Current History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 online

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recovering, put up a bandaged hand and saluted me "for all American
women." Another poilu wove for me a table mat of red, white, and blue
cord. All were fervent in their good wishes.

Everywhere warmth and order prevailed, from the wards where the bandaged
soldiers sat about with their pipes and their knitting to the big bakery
where the fragrant brown bread is baked and to the kitchens with their
caldrons of broth and crisp roasts of meat.

Dry, well ventilated "abris" or bomb shelters have been built in
connection with each section of the hospital. The surgeon, who sleeps in
a cellar near the centre, is the first to assist his patients to shelter
in case of an alarm. There, underground, long games of cards are played
on the brink of the unknown. This is not callousness, but is done with
deliberate intent by the clever surgeon, (a refugee from Lille,) knowing
that by this means his men may be saved a nervous strain which might
prove fatal.

Mlle. Guyot, who has been at the hospital since the beginning of the
war, knows as well as any one what the city has endured. It was she who
said to me:

"I shall never forget that Dunkirk has borne the weight of the war from
the first day; that she has seen the exodus of the Belgian population,
to whom she has given refuge as well as to the people of the Department
du Nord; that she has known the passing of innumerable armies going and
coming from the Yser; that in October, 1914, she began to be bombarded,
having at the same time to fulfill the immense duty of bringing in and
caring for the wounded from that immortal battlefield; and through it
all I have seen Dunkirk living and working and saving with a smile!"

The military position of Dunkirk is sometimes confusing because it has
been alternately on the French and English fronts. The English are now
retiring, but sentinels of three nationalities still guard the city
gates; English Tommy and French poilu stand with their arms across each
other's shoulders, the Belgian stands apart.

On the sands of Malo, which is but a prolongation of Dunkirk, with a
sweeping beach toward the North Sea, strange men from Tonquin were
digging trenches - dark men branded by the sun and the mark of the East,
with warm dabs of color on their high cheekbones, and small opaque eyes
under rising brows. The uniform of the French Colonial is often a
medley. He looks as though he had begun "dressing up" like children in
the attic, and as though his mind had fallen short of his expectations.
Out on those bleak sands his touches of rich blue, crimson, and green
had almost the fervor of stained glass set against the dark and sinister
sea. To the north the Belgian coast cut the background with a livid
streak of sand.

In spite of the moving figures, the loneliness was as of the ends of the
earth. The silence was accentuated rather than broken by the purr of the
cannon and the mewing of a stray gull slapped sidewise by the wind. But
it is thus that I like to think of Dunkirk - scourged by the wind,
blotted out by the storm, knowing that for the time being her stout
hearts are safe.

As the sea has been the life of Dunkirk in the past, so it will be its
resurrection. The city cannot be struck a deathblow from the land side
as has many another less favorably situated. But what a unique protégé
for some god-mothering American city to help re-establish through her
sympathy and aid!

Is it any wonder that France has just included in the arms of Dunkirk
the following legend in addition to the one gained by the naval battle
of 1793: "Ville heroique, sert d'exemple à toute la nation"?

Brutal Treatment of Italian Prisoners

Sworn statements from British soldiers returned from German prison camps
and hospitals received by Reuter's Agency (the Associated Press of Great
Britain) indicate that systematic brutality is practiced there upon
Italian prisoners. Lance Corporal Horace Hills, 7th Suffolk Regiment,
made the following statement under oath:

Five or six thousand Italians came in. They had traveled three or
four days, and had had nothing at all to eat. After they arrived
soup was brought in, and, as they were starving, they rushed at it.
The Germans then dashed forward and stabbed them with their swords
and bayonets, and killed and wounded a lot. Seven or eight Italians
were dying every day in the camp of starvation. They had no parcels.
I saw an Englishmen give an Italian bread, and the Italian went down
on his knees and kissed his hands.

Private J. F. Jackson, King's Liverpool Regiment, swore:

One Italian told me they had been fifteen days on the journey and
had only three meals all the time. Our hospital lager was separated
from the camp by barbed wire; we took some bread and threw it over
the wire to the Italians; they all began to grab for it, but a lot
of Germans rushed up and drew their bayonets and flourished them in
the air in a threatening manner, and kicked and threw the Italians
about, and got the bread for themselves.

At Friedrichsfeld the treatment of the Italians was equally barbarous,
the sentries shooting them for trying to get food from the British.
Equally revolting stories come from Ohrdrup, Nammelburgh, Stendal,
Soltau, Limburg, and Hamburg.

Germany's Attempt to Divide Belgium

Official Summary of Recent Political Events in Flanders, Issued by the
Belgian Foreign Office

_Germany's plan to divide Belgium by organizing a small group of
"activists" to establish a so-called Council of Flanders for the purpose
of separating the Flemish from the Walloon Provinces, was described in
the April issue of CURRENT HISTORY MAGAZINE, pp. 91-96, along with the
fearless opposition which the attempt created. The following summary of
the case, with a fuller array of dates and details, has since been
prepared by the Belgian Foreign Office at St. Adresse, France, the seat
of King Albert's Government in exile:_

The semi-official Wolff Agency in Berlin announced on Jan. 20, 1918,
that the so-called Council of Flanders had proclaimed the autonomy of
Flanders Dec. 22, 1917. Soon after that action, which had passed
unnoticed and had left Belgian opinion indifferent and scornful, Herr
von Walraff, German Secretary of the Interior, had judged the time
opportune for a trip to Belgium, (Jan. 1, 1918.) The "council," after
getting into close relations with him, had taken up the decree which the
Landtag had intrusted to him on the 4th of February preceding, and had
declared that it would submit itself to a popular referendum.

At length a commission of executive officials was created; it included
heads for the Departments of the Interior, Agriculture, Public Works,
Arts and Sciences, Justice, Finance, Labor, National Defense, Posts and
Telegraph, and the Navy. The German telegraphic agencies sent out this
news in all directions to spread the idea that Flanders was showing an
intention of detaching itself from Belgium, and to give the impression
of a spontaneous popular movement for political separation.

The thought that inspired this intrigue dates back to a period almost
two years earlier. On April 5, 1916, the German Chancellor, in defining
the war aims of Germany before the Reichstag, had outlined the imperial
policy of establishing a protectorate over the Flemings. Later there
were found in Belgium some obscure and discredited citizens who,
betraying their sacred duty, placed themselves in the pay of the
enemy and consented to make themselves the agents and accomplices of the


On Feb. 4, 1917, an assembly composed of 200 Belgians speaking the
Flemish language met and voted for the creation of a "Council of
Flanders." On March 3 this body sent a deputation to Berlin, and the
Chancellor announced to it that "the policy tending toward the
administrative separation would be pursued with all the vigor possible
during the occupation," and that "during the negotiations and after the
conclusion of peace the empire would not cease to watch over the
development of the Flemish race." The German decrees dividing Belgium
into two administrative regions followed close upon these declarations,
(March 21, 1917.)

At the end of 1917 the German authorities believed that the moment had
come to consummate the enterprise by completing the administrative
separation with a political separation. Thus the end would be attained:
Belgium would be dismembered; one part of the country would fall under
vassalage to Germany, and, in case there were no annexation, would
become in a way a sphere of influence for the empire.

The intrigues of the "Council of Flanders" are merely a comedy intended
to mask this policy. The policy rests upon a clever juggling with the
question of languages. Under cover of the principle of free
self-determination of peoples, it seeks to internationalize an internal
problem in the hope of dislocating the Belgian nationality. Perhaps
it also aims at the creation of a fictitious Government which shall
furnish the German Government with the means for opening fallacious
peace negotiations to deceive the world and weaken the cohesion of the
Allies. Many German newspapers have allowed these aims to appear, and
some have boldly unveiled them.


But the strong protests of Flemish communities and of the entire Belgian
Nation have foiled these plans, and the news coming from the occupied
region enables us to determine with precision the character of the rôle
played by the "Council of Flanders." At the same time it attests the
determination of the Belgian people to repel all foreign interference
and to maintain its unity unshaken.

What is this "Council of Flanders"? It has no representative character.
It was created by a private assembly which had no mandate from the
people. It now pretends to seek popular sanction through an election.
This is only a subterfuge. There has been no election. There has been no
consultation of the people. The promoters have limited themselves to
assembling groups of adherents in theatres or restaurants, and causing
gatherings composed of their proselytes, with an admixture of the
curious and the idle, to vote on lists of candidates previously arranged
in the private offices of those who are directing the work.

The Deputies and Senators, in a protest to the Chancellor, thus
denounced the pretense of an election that was organized in Brussels:

A meeting was called at a day's notice in an exhibition hall.
Everybody entered who wished to, Belgians or strangers, men, women,
and children. There were in all 600 or 700 persons. It was these
unknown persons, come together by chance, without control or
guarantee, that in a few moments, as an interlude in a speech,
proclaimed the election of twenty-two Deputies to the "Council of
Flanders" and fifty-two Provincial Councilors, Such was the
expression - without the knowledge of the people - of the will of the
Municipality of Brussels, which has 200,000 electors and almost
1,000,000 inhabitants.


Foreign occupation has not wholly destroyed legitimate and regular
representation in Belgium. The Provincial Councils and the City Councils
are still functioning. The administrative framework of the country
survives. The municipal organization, so solidly rooted, has not ceased
to exercise power. The Provincial and Municipal Councilors, like the
Deputies and Senators, most of whom remain in the country, have been
elected by universal, direct, and secret suffrage. They alone in the
occupied territory are competent to express the true national opinion,
and that opinion is strikingly voiced in the protest of the Flemish and
Walloon members of Parliament, in that of the Common Councils of the
capital and the large cities of Antwerp and Ghent, whose example has
been followed by an increasing number of prominent citizens and local
Governments of smaller towns in Flanders.

It has been demonstrated that the "Council of Flanders" is pursuing an
enterprise of usurpation, that it is a tool of the invader, and that its
members are in reality only agents of the German authorities. They went
to Berlin a year ago to ask for administrative separation. Herr von
Walraff met them at Brussels at the beginning of 1918 to arrange for
political separation. When Tack and Borms were arrested by the Belgian
police on the order of Belgian Magistrates it was the German
functionaries who, by force, compelled their release, and they came out
of prison by the side of the German officer who had liberated them.
It was the Kommandantur of Antwerp that ordered the communal
administration, disregarding its resistance, to authorize the "activist"
demonstration of Feb. 3, and to have this protected by the police, in
violation of orders of the Burgomaster that had been in force nearly
four years. It was the German military headquarters, too, that forbade
all demonstrations of other groups and commandeered the hall of the
Chamber of Commerce, placing it at the disposition of the organizers of
a demonstration judged by the Burgomaster to be one to wound public
sentiment and endanger the public peace.[1]

[Footnote 1: Later the City Councils were forbidden by German authority
to debate political questions, such as the autonomy of Flanders.]

At length Governor General von Falkenhausen stamped the "Council of
Flanders" with the seal of German investiture, deciding by a decree of
Jan. 18, 1918, (published Feb. 10,) that the appointment of the
"council's" delegates was subject to his ratification, and that these
delegates were called to collaborate with him in his legislative labors.

Thus one has the right to conclude that the whole organism of the
"Council of Flanders" is only a foreign tool to serve the enemy in his
designs of division and oppression. The delegates of the council cannot
pretend to any independence, since the decree of Jan. 18 reduces them to
the rôle of functionaries of German authority, named by that authority
and expected to contribute, by their advice, to its political work.


The Belgian people, without distinction of language, party, or
condition, have, by impressive demonstrations, repudiated the faithless
citizens who, joining hands with the enemy, have arrogated to themselves
the right to speak in the name of the Flemings. The Flemings were the
first to condemn the crime. To the protests of the Deputies and Senators
and of the City Councils have been added those of the leading
intellectual and political societies of Flanders. The Flemish Academy
raised its voice to "affirm its fidelity to the Belgian Fatherland and
its King." The Belgian Labor Party proclaimed that "not one of the 800
labor groups composing it, and not one of its authorized leaders, had
been led astray or corrupted by the activist-separatist movement, either
in Flanders or in Wallonia."

In the streets of Antwerp, of Malines, of Brussels, spontaneous
uprisings which the German troops could not suppress voiced the scorn
and anger of the crowds.

Crowning this expression of the popular will and giving it the sanction
of law, the Brussels Court of Appeals, acting upon the protest of the
Deputies and Senators, at a plenary sitting of all its united chambers,
[Feb. 7, 1918,] ordered a hearing which ended in the arrest of delegates
of the "Council of Flanders" on a charge of conspiracy against the form
of the State, interference with public functions, and wicked attacks
against the constitutional authority of the King, the rights of the
chambers, and the laws of the nation. When the German authorities,
protecting the guilty ones and acting in the guise of vengeance, caused
the arrest of the Presidents of the Court, who had come in the august
garb of justice to do their duty, the Court of Cassation, by a decree of
Feb. 11, decided unanimously to suspend its sittings; the Courts of
Appeals in Ghent and Liége, with all the courts of first instance and
the courts of commerce, followed its example. The civic heroism of a
whole people is summed up in that impressive gesture. There is no more
eloquent page in history.

This nation can remain free. It stoically endures the presence and
domination of the enemy in its territory. The foreign occupation that
has lasted three and a half years has not broken its spirit or its will
to resistance. The Flemish, like the Walloon communities, victims of the
most frightful brutalities, subjected to a system of forced labor,
decimated by deportations, have remained immovably faithful to King and
country. The moral unity of the nation has continued intact.


The Flemish question does not imperil this unity. It dates much further
back than the war and has often been a subject of lively debate. It is a
question of interior policy which the nation alone must solve, after the
war, independently, under its own free constitutional powers. Belgium
has had the same Constitution since 1831, and has not dreamed of
altering its principles, unless we except the proclamation of universal
manhood suffrage in 1893. In eighty-three years of peace and prosperity
there was not a single political party that cast doubt upon the validity
of the fundamental charter - an eloquent proof of its plastic vitality
and perfect harmony with the deepest needs of the nation's collective

Equality before the law, (Article 6,) individual liberty, (Articles 7,
8, 9, 10,) liberty of religious faith, (Articles 14 and 15,) freedom in
education, (Article 17,) freedom of the press, (Article 18,) the right
of assembly, (Article 19,) liberty of association, (Article 20,) freedom
as to language, (Article 21) - these are the essential axioms on which
the nation's public life is based.[2]

[Footnote 2: Article 21 of the Constitution reads thus: "Employment of
the languages used in Belgium is optional. It can be regulated only by
law and solely for acts of public authority and for judicial

The Belgian Constitution, after guaranteeing respect for these
fundamental principles, regulates the exercise of political powers, all
of which, it declares, "emanate from the nation." (Article 25.) "The
legislative power is exercised jointly by the King, the House of
Representatives, and the Senate." (Article 26.) The Deputies are elected
directly by all the Belgian citizens who are 25 years old and who have
lived at least one year in the commune, those who fulfill certain
requirements of knowledge or capacity being allowed one or two
supplementary votes. (Article 47.) Senators are elected on the same
principles, with the difference that the voters must be at least 30
years old. The Senate also includes a certain number of members elected
by the Provincial Councils. (Article 53.) For both chambers the voting
is obligatory and secret, and the division of seats is arranged on a
system of proportional representation that safeguards the rights of
minorities. Subject to the responsibility of his Ministers the King
exercises the executive power. (Articles 63 and 64.)

Judicial power is exercised through courts whose members are not subject
to removal. (Articles 99 and 100.) A jury alone can deal with criminal
cases, political charges, and indictments brought against the press.
(Article 98.)

Finally, side by side with the three great political branches, the
provincial and communal Governments deal with all matters of local
interest. Chief among them are - for the commune: the City Council,
elected by direct vote, and the "College of Burgomasters and Aldermen,"
whose members are chosen by the Common Council, with the exception of
the Burgomaster, who is appointed by the King; and for the province: the
Provincial Council, directly elected, the "Permanent Deputation,"
elected by the Provincial Council, and the Governor, who represents the
National Government.


This rapid sketch suffices to show the democratic and liberal nature of
the Belgian Governmental system. Such institutions permit of free
discussion and facilitate the peaceful solution of the most irritating
internal problems. As the protest of the Flemish societies puts it, "The
Flemings are not a conquered nation; they have the same electoral right
as the Walloons; they have all the means for safeguarding their just

Belgium has always lived an intense life, yet this has never compromised
its unity. Three great parties, the Catholic, the Liberal, the
Socialist, struggle for preponderance, and their action extends to all
parts of the country without distinction of language. Each of them
supports an identical program, in Flanders as in Wallonia, regardless of
whether the citizens speak Flemish or French. The party lines have never
corresponded with the linguistic lines. In each are found leaders of the
Flemish movement, whose aspirations have given rise to many speeches,
but have never been repudiated as anti-patriotic. This movement is thus
described by the Flemish societies in their protest against the "Council
of Flanders": "It is the expression of the fundamental principle that
every population possesses the inalienable right to develop itself
according to its own character and its own language, life, and historic
personality." But it remains essentially national and declares itself,
in the document just cited, unalterably hostile to the separation of the
country into two Governments with two capitals, two Ministries, two
Parliaments. The Flemish societies see in separation only "a weakening
that will lead to a catastrophe for the Flemings, as well as for the
Walloons." They add:

Our most sacred political and economic interests are menaced by
these absurd plans. The organic whole which has made of Belgium,
through its commerce and industry, its rivers, ports and railways,
its agriculture and workingmen, all working together under a single
Government through scores of years, an economic power of the first
order, would be dissolved, artificially weakened by contradictory
influences, enervated by divergent official policies. The narrow
particularism which in the past and present has done so much harm
would dominate. The balance between the different political,
religious, and social tendencies in our country would be destroyed,
and Belgium would be left in a state of crisis which, through long
years, would render almost impossible the relief of the country and
the curing of the wounds caused by the war.


In the years before the war the Belgian Parliament passed several laws
intended to assure to the Flemish language the place that belongs to it
in the national life, especially in the administrative, judicial, and
educational departments. It will suffice to recall the law of May 12,
1910, on secondary schools, and the law of July 2, 1913, on languages in
the army, making a knowledge of Flemish and French obligatory for
admission to the National Military School. At the moment when the war
broke out the Parliament was considering a proposition tending to
organize Flemish high schools, and in a report to the King, Oct. 8,
1916, the Government declared itself "convinced that immediately upon
the re-establishment of peace a general agreement of favorable
sentiments, which it will try to promote, will assure to the Flemings,
both in the higher schools and in all the others, that complete
equality, in right and in fact, which ought to exist under the
guarantees of our Constitution." (Moniteur, Oct. 8-14, 1916.)

Only after the war can the Government solve the problems arising out of
the Flemish movement. The promoters of that movement themselves deplore
the intervention of an alien power and scorn the traitors who have
conspired with the enemy, accepting money and positions at his hand. It
is as loyal Belgian citizens, they declare, that they are striving for
reforms from which they expect a fuller intellectual development of
Flemish communities, and they see in such culture a new force of unity
for the nation, from which they by no means wish to be separated.


_Baron de Broqueville, the Belgian Prime Minister, said to a
correspondent of The London Times:_

The Belgian people, after three and a half years of the most grinding
oppression, have shown by the courageous defiance of enemy bayonets
which brought about the collapse of the "activist" plot, that they have
lost none of their sturdy resolve to be free; that the spirit which

Online LibraryVariousCurrent History, Vol. VIII, No. 3, June 1918 → online text (page 23 of 30)