The Spectator

The Spectator at war: Military execution and the act of ‘Germanism’

The Giving up of Louvain to ‘Military Execution’, from The Spectator, 5 September 1914:

GERMANY has dealt herself the hardest blow which she has yet suffered in the war. By burning Louvain, killing we know not how many of its inhabitants, and turning the rest (say nearly forty thousand men, women, and children) adrift in the fields and on the pillaged countryside, she has forfeited the consideration of decent men. She has committed a deed which two centuries of exemplary conduct could scarcely efface. “German” must for a long time to come be almost synonymous with those epithets of nationality which we use to denote barbaric behaviour, particularly barbarism directed against a cultured conception of life. Germany must henceforth occupy a place with the Vandals and the Huns. Let us not confuse this piece of Vandalism, or Germanism, with the outbreak of an over-tried, nerve- racked, hungry, or exasperated soldiery. If an ebullition of licence among troops temporarily out of hand had been the cause of the destruction of Louvain, we should have more to deplore than to denounce. As it is, denunciation, flowing from a just but unmeasured anger, rises in the mind, and for the moment anger obliterates every other feeling. For nothing is clearer than that the crime was planned and accomplished deliberately. If the German soldiers had exceeded their orders in burning the houses, there would have been time to stop the terrible deed of civic profanity before it had gone very far. But no attempt was made to arrest the work of destruction. The troops were supplied with inflammable materials and ordered to burn, to destroy, to make an example.

Even now that the truth is only too well attested one searches for some pretext that might have seemed a justification to German minds.

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