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Getting Creatively Lost: A Ramble Through France

A Setup

The German General Staff demanded much–arguably too much–from its invasion forces. The great distances the troops had to march imposed a tremendous burden, and of course Belgium was only the beginning; there was France to reckon with afterward. What was more, the German right wing, the invasion vanguard, had been assigned only  Read More 
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The Ghost of 1870

The old maxim that generals always fight the previous war shaped the invasion of 1914. The Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, which had united modern Germany under Prussian leadership and the Hohenzollern throne, had left its indelible mark on military thinking. German strategists were obsessed with duplicating the lightning strike that had defeated the regular French  Read More 
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Suggestive Evidence

Anecdotal evidence from Belgian diaries, German reports, and those of neutral observers (American diplomats and Dutch journalists, for example) cite instances of drunkenness, which occasionally brought reprimands from superior officers; vast numbers of empty bottles from looted wine cellars, left on the streets; undisciplined firing of weapons; and tragedies just barely avoided because of  Read More 
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The Belgian Case

The Belgians admitted that civilian hotheads here and there might have taken potshots, given the large number of confrontations. Other civilians, under fire or trapped in burning homes, may have realized they’d die anyway and decided to shoot back. However, in all other circumstances, the Belgians insisted that there were no civilian snipers,  Read More 
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Conspiracy Theories [final post before vacation]

The troops who suspected a Catholic-inspired uprising, even to the point of charging that the Belgians were reviving the Wars of Religion, meted out stiff vengeance. More than fifty priests were executed during the invasion, some having had lit cigarettes pressed against their faces beforehand.

But the most infamous example occurred at Louvain (Leuven),  Read More 
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Misread Signals II

The scattered shots that met German patrols during the early days of the invasion came from border guards, Civil Guards (a sort of militia), or isolated sentries, who then fled, sometimes on bicycles. The invaders’ anger and frustration with this tactic is understandable, to a degree; no army on the march tolerates guerilla warfare.  Read More 
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Misread Signals I

The fog of uncertainty, as Clausewitz famously wrote, obscures most of what happens in war. So it was in Belgium in 1914.

Defending the Meuse crossings would have made perfect sense, and the Germans were right to wonder why the Belgians didn’t do so. It was perhaps the only way in which an army  Read More 
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Grounds for Suspicion

From the German soldier’s point of view, Belgian actions either made no sense or appeared downright suspicious, starting with the decision to resist what many people regarded as the strongest army in Europe. At worst, this was Belgian treachery, and at best, deadly foolishness. But from the first hours, the questions multiplied in  Read More 
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The Belgian People's War

The Belgian rejection of the ultimatum therefore held a mirror up to Germany, which was the last thing the masters of necessity expected or wanted. However, they compounded the felony by not informing their troops, already mobilized, that the Belgians had refused to stand aside and would fight. Consequently, when the German vanguard crossed  Read More 
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The Flaw

Consequently, Britain was entirely correct to see a threat to law and world order in the violation of Belgium, and to uphold the right of small nations to exist. Yes, “scrap of paper” made superb copy, and recruiting posters went so far as to reproduce a facsimile of the Treaty of 1839, with all the  Read More 
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