died serving in the French Foreign Legion. There is a monument honoring him at the Place des États-Unis in Paris, and honoring other Americans who fell defending our oldest ally. He was not the only son of privilege who served—there are many names on the walls of memorial chapels in America’s finest universities to confirm that.

But the main thing is those two last lines: “And I to my pledged word am true / I shall not fail that rendezvous.”

Alan Seeger and the soldiers and marines of Belleau Wood were young men; Donald Trump is an old man. They took a pledge to serve faithfully, even at the risk of their lives; Donald Trump took a pledge to discharge the office of commander in chief, a similarly unlimited oath. They faced shot and shell; Donald Trump faced damp. They dutifully made their rendezvous; to his eternal shame, Donald Trump failed his.