An Appeal by G. K. Chesterton
I HOPE that a generous response will still be made to Dr. Sarolea’s eloquent and renewed appeal for the Belgian Relief Fund. Dr. Sarolea has a double right to speak of the crime and tragedy in Flanders, for he has not only seen it happening, but foreseen it before it happened. In his book on ” The Anglo-German Problem ” he contemplated, along with many other things that have since come true, the recent violation of Belgium, though I do not suppose he contemplated its being anything so infernal as what his eyes have seen in Antwerp and along the Belgian roads. But, apart from all personal claims, there is a particular urgency and importance in the cause he pleads, and I for one should say, with a full sense of responsibility to the many just claims on us all, that if any charity has to suffer, it ought not to be this one.
There are certain quite unique and arresting features about the case of Belgium. To begin with, it cannot be too much considered what a daring stroke of statesmanship far-sighted, perhaps, but of frightful courage the King of the Belgians ventured in resisting at all. Of that statesmanship we had the whole advantage, and Belgium the whole disadvantage : she saved France, she saved England herself she could not save. This is not the case of a little people in Asia or Africa who have no other course but to fight or be exterminated or sold into slavery. The Belgians had another course : they could have looked the other way while the Prussians crossed their country, so to speak, with their boots off. It is quite clear that even the Prussians, at the very beginning, wished to make it easy for them : the first messages from the German diplomatists spoke of respect for independence and sovereignty ; the first soldiers from Aix and the Rhineland spoke to the natives of a mere piece of assistance among neighbours. It is true that Germany did not keep it up long. But that is the psychology ; and an exceedingly interesting psychology it is. I do not know what the word ” Junker ” precisely means something like ” puppy,” I imagine but evidently what the North Prussians call an aristocrat is some sort of allotropic form of what we call a cad. Now the most sacred stamp and seal of the cad is this that he cannot be courteous, even when he really wants to be. Even when it is his interest to smile, he only manages to sneer. A man may smile and smile and be a villain, because villains are often gentlemen indeed, generally gentlemen. But if he be a cad as well, he does not smile and smile : he smiles and stiffens. He is “struck so,” as the nurses say. He is the kind of man who manages to get himself disinherited by the very death-bed of his own millionaire mother, for nothing one can define, except that the very shape of his face is irreligious, and that ” Amen ” sticks in his throat as in Macbeth’s. He is of the sort that are kicked out of houses for their heartiness. There are people, certainly, whose conciliation is as rude as their aggression : and they exist in public as well as private affairs.
In this sense it is true that the attempts of the Prussian to be polite have something about them monstrous and amusing, like a bear on its hind-legs He cannot keep it up sometimes not even to the end of a sentence. It is particularly entertaining in his appeals to neutral Powers. His utterances always end so very differently from the way in which they began. He says, in effect, to a country like Holland, ” We salute your delightful dykes. Our culture contemplates your pleasing canals. Your army is under the protection of our never-to-be-broken word and lucky for it, for one Pomeranian Grenadier could kick all your waddling regiments into the Zuyder Zee.” Having put the Dutchman at his ease, the Prussian turns, let us say, to the Switzer and says, “Schiller has written of William Tell. Hoch the William Tell ! How fortunate for that hero that he did not have to face the Krupp howitzer with his little bow and arrow ! As you are a neutral Power, it will be unnecessary to exhibit our engines for blowing up the Rigi and removing the Lake of Geneva to the Palmen Garten at Frankfort.” Leaving the Switzer in raptures, he will turn to the philosophic Dane and say, “My own old, humble, and grateful friend ! I will protect you. I protected a bit of you just before 1870 ; and I’ll protect a lot more unless you jolly well do as I tell you. Just look at this gun ! ” Without waiting for the delighted thanks of Denmark, he will turn to the United States and offer not to lay waste the whole of that country ; or to Italy, and explain when and why he will not hang the Pope. Then, when he finds he is not so popular as he thought, his heart will bleed, and he will say the sword is forced into his hand, and that he ” has not a friend in the wide world.” Which is probably the case.
It is true, then, that the Prussian style is apt to be awkward, even when the Prussian policy is pacific. I know nothing more characteristic than a phrase which occurred in an excellent German article, an article urging the Germans to abstain from their outrages on ecclesiastical art. It said especially that a certain mediaeval building should be specially sacred because studies were made in it by some German whose name I cannot spell. I know nothing against or about the gentleman, but I think that by the time I had brought myself to act in entire contempt of the House of God and the history of Joan of Arc, the memory of the German gentleman would sit lightly on me. There is this awkwardness in their most well-meaning efforts. They seem incapable even of apologizing without bragging. But though conciliatory attitudes are a great strain on them, and are never kept up for long, that should not make us forget what it is due to Belgium to remember that the first attitude towards Belgium was, in form, conciliatory, and was kept up just long enough to have allowed Belgium to avoid her heroic trial had she chosen. Fountains of German flattery were doubtless ready to flow for her if she had chosen to facilitate the German plan however passively and negatively. In a sense she could still have saved her face ; but she preferred to save Europe. This, it seems to me, gives her a claim on something beyond pity or even gratitude a claim on our intellectual honour beyond anything that even suffering- could extort. She had faith in our policy almost before we had one. She answered for our truth and virtue before we answered ourselves. For one awful hour she found herself alone in Europe ; and yet she answered for Europe. And she answered right. In that enormous circle of silence the first shot from Liége was the answer of Christendom. That little country, with its pattern of bright fields as tidy as a chess-board, with its medley of medieval cities as carved and quaint as the chess-men, found somewhere i itself, and by itself, the voice that is the voice of two thousand years
Through me no friend shall meet his doom ; Here, while I live, no foe finds room.
It may well be that in the future men may feel little Belgium as a kind of working model of Europe as Europe is the working model of the world.
This Europe of Europe, this real casket of culture, this essence of Roman Empire, this small nation of which the very cities have been nations, this kingdom within kingdom and republic within republic of accumulated politics and history, has been suddenly turned into a desert a desert where dwell demoniacs. Of some who have done this work it is seriously not too much to say that they are possessed of devils. They have worked miracles of sacrilege and murder. They have set wandering in the wilderness whole populations of cities so prosperous and countrysides so settled that the fiend’s miracle would have been less if he had set forests and cornfields walking. No mountain tribe was ever torn up by the Turks and sent adrift to die as this storied and civilized State has been wantonly torn up by its near neighbours. The sufferings of such a race in such a ruin cannot be pictured in terms of any Christian hell : they can be traced in the infernal arabesques of Chinese and Tartar history. There is not a single pang in it that is not too high a price to pay to the Prussians. There is not a pang that Belgium is not paying for our sake : and by her stripes we are healed.