France wonders what happened to its glory

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PARIS —- Wars and weather have left few scars on Paris' Arc de Triomphe. Commissioned by Napoleon to celebrate his victories, the 15-story tower of bone-white stone stands as an eternal monument to French glory, a time when Europe trembled before this nation's might.

The national mood now, as France enters the final week before Sunday's presidential election, is far less exultant. To Roland Perrossier, whose great-great grandfather fought for Napoleon, the arch has become a symbol of decline.

"It's a feeling of lost glory," said Perrossier, sheltering under the arch from a spring squall. "The French have lost the aura they once had, and France — barring a few small exceptions — no longer occupies the place it used to internationally."

Philippe Souleau, a history teacher shepherding a party of schoolchildren, was gloomier still: "France no longer has military strength worth speaking of. It is no longer economically competitive, and all this means is that it has become a second-tier nation internationally and diplomatically. Its voice is no longer heard by all."

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