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The Destruction Of Louvain

More than one hundred years ago, Napoleon, the famous French general,
started out to conquer the world, just as the Germans have been
dreaming of doing. Napoleon had almost unbelievable success--carrying
the banner of France into practically the whole of Europe. But into
whatever provinces Napoleon went, though bent upon the subjugation of a
world, he never allowed his army to wantonly lay waste and destroy.
There was great attraction for him in the wonderful works of art which
he found in many of the large cities. He ordered his men to seize these
works secretly and to carry them back to Paris. There they were
preserved. France indeed is now named the preserver of the arts.

Had the German officers done even this, their crime would not be so
great to-day. The French not only saved art and property, but also
tried to save the lives of non-combatants as often as possible.

One of the leading daily papers of Cologne, Germany, explained in its
issue of February 10, 1915, why the German soldiers have committed
deeds that will forever shame the German people in the minds of the
rest of humanity. Like the invasion of Belgium, these deeds are not
defended as right or just but as necessary to help on the German
advance to victory. The article read as follows:

We have adopted it as a principle that the wrong-doing of an
individual must be expiated by the entire community to which he
belongs. The village in which our troops are fired upon will be
burned. If the guilty one is not found, substitutes will be
chosen from the population at large, and will be executed under
martial law.... The innocent must suffer with the guilty, and,
if the latter are not caught, must receive punishment in their
place, not because a crime has been committed, but to prevent
the commission of a future crime. Every case in which a village
is burned down, or hostages are executed, or the inhabitants of
a village which has taken arms against our invading forces are
killed, is a warning to the inhabitants of the territory not yet
occupied. There can be no doubt that the destruction of Battice,
Herve, Louvain, and Dinant has served as warning. The
devastation and bloodshed of the opening days of the war have
prevented the larger Belgian cities from attempting any attacks
upon the weak forces with which it was necessary for us to hold

The destruction of works of art and of the beautiful cathedrals built
in the Middle Ages cannot be explained and defended in this way, but
some other pitiable and often childish excuse is offered. The Germans
always assume that others do as they would do in the same
circumstances. They assumed England would not interfere, if the
neutrality of Belgium was violated, for Germany would not have
interfered, had she been in England's place. They assumed the French
and English would use the towers of the cathedrals for observation
posts, for Germany would have done so; and although they were promised
by the Allied officers that the towers would not be so used and were
informed by the bishops and priests that they were not so used, yet
they proceeded to destroy the beautiful structures. Their own promises
and statements in a similar case would have been of no value, and so
they assumed the promises of others were valueless and that the priests
had been compelled to lie about the matter, as the Germans would have
forced them to do, if possible.

They also fired upon the cathedrals of Ypres, Soissons, Arras, and
Rheims in retaliation, whenever the enemy bombarded the German lines
near by. Destroying a cathedral was like killing pure and beautiful
women and children. The Huns felt the Allies would let them advance
rather than have it happen.

As the Germans were on their way to seize Antwerp, after they had taken
the Belgian capital, they were driven out of Malines and turned upon
Louvain. They were greatly irritated at the strong resistance which the
Belgian army was making. They even feared that suddenly Belgium's
allies would join her at Antwerp and invade Germany, upsetting the
German plans entirely.

Therefore they sought to terrorize and subdue the country by a complete
destruction of Louvain, one of the most ancient and historic towns in
that section of Europe. Its buildings and monuments were of world-wide

Repulsed and chased back to the outskirts of Louvain, the troops were
ordered to destroy the town. The soldiers marched down the streets,
singing and jeering, while the officers rode about in their military
automobiles with an air of bravado, as they contemplated the deed they
were about to do. They first attempted to anger the people, so as to
have some pretext for the criminal deed they had determined upon. But
the people, knowing the character of the Germans, showed remarkable
restraint. They gave up all firearms, even old rifles and bows and
arrows that were valuable historic relics. They housed and fed their
enemies, paid them immense sums of money; and when the commander sent
for two hundred and fifty mattresses, they even brought their own beds
and cast them, with everything they could lay hands on, down into the
market-place. They knew the penalty for refusal was the death of their
respected burgomaster.

The people of Boston, at the time of the Revolution, refused to feed
and house the British soldiers. But these people of Louvain submitted
to much worse than that, hoping that the enemy would pass on and spare
their lives and their homes.

But on Tuesday evening, August 25, as the people were sitting down to
their evening meal, the soldiers suddenly rushed wildly through the
streets, and furnished with bombs, set fire to all parts of the town.
That night witnessed some of the most terrible deeds in all history.
The town of 45,000 inhabitants was wiped out; many of the citizens were
killed, and others were sent by train to an unknown destination.
Besides the loss of life, there was lost to the world forever a great
store of historic and artistic wealth.

But one principal building in all the town was left standing--the Hotel
de Ville. This was purposely saved as a monument to German authority,
when the whole country should be taken over and rebuilt as a

This cowardly act of cruelty will always stand out as typical of German
atrocity. Louvain was undefended and was already in the hands of the
Germans. By this one deed perhaps more than any other, Germany showed
to what depths of degradation she would stoop. By the destruction of
Louvain, she put back civilization and culture for five hundred years,
and her own good name was burned away from among the nations of the
world. The Germans from that day were branded as the enemies of the
human race. The world sprang with united sympathy to the side of little
Belgium--so that for her the destruction of Louvain meant more than a
glorious victory.

Next: Cardinal Mercier

Previous: Defense Of LiÉge

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