Speech by the King,
Broadcast to the United States on October 27th, 1939
IT is a great honour to me to be speaking from the same platform as your distinguished President. I accepted the Forum's invitation to send a brief message to the American nation with great pleasure.
My fellow-countrymen, my family, and I myself cherish precious and very friendly memories of the United States. Not one Belgian can have forgotten how effectively and sympathetically the American people helped the Belgian people by directing the sending of supplies at a time when we were sorely tried.
I regard the subject proposed--an appeal for the defence of civilization--as a tribute to my country.
Those who suggested it will have had in mind that the Belgians have played a distinguished part in the history of the western world, and that Belgium has always been regarded as one of the centres for the spread of Christian civilization.
I am convinced that my country is defending civilization by the attitude it has adopted towards the European conflict, and so I think I can confine myself to describing it to my American
listeners. It is an attitude that is in complete harmony with the desires, the courage, and the honour of my people.
As Head of the State, I am happy to have an opportunity of placing the following facts on record.
In 1937 Belgium proclaimed her independence, and each of her three great neighbours took note of her declaration. Indeed, they went further--they gave us, of their own accord, formal assurances that they would respect our territory and would guarantee the independence of Belgium. The declaration of neutrality by the Belgian Government at the beginning of the war was the logical conclusion of this policy.
Neutrality is moreover, quite in keeping with the traditions and aspirations of the Belgian people, whose sentiments and attitude of mind were forged during age-long struggles. Belgians, who possess the most acute sense of individual liberty, have paid for their institutions at the cost of their own blood and by their steadfast determination to remain themselves.
Neutrality is also vital to my country's interests. Belgium is a small territory but one of the most densely populated in the world, and she depends manly for her existence on the labour of her people; and this, in its turn, depends on the maintenance of our export trade and on the free flow of our industrial supplies and our food supplies.
So, for the Belgian people, peace is a matter of life or death.
We have no territorial ambitions whatsoever. Nor have we had anything to do with the origin of the European conflict, either directly or indirectly.
But if Belgium were to become involved in it, her territory would be turned into a battleground; and because her area is so small, that would mean total destruction, whatever might be the outcome of the war.
Belgium, side by side with Holland, stands, in the interests of all, as a peaceful oasis.
Placed at the crossroads of the boundaries of western Europe, Belgium--neutral and loyal--and strong, as she is to-day--fulfils a fundamentally peaceful mission; she sets limits to the battlefield; she wards off family bereavement. Together with the other neutral States she constitutes a citadel of peace; she is a factor making for that spirit of conciliation which alone can save our civilization from the abyss into which general war would precipitate it.
We are quite clear as to our duties and our rights; we await the future calmly and steadfastly, with a clear conscience. We are ready to ensure with all our force that our independence is respected.
Precisely twenty-five years ago to-day, the Belgian Army, after a hard fight, acting under the orders of my father, King Albert, held up a cruel invasion.
Should we be attacked--and may God preserve us from such a fate--in spite of the solemn and categorical undertakings given to us in 1937 and renewed on the eve of the war, we should fight without any hesitation, but with ten times the means; and this time once again the whole country would be behind the Army.
But we cannot believe that the belligerents will fail to respect our neutrality. We have confidence in the promise they made before the whole world, as they in their turn can have confidence in our loyalty. Like my beloved father, I shall always be true to that loyalty, as sovereign of a free and proud nation.
May I venture to hope that the American nation--a nation to whom we feel very near because of our common aspirations and our very similar institutions--will help and sustain us in our efforts to promote the cause of peace in the service of civilization.
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