- from Collier's Magazine November 9, 1918
- 'Would Belgium Accept a German Peace?'
- by Henry Rood
Suppositions of an Unlikely Kind
a ruined Belgian village
With 96 per cent of her total area under the steel-shod heel of a remorseless and despotic enemy, with approximately 90 per cent of her population held in virtual captivity by the huge German military machine which overwhelmed her without warning in the summer of 1914, all that is left of tiny Belgium still stands firm and unafraid.
On Saturday, September 28, her army of possibly 150,000 men actually started an offensive against the German veterans facing her. This little army has held a sector of the western front said to be longer, in proportion to the troops holding it, than any other held by the Allies.
The Belgian Government still has its seat at Havre, which the King visits on errands of state when he can leave his troops in the field. The national affairs are conducted primarily by a council whose members resemble ministers without portfolio. Foreign legations are still maintained throughout the world excepting in enemy countries.
Thousands upon thousands of civilian Belgians, who escaped capture when the Hun descended on their little land, are still making guns and ammunition in Belgian factories, erected and operated in France and in England. While Germany has not a single one of her vast colonial possessions left, Belgian capital and brains in the Belgian Congo are producing great quantities of gold, rubber, petroleum, and other valuable raw materials; in the last year Belgium has taken 30,000 tons of copper out of that rich colony.
The picture presented by heroic Belgium, in the autumn of 1918, is sublime. The annals of mankind, ancient or modern, scarcely contain its equal. And it is reflected from official documents provided by M. Emile de Cartier, Belgian Minister at Washington. This documentary evidence, as well as comments thereupon by M. de Cartier and his legation staff, give convincing reasons why Belgium, like France, will never consent to a "negotiated" peace, or any other "German settlement." Belgium has given up all but the shreds of her national existence. She has suffered too much, sacrificed too much, to consider anything short of smashing the Hun so thoroughly that he can never again hope to repeat the horrible orgy of blood in which he has bathed half the world. In the eyes of Belgium, anything short of this would be supreme folly. Rather than a "negotiated" peace with the international outlaw, Belgium would fight on to her last man, to the last square foot of the little territory left her, and, if need be, make the final sacrificeher complete blotting out as a national entity. But that this tragic possibility would ever be hers, Belgium has not believed for an instant; and now she sees the dawn of a day of peace and liberty. No wonder Belgium feels that, with this now certain and steadily approaching, all she has borne is worth while. And what has she done in the world conflagration? If you ask the King, the Queen, or the Belgian Minister at Washington, the reply will be brief and simple: "Belgium has tried to do her duty."
Nothing more, unless you press for details; then you are referred to official documents, showing concretely some of the things little Belgium has gone through, some of the things she has accomplished, while "trying to do her duty." And certain of these sacrifices, certain of these achievements, should be kept in mind by an American public which for many months has heard little about them.
When Germany smashed her way into Belgium, that fateful day in August, 1914, the Belgian field army numbered 117,000 men. For ten days, at Liege 30,000 Belgian troops under General Leman held a force of 130,000 Prussians under Von Emmich a miracle of resistance, on a front of thirty miles, which succeeded in inflicting heavy losses on an enemy four to five times superior in number. This obstinate resistance by Belgian troops at Liege retarded the general German advance by at least ten daysduring which the French General Staff had opportunity to throw additional forces toward the Belgian frontier; while the first British Expeditionary Force was being hurriedly ferried across the Channel and getting under way on French soil. No man can tell what might have happened had the little force of 30,000 Belgians at Liege failed in the hour of crisis, confronted by 130,000 picked Prussians, armed as no other soldiers ever had been armed before. Again, on the Yser, from October 16 to October 30, 1914, a force of 48,000 Belgians, worn out by two months of incessant fighting, had to withstand a terrific onslaught by German hordes determined to reach Calais. Supported at the outset by only one brigade of French marines, the Belgians had to hold a line of twenty-two miles against an onrush of 100,000 fresh German troops aided by 350 guns. The Belgians had been asked to hold out for two days, and actually did hold out for a fortnight. At the end of six days French re-enforcements arrived, and eight days later the battle was over, the enemy having been ejected by Franco - Belgian counterattack. The Belgian army had been reduced from 48,000 to 32,000 bayonetsbut the Germans had left 40,000 men dead among the fields of the Yser. These are samples of the Belgian fighting spirit.
There is no large city in that little corner of Belgium which is still free, hut there are a number of small villages. As, however, all are within reach of German artillery, the civilian population generally has moved elsewhere: to Holland, France, England, etc., so that at present only about 10,000 non-combatants reside in "Free Belgium." And it is next to impossible to maintain channels of communication with the 7,000,000 Belgians still under the control of German soldiers in the occupied regions. None the less, information occasionally is smuggled through, despite the terrors and penalties of the German military censorship. No attempt will be made here to recount the shocking and hideous atrocities on helpless Belgians, systematically perpetrated by command of the Imperial German Government, and carried out to the full by fiends in the shape of German soldiers. They are known to all the earth, and never will be forgotten unless human memory ceases to function. But other sacrifices made by Belgium may be recalled in order to understand why she never, under any circumstances, would consider a peace short of complete surrender by the Kaiser's remaining hordes. Now what are some of the deeds of piracy Germany has inflicted on "occupied" Belgium?
All of the 7,000,000 Belgians in that invaded region are in virtual captivity. More than 100,000 men, women, and children of fourteen and over have been deported enslaved and sent to Germany as slaveswhile a very considerable number have been compelled by force to work under German overseers behind the German lines, within a few miles of the front trenches, facing the armies of England or France, under constant danger from shell fire and in utter defiance of the provisions of international law as well as the usage of civilized nations.
Between August, 1914, and March, 1917, German troops had seined from their Belgian owners 180,000 horses and mules, according to German figures; the best mares and stallions were sold in the markets of Cologne and Diissel-dorf as spoils of war. Enormous quantities of grain were likewise seized, nearly all of this property without any payment whatever. Cereals, vegetables, milk, cattle, sheep, rabbits, wheat, potatoesnothing was overlooked by the invading hosts. From Liege alone 20,000 horses were looted. On February 25, 1915, the "Muenchner Neueste Nachrichten" stated that even that early the whole profit realized by the Germans behind the western front might be placed at $500,000,000; and constituted a "magnificent victory for Germany." An engaging pictureas of a six-foot ruffian stealing a stick of candy from a helpless child after he has knocked the child down and has broken a limb or two in order to discourage protest! The extraordinary prosperity of Belgium prior to the war was due in large part to her rich coal deposits; 150,000 Belgian mine workers produced 25,000,-000 tons of fuel, all of which was used at home; and Belgium was known as "the workshop of Europe" because of the multitude and variety of her manufacturing industries. As soon as possible the Germans systematically set to work to wreck the more important industries, of which Germany long had been insanely jealous, planning by their physical ruin to leave a clear field for Germany's factories in futurewhen her ambitious and successful industrial rival had been put down and out permanently. This is a point not always understood by Americans, who usually think Germany had but one objecta military object in invading Belgium and enslaving its people while ruining their industries. As a matter of fact, '"military necessity," as evidenced by the "scrap of paper," did come first; but of almost equal importance, in German eyes, was the utter ruin of Belgium's industries. The coal mines seized, and miners forced to work, the Germans calmly sent the Belgian coal into their Fatherlandand let the Belgians freeze as well as starve. As recently as the summer of 1917 there was still a little fuel for Belgians themselves, and at the pit head it cost from $6.25 to $7.50 per ton. But last winter Belgians whom the Germans permitted to live in Brussels had to pay from $50 to $60 per ton for their own coalwhen they were allowed to have any.
Hand in hand with destruction of Belgian industrial plants has gone the ' ruin of public and private woodlands by the Hun invaders. In the Ardennes region whole forests have been destroyed, this damage being wholly distinct from shell fire, incendiarism, etc., or reasons of military strategy. It is part of Germany's systematic program to raid the economic resources of the Belgian nation for the carefully planned purpose of eliminating competition in future years. Agriculture, mines, forests, animal husbandry, mills, shops, factoriesnothing escapes the Hun invader; loot, spoliation, destruction everywhere, in order that he may have a clear field for his own industry and commerce during peaceful decades and thereby achieve an "economic conquest" of the world which refuses to submit to military and political subjugation.
During the present year a Belgian lawyer escaped from the invaded area of his country and brought data as to conditions there. A statement of his recital is furnished by the Belgian Legation at Washington, and it says that between 1913 and April, 1918, a pound of meat had risen in price from 35 cents (American money) to $2; a pound of butter from 35 cents to $3.50. Prom 1913 to 1917 bacon had risen from 50 cents a pound to $2.50; a quart of milk from 10 cents to 50 cents; eggs from 24 cents a dozen to $3; sugar from 6 cents to $1.60 a pound; and potatoes from 1 cent a pound to 25 cents. Before the war began an average family of two adults and two children could live well by spending $230 a year for food. The same family to-day would have to spend more than $1,200 for the same food. As a result of German rule and German Kultur in Belgium there are now in excess of 100 per cent more cases of tuberculosis among Belgians than prior to 1914. The Belgian mortality rate in the invaded areas has risen from 8.5 per thousand to 19.20, and the birth rate has decreased from 17 per thousand to 13.7 a ghastly revelation, vividly picturing the hellish thoroughness with which human health has been undermined in an innocent, pitiable little land.
When the forces of the Kaiser took possession of Belgium his man Von Bissing imposed on the occupied territory a "war contribution" of $8,000,000 per month. On November 20, 1916, this was increased to $10,000,000 per month, and on June 10, 1917, the German pirate still further increased the sum to $12,000,000 per month. Up to June 10, 1918, the total of these forced "war contributions" had amounted to $398,000,000, to which must be added $43,-000,000 levied on separate towns and provincesmaking a grand total of $441,000,000 up to June of the present year wrung out of the Belgian people.
To Her Last Man
Even the Red Cross did not escape the voracious rapacity of the German savages. A part of the Belgian Red Cross work with the Belgian army has been performed on the Yser; and it was for this particular work that early in 1915 generous Americans gave about $150,000 through Mme. Depage, who was among those whom German assassins murdered on the Lusitania. Another portion, however, had remained in active operation for relief work within the invaded areas.
It was in this same Lusitania year, 1915, that the German oppressors commanded the Belgian Red Cross within the German military lines to devote its activity to a work called "Aid and Protection to Women, by Employment." Mindful of their charter, the Belgium Red Cross refused.
When this was reported to Von Bissing, then Governor General of Belgium, on April 14, 1915, he ordered the Belgian Red Cross to turn over all its property, money, and archives to Count von Hatzfeld, and upon receiving prompt refusal he lost no time in carrying out the order by military force. The International Red Cross Committee lodged formal protest against this lawless, unwarranted, and barbaric action.
In spite of the awful conditions forcibly imposed during four years, the Belgians, even in the occupied areas, steadfastly continue their forms of government as far as they are permitted to do so. Undeterred by the overshadowing presence of the Hun, they refuse to give up their freedom of spirit, no matter in how many respects their freedom of action and of speech is forbidden. At present the most poignant regret of these 7,000,000 captive Belgians is that they are not allowed to know what is happening in the great world outside their sealed borders. Formerly aircraft occasionally dropped leaflets telling the Belgians that the Entente Allies were still fighting and dying for the cause of human liberty which they represent; that new resources were being found; that they must keep up their courage.
But of late months even this mode of communication has ceased. Occasionally, however, an exhausted army pigeon, bringing back a message, can be captured without discovery, and then the Belgians know what is going on in Europe, Asia, and America.
If the Germans Were Here?
It is difficult for an American to visualize the situation of the Belgian people, because their country is so small its total area being less by almost a thousand square miles than that of Maryland. And as for "Free Belgium," it is only one-third the size of Rhode Island. [Mr. Rood's article was written before the capture of Roulers.]
Let it be repeated that 96 per cent of Belgian territory, and 90 per cent of the Belgian people, are under the merciless control of German invaders. If corresponding conditions prevailed, relatively, in America, the Kaiser's armies would be in absolute possession, would be committing robbery and loot, rapine and brutality of every kind, in all but one of our commonwealths. The German sword would be dealing out death, and worse than death, throughout the entire United States excepting the State of California, and even there would be in occupation of the northeast corner Siskiyou, Modoc, and Lassen Counties. And the entire American people would be in captivity excepting a number approximately equal to the population of New England and New Jersey, while more than 1,250,000 innocent, law-abiding American citizens (men, women, boys, and girls of fourteen and over) would have been deported as slaves for the Teutonic taskmaster.
Is it difficult to understand why Belgium would fight on, accepting even national extinction, rather than submit to any kind of a "German peace"?
Back to Index