Part 2 out of 7
succumb to the contagion as others had; but it was not the optimism
which was dinned into my ears that affected me as much as
When I took a walk away from a railway station where I had to make
a train connection, I saw a German reservist of forty-five who was
helping with one hand to thresh the wheat from his farm, on a grey,
lowering winter day. The other hand was in a bandage. He had been
allowed to go home until he was well enough to fight again. The same
sort of scene I had witnessed in France; the wounded man trying to
make up to his family the loss of his labour during his absence at the
Only, that man in France was on the defensive; he was righting to
hold what he had and on his own soil. The German had been fighting
on the enemy's soil to gain more land. He, too, thought of it as the
defensive. All Germany insisted that it was on the defensive. But it
was the defensive of a people who think only in the offensive. That
was it--that was the vital impression of Germany revealed in every
conversation and every act.
The Englishman leans back on his oars; the German leans forward.
The Englishman's phrase is "Stick it," which means to hold what you
have; the German's phrase is "Onward." It was national youth against
national middle-age. A vessel with pressure of increase from within
was about to expand or burst. A vessel which is large and
comfortable for its contents was resisting pressure from without. The
French were saying, What if we should lose? And the Germans were
saying, What if we should not win all that we are entitled to? Germany
had been thinking of a mightier to-morrow and England of a to-
morrow as good as to-day. Germany looked forward to a fortune to
be won at thirty; England considered the safeguarding of her fortune
It is not professions that count so much as the thing that works out
from the nature of a situation and the contemporaneous bent of a
people. The Englishman thought of his defence as keeping what he
already had; the German was defending what he considered that he
was entitled to. If he could make more of Calais than the French, then
Calais ought to be his. A nation, with the "closed in" culture of the
French on one side and the enormous, unwieldy mass of Russia on
the other, convinced of its superiority and its ability to beat either foe,
thought that it was the friend of peace because it had withheld the
blow. When the striking time came, it struck hard and forced the
battle on enemy soil, which proved, to its logic, that it was only
receiving payment of a debt owed it by destiny.
Bred to win, confident that the German system was the right system
of life, it could imagine the German Michael as the missionary of the
system, converting the Philistine with machine-guns. Confidence, the
confidence which must get new vessels for the energy that has
overflowed, the confidence of all classes in the realization of the long-
promised day of the "place in the sun" for the immense population
drilled in the system, was the keynote. They knew that they could lick
the other fellow and went at him from the start as if they expected to
lick him, with a diligence which made the most of their training and
When I asked for a room with a bath in a leading Berlin hotel, the
clerk at the desk said, "I will see, sir." He ran his eye up and down the
list methodically before he added: "Yes, we have a good room on the
second floor." Afterwards, I learned that all except the first and
second floors of the hotel were closed. The small dining-room only
was open, and every effort was made to make the small dining-room
He was an efficient clerk; the buttons who opened the room door, a
goose-stepping, alert sprout of German militarism, exhibiting a
punctiliousness of attention which produced a further effect of
normality. Those Germans who were not doing their part at the front
were doing it at home by bluffing the other Germans and themselves
into confidence. The clerk believed that some day he would have
more guests than ever and a bigger hotel. All who suffered from the
war could afford to wait. Germany was winning; the programme was
being carried out. The Kaiser said so. In proof of it, multitudes of
Russian soldiers were tilling the soil in place of Germans, who were at
the front taking more Russian soldiers.
Everybody that one met kept telling him that everything was perfectly
normal. No intending purchaser of real estate in a boom town was
ever treated to more optimistic propaganda. Perfectly normal--when
one found only three customers in a large department store! Perfectly
normal--when the big steamship offices presented in their windows
bare blue seas which had once been charted with the going and
coming of German ships! Perfectly normal--when the spool of the
killed and wounded rolled out by yards like that of a ticker on a busy
day on the Stock Exchange! Perfectly normal--when women tried to
smile in the streets with eyes which had plainly been weeping at
Are you for us or against us? The question was put straight to the
stranger. Let him say that he was a neutral and they took it for
granted that he was a pro-Ally. He must be pro-something.
As I returned to the railway station after my walk, a soldier took me in
charge and marched me to the office of the military commandant.
"Are you an Englishman?" was his first question. The guttural, military
emphasis which he put on "Englishman" was most significant. Which
brings us to another factor in the psychology of war: hate.
"If men are to fight well," said a German officer, "it is necessary that
they hate. They must be exalted by a great passion when they charge
Hate was officially distilled and then instilled--hate against England,
almost exclusively. The public rose to that. If England had not come
in, the German military plan would have succeeded: first, the crushing
of France; then, the crushing of Russia. The despised Belgian, that
small boy who had tripped the giant and then hugged the giant's
knees, delaying him on the road to Paris, was having a rest. For he
had been hated very hard for a while with the hate of contempt--that
miserable pigmy who had interfered with the plans of the machine.
The French were almost popular. The Kaiser had spoken of them as
"brave foes." What quarrel could France and Germany have? France
had been the dupe of England. Cartoons of the hairy, barbarous
Russian and the futile little Frenchman in his long coat, borne on
German bayonets or pecking at the boots of a giant Michael, were not
in fashion. For Germany was then trying to arrange a separate peace
with both France and Russia. She was ready to yield at least part of
Alsace-Lorraine to France. When the negotiations fell through,
cartoonists were again free to make sport of the aenemic Gaul and
the untutored Slav. It was not alone in Germany that a responsive
Press played the weather vane to Government wishes; but in
Germany the machinery ran smoothest.
For the first time I knew what it was to have a human being whom I
had never seen before hate me. At sight of me a woman who had
been a good Samaritan, with human kindness and charity in her
eyes, turned a malignant devil. Stalwart as Minerva she was, a fair-
haired German type of about thirty-five, square-shouldered and
robustly attractive in her Red Cross uniform. Being hungry at the
station at Hanover, I rushed out of the train to get something to eat,
and saw some Frankfurter sandwiches on a table in front of me as I
My hand went out for one, when I was conscious of a movement and
an exclamation which was hostile, and looked up to see Minerva, as
her hand shot out to arrest the movement of mine, with a blaze of
hate, hard, merciless hate, in her eyes, while her lips framed the
word, "Englisher!" If looks were daggers I should have been pierced
through the heart. Perhaps an English overcoat accounted for her
error. Certainly, I promptly recognized mine when I saw that this was
a Red Cross buffet. An Englishman had dared to try to buy a
sandwich meant for German soldiers! She might at least glory in the
fact that her majestic glare had made me most uncomfortable as I
murmured an apology which she received with a stony frown.
A moment later a soldier approached the buffet. She leaned over,
smiling, as gentle as she had been fierce and malignant a moment
before, making a picture, as she put some mustard on a sandwich for
him, which recalled that of the Frenchwoman among the wounded in
the freight shed at Calais--a simile which would anger them both.
The Frenchwoman, too, had a Red Cross uniform; she, too,
expressed the mercy and gentle ministration which we like to
associate with woman. But there was the difference of the old culture
and the new; of the race which was fighting to have and the race
which was fighting to hold. The tactics which we call the offensive was
in the German woman's, as in every German's, nature. It had been in
the Frenchwoman's in Napoleon's time. Many racial hates the war
has developed; but that of the German is a seventeen-inch-howitzer,
If hates help to win, why not hate as hard as you can? Don't you go to
war to win? There is no use talking of sporting rules and saying that
this and that is "not done" in humane circles--win! The Germans
meant to win. Always I thought of them as having the spirit of the
Middle Ages in their hearts, organized for victory by every modern
method. Three strata of civilization were really fighting, perhaps: The
French, with its inherent individual patriotism which makes a
Frenchman always a Frenchman, its philosophy which prevents
increase of numbers, its thrift and its tenacity; the German, with its
newborn patriotism, its discovery of what it thinks is the golden
system, its fecundity, its aggressiveness, its industry, its ambition;
and the Russian, patient and unbeatable, vague, glamorous,
The American is an outsider to them all; some strange melting-pot
product of many races which is trying to forget the prejudices and
hates of the old world and perhaps not succeeding very well, but not
yet convinced that the best means of producing patriotic unity is war.
After this and other experiences, after being given a compartment all
to myself by men who glanced at me with eyes of hate and passed
on to another compartment which was already crowded or stood up
in the aisle of the car, I made a point of buying an American flag for
This helped; but still there was my name, which belonged to an
ancestor who had gone from England to Connecticut nearly three
hundred years ago. Palmer did not belong to the Germanic tribe. He
must be pro the other side. He could not be a neutral and belong to
the human kind with such a name. Only Swenson, or Gansevoort, or
Ah Fong could really be a neutral; and even they were expected to be
on your side secretly. If they weren't they must be on the other. Are
you for us? or, Are you against us? I grew weary of the question in
Germany. If I had been for them I should have "dug in" and not told
them. In France and England they asked you objectively the state of
sentiment in America. But, possibly, the direct, forcible way is the
better for war purposes when you mean to win; for the Germans have
made a study of war. They are experts in war.
However, the rosy-cheeked German boy, in his green uniform which
could not be washed clean of all the stains of campaigning, whom I
met in the palace grounds at Charlottenberg, did not put this tiresome
question to me. He was the only person I saw in the grounds, whose
quiet I had sought for an hour's respite from war. One could be
shown through the palace by the lonely old caretaker, who missed
the American tourist, without hearing a guide's monotone explaining
who the gentleman in the frame was and what he did and who
painted his picture. This boy could have more influence in making me
see the German view-point than the propagandist men in the
Government offices and the belligerent German-Americans in hotel
lobbies--those German-Americans who were so frequently in trouble
in other days for disobeying the verbotens and then asking our State
Department to get them out of it, now pluming themselves over
victories won by another type of German.
About twenty-one years old this boy, round-faced and blue-eyed, who
saw in Queen Louisa the most beautiful heroine of all history. The
hole in his blouse which the bullet had made was nicely sewed up
and his wound had healed. He was fighting in France when he was
hit; the name of the place he did not know. Karl, his chum, had been
killed. The doctor had given him the bullet, which he exhibited proudly
as if it were different from other bullets, as it was to him. In a few days
he must return to the front. Perhaps the war would be over soon; he
The French were brave; but they hated the Germans and thought
that they must make war on the Germans, and they were a cruel
people, guilty of many atrocities. So the Fatherland had fought to
conquer the enemies who planned her destruction. A peculiar,
childlike naivete accompanied his intelligence, trained to run in certain
grooves, which is the product of the German type of popular
education; that trust in his superiors which comes from a diligent and
efficient paternalism. He knew nothing of the atrocities which
Germans were said to have committed in Belgium. The British and
the French had set Belgium against Germany and Germany had to
strike Belgium for playing false to her treaties. But he did think that
the French were brave; only misled by their Government. And the
Kaiser? His eyes lighted in a way that suggested that the Kaiser was
almost a god to him. He had heard of the things that the British said
against the Kaiser and they made him want to fight for his Kaiser. He
was only one German--but the one was millions.
In actual learning which comes from schoolbooks, I think that he was
better informed than the average Frenchman of his class; but I
should say that he had thought less; that his mind was more of a hot-
house product of a skilful nurseryman's hand, who knew the value of
training and feeding and pruning the plant if you were to make it yield
well. A kindly, willing, likable boy, peculiarly simple and unspoiled, it
seemed a pity that all his life he should have to bear the brand of the
Lusitania on his brow; that event which history cannot yet put in its
true perspective. Other races will think of the Lusitania when they
meet a German long after the Belgian atrocities are forgotten. It will
endure to plague a people like the exile of the Acadians, the
guillotining of innocents in the French Revolution, and the burning of
the Salem witches. But he had nothing to do with it. A German
admiral gave an order as a matter of policy to make an impression
that his submarine campaign was succeeding and to interfere with
the transport of munitions, and the Kaiser told this boy that it was
right. One liked the boy, his loyalty and his courage; liked him as a
human being. But one wished that he might think more. Perhaps he
will one of these days, if he survives the war.
How The Kaiser Leads
Only a week before I had seen wounded Germans in the freight shed
at Calais; and all the prisoners that I had seen elsewhere, whether in
ones or twos, brought in fresh from the front or in columns under
escort, had been Germans. The sharpest contrast of all in war which
the neutral may observe is seeing the men of one army which, from
the other side, he had watched march into battle--armed, confident,
disciplined parts of an organization, ready to sweep all before them in
a charge--become so many sheep, disarmed, disorganized, rounded
up like vagrants in a bread-line and surrounded by a fold of barbed
wire and sentries.
Such was the lot of the nine thousand British, French, and Russians
whom I saw at Doeberitz, near Berlin. This was a show camp, I was
told, but it suffices. Conditions at other camps might be worse;
doubtless were. England treated its prisoners best, unless my
information from unprejudiced observers be wrong. But Germany had
enormous numbers of prisoners. A nation in her frame of mind
thought only of the care of the men who could fight for her, not of
those who had fought against her.
Then, the German nature is one thing and the British another.
Crossing the Atlantic on the Lusitania we had a German reserve
officer who was already on board when the evening editions arrived
at the pier with news that England had declared war on Germany.
Naturally he must become a prisoner upon his arrival at Liverpool. He
was a steadfast German. When a wireless report of the German
repulse at Liege came, he would not believe it. Germany had the
system and Germany would win. But when he said, "I should rather
be a German on board a British ship than a Briton on board a
German ship, under the circumstances," his remark was significant in
more ways than one.
His English fellow-passengers on that splendid liner which a German
submarine was to send to the bottom showed him no discourtesy.
They passed the time of day with him and seemed to want to make
his awkward situation easy. Yet it was apparent that he regarded their
kindliness as racial weakness. Krieg ist Krieg. When Germany made
war she made war.
So allowances are in order. One prison camp was like another in this
sense, that it deprived a man of his liberty. It put him in jail. The
British regular, who is a soldier by profession, was, in a way, in a
separate class. But the others were men of civil industries and
settled homes. Except during their term in the army, they went to
the shop or the office every day, or tilled their farms. They were
free; they had their work to occupy their minds during the day and
freedom of movement when they came home in the evening. They
might read the news by their firesides; they were normal human
beings in civilized surroundings.
Here, they were pacing animals in a cage, commanded by two field-
guns, who might walk up and down and play games and go through
the daily drill under their own non-commissioned officers. It was the
mental stagnation of the thing that was appalling. Think of such a lot
for a man used to action in civil life--and they call war action! Think of
a writer, a business man, a lawyer, a doctor, a teacher, reduced to
this fenced-in existence, when he had been the kind who got
impatient if he had to wait for a train that was late! Shut yourself up in
your own backyard with a man with a rifle watching you for twenty-
four hours and see whether, if you have the brain of a mouse, prison-
camp life can be made comfortable, no matter how many greasy
packs of cards you have. And lousy, besides! At times one had to
laugh over what Mark Twain called "the damfool human race."
Inside a cookhouse at one end of the enclosure was a row of soup-
boilers. Outside was a series of railings, forming stalls for the
prisoners when they lined up for meals. In the morning, some
oatmeal and coffee; at noon, some cabbage soup boiled with
desiccated meat and some bread; at night, more coffee and bread.
How one thrived on this fare depended much upon how he liked
cabbage soup. The Russians liked it. They were used to it.
"We never keep the waiter late by tarrying over our liqueurs," said a
Our reservist guide had run away to America in youth, where he had
worked at anything he could find to do; but he had returned to Berlin,
where he had a "good little business" before the war. He was stout
and cheery, and he referred to the prisoners as "boys." The French
and Russians were good boys; but the English were bad boys, who
had no discipline. He said that all received the same food as German
soldiers. It seemed almost ridiculous chivalry that men who had
fought against you and were living inactive lives should be as well fed
as the men who were fighting for you. The rations that I saw given to
German soldiers were better. But that was what the guide said.
"This is our little sitting-room for the English non-commissioned
officers," he explained, as he opened the door of a shanty which had
a pane of glass for a window. Some men sitting around a small stove
arose. One, a big sergeant-major, towered over the others; he had
the colours of the South African campaign on the breast of his worn
khaki blouse and stood very straight as if on parade. By the window
was a Scot in kilts, who was equally tall. He looked around over his
shoulder and then turned his face away with the pride of a man who
does not care to be regarded as a show.
His uniform was as neat as if he were at inspection; and the way he
held his head, the haughtiness of his profile against the stream of
light, recalled the unconquerable spirit of the Prussian prisoner whom
I had seen on the road during the fighting along the Aisne. Only a
regular, but he was upholding the dignity of Britain in that prison camp
better than many a member of Parliament on the floor of the House of
Commons. I asked our guide about him.
"A good boy that! All his boys obey him and he obeys all the
regulations. But he acts as if we Germans were his prisoners."
The British might not be good boys, but they would be clean. They
were diligent in the chase in their underclothes; their tents were free
from odour; and there was something resolute about a Tommy who
was bare to the waist in that freezing wind, making an effort at a bath.
I heard tales of Mr. Atkins' characteristic thoughtlessness. While the
French took good care of their clothes and kept their tents neat, he
was likely to sell his coat or his blanket if he got a chance in order to
buy something that he liked to eat. One Tommy who sat on his straw
tick inside the tent was knitting. When I asked him where he had
learned to knit, he replied: "India!" and gave me a look as much as to
say, "Now pass on to the next cage."
The British looked the most pallid of all, I thought. They were not used
to cabbage soup. Their stomachs did not take hold of it, as one said;
and they loathed the black bread. No white bread and no jam! Only
when you have seen Mr. Atkins with a pot of jam and a loaf of white
bread and some bacon frizzling near by can you realize the hardship
which cabbage soup meant to that British regular who gets lavish
rations of the kind he hkes along with his shilling a day for
"You see, the boys go about as they please," said our guide. "They
don't have a bad time. Three meals a day and nothing to do."
Members of a laughing circle which included some British were taking
turns at a kind of Russian blind man's buff, which seemed to me
about in keeping with the mental capacity of a prison camp. "No
French!" I remarked.
"The French keep to themselves, but they are good boys," he replied.
"Maybe it is because we have only a few of them here."
Every time one sounded the subject he was struck by the attitude of
the Germans toward the French, not alone explained by the policy of
the hour which hoped for a separate peace with France. Perhaps it
was best traceable to the Frenchman's sense of amour propre, his
philosophy, his politeness, or an indefinable quality in the grain of the
The Germans affected to look down on the French; yet there was
something about the Frenchmen which the Germans had to respect--
something not won by war. I heard admiration for them at the same
time as contempt for their red trousers and their unprepared-ness.
While we are in this avenue, German officers had respect for the
dignity of British officers, the leisurely, easy quality of superiority
which they preserved in any circumstances. The qualities of a
race come out in adversity no less than in prosperity. Thus,
their captors regarded the Russians as big, good-natured children.
"Yes, they play games and we give the English an English newspaper
to read twice a week," said our affable guide, unconscious, I think, of
any irony in the remark. For the paper was the Continental News,
published in "the American language" for American visitors. You
make take it for granted that it did not exaggerate any success of the
"We have a prince and the son of a rich man among the Russian
prisoners--yes, quite in the Four Hundred," the guide went on. "They
were such good boys we put them to work in the cookhouse. Star
boarders, eh? They like it. They get more to eat."
These two men were called out for exhibition. Youngsters of the first
line they were and even in their privates' uniform they bore the
unmistakable signs of belonging to the Russian upper class. Each
saluted and made his bow, as if he had come on to do a turn before
the footlights. It was not the first time they had been paraded before
visitors. In the prince's eye I noted a twinkle, which as much as said:
"Well, why not? We don't mind."
When we were taken through the cookhouse I asked about a little
Frenchman who was sitting with his nose in a soup bowl He seemed
too near-sighted ever to get into any army. His face was distinctly that
of a man of culture; one would have guessed that he was an artist.
"Shrapnel injury," explained the guide. "He will never be able to see
much again. We let him come in here to eat."
I wanted to talk with him, but these exhibits are supposed to be all in
pantomime; a question and you are urged along to the next exhibit.
He was young and all his life he was to be like that--like some poor,
The last among a number of Russians returning to the enclosure from
some fatigue duty was given a blow in the seat of his baggy trousers
with a stick which one of the guards carried. The Russian quickened
his steps and seemed to think nothing of the incident. But to me it
was the worst thing that I saw at Doeberitz, this act of physical violence
against a man by one who has power over him. The personal
equation was inevitable to the observer. Struck in that way, could one
fail to strike back? Would not he strike in red anger, without stopping
to think of consequences? There is something bred into the Anglo-
Saxon which resents a physical blow. We court-martial an officer for
laying hands on a private, though that private may get ten years in
prison on his trial. Yet the Russian thought nothing of it, or the guard,
either. An officer in the German or the Russian army may strike a
"Would the guard hit a Frenchman in that way?" I asked. Our guide
said not; the French were good boys. Or an Englishman? He had
not seen it done. The Englishman would swear and curse, he was
sure, and might fight, they were such undisciplined boys. But the
Russians--"they are like kids. It was only a slap. Didn't hurt him any."
New barracks for the prisoners were being built which would be
comfortable, if crowded, even in winter. The worst thing, I repeat, was
the deadly monotony of the confinement for a period which would end
only when the war ended. Any labour should be welcome to a
healthy-minded man. It was a mercy that the Germans set prisoners
to grading roads, to hoeing and harvesting, retrieving thus a little of
the wastage of war. Or was it only the bland insistence that conditions
were luxurious that one objected to?--not that they were really bad.
The Germans had a horde of prisoners to care for; vast armies to
maintain; and a new volunteer force of a million or more--two millions
was the official report--to train.
While we were at the prison camp we heard at intervals the rap-rap of
a machine-gun at the practice range near by, drilling to take more
prisoners, and on the way back to Berlin we passed companies of
volunteers returning from drill with that sturdy march characteristic of
In Berlin I was told again that everything was perfectly normal. Trains
were running as usual to Hamburg, if one cared to go there. "As
usual" in war time was the ratio of one to five in peace time.
At Hamburg, in sight of steamers with cold boilers and the forests of
masts of idle ships, one saw what sea power meant. That city of
eager shippers and traders, that doorstep of Germany, was as dead
as Ypres, without a building being wrecked by shells. Hamburgers
tried to make the best of it; they assumed an air of optimism; they still
had faith that richer cargoes than ever might come over the sea,
while a ghost, that of bankruptcy, walked the streets, looking at office-
windows and the portholes of ships.
For one had only to scratch the cuticle of that optimism to find that the
corpuscles did not run red. They were blue. Hamburg's citizens had
to exhibit the fortitude of those of Rheims under another kind of
bombardment: that of the silent guns of British Dreadnoughts far out
of range. They were good Germans; they meant to play the game;
but that once prosperous business man of past middle age, too old to
serve, who had little to do but think, found it hard to keep step with
the propagandist attitude of Berlin.
A free city, a commercial city, a city unto itself, Hamburg had been in
other days a cosmopolitan trader with the rest of the world. It had
even been called an English city, owing to the number of English
business men there as agents of the immense commerce between
England and Germany. Everyone who was a clerk or an employer
spoke English; and through all the irritation between the two countries
which led up to the war, English and German business men kept on
the good terms which commerce requires and met at luncheons and
dinners and in their clubs. Englishmen were married to German
women and Germans to Englishwomen, while both prayed that their
governments would keep the peace.
Now the English husband of the German woman, though he had
spent most of his life in Hamburg, though perhaps he had been born
in Germany, had been interned and, however large his bank account,
was taking his place with his pannikin in the stalls in front of some
cookhouse for his ration of cabbage soup. Germans were kind to
English friends personally; but when it came to the national feeling of
Germany against England, nowhere was it so bitter as in Hamburg.
Here the hate was born of more than national sentiment; it was of the
pocket; of seeing fortunes that had been laboriously built dwindling,
once thriving businesses in suspended animation. There was no
moratorium in name; there was worse than one in fact. A patriotic
freemasonry in misfortune took its place. No business man could
press another for the payment of debts lest he be pressed in turn.
What would happen when the war was over? How long would it last?
It was not quite as cruel to give one's opinion as two years to the
inquirers in Hamburg as to the director of the great Rudolph Virchow
Hospital in Berlin. Here, again, the system; the submergence of the
individual in the organization. The wounded men seemed parts of a
machine; the human touch which may lead to disorganization was
less in evidence than with us, where the thought is: This is an
individual human being, with his own peculiarities of temperament, his
own theories of life, his own ego; not just a quantity of brain, tissue,
blood and bone which is required for the organism called man. A
human mechanism wounded at the German front needed repairs and
repairs were made to that mechanism. The niceties might be lacking
but the repair factory ran steadily and efficiently at full blast. Germany
had to care for her wounded by the millions and by the millions she
cared for them. "Two years!"
I was sorry that I had said this to the director, for its effect on him was
like a blow in the chest. The vision of more and more wounded
seemed to rise before the eyes of this man, weary with the strain of
doing the work which he knew so well how to do as a cog in the
system. But for only a moment. He stiffened; he became the
drillmaster again; and the tragic look in his eyes was succeeded by
one of that strange exaltation I had seen in the eyes of so many
Germans, which appeared to carry their mind away from you and
their surroundings to the battlefield where they were fighting for their
"place in the sun." "Two years, then. We shall see it through!" He had
a son who had been living in a French family near Lille studying
French and he had heard nothing of him since the war began. They
were good people, this French family; his son liked them. They would
be kind to him; but what might not the French Government do to him,
a German! He had heard terrible stories--the kind of stories that
hardened the fighting spirit of German soldiers--about the treatment
German civilians had received in France. He could think of one
French family which he knew as being kind, but not of the whole
French people as a family. As soon as the national and racial element
were considered the enemy became a beast.
To him, at least, Berlin was not normal; nor was it to that keeper of a
small shop off Unter den Linden which sold prints and etchings and
cartoons. What a boon my order of cartoons was! He forgot his
psychology code and turned human and confidential. The war had
been hard on him; there was no business at all, not even in cartoons.
The Opera alone seemed something like normal to one who trusted
his eyes rather than his ears for information. There was almost a full
house for the "Rosenkavalier"; for music is a solace in time of
trouble, as other capitals than Berlin revealed. Officers with close-
cropped heads, wearing Iron Crosses, some with arms in slings,
promenaded in the refreshment room of the Berlin Opera House
between the acts. This in the hour of victory should mean a picture of
gaiety. But there was a telling hush about the scene. Possibly music
had brought out the truth in men's hearts that war, this kind of war,
was not gay or romantic, only murderous and destructive. One had
noticed already that the Prussian officer, so conscious of his caste,
who had worked so indefatigably to make an efficient army, had
become chastened. He had found that common men, butchers and
bakers and candlestick makers, could be as brave for their Kaiser as
he. And more of these officers had the Iron Cross than not.
The prevalence of Iron Crosses appealed to the risibilities of the
superficial observer. But in this, too, there was system. An officer who
had been in several battles without winning one must feel a trifle
declassed and that it was time for him to make amends to his pride. If
many Crosses were given to privates, then the average soldier would
not think the Cross a prize for the few who had luck, but something
that he, too, might win by courage and prompt obedience to orders.
The masterful calculation, the splendid pretence and magnificent
offence could not hide the suspense and suffering. Nowhere were
you able to forget the war or to escape the all-pervading influence of
the Kaiser. The empty royal box at the Opera, His Opera, called him
to mind. What would happen before he reappeared there for a gala
performance? When again, in the shuffle of European politics, would
the audience see the Tsar of Russia or the King of England by the
It was his Berlin, the heart of his Berlin, that was before you when you
left the Opera--the new Berlin, which he had fathered in its boom
growth, taking few pages of a guidebook compared to Paris. In front
of his palace Russian field-guns taken by von Hindenburg at
Tannenberg were exhibited as the spoils of his war; while not far
away the never-to-be-forgotten grandfather in bronze rode home in
triumph from Paris.
One wondered what all the people in the ocean of Berlin flats were
thinking as one walked past the statue of Frederick the Great, with his
sharp nose pointing the way for future conquerors, and on along
Unter den Linden, with its broad pavements gleaming in a
characteristic misty winter night, through the Brandenburg Gate of his
Brandenburg dynasty, or to the statue of the blood-and-iron
Bismarck, with his strong jaw and pugnacious nose--the statesman
militant in uniform with a helmet over his bushy brow--who had made
the German Empire, that young empire which had not yet known
defeat because of the system which makes ready and chooses the
hour for its blow.
Not far away one had glimpses of the white statues of My Ancestors
of the Sieges Allee, or avenue of victory--the present Kaiser's own
idea--with the great men of the time on their right and left hands.
People whose sense of taste, not to say of humour, may limit their
statecraft had smiled at this monotonous and grandiose row of the
dead bones of distinguished and mediocre royalty immortalized in
marble to the exact number of thirty-two. But they were My Ancestors,
O Germans, who made you what you are! Right dress and keep that
line of royalty in mind! It is your royal line, older than the trees in the
garden, firm as the rocks, Germany itself. The last is not the least in
might nor the least advertised in the age of publicity. He is to make
the next step in advance for Germany and bring more tribute home, if
all Germans will be loyal to him.
One paused to look at the photograph of the Kaiser in a shop
window; a big photograph of that man whose photograph is
everywhere in Germany. It is a stern face, this face, as the leader
wishes his people to see him, with its erectile moustache, the lips firm
set, the eyes challenging and the chin held so as to make it symbolic
of strength: a face that strives to say in that pose: "Onward! I lead!"
Germans have seen it every day for a quarter of a century. They
have lived with it and the character of it has grown into their natures.
In the same window was a smaller photograph of the Crown Prince,
with his cap rakishly on the side of his head, as if to give himself a
distinctive characteristic in the German eye; but his is the face of a
man who is not mature for his years, and a trifle dissipated. For a
while after the war began he, as leader of the war party, knew the joy
of being more popular than the Kaiser. But the tide turned soon in
favour of a father who appeared to be drawn reluctantly into the
ordeal of death and wounds for his people in "defence of the
Fatherland" and against a son who had clamoured for the horror
which his people had begun to realize, particularly as his promised
entry into Paris had failed. There can be no question which of the two
has the wise head.
The Crown Prince had passed into the background. He was
marooned with ennui in the face of French trenches in the West,
whilst all the glory was being won in the East. Indeed, father had put
son in his place. One day, the gossips said, son might have to ask
father, in the name of the Hohenzollerns, to help him recover his
popularity. His photograph had been taken down from shop windows
and in its place, on the right hand of the Kaiser in the Sieges Allee of
contemporary fame, was the bull-dog face of von Hindenburg, victor
of Tannenberg. The Kaiser shared von Hindenburg's glory; he has
shared the glory of all victorious generals; such is his histrionic gift in
the age of the spotlight.
Make no mistake--his people, deluded or not, love him not only
because he is Kaiser, but also for himself. He is a clever man, who
began his career with the enormous capital of being emperor and
made the most of his position to amaze the world with a more
versatile and also a more inscrutable personality than most people
realize. Poseur, perhaps, but an emperor these days may need to be
a poseur in order to wear the ermine of Divine Right convincingly to
most of his subjects.
His pose is always that of the anointed King of My People. He has
never given down on that point, however much he has applied State
Socialism to appease the Socialistic agitation. He has personified
Germany and German ambition with an adroit egoism and the
sentiment of his inheritance. Those critics who see the machinery of
the throne may say that he has the mind of a journalist, quick of
perception, ready of assimilation, knowing many things in their
essentials, but no one thing thoroughly. But this is the kind of mind
that a ruler requires, plus the craft of the politician.
Is he a good man? Is he a great man? Banal questions! He is the
Kaiser on the background of the Sieges Allee, who has first promoted
himself, then the Hohenzollerns, and then the interests of Germany,
with all the zest of the foremost shareholder and chairman of the
corporation. No German in the German hothouse of industry has
worked harder than he. He has kept himself up to the mark and tried
to keep his people up to the mark. It may be the wrong kind of a
mark. Indeed, without threshing the old straw of argument, most of
the people of the civilized world are convinced that it is.
That young private I met in the grounds at Charlottenberg, that
wounded man helping with the harvest, that tired hospital director, the
small trader in Hamburg, the sturdy Red Cross woman in the station
at Hanover, the peasants and the workers throughout Germany, kept
unimaginatively at their tasks, do not see the machinery of the throne,
only the man in the photograph who supplies them with a national
imagination. His indefatigable goings and comings and his poses fill
their minds with a personality which typifies the national spirit. Will
this change after the war? But that, too, is not a subject for speculation
Through the war his pose has met the needs of the hour. An emperor
bowed down with the weight of his people's sacrifice, a grey,
determined emperor hastening to honour the victors, covering up
defeats, urging his legions on, himself at the front, never seen by the
general public in the rear; a mysterious figure, not saying much and
that foolish to the Allies but appealing to the Germans, rather
appearing to submerge his own personality in the united patriotism of
the struggle--such is the picture which the throne machinery has
impressed on the German mind. The histrionic gift may be at its best
in creating a saga.
Always the offensive! Germany would keep on striking as long as she
had strength for a blow, whilst making the pretence that she had the
strength for still heavier blows. One wonders, should she gain peace
by her blows, if the Allies would awaken after the treaty was signed to
find how near exhaustion she had been, or that she was so self-
contained in her production of war material that she had only
borrowed from Hans to pay Fritz, who were both Germans. Russia
did not know how' nearly she had Japan beaten until after
Portsmouth. Japan's method was the German method; she learned it
At the end of my journey I was hearing the same din of systematic
optimism in my ears as in the beginning.
"Warsaw, then Paris, then our Zeppelins will finish London," said the
restaurant keeper on the German side of the Dutch frontier; "and our
submarines will settle the British navy before the summer is over. No,
the war will not last a year."
"And is America next on the programme?" I asked.
"No. America is too strong; too far away."
I was guilty of a faint suspicion that he was a diplomatist.
In Belgium Under The Germans
No week at the front, where war is made, left the mind so full as this
week beyond the sound of the guns with war's results. It taught the
meaning of the simple words life and death, hunger and food, love
and hate. One was in a house with sealed doors where a family of
seven millions sat in silence and idleness, thinking of nothing but war
and feeling nothing but war. He had war cold as the fragments of an
exploded shell beside a dead man on a frozen road; war analysed
and docketed for exhibition, without its noise, its distraction, and its
In Ostend I had seen the Belgian refugees in flight, and I had seen
them pouring into London stations, bedraggled outcasts of every
class, with the staring uncertainty of the helpless human flock flying
from the storm. England, who considered that they had suffered for
her sake, opened her purse and her heart to them; she opened her
homes, both modest suburban homes and big country houses which
are particular about their guests in time of peace. No British family
without a Belgian was doing its duty. Bishop's wife and publican's wife
took whatever Belgian was sent to her. The refugee packet arrived
without the nature of contents on the address tag. All Belgians had
become heroic and noble by grace of the defenders of Liege.
Perhaps the bishop's wife received a young woman who smoked
cigarettes, and asked her hostess for rouge, and the publican's wife
received a countess. Mrs. Smith, of Clapham, who had brought up
her children in the strictest propriety, welcomed as play-mates for her
dears, whom she had kept away from the contaminating associations
of the alleys, Belgian children from the toughest quarters of Antwerp,
who had a precocity that led to baffling confusion in Mrs. Smith's mind
between parental responsibility and patriotic duty. Smart society gave
the run of its houses sometimes to gentry who were used to getting
the run of that kind of houses by lifting a window with a jemmy on a
dark night. It was a refugee lottery. When two hosts met one said:
"My Belgian is charming!" and the other said: "Mine isn't. Just listen--"
But the English are game; they are loyal; they bear their burden of
The strange things that happened were not the more agreeable
because of the attitude of some refugees who, when they were
getting better fare than they ever had at home, thought that, as they
had given their "all" for England, they should be getting still better, not
to mention wine on the table in temperance families; whilst there was
a disinclination towards self-support by means of work on the part of
certain heroes by proxy which promised a Belgian occupation of
England that would last as long as the German occupation of
Belgium. England was learning that there are Belgians and Belgians.
She had received not a few of the "and Belgians."
It was only natural. When the German cruisers bombarded
Scarborough and the Hartlepools, the first to the station were not the
finest and sturdiest. Those with good bank accounts and a
disinclination to take any bodily or gastronomic risks, the young idler
who stands on the street corner ogling girls and the girls who are
always in the street to be ogled, the flighty-minded, the irresponsible,
the tramp, the selfish, and the cowardly, are bound to be in the van of
flight from any sudden disaster and to make the most of the generous
sympathy of those who succour them.
The courageous, the responsible, those with homes and property at
stake, those with an inborn sense of real patriotism which means
loyalty to locality and to their neighbours, are more inclined to remain
with their homes and their property. Besides, a refugee hardly
appears at his best. He is in a strange country, forlorn, homesick, a
hostage of fate and personal misfortune. The Belgian nation had
taken the Allies' side and now individual Belgians expected help from
England did not get the worst of the refugees. They could travel no
farther than Holland, where the Dutch Government appropriated
money to care for them at the same time that it was under the
expense of keeping its army mobilized. Looking at the refugees in the
camp at Bergen-op-Zoom, an observer might share some of the
contempt of the Germans for the Belgians. Crowded in temporary
huts in the chill, misty weather of a Dutch winter, they seemed listless,
marooned human wreckage. They would not dig ditches to drain their
camp; they were given to pilfering from one another the clothes which
the world's charity supplied. The heart was out of them. They were
numbed by disaster.
"Are all these men and women who are living together married?" I
asked the Dutch officer in charge.
"It is not for us to inquire," he replied. "Most of them say that they
have lost their marriage certificates."
They were from the slums of that polyglot seaport town Antwerp,
which Belgians say is anything but real Belgium. To judge Belgium by
them is like judging an American town by the worst of its back streets,
where saloons and pawnshops are numerous and red lights twinkle
from dark doorways.
Around a table in a Rotterdam hotel one met some generals who
were organizing a different kind of campaign from that which brought
glory to the generals who conquered Belgium. It was odd that Dr.
Rose--that Dr. Rose who had discovered and fought the hook worm
among the mountaineers of the Southern States--should be
succouring Belgium, and yet only natural. Where else should he and
Henry James, Jr., of the Rockefeller Foundation, and Mr. Bicknell, of
the American Red Cross, be, if not here directing the use of an
endowment fund set aside for just such purposes?
They had been all over Belgium and up into the Northern
Departments of France occupied by the Germans, investigating
conditions. For they were practical men, trained for solving the
problem of charity with wisdom, who wanted to know that their money
was well spent. They had nothing for the refugees in London, but they
found that the people who had stayed at home in Belgium were
worthy of help. The fund was allowing five hundred thousand dollars a
month for the American Commission for Relief in Belgium, which was
the amount that the Germans had spent in a single day in the
destruction of the town of Ypres with shells. Later they were to go to
Poland; then to Serbia.
With them was Herbert C. Hoover, a celebrated mining engineer, the
head of the Commission. When American tourists were stranded
over Europe at the outset of the war, with letters of credit which could
not be cashed, their route homeward must lie through London. They
must have steamer passage. Hoover took charge. When this work
was done and Belgium must be helped, he took charge of a task that
could be done only by a neutral. For the adjutants and field officers of
his force he turned to American business men in London, to Rhodes
scholars at Oxford, and to other volunteers hastening from America.
When "Harvard, 1914," who had lent a hand in the American
refugees' trials, appeared in Hoover's office to volunteer for the new
campaign, Hoover said: "You are going to Rotterdam to-night." "So I
am!" said Harvard, 1914, and started accordingly. Action and not red
tape must prevail in such an organization.
The Belgians whom I wished to see were those behind the line of
guards on the Belgo-Dutch frontier; those who had remained at home
under the Germans to face humiliation and hunger. This was possible
if you had the right sort of influence and your passport the right sort of
vises to accompany a Bescheinigung, according to the form of "31
Oktober, 1914, Sect. 616, Nr. 1083," signed by the German consul at
Rotterdam, which put me in the same motor-car with Harvard, 1914,
that stopped one blustery, snowy day of late December before a
gate, with Belgium on one side and Holland on the other side of it, on
the Rosendaal-Antwerp road. "Once more!" said Harvard, 1914, who
had made this journey many times as a dispatch rider.
One of the conquerors, the sentry representing the majesty of
German authority in Belgium, examined the pass. The conqueror was
a good deal larger around the middle than when he was young, but
not so large as when he went to war. He had a scarf tied over his
ears under a cracked old patent-leather helmet, which the Saxon
Landsturm must have taken from their garrets when the Kaiser sent
the old fellows to keep the Belgians in order so that the young men
could be spared to get rheumatism in the trenches if they escaped
You could see that the conqueror missed his wife's cooking and
Sunday afternoon in the beer garden with his family. However much
he loved the Kaiser, it did not make him love home any the less. His
nod admitted us into German-ruled Belgium. He looked so lonely that
as our car started I sent him a smile. Surprise broke on his face.
Somebody not a German in uniform had actually smiled at him in
My last glimpse of him was of a grin spreading under the scarf toward
Belgium was webbed with these old Landsturm guards. If your
Passierschein was not right, you might survive the first set of sentries
and even the second, but the third, and if not the third some
succeeding one of the dozens on the way to Brussels, would hale you
before a Kommandatur. Then you were in trouble. In travelling about
Europe I became so used to passes that when I returned to New
York I could not have thought of going to Hoboken without the
German consul's visa or of dining at a French restaurant without the
"And again!" said Harvard, 1914, as we came to another sentry.
There was good reason why Harvard had his pass in a leather-bound
case under a celluloid face. Otherwise, it would soon have been worn
out in showing. He had been warned by the Commission not to talk
and he did not talk. He was neutrality personified. All he did was to
show his pass. He could be silent in three languages. The only time I
got anything like partisanship out of him and two sentences in
succession was when I mentioned the Harvard-Yale football game.
"My! Wasn't that a smear! In their new stadium, too! Oh, my! Wish I
had been there!"
When the car broke a spring half-way to Antwerp, he remarked,
"Naturally!" or, rather, a more expressive monosyllable which did not
While he and the Belgian chauffeur, with the help of a Belgian farmer
as spectator, were patching up the broken spring, I had a look at the
farm. The winter crops were in; the cabbages and Brussels sprouts in
the garden were untouched. It happened that the scorching finger of
war's destruction had not been laid on this little property. In the yard
the wife was doing the week's washing, her hands in hot water and
her arms exposed to weather so cold that I felt none too warm in a
heavy overcoat. At first sight she gave me a frown, which instantly
dissipated into a smile when she saw that I was not German.
If not German, I must be a friend. Yet if I were I would not dare talk--
not with German sentries all about. She lifted her hand from the suds
and swung it out to the west toward England and France with an
eager, craving fire in her eyes, and then she swept it across in front of
her as if she were sweeping a spider off a table. When it stopped at
arm's length there was the triumph of hate in her eyes. I thought of
the lid of a cauldron raised to let out a burst of steam as she asked
"When?" When? When would the Allies come and turn the Germans
She was a kind, hardworking woman, who would help any stranger in
trouble the best she knew how. Probably that Saxon whose smile had
spread under his scarf had much the same kind of wife. Yet I knew
that if the Allies' guns were heard driving the Germans past her
house and her husband had a rifle, he would put a shot in that
Saxon's back, or she would pour boiling water on his head if she
could. Then, if the Germans had time, they would burn the farmhouse
and kill the husband who had shot one of their comrades.
I recollect a youth who had been in a railroad accident saying: "That
was the first time I had ever seen death; the first time I realized what
death was." Exactly. You don't know death till you have seen it; you
don't know invasion till you have felt it. However wise, however able
the conquerors, life under them is a living death. True, the farmer's
property was untouched, but his liberty was gone. If you, a well-
behaved citizen, have ever been arrested and marched through the
streets of your home town by a policeman, how did you like it? Give
the policeman a rifle and a fixed bayonet and a full cartridge-box and
transform him into a foreigner and the experience would not be any
That farmer could not go to the next town without the permission of
the sentries. He could not even mail a letter to his son who was in the
trenches with the Allies. The Germans had taken his horse; theirs the
power to take anything he had--the power of the bayonet. If he
wanted to send his produce to a foreign market, if he wanted to buy
food in a foreign market, the British naval blockade closed the sea to
him. He was sitting on a chair of steel spikes, hands tied and mouth
gagged, whilst his mind seethed, solacing its hate with hope through
the long winter months. If you lived in Kansas and could not get your
wheat to Chicago, or any groceries or newspapers from the nearest
town, or learn whether your son in Wyoming were alive or dead, or
whether the man who owned your mortgage in New York had
foreclosed it or not--well, that is enough without the German sentry.
Only, instead of newspapers or word about the mortgage, the thing
you needed past that blockade was bread to keep you from starving.
America opened a window and slipped a loaf into the empty larder.
Those Belgian soldiers whom I had seen at Dixmude, wounded,
exhausted, mud-caked, shivering, were happy beside the people at
home. They were in the fight. It is not the destruction of towns and
houses that impresses you most, but the misery expressed by that
peasant woman over her washtub.
A writer can make a lot of the burst of a single shell; a photographer
showing the ruins of a block of buildings or a church makes it appear
that all blocks and all churches are in ruins. Running through Antwerp
in a car, one saw few signs of destruction from the bombardment.
You will see them if you are specially conducted. Shops were open,
people were moving about in the streets, which were well lighted. No
need of darkness for fear of bombs dropping here! German barracks
had safe shelter from aerial raids in a city whose people were the
allies of England and France. But at intervals marched the German
When our car stopped before a restaurant a knot gathered around it.
Their faces were like all the other faces I saw in Belgium--unless
German--with that restrained, drawn look of passive resistance,
persistent even when they smiled. When? When were the Allies
coming? Their eyes asked the question which their tongues dared
not. Inside the restaurant a score of German officers served by
Belgian waiters were dining. Who were our little party? What were we
doing there and speaking English--English, the hateful language of
the hated enemy? Oh, yes! We were Americans connected with the
relief work. But between the officers' stares at the sound of English
and the appealing inquiry of the faces in the street lay an abyss of
war's fierce suspicion and national policies and racial enmity, which
America had to bridge.
Before we could help Belgium, England, blockading Germany to keep
her from getting foodstuffs, had to consent. She would consent only if
none of the food reached German mouths. Germany had to agree
not to requisition any of the food. Someone not German and not
British must see to its distribution. Those rigid German military
authorities, holding fast to their military secrets, must consent to
scores of foreigners moving about Belgium and sending messages
across that Belgo-Dutch frontier which had been closed to all except
official German messages. This called for men whom both the
German and the British duellists would trust to succour the human
beings crouched and helpless under the circling flashes of their steel.
Fortunately, our Minister to Belgium was Brand Whitlock. He is no
Talleyrand or Metternich. If he were, the Belgians might not have
been fed, because he might have been suspected of being too much
of a diplomatist. When an Englishman, or a German, or a Hottentot,
or any other kind of a human being gets to know Whitlock, he
recognizes that here is an honest man with a big heart. When leading
Belgians came to him and said that winter would find Belgium without
bread, he turned from the land that has the least food to that which
has the most--his own land.
For Belgium is a great shop in the midst of a garden. Her towns are
so close together that they seem only suburbs of Brussels and
Antwerp. She has the densest population in Europe. She produces
only enough food to last her for two months of the year. The food for
the other ten months she buys with the products of her factories. In
1914-15 Belgium could not send out her products; so we were to help
feed her without pay, and England and France were to give money to
buy what food we did not give.
But with the British navy generously allowing food to pass the
blockade, the problem was far from solved. Ships laden with supplies
steaming to Rotterdam--this was a matter of easy organization. How
get the bread to the hungry mouths when the Germans were using
Belgian railroads for military purposes? Germany was not inclined to
allow a carload of wheat to keep a carload of soldiers from reaching
the front, or to let food for Belgians keep the men in the trenches from
getting theirs regularly. Horse and cart transport would be
cumbersome, and the Germans would not permit Belgian teamsters
to move about with such freedom. As likely as not they might be
Anybody who can walk or ride may be a spy. Therefore, the way to
stop spying is not to let anyone walk or ride. Besides, Germany had
requisitioned most of the horses that could do more than draw an
empty phaeton on a level. But she had not drawn the water out of the
canals; though the Belgians, always whispering jokes at the expense
of the conquerors, said that the canals might have been emptied if
their contents had been beer. There were plenty of idle boats in
Holland, whose canals connect with the web of canals in Belgium.
You had only to seal the cargoes against requisition, the seal to be
broken only by a representative of the Relief Commission, and start
them to their destination.
And how make sure that those who had money should pay for their
bread, while all who had not should be reached? The solution was
simple compared to the distribution of relief after the San Francisco
earthquake and fire, for example, in our own land, where a sparser
population makes social organization comparatively loose.
The people to be relieved were in their homes. Belgium is so old a
country, her population so dense, she is so much like one big
workshop, that the Government must keep a complete set of books.
Every Belgian is registered and docketed. You know just how he
makes his living and where he lives. Upon marriage a Belgian gets a
little book, giving his name and his wife's, their ages, their
occupations, and address. As children are born their names are
added. A Belgian holds as fast to this book as a woman to a piece of
jewellery that is an heirloom.
With few exceptions, Belgian local officials had not fled the country.
They realized that this was a time when they were particularly needed
on the job to protect the people from German exactions and from
their own rashness. There were also any number of volunteers. The
thing was to get the food to them and let them organize local
The small force of Americans required to oversee the transit must
watch that the Germans did not take any of the food and retain both
British and German confidence in the absolute good faith of their
intentions. The volunteers were paid their expenses; the rest of their
reward was experience, and it was "soom expeerience," as a Belgian
said who was learning a little American slang. They talked about
canal-boat cargoes as if they had been from Buffalo to Albany on the
Erie Canal for years; they spoke of "my province" and compared
bread-lines and the efficiency of local officials. And the Germans took
none of the food; orders from Berlin were obeyed. Berlin knew that
any requisitioning of relief supplies meant that the Relief Commission
would cease work and announce to the world the reason.
However many times Americans were arrested they must be patient.
That exception who said, when he was put in a cell overnight
because he entered the military zone by mistake, that he would not
have been treated that way in England, needed a little more coaching
in preserving his mask of neutrality. For I must say that nine out of ten
of these young men, leaning over backward to be neutral, were pro-
Ally, including some with German names. But publicly you could
hardly get an admission out of them that there was any war. As for
Harvard, 1914, hang a passport carrier around the Sphinx's neck and
you have him done in stone.
Fancy any Belgian trying to get him to carry a contraband letter or a
German commander trying to work him for a few sacks of flour! When
I asked him what career he had chosen he said, "Business!" without
any waste of words. I think that he will succeed in a way to surprise
his family. It is he and all those young Americans of whom he is a
type, as distinctive of America in manner, looks, and thought as a
Frenchman is of France or a German of Germany, who carried the
torch of Peace's kindly work into war-ridden Belgium. They made you
want to tickle the eagle on the throat so he would let out a gentle,
well-modulated scream; of course, strictly in keeping with neutrality.
Red lanterns took the place of red flags swung by Landsturm sentries
on the run to Brussels as darkness fell. There was no relaxation of
watchfulness at night.
All the twenty-four hours the systematic conquerors held the net tight.
Once when my companion repeated his "Again!" and held out the
pass in the lantern's rays, I broke into a laugh, which excited his
curiosity, for you soon get out of the habit of laughing in Belgium.
"It has just occurred to me that my guidebook states that passports
are not required in Belgium!" I explained.
The editor of that guidebook will have a busy time before he issues
the next edition. For example, he will have a lot of new information
about Malines, whose ruins were revealed by the motor-lamps in
shadowy broken walls on either side of the main street. Other places
where less damage had been done were equally silent. In the smaller
towns and villages the population must keep indoors at night; for
egress and ingress are more difficult to control there than in large
cities, where guards at every corner suffice--watching, watching,
these disciplined pawns of remorselessly efficient militarism; watching
every human being in Belgium.
"The last time I saw that statue of Liege," I remarked, peering into the
darkness as we rode into the city, "the Legion of Honour conferred by
France on Liege for its brave defence was hung on its breast. I
suppose it is gone now."
"I guess yes," said Harvard, 1914.
We went to the hotel at Brussels which I had left the day before the
city's fall. English railway signs on the walls of the corridor had not
been disturbed. More ancient relic still seemed a bulletin board with
its announcement of seven passages a day to England, traversing
the Channel in "fifty-five minutes via Calais" and "three hours via
Ostend," with the space blank where the state of the weather for the
despair or the delight of intending voyagers had been chalked up in
happier days. The same men were in attendance at the office as
before; but they seemed older and their politeness that of cheerless
automatons. For five months they had been serving German officers
as guests with hate in their hearts and, in turn, trying to protect their
A story is told of how that hotel had filled with officers after the
arrival of the Germanic flood and how one day, when it was learned
that the proprietor was a Frenchman, guards were suddenly placed
at the doors and the hall was filled with luggage as every officer,
acting with characteristic official solidarity, vacated his room and
bestowed his presence elsewhere. Then the proprietor was informed
that his guests would return if he would agree to employ German
help and buy his supplies from Germany. He refused, for practical
as well as for sentimental reasons. If he had consented, think what
the Belgians would have done to him after the Germans were gone!
However, officers were gradually returning, for this was the best
hotel in town, and even conquerors are human and German conquerors
have particularly human stomachs.
Christmas In Belgium
Christmas in Belgium with the bayonet and the wolf at the door taught
me to value Christmas at home for more than its gifts and the cheer
of the fireside. It taught me what it meant to belong to a free people
and how precious is that old English saying that a man's house is his
castle, which was the inception of so much in our lives which we
accept as a commonplace. If such a commonplace can be made
secure only by fighting, then it is best to fight. At any time a foreign
soldier might enter the house of a Belgian and take him away for trial
before a military court.
Breakfast in the same restaurant as before the city's fall! Again the
big grapes which are a luxury of the rich man's table or an
extravagance for a sick friend with us! The hothouses still grew them.
What else was there for he hothouses to do, though the export of
their products was impossible? A shortage of the long, white-leafed
chicory that we call endive in New York restaurants? There were piles
of it in the Brussels market and on the hucksters' carts; nothing so
One might have excellent steaks and roasts and delicious veal; for
the heifers were being butchered as the Germans had taken all
fodder. But the bread was the Commission's brown, which everyone
had to eat. Belgium, growing quality on scanty acres with intensive
farming, had food luxuries but not the staff of life.
I looked out of the windows on to the square which four months
before I had seen crowded with people bedecked with the Allies'
colours and eagerly buying the latest editions containing the
communiques of hollow optimism. No flag in sight now except a
German flag flying over the station! But small revenges may be
enjoyed. A German soldier tried to jump on the tail of a cart driven by
a Belgian, but the Belgian whipped up his horse and the German fell
off on to the pavement, whilst the cart sped around a corner.
Out of the station came a score of German soldiers returning from the
trenches, on their way to barracks to regain strength in order that they
could bear the ordeal of standing in icy water again. They were not
the kind exhibited on Press tours to illustrate the "vigour of our
indomitable army." Eyelids drooped over hollow eye-sockets; sore,
numbed feet moved like feet which are asleep in their vain effort to
keep step. Sensitiveness to surroundings, almost to existence,
seemed to have been lost.
One was a corporal, young, tall, and full-bearded. He might have
been handsome if he had not been so haggard. He gave the lead to
the others; he seemed to know where they were going, and they
shuffled on after him in dogged painfulness. Four months ago that
corporal, with the spring of the energy of youth when the war was
young, was perhaps in that green column that went through the
streets of Brussels in the thunderous beat of their regular tread on
their way to Paris. The group was an object lesson in how much the
victor must suffer in war in order to make his victim surfer.
Some officers were at breakfast, too. Mostly they were reservists;
mostly bespectacled, with middle age swelling their girth and
hollowing their chests, but sturdy enough to apply the regulations
made for conduct of the conquered. Whilst stronger men were under
shell-fire at the front, they were under the fire of Belgian hate as
relentless as their own hate of England. You saw them always in the
good restaurants, but never in the company of Belgians, these
ostracized rulers. In four months they had made no friends; at least,
no friends who would appear with them in public. A few thousand
guards in Belgium in the companionship of conquest and seven
million Belgians in the companionship of a common helplessness!
Bayonets may make a man silent, but they cannot stop his thinking.
At the breakfast table on that Christmas morning in London, Paris, or
Berlin the patriot could find the kind of news that he liked. His racial
and rational predilections and animosities were solaced. If there
were good news it was "played up"; if there were bad news, it was not
published or it was explained. L'Echo Belge and L'Independance
Belge and all the Brussels papers were either out of business or
being issued as single sheets in Holland and England.
The Belgian, keenest of all the peoples at war for news, having less
occupation to keep his mind off the war, must read the newspapers
established under German auspices, which fed him with the pabulum
that German chefs provided, reflective of the stumbling degeneracy
of England, French weariness of the war, Russian clumsiness, and
the invincibility of Germany. If an Englishman had to read German, or
a German English, newspapers every morning he might have
understood how the Belgian felt.
Those who had sons or fathers or husbands in the Belgian army
could not send or receive letters, let alone presents. Families
scattered in different parts of Belgium could not hold reunions. But at
mass I saw a Belgian standard in the centre of the church. That flag
was proscribed, but the priests knew it was safe in that sacred place
and the worshippers might feast their eyes on it as they said their
A Bavarian soldier came in softly and stood a little apart from the
worshippers, many in mourning, at the rear; a man who was of the
same faith as the Belgians and who crossed himself with the others in
the house of brotherly love. He would go outside to obey orders; and
the others to nurse their hate of him and his race. This private in his
faded green, bowing his head before that flag in the shadows of the
nave, was war-sick, as most soldiers were; and the Belgians were
heartsick. They had the one solace in common. But if you had
suggested to him to give up Belgium, his answer would have been
that of the other Germans: "Not after all we have suffered to take it!"
Christians have a peculiar way of applying Christianity. Yet, if it were
not for Christianity and that infernal thing called the world's opinion,
which did not exist in the days of Caesar and the Belgse, the Belgians
might have been worse off than they were. More of them might have
been dead. When they were saying, "Give us this day our daily
bread" they were thinking, "An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,"
if ever their turn came.
A satirist might have repeated the apochryphal naivete of Marie
Antoinette, who asked why the people wanted bread when they could
buy such nice cakes for a sou! For all the patisserie shops were
open. Brussels is famous for its French pastry. With a store of
preserves, why shouldn't the bakeshops go on making tarts with
heavy crusts of the brown flour, when war had not robbed the bakers
of their art? It gave work to them; it helped the shops to keep open
and make a show of normality. But I noticed that they were doing little
business. Stocks were small and bravely displayed. Only the rich
could afford such luxuries, which in ordinary times were what ice-
cream cones are to us. Even the jewellery shops were open, with
diamond rings flashing in the windows.
"You must pay rent; you don't want to discharge your employees,"
said a jeweller. "There is no place to go except your shop. If you
closed it would look as if you were afraid of the Germans. It would
make you blue and the people in the street blue. One tries to go
through the motions of normal existence, anyway. But, of course, you
don't sell anything. This week I have repaired a locket which carried
the portrait of a soldier at the front and I've put a mainspring in a
watch. I'll warrant that is more than some of my competitors have
Swing around the circle in Brussels of a winter's morning and look at
the only crowds that the Germans allow to gather, and any doubt that
Belgium would have gone hungry if she had not received provisions
from the outside was dispelled. Whenever I think of a bread-line
again I shall see the faces of a Belgian bread-line. They blot out the
memory of those at home, where men are free to go and come;
where war has not robbed the thrifty of food.
It was fitting that the great central soup kitchen should be established
in the central express office of the city. For in Belgium these days
there is no express business except in German troops to the front
and wounded to the rear. The dispatch of parcels is stopped, no less
than the other channels of trade, in a country where trade was so rife,
a country that lived by trade. On the stone floor, where once
packages were arranged for forwarding to the towns whose names are
on the walls, were many great cauldrons in clusters of three, to economize
space and fuel.
"We don't lack cooks," said a chef-who had been in a leading hotel.
"So many of us are out of work. Our society of hotel and restaurant
keepers took charge. We know the practical side of the business. I
suppose you have the same kind of a society in New York and would
turn to it for help if the Germans occupied New York?"
He gave me a printed report in which I read, for example, that "M.
Arndt, professor of the Ecole Normale, had been good enough to
take charge of accounts," and "M. Catteau had been specially
appointed to look after the distribution of bread." Most appetizing that
soup prepared under direction of the best chefs in the city! The meat
and green vegetables in it were Belgian and the peas American.
Steaming hot in big cans it was sent to the communal centres, where
lines of people with pots, pitchers, and pails waited to receive their
daily allowance. A democracy was in that bread-line such as I have
never seen anywhere except at San Francisco after the earthquake.
Each person had a blue or a yellow ticket, with numbers to be
punched, like a commuter. The blue tickets were for those who had
proved to the communal authorities that they could not pay; the
yellow for those who paid five centimes for each person served. A
flutter of blue and yellow tickets all over Belgium, and in return life I
With each serving of soup went a loaf of the American brown bread.
The faces in the line were not those of people starving--they had
been saved from starvation. There was none of the emaciation which
pictures of famine in the Orient have made familiar; but they were
pinched faces, bloodless faces, the faces of people on short rations.
To the Belgian bread is not only the staff of life; it is the legs. At home
we think of bread as something that goes with the rest of the meal; to
the poorer classes of Belgians the rest of the meal is something that
goes with bread. To you and me food has meant the payment of
money to the baker and the butcher and the grocer, or the hotel-
keeper. You get your money by work or from investments. What if
there were no bread to be had for work or money? Sitting on a
mountain of gold in the desert of Sahara would not quench thirst.
Three hundred grammes, a minimum calculation--about half what the
British soldier gets--was the ration. That small boy sent by his mother
got five loaves; his ticket called for an allowance for a family of five.
An old woman got one loaf, for she was alone in the world.
Each one as he hurried by had a personal story of what war had
meant to him. They answered your questions frankly, gladly, with the
Belgian cheerfulness which was amazing considering the circumstances.
A tall, distinguished-looking man was an artist.
"No work for artists these days," he said.
No work in a community of workers where every link of the chain of
economic life had been broken. No work for the next man, a
chauffeur, or the next, a brass worker; the next, a teamster; the next,
a bank clerk; the next, a doorkeeper of a Government office; whilst
the wives of those who still had work were buying in the only market
they had. But the husbands of some were not at home. Each answer
about the absent one had an appeal that nothing can picture better
than the simple words or the looks that accompanied the words.
"The last I heard of my husband he was fighting at Dixmude--two
"Mine is wounded, somewhere in France."
"Mine was with the army, too. I don't know whether he is alive or
dead. I have not heard since Brussels was taken. He cannot get my
letters and I cannot get his."
"Mine was killed at Liege, but we have a son."
So you out in Nebraska who gave a handful of wheat might know that
said handful of wheat reached its destination in an empty stomach. If
you sent a suit of clothes, or a cap, or a pair of socks, come along to
the skating-rink, where ice-polo was played and matches and
carnivals were held in better days, and look on at the boxes, packed
tight with gifts of every manner of thing that men and women and
children wear except silk hats, which are being opened and sorted
and distributed into hastily-constructed cribs and compartments.
A Belgian woman whose father was one of Belgium's leading
lawyers--her husband was at the front-was the busy head of this
organization, because, as she said, the busier she was the more it
"keeps my mind off------" and she did not finish the sentence. How
many times I heard that "keeps my mind off------" a sentence that was
the more telling for not being finished. She and some other women
began sewing and patching and collecting garments; "but our
business grew so fast"--the business of relief is the one kind in
Belgium that does grow these days--"that now we have hundreds of
helpers. I begin to feel that I am what you would call in America a
captainess of industry."
Some of the good mothers in America were a little too thoughtful in
their kindness. An odour in a box that had evidently travelled across
the Atlantic close to the ship's boilers was traced to the pocket of a
boy's suit, which contained the hardly-distinguishable remains of a
ham sandwich, meant to be ready to hand for the hungry Belgian boy
who got that suit. Broken pots of jam were quite frequent. But no
matter. Soap and water and Belgian industry saved the suit, if not the
sandwich. Sweaters and underclothes and overcoats almost new,
and shiny old morning coats and trousers with holes in seat and
knees might represent equal sacrifice on the part of some American
three thousand miles away, and all were welcome. Needlewomen
were given work cutting up the worn-outs of grown-ups and making
them over into astonishingly good suits or dresses for youngsters.
"We've really turned the rink into a kind of department store," said the
lady. "Come into our boot department. We had some leather left in
Belgium that the Germans did not requisition, so we bought it and that
gave more Belgians work in the shoe factories. Work, you see, is
what we want to keep our minds off------"
Blue and yellow tickets here, too! Boots for children and thick-set
working-women and watery-eyed old men!
And each was required to leave behind the pair he was wearing.
"Sometimes we can patch up the cast-offs, which means work for the
cobblers," said the captainess of industry. "And who are our clerks?
Why, the people who put on the skates for the patrons of the rink, of
One could write volumes on this systematic relief work, the
businesslike industry of succouring Belgium by the businesslike
Belgians, with American help. Certainly one cannot leave out those
old men stragglers from Louvain and Bruges and Ghent--venerable
children with no offspring to give them paternal care--who took their
turn in getting bread, which they soaked thoroughly in their soup for
reasons that would be no military secret, not even in the military zone.
On Christmas Day an American, himself a smoker, thinking what
class of children he could make happiest on a limited purse,
remembered the ring around the stove and bought a basket of cheap
brier pipes and tobacco. By Christmas night some toothless gums
were sore, but a beatific smile of satiation played in white beards.
Nor can one leave out the very young babies at home, who get their
milk if grown people do not, and the older babies beyond milk but not
yet old enough for bread and meat, whose mothers return from the
bread-line to bring their children to another line, where they got
portions of a syrupy mixture which those who know say is the right
provender. On such occasions men are quite helpless. They can only
look on with a frog in the throat at pale, improperly nourished mothers
with bundles of potential manhood and womanhood in their arms. For
this was woman's work for woman. Belgian women of every class
joined in it: the competent wife of a workman, or the wife of a
millionaire who had to walk like everybody else now that her motor-
car was requisitioned by the army.
Pop-eyed children, ruddy-cheeked, aggressive children, pinched-
faced children, kept warm by sweaters that some American or
English children spared, happy in that they did not know what their
elders knew! Not the danger of physical starvation so much as the
actual presence of mental starvation was the thing that got on your
nerves in a land where the sun is seldom seen in winter and rainy
days are the rule. It was bad enough in the "zone of occupation," so
called, a line running from Antwerp past Brussels to Mons. One could
guess what it was like in the military zone to the westward, where only
an occasional American relief representative might go.
This is not saying that the Germans were stricter than necessary, if
we excuse the exasperation of their militarism, in order to prevent
information from passing out, when a multitude of Belgians would
have risked their lives gladly to help the Allies. One spy bringing
accurate information might cost the German army thousands of
casualties; perhaps decide the fate of a campaign. They saw the
Belgians as enemies. They were fighting to take the lives of their
enemies and save their own lives, which made it tough for them and
the French and the British--tough all round, but very particularly tough
for the Belgians.
It was good for a vagrant American to dine at the American Legation,
where Mr. and Mrs. Whitlock were far, very far, from the days in
Toledo, Ohio, where he was mayor. Some said that the place of the
Minister to Belgium was at Havre, where the Belgian Government
had its offices; but neither Whitlock nor the Belgian people thought
so, nor the German Government, since they had realized his prestige
with the Belgians and how they would listen to him in any crisis when
their passions might break the bonds of wisdom. Hugh Gibson, being
the omnipresent Secretary of Legation in four languages, naturally
was also present. We recalled dining together in Honduras, when he
was in the thick of vexations.
Trouble accommodatingly waits for him wherever he goes, because
he has a gift for taking care of trouble, in the ascendancy of a
cheerful spirit and much knowledge of international law. His present
for the Minister, who daily received stacks of letters from all sources
asking the impossible, as well as from Americans who wanted to be
sure that the food they gave was not being purloined by the
Germans, was a rubber stamp, "Blame-it-all-there's-a-state-of-war-in-
Belgium!" which he suggested might save typewriting--a recommendation
which the Minister refused to accept, not to Gibson's surprise.
On that Christmas afternoon and evening, the people promenaded
the streets as usual. You might have thought it a characteristic
Christmas afternoon or evening except for the Landsturm patrols. But
there was an absence of the old gaiety, and they were moving as if
from habit and moving was all there was to do.
They had heard the sound of the guns at Dixmude the night before.
Didn't the sound seem a little nearer? No. The wind from that
direction was stronger. When? When would the Allies come?
The Future Of Belgium
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.
With the world making every Belgian man a hero and the unknowing
convinced that a citizen soldiery at Liege--defended by the Belgian
standing army--had rushed from their homes with rifles and beaten
German infantry, it is right to repeat that the schipperke spirit was not
universal, that at no time had Belgium more than a hundred thousand
men under arms, and that on the Dixmude line she maintained never
more than eighty thousand men out of a population of seven millions,
which should yield from seven hundred thousand to a million; while
they lost a good deal of sympathy both in England and in France,
from all I heard, through the number of able-bodied refugees who
were disinclined to serve. It was a mistaken idealism that swept over
the world, early in the war, characterizing a whole nation with the
gallantry of its young king and his little army.
The spirit of the Boers or of the Minute Men at Lexington was not in
the Belgian people. It could not be from their very situation and
method of life. They did not believe in war; they did not expect to
practise war; but war came to them out of the still blue heavens as it
came to the prosperous Incas of Peru.
Where one was wrong was in the expectation that her bankers and
capitalists--an aristocracy of money not given to the simple life--and
her manufacturers, artisans, and traders, if not her peasants, would
soon make truce with Caesar for individual profit. Therein, Belgium
showed that she was not lacking in the moral spirit which, with the
schipperke's, became a fighting spirit. It seemed as if the metal of
many Belgians, struck to a white heat in the furnace of war, had
cooled under German occupation to the tempered steel of a new
When you travelled over Belgium after it was pacified, the logic of
German methods became clear. What was haphazard in their reign
of terror was due to the inevitable excesses of a soldiery taking the
calculated redress ordered by superiors as licence in the first red
passion of war to a war-mad nation, which was sullen because
Belgians had not given up the keys of the gate to France.
The extent of the ruins in Belgium east of the Yser has been
exaggerated. They were the first ruins, most photographed, most
advertised; bad enough, inexcusable enough, and warrantedly
causing a spell of horror throughout the civilized world. We have
heard all about them, mind, while hearing nothing about those in
Lorraine, where the Bavarians exceeded Prussian ruthlessness in
reprisals. I mean, that to have read the newspapers in early
September, 1914, one would have thought that half the towns of
Belgium were debris while the truth is that only a small percentage
are--those in the path of the German army's advance. Two-thirds of
Louvain itself is unharmed; though the fact alone of its venerable
library being in ashes is sufficient outrage, if not another building had
The German army planned destruction with all the regularity that it
billeted troops, or requisitioned supplies, or laid war indemnities. It did
not destroy by shells exclusively. It deliberately burned homes. No
matter whether the owners were innocent or not, the homes were
burned as an example. The principle applied was that of punishing
half a dozen or all the boys in the class in the hope of getting the real
Cold ruins mark blocks where sniping was thought to have occurred.
The Germans insist that theirs was the merciful way. Krieg ist Krieg.
When a hundred citizens of Louvain were gathered and shot
because they were the first citizens of Louvain to hand, the purpose
was the security of the mass at the expense of the individual,
according to the war-is-war machine reasoning. No doubt there was
firing on German troops by civilians. What did the Germans expect
after the way that they had invaded Belgium? If they had bothered
with trials and investigations, the conquerors say, sniping would have
kept up. They may have taken innocent lives and burned the homes
of the innocent, they admit, but their defence is that thereby they
saved many thousands of their soldiers and of Belgians, and
prevented the feud between the rulers and the ruled from becoming
Sniping over, the next step in policy was to keep the population quiet
with a minimum of soldiery, which would permit a maximum at the
front. In a thickly-settled country, so easily policed, in a land with the
population inured to peace, the wisdom of keeping quiet was soon
evident to the people. What if Boers had been in the Belgians' place?
Would they have attempted guerrilla warfare? Would you or I want to
bring destruction on neighbours in a land without any rural fastnesses
as a rendezvous for operations? One could tell only if a section of our
country were invaded.
A burned block cost less than a dead German soldier. The system
was efficacious. It was mercilessness mixed with craft. When
Prussian brusqueness was found to be unnecessarily irritating to the
population, causing rash Belgians to turn desperate, the elders of the
Saxon and Bavarian coreligionists were called in. They were amiable
fathers of families, who would obey orders without taking the law into
their own hands. The occupation was strictly military. It concerned
itself with the business of national suffocation. All the functions of
government were in German hands. But Belgian policemen guided
the street traffic, arrested culprits for ordinary misdemeanours, and
took them before Belgian judges. This concession, which also meant
a saving in soldiers, only aggravated to the Belgian the regulations
directed against his personal freedom.
"Eat, drink, and live as usual. Go to your own police courts for
misdemeanours," was the German edict in a word; "but remember
that ours is the military power, and no act that aids the enemy, that
helps the cause of Belgium in this war, is permitted. Observe that
particular affiche about a spy, please. He was shot."
At every opportunity Belgians were told that the British and the
French could never come to their rescue. The Allies were beaten. It
was the British who got Belgium into trouble; the British who were
responsible for the idleness, the penury, the hunger and the suffering
in Belgium. The British had used Belgium as a cat's-paw; then they
had deserted her. But Belgians remained mostly unconvinced. They
were making war with mind and spirit, if not with arms.
"We know how to suffer in Belgium," said a Belgian jurist. "Our ability
to suffer and to hold fast to our hearths has kept us going through the
centuries. Flemish and French, we have stubbornness in common.
Now a ruffian has come into our house and taken us by the throat. He
can choke us to death, or he can slowly starve us to death, but he
cannot make us yield. No, we shall never forgive!"
"You too hate, then?" I asked.
"Of course I hate. For the first time in my life I know what it is to hate;
and so do my countrymen. I begin to enjoy my hate. It is one of the
privileges of our present existence. We cannot stand on chairs and
tables as they do in Berlin cafes and sing our hate, but no one can
stop our hating in secret."
Beside the latest verboten and regulation of Belgian conduct on the
city walls were posted German official news bulletins. The Belgians
stopped to read; they paused to re-read. And these were the rare
occasions when they smiled, and they liked to have a German sentry
see that smile.
"Pour les enfants!" they whispered, as if talking to one another about
a creche. Little ones, be good! Here is a new fairy tale!
When a German wanted to buy something he got frigid politeness
and attention--very frigid, telling politeness--from the clerk, which said:
"Beast! Invader! I do not ask you to buy, but as you ask, I sell; and as
I sell I hate! I hate! ! I hate! ! !"
An officer entering a shop and seeing a picture of King Albert on the
"The orders are to take that down!"
"But don't you love your Kaiser?" asked the woman who kept the
"And I love my King!" was the answer. "I like to look at his picture just
as much as you like to look at your Kaiser's."
"I had not thought of it in that way!" said the officer.
Indeed, it is very hard for any conqueror to think of it in that way. So
the picture remained on the wall.
How many soldiers would it take to enforce the regulation that no
Belgian was to wear the Belgian colours? Imagine thousands and
thousands of Landsturm men moving about and plucking King
Albert's face or the black, yellow and red from Belgian buttonholes!
No sooner would a buttonhole be cleared in front than the emblem
would appear in a buttonhole in the rear. The Landsturm would face
counter, flank, frontal, and rear attacks in a most amusing military
manoeuvre, which would put those middle-aged conquerors fearfully
out of breath and be rare sport for the Belgians. You could not arrest
the whole population and lead them off to jail; and if you bayoneted a
few--which really those phlegmatic, comfortable old Landsturms
would not have the heart to do for such a little thing--why, it would get
into the American Press, and the Berlin Foreign Office would say:
"There you are, you soldiers, breaking all the crockery again!"
In the smaller towns, where the Germans were billeted in Belgian
houses, of course the hosts had to serve their unwelcome guests.
"Yet we managed to let them know what was in our hearts," said one
woman. "Some tried to be friendly. They said they had wives and
children at home; and we said: 'How glad your wives and children
would be to see you! Why don't you go home?'"
When a report reached the commander in Ghent that an old man had
concealed arms, a sergeant with a guard was sent to search the
"Yes, my son has a rifle."
"Where is it?"
"In his hands on the Yser, if he is not dead, monsieur. You are
welcome to search, monsieur."
Belgium was developing a new humour, a humour at the expense of
the Germans. In their homes they mimicked their rulers as freely as
they pleased. To carry mimickry into the streets meant arrest for the
elders, but not always for the children. You have heard the story,
which is true, of how some gamins put carrots in old bowler hats to
represent the spikes of German helmets, and at their leader's
command of "On to Paris!" did a goose-step backwards. There is
another which you may not have heard of a small boy who put on
grandfather's spectacles, a pillow under his coat, and a card on his
cap, 'Officer of the Landsturm.' The conquerors had enough sense
not to interfere with the battalion which was taking Paris; but the
pseudo-Landsturm officer was chased into a doorway and got a cuff
after his placard was taken away from him.
When a united public opinion faces bayonets it is not altogether
helpless to reply. By the atmospheric force of mass it enjoys a
conquest of its own. If a German officer or soldier entered a street
car, women drew aside in a way to indicate that they did not want
their garments contaminated. People walked by the sentries in the
streets giving them room as you would give a mangy dog room, yet
as if they did not see the sentries; as if no sentries existed.
The Germans said that they wanted to be friendly. They even
expressed surprise that the Belgians would not return their advances.
They sent out invitations to social functions in Brussels, but no one
came--not even to a ball given by the soldiers to the daughters of the
poor. Belgium stared its inhospitality, its contempt, its cynical
drolleries at the invader.
I kept thinking of a story I heard in Alaska of a man who had shown
himself yellow by cheating his partner out of a mine. He appeared
one day hungry at a cabin occupied by half a dozen men who knew
him. They gave him food and a bunk that night; they gave him
breakfast; they even carried his blanket-roll out to his sled and
harnessed his dogs as a hint, and saw him go without one man
having spoken to him. No matter if that man believed he had done no
wrong, he would have needed a rhinoceros hide not to have felt this
silence. Such treatment the Belgians have given to the Germans,
except that they furnished the shelter and harnessed the team under
duress, as they so specifically indicate by every act. No wonder, then,
that the old Landsturm guards, used at home to saying "Wie gehts?"
and getting a cheery answer from the people they passed in the
streets, were lonely.
Not only stubborn, but shrewd, these Belgians. Both qualities were
brought out in the officials who had to deal with the Germans,
particularly in the small towns and where destruction had been worst.
Take, for example, M. Nerincx, of Louvain, who has energy enough to
carry him buoyantly through an American political campaign,
speaking from morning to midnight. He had been in America. I
insisted that he ought to give up his professorship, get naturalized,
and run for office in America. I know that he would soon be mayor of
a town, or in Congress.
When the war began he was professor of international law at the
ancient university whose walls alone stand, surrounding the ashes of
its priceless volumes, across from the ruined cathedral. With the
burgomaster a refugee from the horrors of that orgy, he turned man
of action on behalf of the demoralized people of the town with a
thousand homes in ruins. Very lucky the client in its lawyer. He is the
kind of man who makes the best of the situation; picks up the
fragments of the pitcher, cements them together with the first material
at hand, and goes for more milk. It was he who got a German
commander to sign an agreement not to "kill, burn, or plunder" any
more, and the signs were still up on some houses saying that "This
house is not to be burned except by official order."
There in the Hotel de Ville, which is quite unharmed, he had his office,
within reach of the German commander. He yielded to Caesar and
protected his own people day in and day out, diplomatic, watchful,
Belgian. And he was cheerful. What other people could have retained
any vestige of cheer! Sometimes one wondered if it were not partly
due to an absence of keen nerve-sensibilities, or to some other of the
traits which are a product of the Belgian hothouse and Belgian
I might tell you about M. Nerincx's currency system; how he issued
paper promises to pay when he gave employment to the idle in
repairing those houses which permitted of being repaired, and
cleaned the streets of debris, till ruined Louvain looked as shipshape
as ruined Pompeii; and how he got a little real money from Brussels
to stop depreciation when the storekeepers came to him and said
that they had stacks of his notes which no mercantile concern would
M. Nerincx was practising in the life about all that he ever learned and
taught at the university, "which we shall rebuild!" he declared, with
cheery confidence. "You will help us in America," he said. "I'm going
to America to lecture one of these days about Louvain!"
"You have the most famous ruins, unless it is Rheims," I assured him.
"You will get flocks of tourists"--particularly if he fenced in the ruins
of the library and burned leaves of ancient books were on sale.
"Then you will not only have fed, but have helped to rebuild Belgium,"
A shadow of apprehension overhung his anticipation of the day of
Belgium's delivery. Many a Belgian had arms hidden from the alert
eye of German espionage, and his bitterness was solaced by the
thought; "I'll have a shot at the Germans when they go!" The lot of the
last German soldier to leave a town, unless the garrison slips away
overnight, would hardly make him a good life-insurance risk.
My last look at a Belgian bread-line was at Liege, that town which
had had a blaze of fame in August, 1914, and was now almost
forgotten. An industrial town, its mines and works were idle. The
Germans had removed the machinery for rifle-making, which has
become the most valuable kind of machinery in the world next to that
for making guns and shells. If skilled Belgians here or elsewhere were
called upon to serve the Germans at their craft, they suddenly
became butter-fingered. So that bread-line at Liege was long, its
queue stretching the breadth of the cathedral square.
As most of the regular German officers in Belgium were cavalrymen--
there was nothing for cavalry to do on the Aisne line of trenches--it
was quite in keeping that the aide to the commandant of Liege, who
looked after my pass to leave the country, should be a young officer
of Hussars. He spoke English well; he was amiable and intelligent.
While I waited for the commandant to sign the pass the aide chatted
of his adventures on the pursuit of the British to the Marne. The
British fought like devils, he said. It was a question if their new army
would be so good. He showed me a photograph of himself in a British
"When we took some prisoners I was interested in their overcoats,"
he explained. "I asked one of the Tommies to let me try on his. It fitted
me perfectly, so I kept it as a souvenir and had this photograph made
to show my friends."
Perhaps a shade of surprise passed over my face.
"You don't understand," he said. "That Tommy had to give me his
coat! He was a prisoner."
On my way out from Liege I was to see Vise--the town of the
gateway--the first town of the war to suffer from frightfulness. I had
thought of it as entirely destroyed. A part of it had survived.
A delightful old Bavarian Landsturmman searched me for contraband
letters when our cart stopped on the Belgian side of a barricade at
Maastricht, with Dutch soldiers on the other side. His examination
was a little perfunctory, almost apologetic, and he did want to be
friendly. You guessed that he was thinking he would like to go around
the corner and have "ein Glas Bier" rather than search me. What a
hearty "Auf wiedersehen!" he gave me when he saw that I was
inclined to be friendly, too!
I was glad to be across that frontier, with a last stamp on my
Passierschein; glad to be out of the land of those ghostly Belgian
millions in their living death; glad not to have to answer again their
ravenously whispered "When?" When would the Allies come?
The next time that I was in Belgium it was in the British lines of the
Ypres salient, two months later. When should I be next in Brussels?
With a victorious British army, I hoped. A long wait it was to be for a
conquered people, listening each day and trying to think that the
sound of gun-fire was nearer.
The stubborn, passive resistance and self-sacrifice that I have
pictured was that of a moral leadership of a majority shaming the
minority; of an ostracism of all who had relations with the enemy. Of
course, it was not the spirit of the whole. The American Commission,
as charity usually must, had to overcome obstacles set in its path by
those whom it would aid. Belgian politicians, in keeping with the
weakness of their craft, could no more forego playing politics in time
of distress than some that we had in San Francisco and some we
have heard of only across the British Channel from Belgium.
Zealous leaders exaggerated the famine of their districts in order to