Is this war, then, because the balance of power is so nicely adjusted that a touch turns the scale, whether that touch be a Kaiser’s dream of empire or the eyes of a Czar turned covetously toward the South?
I tried to think the thing out during the long nights when the sound of the heavy guns kept me awake. It was hard, because I knew so little, nothing at all of European politics, or war, or diplomacy. When I tried to be logical, I became emotional. Instead of reason I found in myself only a deep resentment.
I could see only that blue-eyed German in his bed, those cheery and cold and ill-equipped Belgians drilling on the sands at La Panne.
But on one point I was clear. Away from all the imminent questions that filled the day, the changing ethics of war, its brutalities, its hideous necessities, one point stood out clear and distinct. That the real issue is not the result, but the cause of this war. That the world must dig deep into the mire of European diplomacy to find that cause, and having found it must destroy it. That as long as that cause persists, be it social or political, predatory or ambitious, there will be more wars. Again it will be possible for a handful of men in high place to overthrow a world.
And one of the first results of the discovery of that cause will be a demand of the people to know what their representatives are doing. Diplomacy, instead of secret whispering, a finger to its lips, must shout from the housetops. Great nations cannot be governed from cellars. Diplomats are not necessarily conspirators. There is such a thing as walking in the sunlight.
There is no such thing in civilisation as a warlike people. There are peaceful people, or aggressive people, or military people. But there are none that do not prefer peace to war, until, inflamed and roused by those above them who play this game of empires, they must don the panoply of battle and go forth.
THE STORY WITH AN END
In its way that hospital at La Panne epitomised the whole tragedy of the great war. Here were women and children, innocent victims when the peaceful nearby market town of Furnes was being shelled; here was a telegraph operator who had stuck to his post under furious bombardment until both his legs were crushed. He had been decorated by the king for his bravery. Here were Belgian aristocrats without extra clothing or any money whatever, and women whose whole lives had been shielded from pain or discomfort. One of them, a young woman whose father is among the largest landowners in Belgium, is in charge of the villa where the uniforms of wounded soldiers are cleaned and made fit for use again. Over her white uniform she wore, in the bitter wind, a thin tan raincoat. We walked together along the beach. I protested.
“You are so thinly clad,” I said. “Surely you do not go about like that always!”