George Henry Allen.

The Great war .. (Volume 2) online

. (page 9 of 40)
Online LibraryGeorge Henry AllenThe Great war .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 40)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

of the treaty concluded on the same day between His
Majesty the King of the Belgians and His Majesty the
King of the Netherlands. The treaty reads: 'Belgium
shall form an independent and perpetually neutral State.'

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 89

Belgium has fulfilled all her international obligations; she
has accomplished her duty in a spirit of loyal impartiality;
she has neglected no eiJort to maintain her neutralhy and
to cause that neutrality to be respected.

"In these circimistances the Belgian Government has
learnt with deep pain that the armed forces of Germany, a
Power guaranteeing Belgian neutrality, have entered Bel-
gian territory in violation of the obligation imdertaken
by treaty.

"It is our duty to protest with indignation against an
outrage against international law provoked by no act of ours.

"The Royal Government is firmly determined to repel
by all the means in its power the attack thus made upon
its neutrality, and it recalls the fact that, in virtue of article
10 of The Hague Convention of 1907 respecting the rights
and duties of neutral Powers and persons in the case of
war by land, if a neutral Power repels, even by force,
attacks on her neutrality, such action cannot be considered
as a hostile act."

Some of the German apologists have propagated with
apparently unaffected remissness a misapprehension tend-
ing to obscure the true basis for judging Germany's atti-
tude with respect to Belgium. For example. Dr. Dernburg
cited the words of Mr. Gladstone denying that "the simple
fact of the existence of a guarantee was binding on every
party, irrespective of the particular position in which it
may find itself at the time when the occasion for acting on
the guarantee arises," as a possible argument to justify
Germany in breaking the treaty and violating Belgian
neutrality, because at the time it was contrary to the interest
of Germany to maintain the agreement. Such an inter-
pretation is a distortion of Mr. Gladstone's attitude as
expressed in the speech from which the above words were
extracted. Mr. Gladstone referred only to the duty of each

90 The Great War

of the contracting parties to intervene in active defense
of Belgian neutrality against an aggressive action by any
other power, not to the more fundamental obligation placed
upon the signatory powers of abstaining themselves from
the violation of Belgian neutralit3^ In Mr. Gladstone's
opinion, conditions might possibly excuse one of the signa-
tory powers from taking active measures in defending
Belgian neutrality against violation, but it was far from his
thoughts to suppose that circumstances could ever justify
one of these powers in the actual perpetration of such a
deed of iniquity. The authors of the illogical view which
we are considering make no distinction between the failure
to prevent, and the actual commission of, the transgression
covered by the international agreement. It is a glaring
injustice against Mr. Gladstone to suppose that he could
have suggested that any conceivable situation would ever
justify Great Britain in violating Belgian neutrality. It is
hardly necessary to add that these apologists ignore the
fact that, entirely apart from the treaty of 1839, Belgium,
like any other state which sees fit to stand aside during a
contest between its neighbors, has the right by international
law and the most elementary, axiomatic principles of justice
to possess her territory undisturbed and inviolate.

The assertion has been made and is perhaps correct, that
Great Britain violated the rights of neutrality with the same
contemptuous arrogance in bombarding Copenhagen in
1807, and that in the present situation she would not have
drawn the sword if France had been the transgressor.
But what do these statements prove? They remind us
primarily that many German apologists are more eager to
besmirch the reputation of Great Britain than to establish
the justice of Germany's policy in Belgium. But history
is not so much concerned about weighing the relative
respectability of the actors whom she represents on the

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 91

stage of human affairs, as in investigating the causes and
motives, and the results of their conduct. Historians
whose field is quite another period will enlighten us with
regard to the moral aspect of the bombardment of Copen-
hagen, as of the annexation of Silesia or dismemberment of
Poland. Our present concern is limited to the violation by
Germany of the neutrality of Belgium in contravention of
a solemn treaty and of international law, which gave any
or all of the other guaranteeing powers the right, and at
the same time imposed the duty, of intervening. The fact
that considerations of self-interest inspired Great Britain
with greater alacrity in assuming the defense of Belgian
neutrality is urged as a justification or palliation of Ger-
many's offense. As though Germany, after overrunning
and ravaging Belgium in open defiance of justice, as her
own chief officials acknowledged, should have the right to
insist that the powers which entered the lists in vindication
of the outraged country ought to be as spotless and as free
from selfish motives as the searcher for the Holy Grail !

It cannot be denied that until as late as August 2d the
British government did not fully determine to regard
the possible violation of Belgian neutrality as a cause for
war; and this circumstance has been utilized for establish-
ing the unrighteousness inherent in Great Britain's inter-
vention in the war. But surely Great Britain did not
waive her eventual right to intervene by her attitude of
uncertainty before the occasion for action had arisen. No
right or duty based on a formal agreement is annulled
merely by the indecision of one of the parties about the
expediency of acting on the basis of the right or duty,
before the stipulated period for such action has expired or
the compact has been formally repudiated.

As we have already observed (Volume I, page 267), the
German government, expressing itself in the words of

92 The Great War

Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg and Herr von Jagow, ex-
plained the invasion of Belgium, at the time, solely as a
military necessity. Even the intimation that Belgium had
committed acts of hostility, advanced tentatively by Herr
von Jagow on July 31st, had been abandoned on August
4th, apparently because of its futility. The German decla-
ration of war against France, August 3d, mentioned the
flight of French aviators across Belgian territory. But
nobody seems to have taken this allegation seriously, or
to have assumed that it justified German intervention in

At a later time, not content with this single basis of
defense, the military necessity, the German authorities
charged Belgium with many violations of neutrality, and
the Chancellor declared that "there were already (on
August 4, 1914) many indications of the guilt of the Bel-
gian government." He added very judiciously that he
had "no documentary evidence" at the time, the reason,
doubtless, why no formal protest was made to the Belgian
government or its diplomatic representative. We have
already disposed of the most conspicuous example of this
posthumous evidence, the military "conversations." The
other charges would scarcely deserve our attention, except
for their extensive circulation in this country.

Thus it has been alleged that Belgian fortifications were
all directed against Germany and that this fact is proof of
hostile intentions. As we have already noticed, there were
three important fortresses in Belgium: Antwerp, Liege,
and Namur. A summary method of disproving the above-
cited charge would consist in pointing out that Antwerp is
situated near the northern, or Dutch, frontier, Liege near
the eastern, or German, frontier, and Namur near the
southern, or French, frontier. But a less superficial view
would regard the location of these fortresses as determined.

Kxchanging the crepe draperv for flags and fiowers on tlie Strassbiirg inoninnent, wliich
stands on the Place dc la Concorde, Paris, on August ii, 1914.

The Prime Minister ut Jiulgiuni speaking ironi tlie balcony of tlie Parliament House on
the dav on which Germany declared war.

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 93

not by their proximity to frontiers, but by the physical
features of the country.

Antwerp is the most prominent fortress simply because
it is the all-important port. Liege and Nanmr are the
keys to the valley of the Meuse, which is the natural
route for armies endeavoring to traverse Belgium in either
direction, the Germans towards France, or the French
towards Germany. Liege and Namur command opposite
ends of the central section where this route traverses a
natural defile, the former nearer Germany, the latter
nearer France.

It has been alleged that there were French officers on
Belgian soil previous to the invasion of Belgium by Ger-
many. The conventional usages of historical and judicial
inquiry permit us to demand more specific evidence than
this bare statement without seeming to impugn the veracity
of those who have advanced it. If these officers were cap-
tured in Belgian fortresses they must have been taken to
some German detention camp, where their identity and
the exact circumstances could be ascertained. But what
judicial significance would their presence in Belgium con-
vey, in any case ? German officers have been continuously
present in Turkey since 1883 without involving the Turkish
government in questions of violated neutrality. It is ob-
vious that the presence of French officers in Belgium
while France and Germany were still at peace could not
constitute a valid excuse for Germany's hostile action.
The neutraUty of Belgium could in any case be impaired
only by the presence of the French officers during the
period intervening between the announcement in Brussels
of the existence of a state of war between Germany and
France and the invasion of Belgium by Germany. For
manifestly, if the invasion of Belgium is to be justified by
Belgium's violation of her own neutrality, such violation

94 The Great War

would necessarily consist in an action or a situation preced-
ing the invasion. The German declaration of war against
France was presented at 6.45 P. M. on August 3d. The
German invasion of Belgium commenced during the night
of August 3-4, according to some statements as earl}- as
midnight. Can anybody reasonably maintain that during
these few intervening hours the Belgian government could
have received official information of the existence of a
state of war between Germany and France and taken the
necessary steps to remove any French officers who might
happen to be sojourning on Belgian soil! Besides, to make
the German allegation a quite consistent cause of war, it
would be requisite not only that Belgium failed within
these few intervening hours to expel the French officers,
after learning of the declaration of war, but that tidings
of this negligence should have been brought to the Ger-
man government, so that in cognizance of it they ordered
their forces to commence the invasion of Belgium.

We have thus far been unable to discover any evidence
to justify the violation of Belgium's neutrality on the basis
of international law or respectable standards of conduct.
But let us go further and ask ourselves whether the Ger-
man professions regarding Belgium will bear the test of
consistency; whether they are coherent.

The German government declared that it possessed
evidence which left no doubt that France intended to
march through Belgium to attack Germany in the lower
Rhine territory, presumably a vital spot, so that it was a
matter of life and death for Germany to forestall her
enemy by marching herself into Belgian territory, this
being, in the circumstances, really a defensive measure.
The Germans assert, moreover, that they offered the
means whereby Belgium could have avoided all the misery
that has befallen her by proposing friendly neutrality on

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 95

condition of a free passage for their forces through Bel-
gian territory.

If the French preparations for a movement across Bel-
gium to attack the lower Rhine territory of Germany had
been on the point of realization, making it a question of
life or death for the Germans to anticipate them by
moving across Belgium themselves, the German army
would have directly encountered the French forces on
Belgian soil, and unhappy Belgium would have furnished
the battlefields. Far from guaranteeing Belgium against
the ravages of war, the German plan would, in this case,
have brought destruction upon the devoted country from
both sides. But if the French army was not ready to
penetrate Belgium at once, the German penetration of
Belgium is shorn altogether of its alleged justification as a
vital necessity.

The Germans are confronted, therefore, by this fatal
alternative: either their march into Belgium would have
brought inevitable ruin upon the country, or else it loses
the only alleged defense worthy of consideration, the argu-
ment of necessity. It follows, therefore, that the German
professions, as mentioned above, are neither logical nor

As for the argument of necessity, the fact that nearly
three weeks elapsed, after the declaration of hostilities,
before the French were prepared to offer any serious
resistance on their own northern frontier is a convincing
refvitation of the charge that they were prepared to launch
an attack across Belgium.

We may briefly recapitulate some of the more salient
aspects of the Belgian situation.

By an international agreement, sanctioned and guaran-
teed by the Great Powers in the most formal manner,
Belgium was excluded from the arena of international

96 The Great War

contention; her soil was declared inviolable; she was dedi-
cated to perpetual neutrality and peace. This covenant
was still binding on the signatory powers in 1914. None
of the fundamental conditions had changed since the rati-
fication of the compact, except that the source of danger
to Belgium had shifted from her southern to her eastern
neighbor. Trusting in the validity of this solemn com-
pact, France left her northern frontier almost undefended,
while Germany, who in general relies upon prompt offen-
sive strategy in place of forts, had likewise neglected to
fortify her Belgian frontier. The strategic advantage of
traversing Belgium in spite of the agreement was doubly
attractive to both Germany and France because their
common stretch of frontier is difficult to cross.

The French government declared that France would
abide by her agreement; Germany yielded to temptation
and violated her obligation.

The Germans claim that their invasion of Belgium was
justified by the intrigues of the Belgians, evidence for
which they discovered several weeks after their invasion
began. The posteriority of the discovery destroys its effi-
cacy as proof of the justice of Germany's intentions, while
the evidence itself is trivial and unconvincing.

The German government claimed that the French in-
tended to steal the advantage of a march through Belgium;
but this assertion has never been substantiated. Germans
have endeavored to extenuate their own transgression by
declaring that Great Britain also broke her obligation, in
spirit if not in fact. They assert that she would not have
been disposed to fulfil her stipulation under the treaty by
intervening to protect Belgian neutrality in all circum-
stances. They forget that there is an essential distinction
between a direct violation of Belgian neutrality and a failure
to defend that neutrality if assailed by another power. No

Forts (in tlic Fntiicu-CJcrnian tronticr. 1 fie Frttich since lS~I htii'e e.xpenJeJ
large sums in carrying out the plans of their engineers to protect their frontier
aJjoining that of Germany by the fortresses of Verclun, Toul, Epinal, an J Be/fort f
ivhile the Belgian border, because of their reliance on the obser-uance of Belgium' s
neutrality , ^vas protected by the less po-iverfiil fortresses ofMaubeuge and Lille.
Therefore, the Germans, to reach Paris had the alternative of battering against
these strong fortifications or of going around either end and 'violating the territory
of a neutral country. On the south ivas Sivitzerland, a mountainous country easily
defended i on the north, Luxemburg and Belgium, ivith the roads to France barred
only by the forts at Liege and Namur. Germany, not trusting that the French
ivould respect the neutrality of Belgium, protected her entire frontier.

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 97

British sin of omission, much less a hypothetical one, can
ever serve as justification for a German sin of commission.

Herr von Jagow gave his explanation of the motive for
Germany's conduct briefly, distinctly, and with commend-
able frankness. His words bear the stamp of sincerity.
The invasion of Belgium is a strategic necessity for Ger-
many. "In order that she may not be crushed, she must
herself crush France and then turn against Russia." No
mention at all is made of an impending violation of Belgian
neutrality by France.

We shall dismiss for the present a discussion of the
soundness of the oft-repeated protestation that Germany
was fighting for her life against fearful odds, and that
therefore her methods should be treated in a spirit of for-
bearance. We may assume that Herr von Jagow was
convinced that this was the true situation and many of the
civilian chiefs thought likewise. Human imagination has
been so incorrigibly enthralled by the mere physical big-
ness of Russia! We shall proceed to analyze Germany's
conduct on the basis of her own Foreign Secretary's con-
ception of the situation.

Germany must commit a transgression in order to save
herself from extreme peril. The present generation is
amenable to arguments based upon utility. Germany is a
large nation, while Belgium is a small one. There are
doubtless many persons in whose judgment a vital advantage
for a vast number of people will outweigh an injustice
inflicted upon a very much smaller body of people. But
there is another factor of fundamental importance. The
scope of Germany's action involves not merely the honor
and happiness of a small unoffending neighbor. It is
claimed that the salvation of Germany requires the destruc-
tion of France. One nation or the other must be crushed.
The position of Belgium is crucial. If Belgium opens a

98 The Great War

way for the German forces to the vulnerable part of the
French frontier, France will be beaten down and Germany
saved. But if Belgium maintains her international obliga-
tion in the face of Germany, France will be spared and
Germany will be overwhelmed, because Germany is being
assailed on two sides at once. Germany demands that
Belgium become the accomplice of her design, threat-
ening her in case of refusal with all that she might in-
flict upon her. Alleging that Belgian neutrality was in
danger of violation by her opponent, Germany destroyed
it herself.

German might trampled down the barriers of right to
grasp the great strategic prize, and Germany expects to be
exonerated, because she acted as she did so that France,
and not she herself, should be the nation committed to
destruction. Is the world to determine, by a careful
scrutiny of the relative merits of the civilization of these
two countries, which is more worthy to survive, and judge
Germany's conduct accordingly ? Such a comparison has
been frequently undertaken, but will lead to no universally
acceptable conclusions. The German and French nations
are alike needed in the great family of the nations. The
contributions of each are indispensable. But the superior-
ity of neither is so incontestable that in its assertion of an
exclusive opportunity of living and flourishing the world
will condone the ruin and devastation of a neutral state and
the violation of international law and the most solemn
engagements and assurances.

In concluding for the present our consideration of Bel-
gium, it will be interesting to notice the opinion of Count
Andrassy, an unusually broad-minded observer, and one
who, as a Hungarian statesman, would not naturally be
swayed by a sentimental bias for the cause of the Allies.
He declares:

Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 99

"The attitude of Germany with regard to Belgium is
undeniably a violation of international law; the German
government itself admitted it. The fate of Belgium is
certainly the saddest page of contemporary history. But
the indignation of the English government is not impar-
tial; for one can truly say that there is not a state in the
world which has not committed such a violation of inter-
national law in the course of its history."

At least nine out of every ten individuals who might be
asked what is the most important inspiring force in militant
France would reply without hesitation, — Alsace-Lorraine.

A perplexing, baffling problem is involved, if we try to
ascertain the practical importance as a motive in inter-
national policy of the French yearning to obtain amends
for the humiliation and loss of territory inflicted upon the
nation in 1870-1871, the spirit of "revanche." The Ger-
mans seem to be generally convinced that precisely this
aspiration, not merely the desire for security against aggres-
sion, actuated the French government in associating itself
with Russia in the Dual Alliance, and with Great Britain in
the Entente Cordiale. Those who entertain this view natu-
rally suppose that the real purpose of the Triple Entente was
offensive, and that the present world-struggle is its work.
It follows, logically, that they should regard the French
spirit of "revanche" as the elementary cause of the war,
about which the other forces successively grouped them-
selves. We have ascribed the French craving for retalia-
tion to a less prominent position, without denying that it
ranks as a very important secondary cause. For an un-
biased examination of available indications leads to the
conjecture that France would never have provoked a con-
flict in any conceivable combination of circumstances
merely to recover Alsace and Lorraine. Their loss was
most acutely felt as a sentimental grief; and the custom

100 The Great War

is well-known of annually draping with mourning wreaths
and garlands the symbolic statue of Strassburg which sits
in the stately company of her seven French sister cities in
dignified array about the imposing Place de la Concorde
in Paris. But France has never committed any action
which revealed an unmistakably aggressive attitude with
respect to the lost provinces. On the other hand, a settle-
ment of the question in a manner acceptable to France
would have effected a reconciliation between France and
Germany, and might have prevented the present conflict;
and such a settlement might possibly have been accom-
plished by a reasonable compromise.

We have noted the difficulty of determining the true
national identity of the people of the Reichsland. The
statement was made that the portion of Lorraine where
French had not supplanted German as the spoken lan-
guage was ceded to Germany. This was the underlying
principle for the division of the province; but in tracing
the actual line of demarcation the Germans insisted upon
a small but important departure from this basis. Ostensi-
bly for mihtary reasons, a triangular region containing the
important fortress of Metz, where French unquestionably
prevailed, was included in the German portion of Lor-
raine. It is reported that Bismarck opposed this addition
to the German territorial acquisition, and that his opposi-
tion was overruled by the military authorities, who brought
effective means of persuasion to bear upon the king. It
may be said that generally in the controversies between
the military authorities and the Iron Chancellor subsequent
events have fully justified the latter's position.

At an international peace conference in Antwerp in
1894 the proposal was made that the retrocession of these
French-speaking communities to France should be made
the basis of an international reconciliation. But as long



C -

C o

a; i

g ^ o

■:; rt w- -3

:i £ 6

s ^

^.; i


►J 3
^ .=


Moral Factors in Belgium, France, Italy 101

as the dominating; elements in the German government
regarded any territory won in war as a sacred, inviolable
trust, the retention of which, without regard to reason or

Online LibraryGeorge Henry AllenThe Great war .. (Volume 2) → online text (page 9 of 40)