In his inaugural speech, the Governor exclaimed, “The God of War, with his drawn sword, has held the new institution at the font. May the God of Peace be gracious to her for long years to come.” The Germans’ lack of humour surpasses even their ruthlessness. With one hand General von Bissing was baptizing the baby—rather a difficult operation—with the other he brandished his fiery sword over the heads of all the true Flemings who refused to adopt it. Many of them paid for this patriotic attitude by losing their liberty. With one hand Germany inflicted this unwelcome gift on the Flemings, with the other she banished M.M. Pirenne, Fredericq and Verhaegen from the sacred precincts of Flemish culture!
Most solemnly, on different occasions, all the prominent Flemish leaders have protested against the German Administration’s action. They have declared that it was illegal and unjust. Governor von Bissing reminds them that, according to De Raet’s words, “Two heroic spirits dominate the world: The Mind and the Sword.” They may possess the first but he holds the second.
THE SACKING OF BELGIUM.
There is one idea which dominates the Belgian tragedy: “The body may be conquered, the soul remains free.” These words were uttered for the first time, I believe, by the Belgian Premier, Baron de Broqueville, in the solemn sitting of the House, when the German violation of Belgian neutrality was announced to the representatives of the people. The idea is supposed to have been expressed by King Albert, in another form, before the evacuation of Antwerp. It was used to great effect in one of the most popular cartoons published by Punch, in which the Kaiser says to the King, with a sneer, “You have lost everything,” and the King replies, “Not my soul.” It is so intimately associated with the Belgian cause that the image of the stricken country is scarcely ever evoked without an allusion being made to it.
We have seen, in the course of the earlier chapters, how Belgium succeeded in preserving her loyalty and patriotism in spite of the most ruthless oppression and the most cunning calumnies. We must now look at the darker side of the picture and see how she has not succeeded in preserving either her prosperity, or even her supply of daily bread.
We shall soon be confronted with the most tragic aspect of her Calvary. So long as her armies were fighting the invader, so long as her towns and countryside were ruined by German frightfulness, so long as her martyrs, men, women and children, were falling side by side in the market-place before the firing party, so long as every symbol, every word of patriotism was forbidden her, Belgium could remain vanquished but unconquered, bleeding but unshakeable. She enjoyed, in the face of her oppressors, all the privileges of the Christian martyrs of the first centuries; she could smile on the rack, laugh under the whip and sing in the flames. She remained free in her prison, free to respect Justice, in the midst of injustice, to treasure Righteousness, in spite of falsehood, to worship her Saints, in the face of calumny. She was still able to resist, to oppose, every day and at every turn, her patience to the enemy’s threats and her cheerfulness to his ominous scowl. She had a clear conscience and her hands were clean.