Page 3415

3415 THE TWENTIETH CENTURY-THE GREAT WAR.

been foolish enough to enter it would have

found himself in a death trap from which

there would have been no hope of escape.

The Germans knew all about this line

of forts, just as, thanks to the ramifications

of their wonderful spy system, they knew

all about every fort in the world. They

probably thought that by using the powerful artillery they had secretly developed

they could smash their way through;

but they knew well that to do so would

take much time-and time was an all important factor. Therefore, they looked

elsewhere for an avenue of ingress.

Now the natural military gateway from

Germany into France and vice versa is

Belgium. It is for this reason that this

little country, only about a third the

size of Indiana but three times more

populous, has for ages been the cockpit

of Europe. It was here that Conde and

Turenne and William of Orange and

Marlborough fought in the days of Louis

XIV., and that Napoleon was defeated

at Waterloo. This region has, beyond

doubt, been the scene of more hard fighting

than any other region of its size in the

world. How the soldiers swore in Flanders

had been mentioned by a novelist even in

the eighteenth century, and it was there

that our own Miles Standish was saved

by his armor of proof from a bullet that

otherwise would have laid his forgotten

bones "in the Flemish morasses."

An army which succeeds in passing

through Belgium finds itself within a few

days' march of Paris over country that

possesses few natural obstacles to an invader. Furthermore, and this was highly

important, almost nothing had been done

in the way of constructing fortifications.

Practically the only fortress in this region

of France was Maubeuge, and even Maubeuge was not of the first class. The French

had depended upon the fact that beyond

this frontier lay Belgium, a little nation

with whom they were on cordial terms;

and they had concentrated all their energies on the frontier that faced Germany.

These considerations and the fact that

Belgium had only a small and poorly

trained army combined to give this route

a particular fascination for the Germans.

It was exactly the route they needed to

carry out their plan of striking France a

staggering blow before Russia could come

up.

Unfortunately for them Belgium was

on friendly terms with both Germany and

France, and, what was still more important,

it was a state the "perpetual neutrality" of

which had been solemnly guaranteed by

France, Great Britain, Austria, Russia, and

Prussia-the five great powers that were

now going to war. This treaty neutralizing

Belgium had been signed in 1839. There

had been some danger of a violation of the

treaty in 1870, on the outbreak of the

Franco-Prussian war, and Gladstone, then

Prime Minister of England, had secured

from both belligerents a guarantee to respect Belgium's neutrality. In order to

make assurance doubly sure, a new treaty

was, in fact, signed by France and by the

North German Confederation, providing

for the neutrality of Belgium during the

war and for twelve months thereafter, and

declaring that thereafter it should continue to be protected by the Quintuple

Treaty of 1839. There can be no question

that these treaties were binding upon the

German Empire, and that, at the beginning

of August, 1914, the inviolability of Belgium was as safe as international law could

make it.

Such, however, was the contempt under

which international obligations were held

that, for many years, it had been suggested

that Germany might use the Belgian route

by which to strike France; and the reverse

possibility had also been mentioned, though

much less frequently. It would have

been well for France if she had taken the

possibility more seriously and had fortified her Belgian frontier. That she did

not do so was probably partly- due to lack

of money with which to do the work, partly

to a well founded belief that Great Britain

would not quietly permit Germany to cross

Belgium.

The dangerous position of Belgium early

occurred to Sir Edward Grey, and, on

July 31st, he inquired of both Germany

and France whether, in case of war, in