A King Of Heroes
"King" is not a word that will go out of use when the world has been
won for democracy. We shall still use it much as we do now, when we
say, "He is a prince" or "He is a king among men"; for there are still
good kings, as well as bad ones. Some countries that are really
democratic prefer to keep kings as reminders of their past and as
ornaments of their present.
England is really more democratic than the
United States and yet
England has a king; and as some one has said, he is a king and a
democrat and a king of democrats. This was well shown by his letter to
the first American soldiers who marched through London in April, 1918,
on their way to the battle line in France. Each soldier was handed an
envelope bearing the inscription, "A message to you from his majesty,
King George V." In the envelope was the letter shown on the opposite
page, from a democratic king to the American soldiers in the army of
Soldiers of the United States, the
people of the British Isles welcome
you, on your way to take your
stand beside the Armies of
many Nations now fighting in
the Old World the great battle
for human freedom.
The Allies will gain new heart
& spirit in your company
I wish that I could shake
the hand of each one of you
& big you God speed on your
No autocratic king or kaiser desires to shake the hand of each of his
soldiers or to become in any way one of them. To an autocrat, to the
German Kaiser, to the German officers, the German privates are only
Things to be used as are swords and guns. A wounded German officer felt
insulted because he was made well again in an English hospital in the
same ward with German privates.
An interesting story is told of a Red Cross nurse, to whom a badly
wounded man was brought at a field hospital during one of the battles
in which the brave little Belgian army was trying to hold back the
invading Germans. All the surgeons were busy, and the man needed
assistance at once. The nurse knew what was needed to save his life
until he could receive surgical treatment, and she knew how to do it;
but she could not do it alone. She must have help at once, and of the
She was about to give up in despair, when she saw a man walking through
the field hospital, cheering the sufferers and asking if he could be of
any assistance. She called to him, and when he came she said, "You can
save this man's life if you will help me and do just what I tell you,
just when I tell you to do it. Do you think you can take orders and
obey them promptly?"
"I think so," replied the man. "Let us save this poor soldier's life,
if we can."
The nurse set to work, telling the stranger just what she wanted him to
do. She wasted no words, but gave orders as if she expected them to be
obeyed quickly and intelligently. The stranger proved himself equal to
the occasion, and the delicate work which saved the man's life was soon
"Thank you," said the nurse, as she finished. "I see you are used to
taking orders and know how to obey. I shall remain with this soldier,
until he regains consciousness. He will want to know to whose
assistance he owes his life. Kindly give me your name."
The stranger hesitated. Then he said, "The soldier really owes his life
to you, but I am glad if I was able to help. If he asks, you may tell
him the people call me Albert."
And all at once the commanding little Red Cross nurse understood that
the tall, quiet man, who, she said, showed that he was used to taking
orders, was Albert, King of the Belgians.
Italy has a king and Belgium has a king; but like King George of
England they are democratic kings, exercising what authority is granted
to them by the people in accordance with a constitution. The German
Kaiser claims to hold all authority of life and death over his people,
including the right of declaring defensive war, by "divine right," by
God's choice of him and his family to rule.
When Germany, at the outbreak of the war in 1914, resolved to break the
treaty in which with other nations she had pledged herself never to
violate, but always to defend, the neutrality of Belgium; when she was
ready to declare to the world that a sacred treaty was only "a scrap of
paper" to be torn up whenever her needs seemed to require it, she sent
on Sunday night, August 2, 1914, at seven o'clock, an ultimatum to the
Belgian government--to be answered within twelve hours--in substance as
The German Government has received information, of the accuracy
of which there can be no doubt, that it may be the intention
of France to send her forces across Belgium to attack Germany.
The German Government fears that Belgium, no matter how good her
intentions, may not be able unaided to prevent such a French
advance; and therefore it is necessary for the protection of
Germany that she should act at once.
The German Government would be very sorry to have Belgium
consider her action in this matter as a hostile act, for it is
forced upon Germany by her enemies. In order to prevent any
misunderstanding, the German Government declares:
1. Germany intends no hostile act against Belgium, and if
Belgium makes no resistance, the German Government pledges the
security of the Belgian Kingdom and all its possessions.
2. Germany pledges herself to evacuate all Belgian territory at
the end of the war.
3. Germany will pay cash for all supplies needed by her troops
which Belgians are willing to sell her and will make good any
damage caused by her forces.
4. If Belgium resists the advance of the German forces, the
German Government will be compelled to consider Belgium as an
enemy and will act accordingly. If not, the friendly relations
which have long united the two nations will become stronger and
In twelve hours Belgium must make a decision that would change her
entire future history and, as later events proved, the history of
Europe and of the world. She made it; and by that decision she
sacrificed herself and brought death and destruction upon her people
and her possessions, but she saved her honor and her soul. Germany had
promised her everything, if she would only let the German armies march
unhindered through Belgium into France. No Belgian should be harmed or
disturbed, and anything needed by the German army would be paid for.
After the Germans had won the war, as they doubtless would have done if
Belgium had not blocked their way, Belgium would have become a
thriving, wealthy kingdom, under German protection. Antwerp would have
been perhaps the greatest port in the world, and Brussels, next to
Berlin, the world's most magnificent capital. But the Belgians did not
hesitate nor did their heroic king.
The Belgian Government replied on Monday morning, at four o'clock, in
substance as follows:
The Note from the German Government has caused the most painful
surprise to the Belgian Government. The French on August 1
assured us most emphatically that they would respect our
neutrality. If this should prove to be false, the Belgian army
will offer the greatest possible resistance to invasion by them.
The neutrality of Belgium is guaranteed by the powers, among
them Germany, and the attack which the German Government
threatens to make on Belgium would be a violation of the Law of
Nations. No military necessity can justify such a violation of
The Belgian Government, if it accepted the proposals of Germany,
would sacrifice the honor of the nation and betray its duty to
Europe; and it therefore refuses to believe that this will be
demanded in order to maintain its independence. If this
expectation proves unfounded, the Belgian Government is fully
decided to resist by all means in its power any attack against
On Tuesday the King brought in person a message to the Belgian
Legislature, as President Wilson has often brought such messages to the
American Congress. King Albert's message was in substance as follows:
Not since 1830 has Belgium passed through such an anxious hour.
Our independence is threatened. We still have hope that what we
dread may not happen; but if we have to resist invasion and
defend our homes, that duty will find us armed, courageous, and
ready for any sacrifice. Already our young men have risen to
defend their country in danger. I send to them, in the name of
the nation, a brotherly greeting. Everywhere in the provinces of
Flanders and of Walloon alike, in city and country, one feeling
fills all minds--that our duty is to resist the enemies of our
independence with firm courage and as a united nation.
The perfect mobilization of our army, the great number of
volunteers, the devotion of the citizens, the self-denial of
families have shown beyond doubt the bravery of the Belgian
people. The moment to act has come.
No one in this nation will betray his duty. The army is ready,
and the Government has absolute trust in its leaders and its
If the foreigner violates our territory, he will find all
Belgians grouped round their King and their Government, in which
they have absolute confidence.
I have faith in our destinies. A nation which defends its rights
commands the respect of all. Such a nation cannot die. God will
be with us in a just cause. Long live independent Belgium!
Hardly had the King finished his noble message, when the Prime Minister
announced to the Legislature that Germany had declared war upon
Belgium, and that her troops were moving against LiÃ©ge.
Never as long as men remember the history of these fateful days will
the decisive action of the heroic Belgian people and of their heroic
king be forgotten. The slightest hesitation between right and wrong
would have set civilization and human liberty back perhaps a thousand
years. And the decision had to be made not only by a people, but by a
young king with German blood in his veins and married to a German
princess--and between sunset and sunrise.
Did he see the horrors before him and his people? Did he see the
destruction of the most beautiful buildings in the world, the pride of
his people? Did he see the tearing down and burning of the entire city
of Louvain, with its university and its valuable library containing
some of the oldest and most nearly priceless books and manuscripts? Did
he see the children and the aged dying by the roadside of hunger and
fatigue? Did he see the Belgian men carried off as slaves to work in
Do you think he or his Queen would have hesitated if he had? No one who
really knows them thinks so. Nothing can justify choosing the wrong.
King Albert, the King of Heroes, and Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians
are honored and respected by all who love liberty and justice, for it
has been well said, "Treaties and engagements are certainly scraps of
paper, just as promises are no more than breaths. But upon such scraps
of paper and breaths the fabric of civilization has been built, and
without them its everyday activity would come to an end." They
represent truly the heroic Belgian people who by their decision on
Sunday night, August 2, 1914, saved the world. Queen Elizabeth,
although a Bavarian princess, has said of the Germans, "Between them
and me has fallen a curtain of iron which will never again be lifted."
The Belgian Minister to the United States said of King Albert after the
war had begun:
"It is when one talks with our soldiers that one perceives how he is
loved; they say, all of them, that they will die for him. He is
constantly at their side, encouraging them by his presence and his
courage. At certain moments, he adventures too far; always he is in the
very midst of combat."
The King and Queen are both of them unusually brave and daring. Not
many royal pairs would trust their lives to cross the English Channel
and return in an airplane, as they did in the summer of 1918 to attend
a celebration held by the King and Queen of England.
A Belgian soldier writing of King Albert said: "The King came and
placed himself at my side in the trench. He took the rifle of a soldier
so tired he could not stand, to give him a chance to rest, and fired,
just like the other soldiers, for an hour and a half. He himself often
carries their letters to the soldiers and distributes among them the
little bundles which their friends and parents send them from the homes
now destroyed. He shares their mess with the soldiers and he calls them
always 'my friends.' He does not want that they shall do him honor; he
wishes simply to be a soldier in all that the word soldier means. One
night he was seen, exhausted by fatigue, sleeping on the grass at the
side of the road."
Do you wonder that the Belgians love their King and that the world
honors him as the Hero King of a Nation of Heroes?