Th. Rothstein Justice, 18 February 1911

The German ‘Menace’
4. The Fortification of Flushing

Source: Justice, 18 February, 1911, p.3;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

During the latter half of December and the whole of January a discussion of extraordinary violence raged in the Anglo-Franco-Belgian press round the proposal of the Dutch government to erect fortifications at the well-known port of Flushing, on the island of Walcheren, at the entrance of the river Scheldt. First, initiated by the “Independent Belge,” of Brussels, whose editor, Roland Mares, is at the same time, Belgian correspondent of the Paris “Temps,” the campaign was then taken up by the latter journal and the French press, and soon afterwards by “Times,” and other newspapers in this country. The Dutch, German and Austrian press kept comparatively quiet until M. Pichon carried away by the agitation, permitted himself at the sitting of the French Chamber of January 16 to hint at the possibility “friendly conversations” on the subject between the Powers concerned. The Germany Foreign Office then issued a statement that it would be no party to such an intrusion into the affairs of an independent and sovereign State; and the campaign, after lasting another week or so, collapsed as suddenly as it had arisen. Students of foreign politics could not but observe that this singular campaign began immediately after the historical speech of Bethmann-Hollweg in the German Reichstag, on December 10, on the Potsdam agreement. As the revelations contained in that speech showed a new victory obtained by German over Anglo-French diplomacy, the press campaign over the Flushing question was obviously intended to secure some satisfaction in return by preparing a defeat for Germany. The campaign, however, as I have said, missed fire, and the whole incident remains but a striking instance of the way in which public opinion in England and France is worked up against Germany.

The gist of the matter can be explained in a few words. Holland, to which till 1830 also belonged Belgium, was constituted by the Vienna Congress in 1813, and may be said to have been the special creation of England to whom the existence of an independent State owning Antwerp – that pistol, as it had been rightly called by Napoleon, directed against England – was of vital importance. For a long time before and after her constitution as a sovereign State, Holland possessed some fortifications on the North Sea coast, including Flushing, but had none on her eastern frontier where she was adjoining Prussia. Prussia at the time was a weak Power, and had every interest in the existence of a buffer kingdom between herself and France.

In 1830 Belgium declared itself independent and nine years later its independence was recognised by Holland. In view of the weakness of the new State which now wielded the Antwerp pistol, the five great Powers constituted it permanently neutral, and undertook the joint responsibility for the preservation of its neutrality. Holland also recognised the neutrality of Belgium, but did not join the five Powers in guaranteeing it. At that time the fortress at Flushing still existed, as well as two others at Terneuzen and Ellewoutsdijk, on the south and north sides of the Scheldt respectively. Still, however, the eastern frontier was open to attack until Prussia, by her exploits in 1864 and 1870, grew to be a rather dangerous neighbour. Then, in 1874, Holland decided to fortify her entire eastern frontier by a series of defensive works and a system of basins of inundation, which, though frankly directed against Germany, never roused the slightest protest on the part of the latter. At the same time the coastal defences were allowed to decay, and the fortress of Flushing, as being outside the concentric system of defence, was in 1867 dismantled.

Matters thus lasted until 1903. In that year King Edward began his negotiations with M. Delcassé, and the Dutch Government, suspecting a new orientation in international politics, appointed a commission to inquire into the question of coastal defences. The idea in its mind was that the creation of an entente between England and France would necessarily create the danger of a war between those two Powers and Germany, in which case Holland, being on the direct line between England and Germany, might easily find herself in a very awkward situation, as had frequently happened to her in the past. The commission found these fears justified, and recommended an expenditure of some £3,000,000 on the improvement of the coastal fortresses that existed and on the restoration of the fortress at Flushing in the place of the two other Scheldt defences which have by now become dilapidated. The report created at the time some stir, numerous military authorities being against its recommendations, but nothing to this day has been done by way of carrying it out. Only recently the scheme has been submitted to a Parliamentary Committee, after which it will be debated in the Chamber.

I have mentioned the reasons which have led the Anglo-Franco-Belgian press to break out in a storm of vituperations against this scheme just at present. It is, however only fair to say that its unpopularity with the military circles in France and England has been great for some years past. It was evident, they declared that Germany was at the bottom of the whole business. Germany intended to invade England, and it was from Flushing that the descent could best be made. Hence it was necessary to fortify it and to turn it into a naval base. And a great wail, the echoes of which found their way into the columns of “Justice,” was raised over the fate of Holland, which was thus lorded over by Prussia, and England was urged to come to the rescue of the oppressed Dutch nationality by attacking the German tyrant. Some colour to this view of the situation was lent by the subsequent alleged discovery of a letter which the Kaiser had written to Queen Wilhelmina in 1904 urging upon her to put Holland in a state of defence against Great Britain, and threatening otherwise to occupy, in case of a war, the territory of the kingdom.

After a lapse of some time, however, this interpretation of the nature of the Dutch scheme was abandoned. The capture of the two English spies at Borkum clearly showed that, so far from Germany intending to invade England, it was England which intended to invade Germany. Prior to that a flat denial had been given by the Dutch Government to the allegation concerning the Kaiser’s letter, which, moreover, it was pointed out, dated, according to the indictment, back to the year 1904 – that is, to a period subsequent to the time when the scheme for the coastal defence had been brought up. For the rest, who could tell what correspondence had taken place during the same year, and subsequently, between King Edward and King Alfonso, which resulted in the establishment of a close entente between England and Spain for naval defence?

Accordingly, this idea of Flushing being fortified as a naval base for Germany was discreetly dropped, and when the campaign was started last December another view was put forward. The projected fortification of Flushing, it was said, had another object. In case a war with France, Germany would undoubtedly attempt to turn the left flank of the French army by forcing a passage through Belgium, in which case it would be the duty of England, one of the guarantors of Belgian. neutrality, to come to the assistance of the Belgians by sending troops to Antwerp. It is with a view to frustrating such an attempt on the part of England that the Dutch, at the instigation of Germany, are about to fortify Flushing. The fortification of this place would close the Scheldt to the entrance of a British fleet, and Germany would thus be able to effect her turning movement. And the press, while bewailing once more the fate of Holland, added to its lamentations a new cry in the name of the “public law” of Europe, which would be violated by the realisation of the Dutch scheme. The neutrality of Belgium having been guaranteed by England, among other powers, how can her fleet be legally prevented from coming up to assist the Belgians in safeguarding it? Here was a case of Germany’s aggressive designs, of her domineering attitude towards weaker nationalities, and of her contempt for international law and morality rolled in one. It is worth while, as I said in my last article, to consider the case carefully, as it offers an excellent instance of the hypocrisy with which the various counts of the indictment against Germany are worked up by the self-constituted counsel for the prosecution.


(To be continued.)