WE HEAR from all sides the question: "Can the Netherlands be neutral?" The reply is: "What else at the present time can she be?" More and more she is coming back to the fundamental principle of neutrality which, after a long experience with other policies, she took as her guiding doctrine in the nineteenth century -- a self-determined neutrality, begotten both of her strong sense of national independence and of her good will towards all her neighbors. She is coming back to this attitude deliberately, by the force of circumstances, after a brief sojourn in that quite different atmosphere of collective security which the Covenant of the League of Nations for a time engendered in Europe.
The establishment of the League profoundly changed the Dutch people's conception of their international position. Under the spell of the League spirit they prepared to abandon the attitude of neutral reserve to which they had learned to look for safety. They willingly shouldered the burdens of League membership in the belief that through the general acceptance of these obligations everybody's peace would be protected. True, from the beginning a few eminent skeptics expressed misgivings. The absence of the United States and of Germany was felt to leave bad gaps in the new front against war. Nevertheless, non-militarist Holland, peaceful and pacifist Holland, commercial Holland, idealistic and unsophisticated Holland, greeted the new plan with satisfaction and on the whole placed her confidence in it. The general assumption prevailed that the old principles of neutrality had been superseded, for under the Covenant the Netherlands would have to side against an aggressor. The time-honored freedom of the neutral to trade with both belligerents would no longer redound to Holland's national prosperity. Her territory would not be closed to the passage of military and naval forces acting under international sanction. Even her own armed force might have to participate in collective enterprises.
Holland never quite regarded these various possibilities as practical realities: the mere fact that they existed as
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