In former days the traveller hardly thought of Belgium as possessing patriotic homogeneity. It was a land of two languages, French and Flemish. He was puzzled to meet people who looked like well-to-do mechanics, artisans, or peasants and find that they could not answer a simple question in French. This explained why a people so close to France, though they made Brussels a little Paris, would not join the French family and enter into the spirit and body of that great civilization on their borders, whose language was that of their own literature. Belgium seemed to have no character. Its nationality was the artificial product of European politics; a buffer divided in itself, which would be neither French, nor German, nor definitely Belgian.
In later times Belgium had prospered enormously. It had developed the resources of the Congo in a way that had aroused a storm of criticism. Old King Leopold made the most of his neutral position to gain advantages which no one of the great Powers might enjoy because of jealousies. The International Sleeping Car Company was Belgian and Belgian capitalists secured concessions here and there, wherever the small tradesman might slip into openings suitable to his size. Leopold was not above crumbs; he made them profitable; he liked to make money; and Belgians liked to make money.
Her defence guaranteed by neutrality, Belgium need have no thought except of thrift. Her ideals were those of prosperity. No ambition of national expansion stirred her imagination as Germany’s was stirred; there was no fire in her soul as in that of France in apprehension of the day when she would have to fight for her life against Germany; no national cause to harden the sinews of patriotism. The immensity of her urban population contributed its effect in depriving her of the sterner stuff of which warriors are made. Success meant more comforts and luxuries. In towns like Brussels and Antwerp this doubtless had its effect on the moralities, which were hardly of the New England Puritan standard. She had a small standing army; a militia system in the process of reform against the conviction of the majority, unlike that of the Swiss mountaineers, that Belgium would never have any need for soldiers.
If militarism means conscription as it exists in France and Germany, then militarism has improved the physique of races in an age when people are leaving the land for the factory. The prospect of battle’s test unquestionably develops in a people certain sturdy qualities which can and ought to be developed in some other way than with the prospect of spending money for shells to kill people.