MP Harmworth letter: Belgium's cruel choice
MP Cecil Harmsworth's Parliamentary letter: The Luton News, August 27th, 1914.
During the last week the fortunes of war have swayed pretty impartially this way and that. From our point of view, the best news had come from the east and from the south-east. There can be no doubt whatever that Russia has begun to exercise great pressure on Germany's eastern frontier. Indeed, Russia now occupies a considerable area of eastern Prussia. This fact explains, I think, the fury of the German onslaught on ourselves and our allies in the neighbourhood of Namur and Mons.
Germany is fighting against time, and the superb endurance of the forts at Liege has robbed our enemy of many priceless days. If the German forces are unable very swiftly to crumple up the Allies on her western frontier they must retrace their steps in order to push back the Russian advance. A second entry into Paris would be a dearly-bought triumph if it coincided with a Russian entry into Berlin.
In the south-eastern area, Servia [Serbia] has won a notable victory over Austria. Indeed it is said that Austria has abandoned the campaign against Servia. Whether this be true or not, it is unquestionable that internal political difficulties tend largely to weaken the support that so great an empire as Austria would otherwise be able to give to Germany.
Coming near to our own sphere of action, it is impossible to regard without emotion the hideous ruin that Germany had wrought in Belgium. Here was one of the most industrious and flourishing of the smaller States of Europe. Belgium owed her independence to a solemn compact to which the German Empire was one of the signatories. In the midst of overwhelmingly powerful neighbours, Belgium was not entitled or expected to trust to her own unaided resources to protect her liberties or her trade.
It was of the first importance to the peace and to the stability of Europe that her independence should be jealously maintained by all the Powers. Unfortunately for Belgium, however, the short and easy cut from Berlin to Paris lies through Belgian territory. The German Government offered Belgium terms for the uninterrupted passage of German troops that would have brought Belgium into immediate collision with France. It was, for Belgium, a case of out of the frying pan into the fire with a vengeance.
If the Belgians had meekly submitted to the German demands they might have bought peace for the moment, but, assuredly, at the price of the enduring hostility of France. It was a cruel choice to offer to a small State, and all the greater is the debt that Europe owes to Belgium for her heroic repudiation of a wicked alternative.
Well, the German Emperor's forces have ravaged Belgium. They are now hurling themselves on France with indescribable fury. If dramatic justice is duly apportioned, the further they advance the more complete will be their undoing.What proportion of the German people sympathises with the frankly brutal policy of their government we do not know. For the moment, no doubt, patriotism in Germany overrides all other passions. Later, we may hope, the reckoning will come and this appalling strife will not be in vain if it ends in the liberation of Germany herself from the domination of a military caste that has long menaced the peace of mankind.
I do not wish to dwell on the grave list of casualties to our own troops that marks the opening of this terrible campaign. We mourn the gallant men who have so nobly perished in a great cause. Such losses as these, however, will not shake the national resolve. We see now that nothing less than the freedom of Europe is at stake and we shall not waver any more than our ancestors wavered in Napoleonic days, so long as the issue is in doubt. With a population not more than a third of our present number and resources not one tenth part as great, our ancestors hung on to the greatest soldier of modern centuries and pulled him down in the end.
Our Navy meanwhile pursues its allotted task with silent but splendid efficiency. It will not relax its pressure, I trust, until every German ship of war has been accounted for. The Kaiser's High Sea Fleet may continue to sulk in the shelter of the guns of Heligoland. It chooses, perhaps the lesser of two evils. What it is not effecting is the protection of German commerce. Already, it is virtually impossible for any German merchantmen to put to sea in any part of the world. This means the steady strangulation of German trade. We feel the pinch ourselves, but our food supply is assured, and our commerce in many branches shows signs of an ever increasing activity.
To those of my readers who have felt any doubts as to the objects of German policy I warmly recommend the perusal of "Germany and the Next War" ["Deutschland und der Nächste Krieg," 1911] written by eminent German General F. von Bernhardi. In this book will be found a clear exposition of the policy that has guided German Governments in recent years. I don't suppose that in the whole range of literature there is to be found an equally cynical revelation of the worship of brute force in the management of human affairs. War is elevated to a religion, and the intention of Germany to trample on the liberties of Europe is set forth with a frankness that admits to no misunderstanding.
House of Commons,
August 25th, 1914.