In impressions which I wrote when the memory of the incident was vivid in my mind, I said that, to me, this shabby little rag doll typified Belgium. Since then I have seen many sights. Some were dramatic and some were pathetic, and nearly all were stirring; but I still recall quite clearly the little picture of the forks of the Belgian road, with a background of trampled fields and sacked houses, and just at my feet the doll, with its head crushed in and the sawdust spilled out in the rut the ongoing army had made. And always now, when I think of this, I find myself thinking of Belgium.
They have called her the cockpit of Europe. She is too. In wars that were neither of her making nor her choosing she has borne the hardest blows—a poor little buffer state thrust in between great and truculent neighbors. To strike at one another they must strike Belgium. By the accident of geography and the caprice of boundary lines she has always been the anvil for their hammers. Jemmapes and Waterloo, to cite two especially conspicuous examples among great Continental battles, were fought on her soil. Indeed, there is scarcely an inch of her for the possession of which men of breeds not her own—Austrians and Spaniards, Hanoverians and Hollanders, Englishmen and Prussians, Saxons and Frenchmen—have not contended. These others won the victories or lost them, kept the spoils or gave them up; she wore the scars of the grudges when the grudges were settled. So there is a reason for calling her the cockpit of the nations; but, as I said just now, I shall think of her as Europe’s rag doll—a thing to be clouted and kicked about; to be crushed under the hoofs and the heels; to be bled and despoiled and ravished.
Thinking of her so, I do not mean by this comparison to reflect in any wise on the courage of her people. It will be a long time before the rest of the world forgets the resistance her soldiers made against overbrimming odds, or the fortitude with which the families of those soldiers faced a condition too lamentable for description.
Unsolicited, so competent an authority as Julius Caesar once gave the Belgians a testimonial for their courage. If I recall the commentaries aright, he said they were the most valorous of all the tribes of Gaul. Those who come afterward to set down the tale and tally of the Great War will record that through the centuries the Belgians retained their ancient valor.
First and last, I had rather exceptional opportunities for viewing the travail of Belgium. I was in Brussels before it surrendered and after it surrendered. I was in Louvain when the Germans entered it and I was there again after the Germans had wrecked it. I trailed the original army of invasion from Brussels southward to the French border, starting at the tail of the column and reaching the head of it before, with my companions, I was arrested and returned by another route across Belgium to German soil.