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   Chapter 9 THE BELGIAN SACRIFICE

The Audacious War By Clarence W. Barron Characters: 12231

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


No Migration from Belgium-Germany's War Tax

Levies-Irreconcilable-The Army-No Neutrality over Belgium.

Before Germany launched her thunderbolts of war, Belgium had an industrious, frugal, hard-working, saving population of nearly 8,000,000 people. Of these, 450,000 are now refugees in Holland, where the magnanimous Dutch are providing for them with no outside assistance. Queen Wilhelmina declares, "These are our guests and we will care for them." Nearly 30,000 Belgian troops have also been interned in Holland. It was expected that they might leak out, but the Dutch are stern in their present position of neutrality. They understand their very existence depends upon it. Some of the interned warriors attempted to escape, and six were shot by the Dutch. Nor will they permit contraband articles of war to go through their country. While the Dutch may sell their own supplies as they please, all imports of rubber, copper, or petroleum must be accounted for, and their re?xport to Germany is forbidden.

Germany also holds 30,000 Belgian soldiers as prisoners. England took 18,000 severely wounded Belgian soldiers into her hospitals, and 80,000 refugees are being there cared for largely by private enterprise. The losses by the war are difficult of estimation. But at the present time there are 7,000,000 people in Belgium, most of whom must be fed by the outside world.

Belgium is the one nation from which the people have never migrated. Beyond war there is only one power that can move the Belgians from their soil, and that is the influence of the Church.

Representatives of American railroad and industrial interests are in Europe endeavoring to induce emigration from Belgium to the United States, but it is doubtful if these efforts will meet with any success. There are in the United States to-day only two Belgian settlements, one of about 1000 people in Montana and one of about 1500 in western New York. The Belgian loves his land and sits by his home though it be in ruins. The history of the land of the Belgians shows that, as the cockpit of Europe, it was the battle-ground of centuries; yet her people are more immobile than those of any other country in Europe. Earthquakes do not make sunny Italy or golden California less attractive to their inhabitants.

About $20,000,000 (more than 10 per cent of this came from Belgian people) has been raised to feed starving Belgians, and $20,000,000 more should be forthcoming.

The English war office objected at first to the American proposals for food supplies to the little country. It was held to be the duty of the invading Germans to feed the population of the conquered country, as the Germans had appropriated large stores of supplies that were in Belgium, notably at Antwerp.

England finally assented to the proposal, as well she might, for Belgium would starve without food from the outside, irrespective of war losses. In normal times, she imports 240,000 tons of food every month. She also imports most of her raw supplies for manufacturing. Belgium is, therefore, to-day without food, or raw materials for her industries, and probably without outlet had her industries the ability to produce. Although about fifty ships are bringing food to Belgium, they are of small capacity and in the aggregate represent less than one month's supply. In the early part of December about 80,000 tons of food were going through the American committee by permission of Germany and England. The people have been put on one-third rations. Every inhabitant of Belgium is allowed a pint of soup a day and about as much coarse brown bread as would make one American loaf.

The German idea of responsibility and power is that of force. They have ordered the people of Belgium to love them, co?perate with them, and go about their business. But the Belgians refuse to love the Germans, refuse to co?perate with them and will not resume their work for the Germans to appropriate the results. The people of Antwerp were invited to come back from Holland and it was proclaimed that there would be no indemnity levied, yet a huge one came down upon the city. The Germans levied a war tax of 50,000,000 francs on Brussels, and Rothschild and Solvay are not permitted to leave the city.

Payment on the tax was agreed to, and then the Germans demanded 500,000,000 francs from the entire province of Brabant, which includes Louvain as well as Brussels. The inhabitants said it was impossible and the demand was reduced to 375,000,000 francs. The inference must be that the latter levy covers a term of years.

The Germans are provoked that the bank money got out of Belgium. The Bank of Belgium sent its gold reserve to the Bank of England, 600,000,000 francs, and Germany demanded that this reserve be transferred from England to a neutral country; but, of course, England refused. There are some banks still doing business in Belgium, but the Belgians reject the German money except when obliged to take it.

The Belgian stores remain closed for the major part, and the Germans threaten that unless the Belgians reopen and proceed with business they will confiscate the stores and sell them to Germans who will do business. The people of Antwerp must be in bed by 9 o'clock. The people of Liége are ordered to retire at 7 P.M. No Belgian is permitted the use of a telephone, the entire system having been appropriated by the military authorities.

The Germans have decreed German time, which is one hour different from that of London, but the Belgian people refuse to set over their watches and clocks. The Belgian railroad system is different from that of the Germans,-left-handed tracks and a different system of signalling. The Belgians refuse to do the bidding of the Germans and operate the railroads. The Germans must move the trains themselves.

The Germans do not hate the Belgians. They simply pity them, that they were so shortsighted as not to accept German gold for right of passage through the country. The German hate is reserved entirely for the English above all people on the surface of the globe. In Belgium 200 m

arks reward is offered for the capture of any Englishman found in that domain.

The latest response to Bernhardi's book, "England the Vassal of Germany," is Kipling's poem in the King Albert book issued December 16 to augment the Belgian Relief Fund. I clip two verses:-

They traded with the careless earth,

And good return it gave;

They plotted by their neighbor's hearth

The means to make him slave.

When all was readied to their hand

They loosed their hidden sword

And utterly laid waste a land

Their oath was pledged to guard.

After the German Kaiser sounded the battle sentiment of Europe by sending the warship "Panther" to Agadir three years ago in violation of the treaty of Algeciras, it was intimated by the French and the English that Belgian neutrality might be in danger; also that the Lord and the Allies helped those who help themselves.

Therefore, a bill was introduced in Belgium's Capital providing for the raising of an army of 600,000 men where before were 46,000 and a war footing of 147,000. The leader of the Catholic party opposed the programme, declaring that Belgian neutrality was guaranteed by Germany, France, and England. A compromise was effected by which an army of less than half this number was authorized.

When on Sunday evening, August 2d, at 7 P.M., the German ultimatum was handed to Belgium, she was given twelve hours or until morning to declare whether or not the country would be surrendered to the free passage of the German war battalions. Belgium had then an army of 200,000 men; 60,000 volunteers sprang to arms, and that 260,000 was the maximum Belgian army that attempted to withstand the millions of Germany's armed forces. Even these were not effectively placed. The 30,000 men at the frontier were not sufficient to permit of any effective sorties to protect the approaches to the Liége fortifications. It was a forlorn hope from a military standpoint, but for three weeks the Belgians with shrinking forces held in check the war power of Germany. Every week help was expected from the Allies, but no help came, for no country in Europe outside of Germany and Austria had any expectation of war.

Down to the ground and their graves fought the plucky little Belgians, until they numbered, not 260,000, but nearer 60,000. After every able-bodied man in Belgium was demanded by King Albert, the ranks of the Belgians began to swell, and, with able-bodied refugees returned from England, there are now about 120,000 men in the ten divisions of the Belgian army.

But England carries, as she ought, the financial burden. She feeds, clothes, and equips the Belgians and furnishes the money-supply. The Germans still strive, not so much against the Allies as against the English in Belgium. Here the fighting is fiercest, casualties are greatest, and here the reinforcements on both sides are the greatest per mile of line.

Meanwhile the more than a million Germans in Belgium have trenched across the whole country, rebuilt the forts at Namur, Liége, Antwerp, and other places, and are digging themselves into the ground doggedly and determinedly, and with as great precision and more science than the Allies. The German trenches are rather better made and the machinery for trenching has been, of course, better prepared by the Germans.

The great surprise of the war was the demonstration in Belgium that forts costing millions, in defense of cities, are absolutely useless against the big German shells. The defense at Liége was prolonged because the Germans could not at first find the exact location of the central defense. Finally a German approached bearing a large white flag of truce. Belgian orders were given to receive him. The German, under his flag of truce, signalled the desired information and then fell. Soon after, fell the fort. The Germans had found the desired range, and shot. At Antwerp a single shell was able to put an entire fortress out of business.

It is the Landwehr and the older men that have been called by Germany to do duty in Belgium, while the younger troops are sent back and forth between the eastern and western frontier defences.

An American who has lately been all through Belgium, representing both commercial interests and charity work, tells me;-

"I left America absolutely neutral. I was not a student of the war or of the cause of the war. What I saw in Belgium convinced me that the Allies must win and will win. I am no longer neutral. What I saw in Belgium of the wanton destruction of villages, towns, and cities has prejudiced me as no argument could have done. The Allies' losses will begin when they take the offensive against the German works which are now being constructed. Soon England will have 600,000 more men on the Continent and there will be more doing.

"The losses of the Germans have been two or three times the losses of the Allies in the Belgian trenches, because the Germans have been the attacking parties. If the Allies become the attacking parties they will have to sustain the heavy losses. But I cannot see it otherwise than that the Allies must win. The crime against Belgium is the greatest crime since Calvary, and it has set the whole world against Germany.

"It is not only a crime, but it was a military error, for to-day Germany has 600 miles of front to defend, 300 east and 300 west, and her losses have been enormous. At Liége 7000 Germans went down in a single day's fighting. One man I met assisted to bury 500 Germans in front of a single trench.

"I do not believe Brussels is mined; but if ever the Germans got into

Paris they would destroy the whole city before they left.

"I shudder to think what the Germans will suffer at the hands of the Belgians when once the rout of the Germans has been begun by the Allies. The Belgians are unreconciled, and if they ever get weapons in their hands-well, I will not predict, I will just tell you one fact: I traveled the length and breadth of the land, saw the women and the children sitting by their ruined hearthstones, but I never saw a tear on the cheek of a Belgian."

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