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"THE Germans are bound to attack in the late spring or early summer. They simply cannot wait until we and the British attain superiority in manpower and materials." It is the French Minister at the Hague speaking, the clever and charming Baron de Vitrolles, and the date of my conversation with him is January 1940. He continues: "Where will the battle be fought out? There are two traditional battlefields in Europe -- Lombardy and Flanders. The second will be the scene of the big battle of the present war, just as it was of another great war -- Waterloo. The Germans will attack via the Netherlands and Belgium and the decisive battle of this war will develop somewhere within a radius of fifty miles from Waterloo. It will be a war of movement. And in this kind of warfare we always have been superior to the Teutons." The Minister's words, except the last sentence, were almost prophetic. They showed that responsible French quarters knew that the attack on their country was bound to come and that it would come via the Low Countries.
Why did France and the Low Countries not do everything in their power to forestall the German move? The answer is a sad one. It is a tragic story of lack of statesmanship in Belgium and the Netherlands, where King Leopold and Queen Wilhelmina refused to conclude an alliance with the Western Powers or to make military arrangements between the respective general staffs. It is a story, moreover, of incompetence, inefficiency and fifth column activities both in the Low Countries and in France.
For two years the Low Countries had been living in constant fear that their mighty neighbor, Nazi Germany, might launch a sudden attack against them and would start its advertised Blitzkrieg against France across their territories. Though this fear had existed for a long time, both Belgium and the Netherlands refused to make alliances or initiate staff talks with the Western Powers. And though they refused to make arrangements for the crisis, they expected these two Powers to help them when it came. As far back as the end of March 1939 the world press published alarming reports of Germany's intention to launch an attack against Switzerland and Holland. All the small neutrals felt it necessary to take certain military precautions. Then in August 1939 the war clouds started to gather in earnest. Again the small countries were compelled to effect precautionary measures. Both Holland and Belgium took for granted that if war should break out over Danzig, the Western Powers would try to help Poland by moving against Germany; whereupon Germany, to counteract this move, would launch her motorized divisions into the Low Countries with a view to pushing through into Northern France. Now Belgium had been constructing considerable defense works ever since 1931. As the threat of war became more imminent she increased the pace. Holland, owing to Socialist and other pacifist influences and a long tradition of neutrality, had considerably neglected her defenses. Yet she also started to develop fortifications and defense works, coupled with inundation preparations.
When I arrived in Holland in October 1939 there were persistent rumors, based on the concentration of forty Nazi divisions opposite the Low Countries, of an imminent German attack. At the beginning of November the situation became so tense that King Leopold, tipped off by German friends, rushed to The Hague to see Queen Wilhelmina in the hope that the two countries might avoid an invasion by making a conciliatory offer to Berlin jointly. The meeting of the two rulers took place on November 6. The next day steel-helmeted police, armed with carbines and revolvers, suddenly appeared around all public buildings in Dutch cities. Today we know that the Dutch Nazis had organized a putsch for November 11. But the authorities discovered the plan in time and arrested many Nazis, among them several score officers and soldiers. Furthermore, the head of the British secret service, Captain Stevens, and his assistant, Sigismund Payne Best, were kidnapped on November 9 by the Gestapo at a Dutch frontier village, Venloo. The next day the German troop concentrations were augmented. Holland mobilized all her forces in readiness to repel what seemed an imminent attack.
While I realized the seriousness of the situation, I was of the opinion at that time that this German move was partly a measure of intimidation, but that most of all it was tactical. One of the probable purposes of the German feint seemed to me to find out how Belgium and Holland would act in case a Blitz attack really occurred; but more than that, its purpose was to find out what the French and the British would do.
If this was the aim of the Germans they succeeded in attaining it. In November of last year they knew exactly where and when the Dutch were going to flood their territories and what regiments would be rushed where. They knew how quickly the first line of the Dutch defenses could be manned in a crisis. The same occurred in Belgium. This was the information the Germans needed to enable them to calculate the moves of their own army so as always to be hours -- or even only a few minutes -- ahead of the respective defensive moves of their opponents.
The Germans also learned through their spies about the movements of the French and British troops along the extension of the Maginot Line. They came to the conclusion that the French and British could not send help fast enough to Belgium and the Netherlands to be effective if no special arrangements had been concluded in advance between those four countries. They also wanted to find out whether the Allies were going to rush important air forces to Holland. From their knowledge of Allied dispositions in the November 1939 crisis in the Low Countries the German Staff came to the conclusion that neither Holland nor Belgium could count on really substantial aërial help from Britain, and that almost none would come from France.
Nevertheless, there were factors in both the Dutch and the Belgian defense moves -- the Belgian especially -- which necessitated certain alterations in the original Blitzkrieg plans. The Germans noticed that Belgium had been feverishly improving her defenses along the Albert Canal. Yet the German plan was to launch the first blow at exactly the same spot as in August 1914. It was a return to the original Schlieffen Plan, which did not make the 1914 mistake of leaving out Holland. In 1914 the first Uhlans crossed the Meuse south of Visé; in 1940 the German motorized divisions crossed the river north of Visé, only a few miles distant. "On revient toujours à son premier amour."
But before actually launching their blow the Germans wanted to make a further rehearsal which would also serve the purpose of attracting the Belgians' attention to a part of their defenses where the Germans had no intention of attacking. For this purpose an "incident" was shrewdly staged. An airplane with two German staff majors landed near the Belgian frontier, allegedly because of lack of gas. In the plane were found the plans of an impending attack, presumably scheduled for January 13, 1940. According to these plans the Germans contemplated piercing the Belgian defense lines between Andenne and Huy on the Meuse River. The subterfuge worked. The Belgians now started feverishly to fortify their positions in that sector, diverting their attention from the Lower Meuse and the Albert Canal where four months later the decisive German attack was actually launched.
After this second alerte in Belgium in January 1940, came a third at the beginning of April. It, too, turned out to be another feint, this time designed to divert attention from the German movement of troops in preparation for the attack against Denmark and Norway. Two days afterwards that attack took place. The alerte of January 1940 had already caused Belgium to take a further step towards completing her mobilization. The Belgian mobilization consisted of five phases, of which "D" was the last. By it virtually all men who could carry arms or were experts were mobilized. Belgium had now put phase "D" into operation. In April Holland also took further mobilization measures and continued feverishly working on her defenses.
Hardly had the excitement caused by the start of the Norwegian campaign died down when it was renewed by fresh rumors of an impending attack on the Low Countries. It became known that the Germans had constructed concrete piers in the Moselle and Sauer Rivers opposite Wasserbillig and Echternach (both in Luxembourg), and it seemed obvious that these piers were part of a construction by which German tanks were to ford the two rivers. The fright in the city of Luxembourg reached such proportions that many persons fled into neighboring Belgium. There also were great German troop movements which obviously were intended to intimidate the Netherlands and Belgium. Along the whole stretch of German frontier from the North Sea down to the Saar -- that is, facing the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg -- the Germans had by then concentrated eighty divisions (including, as I said above, fourteen of their seventeen motorized divisions). About May 6 there was every evidence that the German attack was soon to be launched. All leaves in the Dutch and Belgian Armies were stopped and for three nights Dutch patrols had to stay constantly in their foremost defense positions in a state of complete readiness.
May 9 apparently brought some alleviation of the strain. Military circles in Brussels became convinced that the attack was postponed, at least for a few days. Why did the Belgian General Staff think the Germans had postponed the date of the attack? According to a semi-official Belgian explanation, the relaxation of tension came from the fact that several of the German motorized divisions were known to have been moved away from the district of Aix-la-Chapelle. (Where they were taken was not then known. We found out later that they had been moved overnight to positions opposite Luxembourg!) The fifth column in Belgium helped to emphasize this "change for the better" by talking about the new disposition of the German tank corps. Some of my Belgian friends have openly said that members of the Belgian General Staff must have been, knowingly or unknowingly, tools of the German secret service. At any rate, they accepted the illusion of a détente to such a degree that on May 9 leaves were restored in the Belgian Army.
Only a few hours later the truth was known. About 4:30 A.M., when dawn was just breaking, more than a hundred German bombing planes appeared over Brussels and discharged their deadly cargoes. At the same time an attack was launched against the frontiers of the three Low Countries from the North Sea to the Saar. But the brunt of the attack was directed at two points: against the undefended small Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, and against the Maastricht "appendix." The old Schlieffen Plan! The chief attack did not come where the Germans feigned it was coming in January, namely between Namur and Liège on the Meuse, but on the Meuse above Liège and on the Albert Canal.
Undoubtedly the Germans knew that this Maastricht corner was probably the weakest spot in the Albert Canal defenses. They had laid their plans well to subdue it. The bridge on the Meuse (Maas) at Maastricht, in Dutch territory, fell into their hands through treason. The bridge across the Albert Canal which continued the railroad and highway coming from this Maastricht bridge was also of great strategical importance. It fell to them intact. The Belgians alleged that the officer in charge of the dynamite chamber was killed by a German aërial bomb, and thus was unable to carry out the blowing up of the bridge. The Germans openly boast that they bought the whole group which was to blow up the bridge. As a matter of fact, much the same thing happened twenty miles to the northwest, where another important bridge on the Albert Canal was not blown up. It is given as an extenuating circumstance that this bridge was full of refugees and that the officers were hesitant to blow up their own compatriots. This may or may not be true. But if it is true, then their hesitation contributed heavily to bring about the downfall of their whole country.
Another bad case was that of the fortress Eben Emael. This formidable group of strong forts was one of the strongest parts of the Liège system. That system consisted of the Liège fortress proper and of the four other fortresses of the Liège plateau: Neufchâteau, Pepinster, Battice and Eben Emael. Battice was the mighty fort which dominated Aix-la-Chapelle; Eben Emael's function was to rule the road from Aix-la-Chapelle to Maastricht and beyond. It was put out of action by the Germans as early as noon on the very first day of the campaign, May 10.
According to the Belgian semi-official version, Eben Emael was taken so soon because the Germans concentrated all their surprise technique on it -- an extraordinarily violent barrage of heavy guns and vigorous aërial bombardment, in combination with an attack by parachutists. Now it is true that this sudden onslaught on a garrison not yet tried in war must have confused the defenders; but Eben Emael consisted of a whole series of forts and pillboxes. The Germans made similar extremely heavy attacks on other fortresses in the Liège district, and these fortresses were still holding out five and six days later. Why did the strongest and most modern of them all surrender so quickly? One cannot help feeling that what was believed by some military attachés must have been true, namely that Flemish traitors contributed to the result.
The capture of the key fortress of Eben Emael and of three bridges on the Meuse and the Albert Canal opened the way to the German motorized columns. When I visited the Albert Canal defenses in April of this year, Belgian staff officers told me that they calculated these defenses could hold out for twenty days. Other more conservative foreign observers believed that the Belgians would be able to hold on at the Albert Canal for at least five days. Five days were considered enough to bring French and British troops up to the second line, Antwerp-Louvain-Namur. On the very first day of the German invasion, the Germans had succeeded in piercing the defense line which was expected to hold out anywhere from several days to several weeks.
While German motorized troops were pouring into Belgium through the gap thus created, German bombing planes (allegedly numbering about two thousand, and in any event many hundreds strong) were busy all the morning bombing the remaining Belgian positions between Hasselt and Liège, as well as the rest of the Belgian lines. It seems that the material damage caused by these German bombers was small in proportion to the numbers used, but the moral effect was devastating. According to Belgian officers who participated in the last war, the air bombardments of this year were not nearly so deadly and efficient as the old heavy-artillery barrages used to be. But German propaganda succeeded in all countries in creating such a psychosis about aërial bombardments that when the deadly cargoes of the bombing planes were released on the Belgian troops their morale completely collapsed; and by the afternoon of May 10 the Belgian line between Hasselt and Liège was already in dissolution. This bombardment was carried through with the evident aim of spreading fear. According to what I learned from Belgian officers, many of the German flyers were quite young and had only had from four to eight weeks of training. Their machines were inferior. All this was by design. The Germans did not think it necessary to sacrifice good machines to spread "frightfulness." Any young aviator who knew how to fly in formation and had been taught how to release bombs was good enough; there was no need for dive bombing or even for flying low. It was different with the airplanes sent to bomb Brussels or military objectives behind the lines. Those were excellent Heinkels or Dorniers, with highly trained crews.
When I visited the eastern suburbs of Brussels in the morning of May 11 I found to my great amazement that they were filled with Belgian soldiers, in full equipment, already back from the front. They were surrounded by anxious crowds inquiring what had happened. They told of a complete débâcle. In exaggerating the magnitude of the German attack they helped create further uneasiness amongst the Brussels population, already panicky as a result of the constant bombardment of the city by German planes. Soon the streets of Brussels itself were full of returning soldiers, mixed with refugees coming from northeastern Belgium. I saw trucks bearing the inscriptions of various cities -- Liège, Verviers, Tongres. Three Belgian divisions were in complete dissolution, and others had been badly affected by desertions.
What I saw on this the second day of the totalitarian war in Brussels was a replica of the debacle of the Italian Army described by Ernest Hemingway in his book "Farewell to Arms." It was another Caporetto. Half-hearted attempts were made to collect the demoralized troops and reform them at the "Cinquantenaire" exhibition grounds. The effort was in vain. Most of them continued their hasty retreat and I encountered some of them again a few weeks later in southern France.
A remaining section of the Belgian Army tried to reorganize on the second line of defense, namely on the line Antwerp-Louvain-Namur. By May 12 two British divisions and some French troops had arrived on this line and tried to bolster up the badly shattered Belgian forces. Though many of the British were unexperienced territorials, they fought bravely against heavy German odds, standing up heroically under the devastating mass-bombardments of the German airplanes. British fighting planes were still absent, or present in very small numbers. The Germans were able to bomb the British troops unpunished.
On this day, May 12, the Germans repeated their technique of the first day, sending an incredibly large number of planes (arriving in groups of 300 every half hour) to bomb the Belgian-British positions between Louvain and Namur. The bombardment along the center of the line was done by inexperienced flyers who loosed bombs in masses just to terrorize; but on the two wings expert bombers were working on the two fortress cities of Namur and Louvain. Within a few hours they were reduced to smouldering ruins. The destruction of Louvain and Namur, and the partial destruction of Antwerp, deprived the British of important pivotal points; for by the time larger numbers of British troops reached these places there were no depots, stores or billets left. This made their continued defense almost impossible.
At this juncture an important question of responsibility must be raised. The débâcle of the Belgian Army in the northeast during the very first hours of the war must have been known to the British and French General Staffs. What a newspaper man like myself knew in the first 48 hours, British and French military observers must certainly have known too. Why was no urgent warning issued to dissuade the respective staffs from sending further troops into positions which were bound to prove traps? Or if such a warning was issued, why was it not heeded?
This is a question of judgment and responsibility in the field. The underlying responsibility rests largely with King Leopold as Commander-in-Chief of the Belgian armies. It is almost impossible to send troops suddenly into a foreign country to assist an untried army efficiently if no previous plan has been concluded between the respective general staffs. King Leopold had absolutely refused to conclude such an agreement. It was the death blow to his country. Even so, when the British heard (and they must have heard it, despite the optimistic reports sent out by the Belgian Army) that the Belgian troops had experienced a Caporetto on the Albert Canal, they should have desisted from sending further reinforcements into Belgium. Had they rested in their fortifications which formed an extension of the Maginot Line, they might have withstood the German attack with a fair chance of success. I believe (and some military experts share this view) that resistance was possible on the extension of the Maginot Line, despite the gap made by the Germans near Sedan. But let us now turn our attention to the southern part of the Belgian lines.
While the divisions of the British Army were extremely quick in reaching eastern Belgium, the French Army organization failed completely in getting its reinforcements fast enough to those places in Belgium which, according to the plans of the French General Staff, were to be protected by French troops. The British calculation had been that it would take them five days to reach the Louvain-Namur line; many British troops, however, reached this line on the second day. The French calculated that they could take over the Namur-Givet line within 48 hours; but after that period had passed they still were far from their positions.
Before examining what happened south of Namur, we must make an excursion to the Ardennes part of Belgium, a hilly, rough country, broken by many woods and rivers. This part was fortified by a system of pillboxes and small forts. At the beginning of the Blitzkrieg the Germans did not concentrate their attack on the Ardennes. Instead, they rushed their troops into undefended Luxembourg. The Luxembourg Army consisted of 156 men and the city was already full of German fifth columnists disguised as tourists. But everybody in Brussels believed that the French could launch their divisions into undefended Luxembourg just as quickly as the Germans could. In actual fact, the Germans succeeded in occupying almost the entire Grand Duchy within a few hours without meeting any serious resistance from the French. And when Luxembourg had been occupied, the Germans were able to rush their troops into southeastern Belgium. With their artillery they mowed down the first defenses. Instantly, German motorcyclist troops rushed cross-country into the Belgian Ardennes at a speed of sixty miles an hour. The motorcyclists did not wait to attack the pillboxes. That was left for the tanks that followed. These passed the pillboxes and attacked them from the rear. The Ardennes was thus occupied within 48 hours. This done, the German motorized troops were able to proceed to the attack on the upper reaches of the Meuse, south of Namur.
It had been calculated, as I said above, that the French could take over the Belgian section of the Meuse between Namur and Givet within two days. Here happened the other tragedy of the war: the folding up of the French Ninth Army. It was this army, under the command of General Corap, which was supposed to take up the positions between Namur and Givet. Ever since the beginning of May extreme vigilance had been ordered along all the Allied fronts. Yet General Corap was absent from his headquarters when the war began and arrived back only some hours later. Six bridges on the Meuse were not blown up. By May 12 the whole Ninth Army was supposed to have taken over the defense of the Meuse below Namur. But only fractions of it had arrived. Over the unblown bridges, German motorized troops were pouring into France. No doubt, the German effort near Sedan was carried through with a large number of motorized divisions. But where were the French tanks? Where were the French troops, the French artillery, the French anti-tank guns? Is it any wonder that the word "treason" was spoken openly among the rank and file? And it either was treason or unforgivable incompetence. For General Corap and his staff failed absolutely to carry through a plan drafted and calculated in minute detail by the experts in Paris. It is true that there proved to be much inefficiency in the French Army. There also was a surprise element in the German attack. Granted. But there is no excuse for six unblown bridges, for troops far behind their schedule, for artillery unused.
Whatever the reason, on May 12 the German armored and motorized divisions were pouring into France. In a few hours the breach was fifty miles wide and almost as deep. Tanks, spreading fire and destruction, supported by airplanes with which they were connected by radio contact, were rapidly advancing. The task of bringing up French reinforcements was being impeded by the desperate flight of refugees from the invaded districts. German fifth columnists had been planted in advance in the border regions to induce panic. Others mingled with the refugees and carried the alarm from one town and village to the next.
Nevertheless, I still maintain that this breach between Dinant and Sedan could have been filled up (just as the breach at Verdun in the March offensive in 1918 was filled up) if there had been a firm and continuous front along the Belgian-French border. But this front was in movement, because large numbers of British troops were still pouring into Flanders, not realizing that their right flank was in danger. On May 15 the French evacuated Namur, and on May 16 the British fell back on Brussels.
We heard the sound of the heavy guns in Brussels, and saw more and more British troops coming in to the defense of the Belgian capital. By that time the Seventh French Army, which had been sent to operate in the Zeeland part of Holland, was obliged to withdraw to Antwerp. Its able commander, General Giraud, was later captured by the Germans.
On May 17 I left Brussels, which now was in the war zone. The same day the British troops fell back to the Dendre River, a day later to the Scheldt River, where they offered heroic resistance. Only on May 20 did they give up their positions on the Scheldt. They then fell back on the Lys, the river where they fought so well 23 and 22 years ago. Their subsequent retreat and evacuation via Dunkerque is too well known to need description here.
While the British put up a magnificent fight, the behavior of the French divisions was irregular. Though some disappointed the friends of France, others upheld the best French traditions, and one heard of decimated regiments and companies offering resistance over and over again to the invaders. But nobody could make good the mistake committed by the British and French General Staffs in unwisely sending their troops too far into Belgium, and nothing could repair the Belgian catastrophe on the Meuse in the first hours of the campaign.
Let me now revert briefly to the causes of the defeat of the Netherland Army. The Dutch, unlike the Belgians, fought really heroically. When in February of this year I visited the Dutch defenses, one of the high officers told me confidentially that the Dutch expected to hold out two days on the first line, two days on the second -- the Grebbe Line -- and that altogether they hoped to resist the attacker for six or seven days. They kept the "timetable" in the first five days (except only at Maastricht) and capitulated only after the fifth. By that time fifth column activities had weakened their resistance, especially in the rear, and no more supplies could reach the fighting forces.
The fifth column in Holland was organized in part directly by the Germans, in part by the Dutch Nazis under the leadership of A. Mussert and Rost van Tonningen working with the Germans. Mussert was a man of small abilities; the deputy leader, Rost van Tonningen, formerly League of Nations Commissioner for Austria, was an ambitious and more able man who coöperated very closely with Baron von Hahn, an official of the German Legation in The Hague.
Baron von Hahn was the "putsch expert" of the German Nazis. He had fled from Austria after helping to organize the putsch which ended Chancellor Dollfuss's life. He was asked to leave his posts in Hungary and Belgium, but the unfortunate Dutch Government allowed him to be installed as a member of the German Legation at The Hague. There he exploited to the full the pacifism of the ruling house and of the ruling class. Queen Wilhelmina's pacifism made her sympathize with the Oxford Movement. The representative of that movement for Scandinavia and Holland -- an American, the Reverend Mr. Blake -- was not only popular in high society in The Hague, but was seen in company with Baron von Hahn. Another and unsuspecting link between the Nazis and Dutch higher circles was Prince Bernhard, a good friend of the German Minister, Herr von Zech.
In all, the German Legation in The Hague had 43 members entitled to extraterritorial privileges, five of them with the rank of counsellors. In addition, there were the staffs of the German consulates in The Hague and other Dutch towns. In these headquarters the plans for fifth column activities were made and from them the various orders were distributed. In addition, the Germans had able journalists to help in their propaganda work. To The Hague they sent Herr Aschmann, the former Chief of the Press Bureau in the Wilhelmstrasse; and the present German press chief, Dr. Dietrich, repeatedly visited Amsterdam.
The Dutch Nazis had their "representatives" in the army, navy, air force, meteorological institute, as well as here and there throughout the government offices; in addition fifth columnists in large numbers were supplied direct from Germany in the form of tourists and businessmen. Some of these were actually camouflaged soldiers. Thus, just prior to the outbreak of hostilities three large Rhine barges arrived in Rotterdam, supposedly laden with German goods. In reality they contained German soldiers who on the morning of May 10 spread out to undertake various assigned jobs in the city. These first troops were soon reinforced by Nazi officers and non-commissioned officers arriving on transport planes. In coöperation with parachutists and Dutch Nazi fifth columnists they captured a section of Rotterdam and the aerodrome of Waalhaven. Desperate attempts were made by the Dutch, and later by the British, to take Waalhaven back. But even with the help of the R.A.F. they never succeeded.
In Belgium, where the fifth column was not organized on the same scale as in the Netherlands, many parachutists were shot down descending from the air; the few who landed unnoticed in woods during the cover of the night proved no more dangerous than fifth columnists already present in the country. After all, resident fifth columnists can destroy railroad junctions and stores and put communications out of order even more effectively than parachutists. The parachutists become deadly when they can be advertised to such an extent that they create a psychosis. In Brussels and other Belgian towns I saw people shouting "parachutists" at a swallow, and the police and soldiers would have to abandon important jobs to scour the neighborhood.
Nor were the Germans particularly successful with their troop transport planes in the Netherlands except in cases where they managed to land on an uncontested flying field with fifth columnists ready in the neighborhood to help. Many of the Junker troop-transports, very bulky and heavy, were wrecked by antiaircraft gunfire or by mishaps in landing on the soft Dutch soil.
The causes of the German successes in the Netherlands, as in Belgium and Northern France, were partly superiority in numbers of planes and tanks, partly better armament, such as double-breasted armorplate on tanks and rapid fire large-caliber antitank guns. But all this, I believe, would not have availed them had they not already enlisted other allies -- incompetence, treason and fifth column sympathizers.
Back of these immediate factors was, in the case of Holland, the one I have mentioned already -- the fact that the De Geer government always followed a policy of absolute, consistent and blind neutrality. It refused to treat on military and political matters, not only with England and France, but even with Belgium.
In Belgium the methods employed by the Germans were similar. They aimed at undermining civil government and at creating unrest in the army and air force as well as among the police. They also promoted pacifism. King Leopold was a weak and sentimental man, affected by a melancholy strain inherited from both his father and his mother. His mother's Bavarian family had produced many gifted but abnormal people, among them Louis II of Bavaria and the Empress Elisabeth of Austria. He also disliked the English intensely. During the World War he was an exile in England, and it is an accepted axiom that a foreigner learns either to love or to hate England in an English public school. Leopold was not a success in his school days, and never got over it. The friendship of a brilliant German lady also helped to increase his pro-German sympathies. So did the advice of General van Overstraeten, his aide-de-camp, who always counselled him to blind "neutrality." The Roman Catholic Premier, Hubert Pierlot, and the Socialist Foreign Minister, Paul-Henri Spaak, were definitely pacifists. Both also opposed military understandings with Britain and France. They fought with all the means at their disposal to maintain Belgian neutrality. This suited the Germans perfectly.
All these currents of pacifism were of course exploited by German agents. Otto Abetz, the well-known German agent who had such a part in influencing various French politicians and is now Hitler's diplomatic representative in France, was very active in Belgium also, both in spreading propaganda and in distributing funds. At the outbreak of the war, Abetz went back to Berlin to become the head of the propaganda section against France. His colleague, Liebe, then took over the "management" of German propaganda in Belgium. The Germans also naturally used the pro-Nazi elements among the German minorities in Eupen, Malmédy and St. Vith. They exploited to the full the divergences between the Flemish and the Walloon populations, and gave moral and financial support to the Flemish extremists, the "V.N.V." under the leadership of Declerq, as well as to the French-language Fascist movement of the Rexists, led by Léon Degrelle.
If in the case of both countries I have seemed to overemphasize the rôle of enemy agents and domestic sympathizers and pawns, this is because their activities were better organized than in other wars in modern times and because they were so astoundingly successful. I do not underestimate the other factors. I only say that the organizing skill and lavish expenditures of Nazi Germany's agents contributed directly to the defeat of the Netherlands, Belgium and, subsequently, France.