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THE HOSTAGE CITIES
THANKS to the heroism of the Allies, the hour is approaching when the hordes of William the Madman will quit the soil of afflicted Belgium.
After what they have done in cold blood, what excesses, what disasters must we not expect of the last convulsions of their rage? Our anguish is all the more poignant in that they are at this moment fighting in the most ancient and most precious portion of Flanders. Above all countries, this is historic and hallowed land. They have destroyed Termonde, Roulers, Charleroi, Mons, Namur, Thielt and more besides; happy, charming little towns, which will rise again from their ashes, more beautiful than before. They have annihilated Louvain and Malines; they have hut lately levelled Dixmude; their torches, their incendiary squirts and their bombs are about to attack Brussels, Antwerp, Ghent, Bruges, Ypres and Fumes, which are like so many living museums, forming one of the most delightful, delicate and fragile ornaments of Europe. The things which are beginning here and which may be completed would he irreparable. They would mean a loss to our race for which nothing could atone. A quite peculiar aspect—familiar, kindly, racy of the soil and unique—of that beauty which a long series of comely human lives is able to acquire and to hoard would disappear for ever from the face of the earth; and we cannot, in the trouble and confusion of these too tragic hours, realize the extent, the meaning or the consequences of such a crime.
We have made every sacrifice without complaining; but this would exceed all measure. What can be done? How are we to stop them? They seem to be no longer accessible to reason or to any of the feelings which men hold in honour; they are sensible only to blows. Very soon, as they must know, we shall have the power to strike them shrewdly. Why do not the Allies, this very day, swiftly, while yet there is time, name so many hostage cities, which would be answerable, stone for stone, for the existence of our own dear towns? If Brussels, for example, should be destroyed, then Berlin should be razed to the ground. If Antwerp were devastated, Hamburg would disappear. Nuremburg would guarantee Bruges; Munich would stand surety for Ghent.
At the present moment, when they are feeling the wind of defeat that blows through their tattered standard, it is possible that this solemn threat, officially pronounced, would force them to reflect, if indeed they are still at all capable of reflection. It is the only expedient that remains to us and there is no time to be lost. With certain adversaries the most barbarous threats are legitimate and necessary, for these threats speak the only language which they can understand. And our children must not one day be able to reproach us with not having attempted everything—even that which is most repugnant—to save the treasures which are theirs by right.
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