Great Speeches of the War/Hymans


[Speech by the Belgian Ambassador in London on Belgium and the Right, at the University of Lyons, January 30, 1915.]

I should like first of all to recall to your mind the two treaties of 1831, signed by England, France, Prussia, Austria, and Russia, and that of 1839, approved by Holland, which guaranteed the independence of Belgium, and declared it to be a neutral state for all time.

A German jurist states that the duty of a neutral state is "to abstain from every aggression, to watch over the inviolability of its territory, and as a consequence not to allow one of the belligerents to use it as a base of operations for hostilities against the other." In return the Powers who guaranteed the neutrality have duties towards Belgium, which another German jurist, the famous Bluntschli, formulates as follows: "If the nations which have guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium do not defend her against an invader, and do not keep to their engagements, they are guilty of the violation of the Right."

Now until 1914 Belgium has scrupulously kept to her engagements: in 1914 Germany has brutally violated hers. And yet, during the last few years, whenever there arose a diplomatic crisis, Germany every time made reassuring declarations to Belgium. In 1911 Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg stated "that Germany had no intention of violating the neutrality of Belgium." In 1913, in answer to a socialist deputy on the committee of the Budget in the Reichstag, von Jagow replied: "The neutrality of Belgium is settled by international treaties which Germany will most certainly respect."

Right up to the very last moment Germany unceasingly sought to captivate the confidence of Belgium. On August 1, when the French Minister, M. Klobukowski, promised that France would respect the neutrality of Belgium, the German Minister, von Below, said that he was not authorized to make an official communication, but he added that "they knew his personal opinion with regard to the security which Belgium had the right to expect from her eastern neighbours." On August 2, at three o'clock in the afternoon, von Below, interviewed by a Belgian journalist, stated: "Perhaps your neighbour's roof will be set on fire, but your house will be saved." Therefore when at 8 o'clock I met the King's Secretary and learnt from him that an hour before, the German Minister had asked the Minister for Foreign Affairs to grant him an interview, we both supposed that he had come to bring a fresh assurance of his government to respect the Belgian neutrality. Alas! the tragedy had begun, and it was the ultimatum that had been handed in. At ten o'clock in the evening, the Cabinet met at the Palace. There were two policies: to sell themselves, to accept gold—much gold—betray Europe, accept Germany's friendship, or remain faithful to their pledges and save their honour. The Cabinet did not hesitate. To gold they preferred honour—to friendship they preferred liberty.

Never shall I forget that historic night, pregnant with momentous and fateful issues, how, when there dawned the morning of a beautiful summer's day, I crossed the city still asleep and thought with a heavy heart: "What an awakening!"

Belgium sprang to arms with one heart and soul, and with but one cry: "All for honour, all for our country."

Germany has now at last understood the shame with which her brutal aggression has covered her in the eyes of the world, and she has sought to wash away the stain of mud and blood from her hands. She has invented pretexts, explanations, excuses, calumnies—labour lost! Impartial history will always remember the statement of the Chancellor in the Reichstag: "We violate the right of nations, but the security of the Empire makes it necessary, and necessity knows no law." Impartial history will also record the words of the Chancellor when addressing the English Ambassador, Sir Edward Goschen: "Neutrality is only a word; the treaty, is but a scrap of paper."

Then began the war, an unjust war against the pledged word and right. And what a war! Devastation and systematic terrorism! In the general confusion, most people clung to the hope that the idea of Right had so penetrated men's minds that the war would be accompanied by the minimum of cruelty, that human and chivalrous methods would prevail. Vain illusion! Belgium has suffered the atrocities of German warfare, fire, pillage, massacre, wholesale slaughter of innocent women and children, and crimes unmentionable. How the world will shudder when it reads the "Red Book," the book of horrors!

Doubtless war is war, it is not afternoon tea! You can excuse individual outrages, the unbridling of instincts on the part of a soldiery in delirium, of brutes drunk with fury and blood. But how can you forgive deliberate outrages committed by order? A Belgian lady, whose care and devotion had healed a German soldier, begged him, on saying good-bye, to wage war with mercy, and not to massacre the women and children. The soldier replied: "We must, we have to do it." Alas! no truer word! It is massacre by order! We have unimpeachable proofs of it, A placard affixed in Hasselt on August 17 bears these words: "In the case where inhabitants fire on the soldiers of the German army, a third of the male population will be shot."

On August 22 General von Bulow imposed on the town of Wavre a war tax of 3,000,000 francs, and the Burgomaster received this notice: "The town of Wavre will be burnt and destroyed if payment is not made on the stated day; without respect of any one, the innocent will suffer with the guilty." On October 5, a notice affixed in Brussels gave a list of the depredations committed on the railway, telegraph, and telephone lines and added: "In the future, the places nearest the spots where similar misdeeds are done—it matters not whether they are accomplices or not—will be punished without mercy."

Belgium has suffered a cruel martyrdom. Her fields laid waste, her houses destroyed, her towns and monuments ransacked—Dinant, which mired herself in the clear waters of the Meuse; Dixmude, graceful and coquettish; Ypres, crowned with her majestic halles; Louvain, with her treasure houses and her priceless library. A million Belgians are exiled from their country—families are separated; terrible physical sufferings, still greater moral sufferings. But in all her suffering and martyrdom there still remains to us the pride and consolation of our Army—all that remains to unfortunate Belgium. Our Army still stands and fights on. It was with anxious hearts that the members of the government watched it, on the day of mobilization, dash itself against the German Colossus; these lads, accustomed to peace, absorbed in intellectual pursuits or being trained for business, how would they behave on the battlefield? They have shown themseves to be an army of heroes. It was the epopée of Liege, Louvain, Antwerp, the banks of the Yser, where for a fortnight it held fast in the mud and under the devastating fire! What a tragic sight is that of the phalanx now hanging on to a shred of territory, which after all is still the Fatherland!

What splendid men have sprung from Belgian soil; to whom history will pay homage! Leman, the heroic defender of Liege, who barely escaped death under the ruins of his fort. Adolphus Max, who, by his brave and firm stand, subdued Teutonic arrogancy; Cardinal Mercier, clothed in his purple, grave and dignified, the personification of Christian grandeur; King Albert, who does his duty simply and nobly, and symbolizes in all eyes the heroism of integrity; and last our Queen, the good fairy of Belgian hospitals, who showers on the wounded her gracious and kindly acts.

Germany, carried away by her monstrous selfishness, has torn up treaties, has proclaimed the law of might; we Belgians stand to defend the right and civilization. What could be higher than that?

What would become of the modern world if the first place was given to the perfection of material power, the technique of homicide? The aim of civilization is to curb physical cravings, to discipline intellectual energies, to spiritualize and moralize life. What would happen if instincts were allowed to be unbridled without any restraint, if good faith disappeared, if the great lights of justice and fraternity were extinguished? The world would then be only a chaos of abject materialism, it would sink into the abyss of barbarism, the work of centuries would have to begin again.

Belgium represents the right of existence of small nations. In the name of what principle does a nation powerful in numbers and in armament seek to destroy or absorb a neighbouring nation less strong and smaller? Is it because small nations have no spiritual qualities? Belgium by her customs, her institutions, her social progress, by the radiancy of her art and poetry fills a special niche in the concert of civilized nations. What right has this German Kultur to wish to impose itself on other cultures? The doctors beyond the Rhine, in the intoxication of their pride, declare that it is the mission of their country to subdue other nations. But in this German Kultur, there is lacking the respect, the care of the individual, the sense of individuality. The German idea of the State is a formidable machine, managed by a privileged caste, and of which man is only an infinitely small and automatic wheel. And I think, on the other hand that the best and true culture is that which seeks to expand the faculties of man, to develop the conscience and feeling of individual responsibility.

Belgium will live because it has the right to live, and our dead bear witness that she wishes to live. She will live in quietness, making progress, seeking a just and durable peace. Looking beyond the sorrows of the present hour, I see a Belgium wounded, but standing erect, prouder and more beautiful. According to a saying of General Leman, "The wounds of glory heal quickly."

The Allies are fighting for this resurrection of Belgium, they have drawn the sword in a noble cause, and they will not sheath it until the Right has been avenged. Belgium, mother of heroes, martyr for the Right—immortal Belgium! [Prolonged applause.]