I had almost forgotten a last distinction between the old and the new forms of slavery: The average slave driver of past days was only a trader who sold human beings instead of selling oxen or sheep. When his trade was prohibited, he took heavy risks and ran great danger of losing his fortune and his life. But the German rulers of Belgium, whether they be in Brussels or in Berlin, whether we call them von Bissing or Helfferich, live in the comfort of their homes, surrounded by their families, and when assailed by protests, can still play hide and seek around the broken pillars of the Temple of Peace and wave arrogantly, like so many flags, the torn articles of international law: “I assert,” said Dr. Helfferich in the Reichstag (December 2nd)—“I assert that setting the Belgian unemployed to work is thoroughly consonant with international law. We therefore take our stand, formally and in practice, on international law, making use of our undoubted rights.”
Let Dr. Helfferich beware. He is not the only judge on international law. His stand may come crashing down.
[Footnote 5: I should ask the reader to confront this declaration with the statement made by the Belgian workmen in their appeal to the working classes of the world. “On the Western Front they force them, by the most brutal means, to dig trenches, construct aviation grounds....”
In his letter sent to the Belgian Ministers to the Vatican and to Spain, Baron Beyens, the Belgian Minister for Foreign Affairs, says: “The men are sent to occupied France to construct sets of trenches and a strategic railway, Lille-Aulnaye-Givet."
Among many trustworthy reports, we hear that the 5th Zivilisten-Bataillon, including some men of Ghent and Alost, has been forced to work, under threat of death, on the construction of a strategic railway between Laon and Soissons. Some of the men, exhausted by the bad treatment inflicted upon them, have been sent back to Belgium in a critical condition, and have written a full statement relating their experiences, signed by twenty of them. On the other hand, the Belgian General Headquarters report that Belgian civilians, obliged to dig trenches and dug-outs near Becelaere (West Flanders), were exposed to the fire of the English guns.]
“By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.”
What prophetic spirit inspired Cardinal Mercier when he chose this psalm for the text of his sermon, on the occasion of the second anniversary of their Independence (July 21st, 1916), which the Belgians celebrated in exile and captivity? It was in the great Gothic church, in Brussels, under the arches of Ste. Gudule, at the close of a service for the soldiers fallen during the war, the very last patriotic ceremony tolerated by the Germans. Socialists, Liberals, Catholics crowded the nave, forgetting their old quarrels, united in a common worship, the worship of their threatened country, of their oppressed liberties.