French President Emmanuel Macron, who starts a three-day state visit to the United States on Monday, will seek to please his host Donald Trump with a gift that taps into U.S. Marines lore.
Macron will offer an oak sapling taken from the scene of a key World War One battle, where the Marine Corps repelled a German offensive in the final year of the conflict almost exactly a century ago, the French presidency said on Sunday.
The sapling grew close to the so-called “Devil Dog” fountain, a spot that has become legendary within Marines ranks.
It is where U.S. soldiers are said to have gathered after the battle, which took place in June 1918 in Belleau Wood, about 100 km (60 miles) northeast of Paris in the Champagne region.
The “dog” in the fountain’s name refers to its spout, which resembles the head of a bull mastiff. But the nickname also stems from the German moniker “Teufelhunden”, or “devil dogs”, thought to have been used by the Germans to describe the Marines due to the ferocity with which the Americans fought.
“Devil Dog” soon became a common nickname for Marines.
It won’t be Macron’s first foray into soft diplomacy and symbolism. During a state visit to China, the French president went out of his way to please Chinese leader Xi Jinping by offering him a horse from the elite French Republican Guard.
That choice of gift was made after Xi had expressed fascination over the 104 horsemen who escorted him during his last visit to Paris in 2014.
In a display of cordiality towards Britain after its referendum on leaving the European Union, France also offered to loan its Bayeux Tapestry, an 11th century treasure that tells the story of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066.
By choosing a clear military reference with the present for Trump, Macron is playing again to the U.S. president’s admiration for the armed forces.
Macron had already done so by inviting his counterpart to the annual Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, coupled with dinner at the Eiffel Tower, last year.
Whether Macron’s oak sapling will help sway Trump on issues from Syria to Iran and trade remains to be seen. The immediate goal, for the time being, is to see it planted in the White House gardens next week.