There is the very point of the war that ought to make any neutral take sides. If the Belgians had not received bread from the outside world, then Germany would either have had to spare enough to keep them from starving or faced the desperation of a people who would fight for food with such weapons as they had. This must have brought a holocaust of reprisals that would have made the orgy of Louvain comparatively insignificant. However much the Germans hampered the Commission with red tape and worse than red tape through the activities of German residents in Belgium, Germany did not want the Commission to withdraw. It was helping her to economize her food supplies. And England answered a human appeal at the cost of hard-and-fast military policy. She was still true to the ideals which have set their stamp on half the world.
Only a winding black streak, that four hundred and fifty miles of trenches on a flat map. It is difficult to visualize the whole as you see it in your morning paper, or to realize the labour it represents in its course through the mire and over mountain slopes, through villages and thick forests and across open fields.
Every mile of it was located by the struggle of guns and rifles and men coming to a stalemate of effort, when both dug into the earth and neither could budge the other. It is a line of countless battles and broken hopes; of charges as brave as men ever made; a symbol of skill and dogged patience and eternal vigilance of striving foe against striving foe.
From the first, the sector from Rheims to Flanders was most familiar to the public. The world still thinks of the battle of the Marne as an affair at the door of Paris, though the heaviest fighting was from Vitry-le-Francois eastward and the fate of Paris was no less decided on the fields of Lorraine than on the fields of Champagne. The storming of Rheims Cathedral became the theme of thousands of words of print to one word for the defence of the Plateau d’Amance or the struggle around Luneville. Our knowledge of the war is from glimpses through the curtain of military secrecy which was drawn tight over Lorraine and the Vosges, shrouded in mountain mists. This is about Lorraine in winter, when the war was six months old.
But first, on our way, a word about Paris, which I had not seen since September. At the outset of the war, Parisians who had not gone to the front were in a trance of suspense; they were magnetized by the tragic possibilities of the hour. The fear of disaster was in their hearts, though they might deny it to themselves. They could think of nothing but France. Now they realized that the best way to help France was by going on with their work at home. Paris was trying to be normal, but no Parisian was making the bluff that Paris was normal. The Gallic lucidity of mind prevented such self-deception.