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GERMAN ATTEMPTS TO DIVIDE BELGIUM 307



GERMAN ATTEMPTS TO DIVIDE
BELGIUM

BY CARL L. BECKER,

Professor of modern European history, Cornell University

Belgium has been the storm center of the war, and her fate at
the peace will be the test of victory or defeat. Upon this unoffend-
ing people the German Empire laid its heavy hand, and during
four years subjected it to a martyrdom that is but the fulfilment of
a "specifically German way of thinking and feeling." As Ger-
man philosophers have written in books, line upon line, precept
upon precept, so in Belgium the German army has made manifest
in deeds the Fatherland's "ritual of envy and broken faith and
rapine." Not to have rescued Belgium from this living death
would be for us a confession of defeat, and for Germany a sub-
stantial victory.

It is therefore a fortunate circumstance, auguring well for the
future, that the allied and American Governments are of one
accord in respect to Belgium. Without qualification and without
dissent they have declared that Belgium must be restored; and
the words of President Wilson may stand as the expression, in this
respect, of the purpose to which all the enemies of Germany are
committed :

"Belgium, the whole world will agree, must be evacuated and
restored without any attempt to limit the sovereignty which she
enjoys in common with all other free nations. No other single
act will serve as this will serve to restore confidence among the
nations in the laws which they have themselves set and deter-
mined for the government of their relations with one another.
Without this healing act the whole structure and validity of
international law is forever impaired." *

BIBLIOGRAPHIC NOTE. In preparing this pamphlet I have used, as the founda-
tion, the admirable work of Fernand Passelecq, La question flamande et I'Afte-
magne (Paris, Berger-Levrault, 1917). In addition, the books and pamphlets on

1 Address to Congress, January 8, 1918, War Labor and Peace, 30.



308 A LEAGUE OF NATIONS

The Imperial German Government has often stated its inten-
tions with respect to Belgium. At the beginning of the war, in the
ultimatum presented to Belgium on August 2, 1914, the German
Government declared that, "in the event of Belgium being pre-
pared in the coming war to maintain an attitude of friendly neu-
trality toward Germany, the German Government binds itself, at
the conclusion of peace, to guarantee the possessions and inde-
pendence of the Belgian Kingdom in full" ; otherwise the "eventual
adjustments of the relations of the two states to each other must
be left to the decision of arms." * Two days later, in his speech
before the Reichstag on August 4, the chancellor, Bethmann-
Holweg, defined the purposes of Germany more precisely, and
more narrowly. He said:

Gentlemen, we are now defending ourselves in circumstances of ex-
treme necessity (zuir sind jetzt in der Notwehr), and necessity knows no
law. Our troops have occupied Luxemburg, have perhaps already set
foot on Belgian territory. Gentlemen, that is contrary to the rules of
international law {das widerspricht den Geboten des Volkerrechts] . . . . We
were forced to disregard the legitimate protest of the Luxemburg and
the Belgian Governments. The wrong I speak openly the wrong that
we are thus doing, we will try to make good again as soon as our mili-
tary end is attained. 2

Such was the expressed purpose of the German Government at
the opening of the war. Meantime, the German army overran
and conquered the greater part of Belgium. It did more. As a
necessary part of attaining their military ends, the Germans in-

Belgium in the offices of the American Historical Review, material compiled by
Professor Van den Ven for the Belgian Information Service, extracts made from
the German newspapers by Richard Jente for the Committee on Public Informa-
tion, and official dispatches of Brand Whitlock, American minister to Belgium,
under date of August 10, 1917, February. 3 and 23, March 6, 13 and 27, 1918,
together with a number of documents transmitted with these dispatches, have
been placed at my disposal.

1 Collected Diplomatic Documents Relating to the Outbreak of the European
War (London, 1915), 310. Miscellaneous No. 10 (1915), Cd. 7860.

2 The German text from the official Reichstag reports, for this part of the
speech, together with a translation^ is printed in J. R. O'Regan, The German War
of 1914, 49. Aside from three slight changes, I have followed Mr. O'Regan's
translation. The original speech was published for propagandist purposes in Der
Krifgsausbruch 1914 (Berlin, 1914), II.



PROMISES DID NOT BIND 309

stituted in Belgium a reign of terror such as has not been known
among civilized nations. Nothing was omitted that might serve
to break the spirit of the people. The record of senseless crimes
and cruelties, of bestial acts, of nameless obscenities and revolting
savagery which must be charged to the account of the German
army in Belgium recalls those deeds by which "the Huns, under
their king Attila, a thousand years ago, made a name for them-
selves which is still mighty in tradition and story."



PROMISES No LONGER BINDING

After the conquest and spoliation of Belgium, the promises
which the German Government had formerly made were thought
to be no longer binding. "The conquest of Belgium has simply
been forced upon us," said Freiherr von Bissing, the German gov-
ernor general of Belgium. "I will not discuss the views of those
who dream that the German Government is bound by the declara-
tion made at the beginning of the war." * In its subsequent declara-
tions of policy, the German Government has accordingly held a
different language from that used by Bethmann-Hollweg on
August 4, 1914.

These subsequent official declarations of policy in respect to Bel-
gium were in substance much the same; and it will be sufficient to
quote the last of them the latest and the most precise that of
Chancellor von Hertling, before the Main Committee in the Reichs-
tag, on July n, 1918:

That we do not contemplate holding Belgium in possession perma-
nently that has been our policy from the beginning of the war. As I
said on November 29, the war has been for us, from the very beginning,
a war of defense and not a war of conquest. The invasion of Belgium
was a necessity forced upon us by the conditions of war. In the same
way, the occupation of Belgium was a necessity forced upon us by the war.
. . . Belgium, in our hands, is a pledge for future negotiations. A pledge
signifies security against known dangers, which one may avoid by having
this pledge in his hand. One surrenders this pledge, therefore, only when

1 General von Hissing's Testament: a Study in German Ideals (London, Fisher
Unwin, 1917), 24.



310 A LEAGUE OF NATIONS

these dangers are removed. The Belgian pledge therefore signifies for us
that we must guard ourselves in the peace negotiations, as I have already
pointed out, against the danger of Belgium ever again becoming the
deploying ground of our enemies: not only in a military sense, Gentle-
men, but also in an economic sense. We must guard ourselves against
the danger of our becoming, after the war, economically isolated (abge-
schnurt). By virtue of her relations, her position and her entire devel-
opment, Belgium is assigned to Germany. If we enter into close eco-
nomic relations with Belgium in the economic sphere, that is also wholly
in the interest of Belgium herself. If we succeed in establishing close
economic ties with Belgium, if we succeed in coming to an understanding
with Belgium in respect to political questions which touch the vital
interests of Germany, we have the certain prospect that we shall thereby
have the best security against the future dangers which might threaten
us from England and France by way of Belgium or in respect to Belgium. l

1 Preussische Kreuzzeitung, July 15, 1918. The most important earlier official
statements of German policy with respect to Belgium are the following:

"We will obtain sure guaranties in order that Belgium should not become a
vassal state of England and France and should not be used as an economic and
military bulwark against Germany." (Bethmann-Hollweg in the Reichstag, April
5, 1916; taken from Passelecq, "Belgian Unity and the Flemish Movement,"
Nineteenth Century, October, 1916.)

"Point seven has to do with the Belgian question. Concerning the Belgian
question, my predecessors have repeatedly declared that at no time during the
war has the forcible incorporation (Angliederung) of Belgium with Germany
formed a part of the program of German policy. The' Belgian question belongs
to that complex of questions, the details of which are to be arranged by war and
peace negotiations (durch die Kriegs- und Friedensverhandlungen zu ordnen sein
werden). So long as our opponents do not unreservedly take the position that
the territorial integrity of the Central Powers is the sole possible basis of peace
discussions, I must adhere to the standpoint hitherto always taken, and decline to
exclude the Belgian affair from the general discussion." (Hertling in the Reichs-
tag, January 24, 1918, Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, January 25, 1918.)

"From this rostrum it has been repeatedly affirmed that we do not contemplate
retaining Belgium, that we do not contemplate making the Belgian state an
integral part of the German Empire, but that, as was pointed out in the Papal
note of August I of last year, we must be safeguarded against the danger that a
country, with which we wish after the war to live once more in peace and friend-
ship, should become the object or the center of hostile machinations. The means
by which this end is to be attained, and the cause of universal peace thereby
served, ought to be discussed in a circle of that kind [referring to the unofficial
suggestion of Walter Runciman in the House of Commons that it would be well if
responsible representatives of the belligerent powers should get together in an
intimate meeting for discussion]. _ If, _ therefore, a proposal looking in that direc-
tion should come from the opposite side for example, from the Belgian Govern-
ment at Havre we would not assume an attitude of rejection, even if the discus-
sion could at first, as is self-evident, be only tentative." (Hertling in the Reichs-
tag, February 25, 1918, Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, February 26, 1918.)



GERMAN THEORY FALSE 3!!

Germany's officially proclaimed policy in Belgium therefore
amounted to this : Germany did not intend to annex Belgium; but
she intended to use it as a pledge, or pawn, to obtain "guaranties"
against England and France. How did she intend to use it?
What were the guaranties? Much light is thrown on these ques-
tions by the administrative policy which Germany had carried out
in Belgium since the war began. If we may judge from her con-
duct in Belgium, the purpose of the German Government was to
destroy the Belgian state and to dissolve the Belgian nation. If
her measures had succeeded, there would be no Belgium.



I. THE FLEMISH QUESTION

In recent years the Germans have adopted the theory that there
never has been any Belgian nation, but only a Belgian state,
which is an "artificial creation of European diplomacy," dating
from the year 1830. The Germans say that this artificial creation,
which is largely the work of English and French machinations,
was already tending toward dissolution before the war, and that
the inevitable result of the war will be to complete the process.
This theory is fundamentally false; but the facts of Belgian history
and the facts of Belgian social life, regarded in a purely external
way, furnished the Germans with a basis sufficient for their very
practical purposes.

It is true that before 1830 Belgium was never an independent
state. In the middle ages the country now included in Belgium
and Holland was a group of feudal principalities and chartered
cities, more or less independent of each other, and commonly dis-
tinguished from the outside world by the collective term "Low
Countries" Netherlands. In the I5th century the Netherlands
came under the suzerainty of the Dukes of Burgundy; as parts of
the Burgundian possessions they passed to the Hapsburgs; and
finally, when the Spanish and Austrian territories of Charles V
were divided in 1556, they went with Spain to Philip II.

A distinguishing characteristic of the people of the Netherlands,
in all this early history, was the stubbornness with which they



3 i2 A LEAGUE OF NATIONS

defended their local franchises. The city of Ghent was so in-
tractable that it came to be known as the Cite Ardente the "Fiery
City": "Pig-headed Gantois," Charles the Bold called the
burghers on one occasion. And so Philip II found them still in
the latter part of the i6th century when he attempted to subject
them to the direct control of the Spanish crown. They were so
pig-headed that even the Duke of Alva, no mean artist in the ap-
plication of Schrecklichkeit, backed up by the best troops in
Europe, failed to accomplish that object. The northern (Dutch)
Netherlands finally won complete independence in 1648, while the
southern Netherlands (Belgium) remained under Spanish control
but were allowed to retain their former privileges.

The southern Netherlands might have won independence at this
time also if they had been willing to join with the northern prov-
inces. This they were unwilling to do precisely because they were
already conscious of being a distinct people, differing in many re-
spects from the Dutch. They were altogether Catholic in religion,
while the Dutch were Protestant; and they were mainly an agri-
cultural and industrial people, while the Dutch were chiefly com-
mercial. It was at this time that the term Belgium, Belgique,
which may be sometimes found in medieval manuscripts, was
much used to distinguish the southern Netherlands; and even at
this early date the Belgians not infrequently referred to their little
country as the Patrie. And so the southern Netherlands preferred,
on condition of retaining their local privileges, to remain under
Spanish rule, rather than join the Protestant and commercial
republic of Holland.

BELGIAN DETERMINATION TO BE INDEPENDENT

Under Spanish rule they remained until 1713, when they were
transferred, as a result of war and treaties, to Austria. At that
time their local franchises were again confirmed in the Treaty of
the Barriers and in a charter known as "The Joyous Entry of
Charles VI." When, in 1788, Joseph II attempted to abolish this
charter, and to incorporate Belgium into a centralized and imperial
administrative system, the Belgians rebelled; and although the
rebellion was suppressed, the charter was finally restored. Mean-

6



BELGIUM AT LAST INDEPENDENT 313

time, the French Revolution had broken out, and in 1792-1794
Belgium was conquered by the French armies and annexed to the
French Republic.

If the Belgians had to choose some country to be annexed to,
that country would undoubtedly be France. In almost every re-
spect the Belgians have more in common with the French than
with any other people: their political ideas and institutions are
similar to those of France; their religion is the same; the great
European currents of intellectual and spiritual life that have
shaped their art and literature have come to them mainly by way
of France. Nevertheless, during the 20 years when the Belgians
were under French control, and in spite of the fact that they en-
joyed the same institutions and privileges that all Frenchmen
enjoyed, they were never reconciled. They still considered them-
selves Belgians, and not Frenchmen; still persisted in the desire
to live their own life and govern themselves in their own way;
and in 1815, when the empire of Napoleon was overthrown, their
wish was to be allowed to establish an independent Belgian state.

This privilege the great powers assembled at the Congress of
Vienna, concerned less with the wishes than with the uses of small
nations, refused to grant; and, in order to establish a strong
"barrier" state on the lower Rhine against future French aggres-
sion, Belgium, against its will, was joined with Holland to form
the Kingdom of Holland under the Dutch king. This new king-
dom was indeed an "artificial creation of European diplomacy,"
and as such was destined to disappear. After 15 years of un-
happy strife, the Belgians revolted in July, 1830, and with the aid
of France and England won their independence. A constitutional
convention, elected by the people, adopted the Constitution of
1830, which provided for a popular and liberal form of govern-
ment. The independence of Belgium was recognized by the great
powers in 1830 at the London Conference, and again in 1839
when it was agreed by Austria, Prussia, France, Great Britain
and Russia that Belgium should "form an independent and per-
petually neutral state."

These are the outstanding facts of Belgian history; and the
Germans, having studied Belgian history, doubtless with their



314 A LEAGUE OF NATIONS

customary patience and exactness, came to the conclusion that the
Belgian state is "an artificial creation of European diplomacy."
This conclusion is, however, closely connected with the other half
of the German theory, namely, that there is no Belgian nation;
and this idea they derive mainly from the contemporary conditions
of Belgian social structure.

The basic fact of the Belgian social structure, which the Germans
know but do not understand, is that the population is made up
in about equal parts of the Walloons who speak one language, and
the Flemish who speak another. The Walloons, who number
something over three millions and live in the southern part of
Belgium, speak essentially Romance dialects and employ French
as a literary language; while the Flemish, who number over four
millions and live in the northern part of Belgium, employ a
language (Flemish) which in its dialect and written forms is
essentially the same as Dutch. Practically all educated Belgians
(871,228, according to the census of 1910) speak both the Walloon
(French) and the Flemish (Dutch) languages; while a consider-
able number (52,547) speak these two languages and German
beside.

USE OF EITHER LANGUAGE OPTIONAL

The legal status of languages in Belgium is defined in the Con-
stitution of 1830, in Art. 23:

The employment of the languages used in Belgium is optional;

it can be regulated only by law, and solely for the acts of public

authority and for judicial affairs. 1

After 1830, when Belgium won independence from Holland,
there was naturally a strong reaction against everything Dutch;
and so it happened that until about 1870 law and practice com-
bined to favor the use of French. The laws were debated, voted
and promulgated in French; justice was rendered and adminis-
trative correspondence carried on in French; instruction in the four
universities and in the secondary schools was exclusively in French.
In a word, although nearly half the people spoke nothing but

1 Passelecq, op. tit., 40.
8



GERMAN THEORY AS TO FLEMINGS 315

Flemish, and more than half were of Flemish origin, French was
the language of public life, of society, of education and of litera-
ture.

Opposition to this state of affairs found expression in what is
known as the Flemish movement, which has been an increasingly
important question in Belgian politics since about 1870 that is to
say, about the same period of time during which the Alsace-Lor-
raine question has been prominent in German politics. There is,
however, this difference in respect to what has been achieved in
the two countries: after 50 years the Alsace-Lorraine question is as
far as ever from solution, while the Flemish question, at the
moment when the war broke out, was virtually settled. Conces-
sions to the demands of the Flemings were made as early as 1873,
in the law providing for the use of Flemish in the criminal courts;
and between 1873 and 1914 at least ten important laws were
passed extending the use of the Flemish language in government
and administration, in the army, and in the schools. In 1914 the
question of a Flemish university was almost the only outstanding
issue in the Flemish movement; and even this was practically set-
tled, inasmuch as the legislature had voted in favor of transforming
the University of Ghent into a purely Flemish institution.

GERMAN THEORY OF Two "PEOPLES"

This division of the Belgians into Walloons and Flemings and
the long conflict between them over the Flemish question fur-
nished the Germans with a basis for their theory that the Belgians
are not a nation, but in reality two peoples held together against
their will by an "artificial" state constructed by England and
France to serve their own interests. The Flemings, so the Ger-
mans said, belong properly with those groups of Germanic peoples,
all of whom would naturally wish, and whose destiny it is, to be
gathered under the flag of the empire. Like the Dutch and the
German-speaking people of Switzerland, the Flemish are Deutschen
im Ausland Germans in a foreign land. Subjected to the Wal-
loon yoke, they have long struggled in vain to emancipate them-
selves. It was therefore a duty laid upon Germany, a duty which



3 i6 A LEAGUE OF NATIONS

she was faithfully performing, to liberate this kindred people.
This was the German theory.

The theory was not, indeed, so very old, not much older than
the war; but during the last four years it had been solidly based
and impregnably buttressed by economists, historians, ethnologists,
philologians and bureaucrats of the highest reputation in Ger-
many. It goes without saying that the Pan-Germans, with their well
known hospitality to divergent ideas, accepted it without question;
and among the arguments which they marshaled in favor of Ger-
man expansion, this humane theory marched valiantly side by side
with the most robust ideas of Realpolitik. "Belgium became a
state only two generations ago, never having been one before. . . .
A national unity it has never known. . . . There now exists in the
land a deep line of cleavage. ... If a German dominion (Ober-
leitung), with the determined separation of the Germanic and
Romance districts, were introduced, helping the Flemings in the
schools, in the courts, in the administration, ... it can be assured
a ready acceptance and will attach to itself this Germanic part of
the country more and more rapidly from year to year. . . . The
task remains to save this Kultur, Germanic in race and in essence,
from being covered and hidden by French varnish." 1 And finally,
this theory, fathered by scientists and fostered by Pan-Germans,
had been officially adopted and proclaimed by the government as
the basis of its policy. "Germany cannot," said Chancellor Beth-
mann-Hollweg, speaking in the Reichstag on April 5, 1916, "aban-
don to Latin influence the Flemish people who have been so long
enslaved." 2

According to this theory therefore, although contrary to the gen-
eral impression, Germany entered Belgium as a liberator. In behalf
of the principle of the self-determination of nations, she undertook
to break up the "artificial" Belgian state in order to "free the
Flemings from the Walloon yoke." The means upon which she
chiefly relied to attain this end were the transformation of the

1 From the "Manifesto" of the "Independent Committee for a German Peace,"
published in Das Grossere Deutschland, January 27 and February 5, 1917; trans-
lated and printed by Charles Waldstein, What Germany is Fighting For (London,
1917), 76-77.

'Passelecq, op. cit., i.

10



FLEMISH UNIVERSITY ADVOCATED

University of Ghent into a Flemish university, the administrative
separation of Belgium, and the establishment of an independent
Flemish state.



II. THE FLEMISH UNIVERSITY OF GHENT

Before the war there were in Belgium four universities granting
diplomas of equal value: two state universities, Liege and Ghent;
and two "free" universities, Louvain (Catholic) and Brussels (Lib-
eral). Until recent times the instruction in all four was exclu-
sively in French.

As the Flemish movement gathered force, one of the chief points
in the program of the Flemish party came to be the demand for an
exclusively Flemish university; and in the last years before the
war this was the all-important question at issue. The great im-
portance (social rather than political or literary) which the Flem-
ings attached to the possession of a Flemish university is admirably
expressed in the following statement:

Wallonia is the chief center of those industries (metallurgy, mines


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