It is merely a question of degree which must be estimated, says the Staff Officer's Manual, solely according to military exigencies. And the interpretations differ according to the temper of the commentator. Persons with an inadequate knowledge of the Belgian temperament continue to lay the blame on the fanaticism and the ignorance of the country people and the vagueness of the instructions issued by the Government, hoping thus to excuse the devastations and reprisals which took place in the south of Luxembuig, in the suburbs of Malines, at Limbourg and on the rural table lands near Liege.
But the case of Dinput, Louvain, Namur and Termonde embarrasses them. In these towns the bourgeois, the intellectual class and the landowners had to suffer, as well as the monuments of art and science and charitable institutions. In these cases they endeavour to shut their eyes and express no opinion at all. Civilians carried away to Germany as prisoners and the few survivors of the massacres were warned not to speak ; the lists of bodies exhumed at Dinant were required to be given up : the Town Hall of Louvain was declared to be still standing and the bombardment of Termonde was described as a strategic necessity.
Although the vast majority of the less educated in Germany, debarred from enlightenment by the strict intellectual blockade maintained by the Censor, still hold to the legend of the " gouging out of eyes and the conspiracy of the priests," an inclination to refute them has manifested itself in the independent press. A direct lie is given to an imperial statement as it appears in the telegram to President Wilson. Henceforth only isolated assaults by civilians are spoken of, but the brain of the soldier is still nourished with the suggestion which it has been thought necessary to keep alive.
His friends write to him from his country : " Do not let the civilians come near you " ; " Fire on those who apjnoach you. Here again, the wolf accuses the lamb. A single principle pervades the German notion of right : — " What is necessary or useful from the military point of view is permissible. What is a man's life to them?
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What do they care for the laws of humanity or the usages of civilisation? Hostages, human shields and wanton shootings, such are the barbarous methods which will compel French, English or Belgian troops to take precautionary measures and reserve for themselves certain rights useful to assailants ; and they will be justilied in so doing. And above all, there is the great method, of wliich the manual speaks — wholesale reprisals. For this a formula was already jirepared.
It is only necessary to reproduce the texts of the placards and the proclamations adajited to the occasion. This method may be usefully employed at all times, as upon the arrival anywhere of the wearied troops, in order to procure them a refreshing sleep, and executions have taken place by way of averting, an imaginary danger. Others are synchronous with the alleged commission of the offence.
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Thus, when an attack is made by the regular army on a railway line, men, women and priests are taken Ironi the villages of the neighbouring district, thrown into prison and conducted from one place to another without food or water ; a mock e. Other executions again iv took place subsequently to the offence by way of vengeance or retaliation and in this case consisted in the massacre of lOO, or persons, some of them little children at the breast " for the innocent must suffer for the guilty.
The difficulty of transporting prisoners and the embarrassment they cause present another form of " military exigencies.
Requisitions, tines, and confiscations have paralysed the economic energies of the nation while the employment of intimidation and violence has paralysed it morally. But thanks to American generosity Belgium still subsists, in spite of the occupation, and it is, perhaps, the most consoling, and at the same time the most touching, aspect of the war that the great people of the new world should have spontaneously given their support to one of the little nations of the old Continent as a token of the admiration of the later races, with their future liefore them, for the self-sacrifice and high moral perceptions of a people in whom are revived the noblest traditions of the past.
Her enemies may imprison without trial the Burgomaster Max, the incarnation of civic independence ; they may try to impose silence and inactivity on Cardinal Mercier, who publicly denounced the Burgomaster's martyrdom ; they may daily arrest young people hurrying to join the camps of the army behind the impassable Yser, and visit their sins upon their families ; they may attempt by threats or feigned lienevolence to convince the nation that its interests are with the invader — but nothing avails against the latent fundamental and paramount forces which operate to keep Belgium within herself, and isolate Germany on the soil which is the centre of her exploits, and make the Belgian people feel more and more confident of their final deliverance, and of a day of justice and redress to come.
It cannot be said with truth of a nation that it has lost everything when it has preserved its soul ; nor indeed can this, in any case, be said of Belgium outside the daily narrowing circle within which the might of Germany battens upon it own sophisms.
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The sympathy of humanity throughout the world is with her. There is no one who is not grieved at her lot or who does not admire her secretly, if not openly, and no one who is not prepared to rejoice at her redemption. For, thank God, the God of absolute justice and eternal right, there is sufficient pure air in the universe, suflicient space in the spiritual world, for the fame of a people who have been able to show what liberty and honour mean for them, to live and thrive there unscathed by the ambitions, cupidity, selfish aspirations or reactionary forces of others.
London, May We cannot remind ourselves too often that neutrality is the true aim of our political existence. Sincerely, loyally and bravely to maintain it must be our constant aim. The Belgian people arc deeply conscious of their duty ; they know the value of the benefits that they were so fortunate as to acquire 40 years ago and have so honourably preserved. They are not likely to forget what is at stake— the welfare, freedom honour, and the very existence of their country. An identic treaty was concluded and signed the same day between France and Great Britain.
I hir ait mtittht Armn r. At the end of the circular the following sentence was added : " Gerimmy, as well as France, lias gti'eii to Belgium the assurance that her neutrality will be respected. He declared that Germany had no intention of violating Belgian neutrality, but he considered that in making a public declaration Germany would weaken her military position in regard to France, who, secured on the northern side, would concentrate all her energies on the east. Grave events are imminent. Perhaps you will see your neighbour's house in flames, but the lire will spare your dwelling.
Davignon, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at 7 p. Very Confidential. This information leaves no doubt as to the intention of France to march through Belgian territory against Germany. It is essential for the self-defence of Germany that she should anticipate any such hostile attack.
The German Government would, however, feel the deepest regret if Belgium regarded as an act of hostility against herself the fact that the measures of Germany's opponents force Germany, for her own protection, to enter Belgian territory. Germany has in view no act of hostility against Belgium. Germany undertakes, under the above-mentioned condition, to evacuate Belgian territory on the conclusion of peace. If Belgium adopts a friendly attitude, Germany is prepared, in co-operation with the Belgian authorities, to purchase all necessaries for her troops against a cash payment, and to pay an indemnity for any damage that may have been caused by German troops.
Should Belgium oppose the German troops, and in particular should she throw difficulties in the way of their march by a resistance of the fortresses on the Meuse, or by destroying railways, roads, tunnels, or other similar works, Germany will, to her regret, be compelled to consider Belgium as an enemy. In this case the friendly ties which bind the two neighbouring States will grow stronger and more enduring.
King Albert, crowned King of the Belgians on the 23rd December, Your fellow citizens are proud of you. You will triumph, for you are the army winch fights on the side of justice. August, Throughout Flanders and the country of Wallonie in town and country one sentiment alone fills every heart — patriotism ; one vision alone fills every mind — our threatened independence. The moment has come to act. Gentlemen, you will know how to deal urgently with all the measures which the situation requires for the war and for public order general assent.
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Yes, yes, from every side. Hear, hear. Cheers on all the Benches. Long live the King, long live Belgium. In these circumstances Germany proposed to the Belgian Government to adopt a friendly attitude towards her, and undertook, on the conclusion of peace, to guarantee the integrity of the Kingdom and its possessions to their full extent. The note added that if Belgium put difliculties in the way of the advance of German troops, Germany would be compelled to consider her as an enemy, and to leave the ultimate adjustment of the relations between the two States to the decision of arms.
No strategic interest justifies such a violation of law. That is a breach of international law.
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It is true that the French Government declared at Brussels that France would respect Belgian neutrality as long as her adversary respected it. We knew, however, that France stood ready for an invasion.
France could wait, we could not. A French attack on our flank on the lower Rhine might have been disastrous. Thus we were forced to ignore the rightful protests of the Governments of Luxemburg and Belgium.
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The wrong — I speak openly — the wrong we thereby commit we will try to make good as soon as our military aims have been attained.