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The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I Hardcover – Feb 1 2004
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Couldn't they just leave the past behind?
And then I grew up and I began asking questions?
My father's parents lived on the Dutch border, by Vise and so were some of the first to witness the invasion. My grandfather was deported to Bavaria for 5 years. His wife was left to fend for herself and their 6 year old son.
My mother's parents lived a few days' walk from the border, in Jauche. They, along with many others, fled Belgium with only the clothes they had on their backs. Watching the horizon for advancing German troops from the second floor of their homes, those who had survived WW1 had encouraged their adult children to just run. Why? Was that not cowardice?
I found the answer. It was not cowardice. It was survival instincts.
In its horrifying retelling, the book presents a sort of play rehearsal for the Holocaust.
The invaders' total disregard of the law and treaties but most of all their ability to get away with it all, set the tone for the next war. A German population, lulled by false propaganda, believed they had been victimized by the Allies. When the 'right' leader came along how could they resist seeking what they felt was righteous vindication.
How wrong they were though!
How Belgium and the Belgians ever managed to get back on their feet amazes me...
WW2 might not have happened had the issue of War Crimes been taken seriously. Millions of lives might have been spared. But hindsight is 20/20.
A must-read for anyone truly interested in learning from the Past.
The book explains the rationale for Belgium's perceived inactivity in the early phases of the war, recounts fairly the early atrocities (Louvain...) before shifting to war crimes that are less dramatic (destruction and theft of industrial machinery, 'relocation' of labor to Germany...) but indeed more damning since clearly premeditated, and more damaging to Belgium in the long run. Zuckerman also recounts and critiques the diplomatic efforts of the exiled government and the mixed feelings that the Western powers exhibited toward Belgium. Finally the book clearly explains the legalistic side of atonement and punishment, not least the legal impunity of having invaded a neutral actor and the myth of 'unbeaten' Germany which, of course, had its own consequences.
There are interesting side notes, such as the involvement of Herbert Hoover or the fostering of Flemish nationalism, which could be developed further as they have their own historical significance. It is said, for instance, that Hoover's reluctance to large-scale relief during the Great Depression was based on his experiences in Belgium.
If I have one gripe, it is that the book as it progresses becomes more focused on the interplay of Great Powers. We are told that the Allies are annoyed at Albert's reluctance to join a unified command, but Albert's motivations are not explored in depth. The German gas attacks at Ypres could also have been discussed in more depth.
As it is, anyone interested in International Law, the psychology of armies on the march, or the genesis of similar WWII atrocities should absolutely read this book.