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At that time, bear in mind, the greatest danger to Belgium came from France and not from Germany. We intervened to protect Belgium against France, exactly as we are doing now to protect her against Germany. We proceeded in exactly the same way. We invited both the belligerent Powers to state that they had no intention of violating Belgian territory.
What was the answer given by Bismarck ? He said it was superfluous to ask Prussia such a question in view of the treaties in force. France gave a similar answer.
We received at that time the thanks of the Belgian people for our intervention in a very remarkable document. It is a document addressed by the municipality of Brussels to Queen Victoria after that intervention, and it reads:
“The great and noble people over whose destinies you preside has just given a further proof of its benevolent sentiments towards our coun
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try. ... The voice of the English nation has been heard above the din of arms, and it has asserted the principles of justice and right. Next to the unalterable attachment of the Belgian people to their independence, the strongest sentiment which fills their hearts is that of an imperishable gratitude.”
That was in 1870. Mark what followed. Three or four days after that document of thanks, a French army was wedged up against the Belgian frontier, every means of escape shut out by a ring of flame from Prussian cannon. There was one way of escape. What was that? Violating the neutrality of Belgium. What did they do? The French on that occasion preferred ruin and humiliation to the breaking of their bond.
The French Emperor, the French Marshals, a hundred thousand gallant Frenchmen in arms, preferred to be carried captive to the strange land of their enemies, rather than dishonor the name of their country. It was the last French Army in the field. Had they violated Belgian neutrality, the whole history of that war would have been changed, and yet, when it was the interest of France to break the treaty then, she did not do it.
"A SCRAP OF PAPER” It is the interest of Prussia to-day to break the treaty, and she has done it. She avows it with cynical contempt for every principle of justice. She says: “Treaties only bind you when it is your interest to keep them.” “What is a treaty?” says the German Chancellor. “A scrap
Have you any £5 notes about you? I am not calling for them. Have you any of those neat little Treasury £1 notes? If you have, burn them; they are only scraps of paper. What are they made of? Rags. What are they worth? The whole credit of the British Empire.
Scraps of paper! I have been dealing with scraps of paper within the last month. One suddenly found the commerce of the world coming to a standstill. The machine had stopped. Why? I will tell you. We discovered — many of us for the first time, for I do not pretend that I do not know much more about the machinery of commerce to-day than I did six weeks ago, and there are many others like me — we discovered that the machinery of commerce was moved by bills of exchange.
I have seen some of them, wretched, crinkled, scrawled over, blotched, frowsy, and yet those wretched little scraps of paper move great ships
laden with thousands of tons of precious cargo from one end of the world to the other. What is the motive power behind them? The honor of commercial men.
Treaties are the currency of International statesmanship. Let us be fair: German merchants, German traders, have the reputation of being as upright and straightforward as any traders in the world, but if the currency of German commerce is to be debased to the level of that of her statesmanship, no trader from Shanghai to Valparaiso will ever look at a German signature again.
This doctrine of the scrap of paper, this doctrine which is proclaimed by Bernhardi, that treaties only bind a nation as long as it is to its interest, goes under the root of all public law. It is the straight road to barbarism. It is as if you were to remove the Magnetic Pole because it was in the way of a German cruiser. The whole navigation of the seas would become dangerous, difficult and impossible; and the whole machinery of civilization will break down if this doctrine wins in this war.
We are fighting against barbarism, and there is only one way of putting it right. If there are nations that say they will only respect treaties when it is to their interest to do so, we must make it to their interest to do so for the future.
GERMANY'S PERJURY What is their defense? Consider the interview which took place between our Ambassador and the great German officials. When their attention was called to this treaty to which they were parties, they said: “We cannot help that. Rapidity of action is the great German asset.” There is a greater asset for a nation than rapidity of action, and that is honest dealing.
What are Germany's excuses? She says Belgium was plotting against her; Belgium was engaged in a great conspiracy with Britain and with France to attack her. Not merely is it not true, but Germany knows it is not true.
What is her other excuse? That France meant to invade Germany through Belgium. That is absolutely untrue.
France offered Belgium five army corps to defend her if she were attacked. Belgium said: "I do not require them; I have the word of the Kaiser. Shall Caesar send a lie?”
All these tales about conspiracy have been vamped up since. A great nation ought to be ashamed to behave like a fraudulent bankrupt, perjuring its way through its obligations. What she says is not true. She had deliberately broken this treaty, and we were in honor bound to stand by it.