IT is a paradox of political geography that the German Empire, which has mainly expanded at the expense of smaller nationalities of Schleswig-Holstein, of Poland, of Alsace, and of Hanover and whose very existence is a menace to smaller nationalities, should be confronted on every side by a fringe of smaller Countries Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland all democratic, all autonomous and proud of their autonomy, all with a history and with traditions as ancient and as illustrious as those of the Empire itself. Those countries were all claimed by Pan-Germanists as belonging to the German sphere of influence. They were all weak, and to an Empire believing in brute force weak nations are of no account. They were all rich, and to a nation bent mainly on II
OF all those countries Belgium was by far the richest. She was also, for political reasons, the most coveted prize. She was the key to England and France. Ever since 1870 Germany had directed her ambitions and aspirations to the annexation of Belgium. She devoted herself to the task with the thoroughness, the ” Gründlichkeit,” the deliberate method, the unscrupulous cynicism which she has shown in her military organization, taking into her calculations every factor except the moral and spiritual, taking into account every element of success except the sympathy and consent of the people. Her first step was to establish on solid foundations her economic supremacy in Belgium. Her second step was to achieve the peaceful political penetration and occupation of the country. Her final aim was to annex the country as the spoils of a successful war.
THE first stage, that of commercial dominance, was already far advanced when war broke out. Seldom did any nation accomplish so much in so short a time. Belgium had become an economic protectorate of Germany for all practical purposes. German firms had their branches in every Belgian city. Belgian watering-places like Ostend and Blankenberghe had become colonies of the German upper and middle classes. German shipping and German trade were supreme in Antwerp. The trade was nominally Belgian and appeared as Belgian in commercial statistics, but it was a mere transit trade, and all the profits went to German firms. Antwerp had become the outlet and the outpost of the Westphalian provinces. The glorious city of Rubens was becoming rapidly Germanized. She was losing her Flemish distinction. She was acquiring the stiffness and the vulgarity and the stuccoed luxury of the modern upstart German town. She was to be severely punished for opening so wide her gates to the German intruder. It was a strange Nemesis which decreed that the city which had been most hospitable to Germans should be threatened with destruction through German bombs, that the city which had become thoroughly Germanized should eventually become the last stronghold and refuge of Belgian independence.
KEEPING pace with the commercial annexation, there took place a peaceful penetration and a gradual annexation of Belgium by Germany. Whole armies of waiters and hairdressers, of clerks and middlemen, of musicians and artists invaded the country. Content with low wages, unassuming at first, they became aggressive with success. For the German has this unpleasant characteristic of the parvenu, that his servility whilst building up his fortune is only surpassed by his insolence after he has achieved success. There had arisen in Antwerp a whole colony of German merchant princes. They did not identify themselves either with the national or with the civic life. Not a single enterprise can be credited to German initiative. In every country German settlers have been easily assimilated. In Belgium they refused to be assimilated. Prospective conquerors do not assimilate themselves to what they consider as an inferior and a subject race.
YET it would be doing those German settlers an injustice to assert that they worked only for their own selfish purposes. They did not work only to enrich themselves. They worked for an ideal, perverted and mischievous no doubt, but still an unselfish ideal. They had been brought up in the belief of the superiority of the German race. They considered themselves as missionaries of German culture. They worked through their teachers and their consuls, through their sporting clubs and their “Turnvereins.” They established German tastes, German patterns, German fashions. They used charity and philanthropy to achieve their political ends. When necessary they stooped to organized espionage. A swarm of German spies spread over the country, studying the Belgian defences and preparing for the Great Day when the Kaiser’s armies would invade Belgian territory.
THE ardent propaganda of the Pan-Germans hastened on the consummation of the ” Great Day.” Pan-Germans have been the political sharpshooters of the Empire. Sent off to reconnoitre in advance of the heavy artillery and infantry of politics and of commerce, they were put down, in ordinary times, as hare-brained enthusiasts. In critical times the Foreign Secretary would receive their President and Committee and boast that he was as Pan-German as any of them. Pan-Germans were universally disavowed in official spheres. But disavowal was part of the game. Secrecy and caution were essential. It is quite obvious that if the 20,000 Germans established in Antwerp had openly proclaimed that they were working for German annexation, if the Belgian Government had suspected that the Berlin Intelligence Department was represented by a legion of spies, the Germans would have been summarily ejected from a country whose hospitality they were so shamelessly abusing. They would have roused the very suspicions which they wanted to allay. They could not have prepared the surprise attack which was the condition of their success. Any reader who studies the evidence now to hand will be driven to the conclusion that the annexation of Belgium was one of the main ends of German world-policy. It is true that so desirable a consummation could only be the culmination and final consecration of a successful Continental policy, a consecration secured without a war if possible, through war if necessary. If the expansion of Germany and Austria had succeeded in the South-East of Europe according to German expectations, Germany and Austria would have first assimilated the Balkan States, Turkey, and Asia Minor. Belgium would have come after. The sudden and dramatic collapse of Austrian plans in the Balkans and the unexpected triumph of Serbia entirely changed the trend of German policy and precipitated events. The Peace of Bucharest had barred the way to German advance in the East. From that moment it became all the more necessary to secure German expansion in the North-West. From that moment an appeal to the arbitrament of war became inevitable. The Reichstag voted the new military law. The invasion of Belgium was resolved upon. The doom of Belgium was sealed.