UP TO that fateful Friday, the tenth of May, 1940, Holland was a well-governed country; a stable country; a country of steady progress where there was an exceptionally large measure of social justice; where wealth was more evenly distributed than in most European countries; where there was neither unlimited private wealth nor dire poverty; a country which wisely governed its overseas territories and had opened up their resources to all the world, while at the same time raising and striving further to increase the moral and material well-being of its native subjects; a country whose nationals had achieved distinction in the arts and sciences and had been awarded a disproportionately large number of Nobel prizes; where education was at a very high level; a constitutional monarchy which was known within and without its borders as a democracy; a country which coveted nothing belonging to anyone else; a land of liberty, of tolerance, and of patient, unspectacular labor and achievement.

Holland is one of the older and smaller states in Europe. Its eighty-year struggle against Spain, which came to an end in 1648, brought its emancipation--the rise of the Dutch Republic, as John Lothrop Motley called it. The


half century that followed saw the consummation of its growth as a state; ever since 1715--the end, for the time being, of France's tendencies towards expansion in that period--the Netherlands has been a factor of stability in European politics, a role which, as contemporary history shows, by no means excludes a progressive spirit in internal administration. The Napoleonic era was a trial from which the Dutch again emerged free, thanks to their own energy, more united as a nation than ever before under the leadership of the House of Orange, in which from then on the crown of the Netherlands became hereditary.

In 1839 the unhappy union with Belgium, sealed by the Congress of Vienna in 1815, came to an end. Since then the Netherlands has stood somewhat aloof from the changing scene of European politics. The Dutch realized that their country's small size and population, its situation on the cross-roads of Western Europe at the mouth of the Rhine, the Meuse, and the Scheldt, made it essential for them (the policies of the surrounding great powers being what they were) not to become involved in alliances or understandings with any other power or group of powers. They perceived very clearly that neither France, Great Britain, nor Germany would tolerate the permanent influence over the Netherlands of any large state.

Successively, the governments of the Netherlands acted upon this conviction. Consistently, they followed a policy of no entanglements. At the same time, and although there were large sections in the country in favor of


disarmament, they never fell into the error of disbanding their armed forces. They fully realized that measures for the defense of the country were indispensable if the dangers inherent in its becoming a military vacuum were to be avoided. This was their own interest but it was also the interest of the whole of Europe: the Netherlands should be firmly in the hands of the Dutch nation; it should never become too easy a prey for any unscrupulous invader; it should never offer a premium for aggression, either against itself or through it against other countries.

Holland lies at the intersection of lines of communication of world-wide importance and commands waterways of vital importance to all nations. This is equally true of the Dutch East Indies, Surinam, and Curagao, the overseas possessions of the Netherlands. While under the control of a small nation like the Netherlands, such regions need give no anxiety to any country, provided the nation in control jealously guards its independence and does not enter into commitments with any big power or group of powers. This condition the Netherlands has always observed as scrupulously in the Dutch East Indies as in Europe. Dutch foreign policy thereby acquired a perfect singleness of purpose and of conduct, which gave it great strength, consistency, and a complete unity of action.

No alliances, no military conventions, no conversations with foreign general staffs could be entered into by the Netherlands. The country had no wish to participate even in such seemingly harmless contracts as nonaggression


pacts. Herr Hitler found this out when in 1936 it suited his purpose to offer such a pact to Holland. The proposal was politely declined. This refusal did not spring from any opportunistic consideration, nor from any instinctive dislike and distrust of tyrants. The reason for the refusal was that the Netherlands considered one general treaty outlawing war--such as the Briand-Kellogg pact to which Germany was one of the parties--was enough, and that any new treaty to the same effect would necessarily have what might be called an inflationary tendency, a tendency to weaken, by multiplication, the authority of the previous treaty. Moreover, the Dutch believe that nonaggression treaties are not really necessary: they reason that either we live in decent international company--and then no nonaggression pact is necessary--or that we do not live in decent international company--and then a nonaggression pact is as futile as it is deceptive.

The Dutch have more faith in facts than in paper arrangements. Only in the case that a paper arrangement is an expression of some basic fact in the field of international politics do they have no particular objection to agreeing to it. When, in 1923, the Netherlands accepted declarations made individually by the United States of America, France, Great Britain, and Japan, to the effect that these powers undertook to observe the integrity of the Netherlands East Indies, it did so knowing that the integrity of the Netherlands East Indies is one of those basic needs in international politics: a political necessity


of the first order. To accept an expression of this necessity on paper did not seem to the Netherlands to be a deviation from its tradition of founding a foreign policy as much as at all possible on hard facts and on nothing else.

But, it will be remarked, the Netherlands has in recent years adhered to the League of Nations, entering thereby into a political compact with a great many other states. This was not a deviation from its fundamental policy of no entanglements. Since they desire only to keep what is their own, the Dutch are partisans of an ordered international community. Anything seemed to them better than die anarchic community of nations as it existed before 1914. When, therefore, the League of Nations was founded with the main object of providing for the safety and integrity of member states and when (this, to the Netherlands, was a point of the greatest importance) this League promised to be universal in character, Holland decided to join it in order to help in giving the new organization a chance. Far from breaking with the country's established policy of no political collaboration with any specific power or group of powers, adherence to the League was no more than a new manifestation of that policy: the pursuit of the highest possible degree of security. Collective security was to take the place of "no entanglements." It was a change of methods, not of ends.

In Dutch opinion, the very universality of the League, as planned, was its saving grace. There would be no question of members being drawn into the orbit of any one


particular power or group of powers. It can easily be imagined how great was the disappointment of the Netherlands when the United States failed to enter the League: this fact detracted from the character, attraction, and power of a universal League of Nations. But even so, the League seemed sufficiently general in its membership to make it possible for the Netherlands to join it, which was done very soon after the Covenant of the League came into force (1920). Everybody knows how short-lived were the hopes that were founded on the great institution of Geneva. The League's authority, if it ever existed, dwindled as the years went by. The abortive disarmament conference, the Manchurian affair, the Abyssinian war, the withdrawal of Germany, of Japan, and of Italy and all that followed took most of the League's precarious credit away.

When, in 1936, it was realized that the League of Nations was becoming increasingly powerless, and in particular that there was no longer any hope of general disarmament, the Netherlands played an active part in stating, together with the Scandinavian countries and Belgium, that it could no longer undertake to be bound by decisions of the League in matters of enforcing collective security. The League had failed, and it was for the smaller European powers an act of self-preservation to make this declaration. Thereby, without actually withdrawing from the League--what remained of this first attempt at international organization seemed worth keeping so long as


there was nothing better--the Netherlands had returned to its original policy: no entanglements, coupled with a reasonable scale of national armament so as not to present any avoidable temptation to anyone to invade the country. Nevertheless Holland will always be in favor of any serious attempt to promote international cooperation, especially when this tends to give law and order a better place in international affairs than they have hitherto occupied.

It needs little reflection to realize that, in times of war, Dutch policy could only result in a tendency to maintain neutrality: it was this tendency which in fact manifested itself whenever a fresh crisis shook Europe. So it was in 1870, so it was also in the Great War of 1914-18. This suited not only the Netherlands; it also suited Europe, America, and Asia, and if ever there has been any merit in the foreign policy of Holland, it lies in the fact that its leaders have always succeeded in adapting the country's needs to those of the continents of which it forms part. As late as 1914, even Imperial Germany saw that it would be unwise to infringe upon the integrity of the Netherlands, knowing there could be no peace in Europe so long as the Netherlands was deprived of its ancient liberties. It was left for Herr Hitler to disregard this fundamental truth in European politics and it required his overbearing conception of Germany's ascendancy over all other powers to allow himself a step which for more than three centuries had been shown to be fatal.


The policy of neutrality pursued by the Netherlands in times of war between other states may be brought out into full relief by comparison with the neutrality of Belgium before 1914, or with the perpetual neutrality of Switzerland. Belgium before the Great War, and Switzerland since time immemorial, had been neutral because international conventions had prescribed it; the neutral status of these countries was defined by treaty. Dutch neutrality, on the other hand, was purely voluntary; the country was free to abandon it at any time at its own discretion. Belgian and Swiss neutrality was based on law-Dutch neutrality on policy. No other power could be absolutely sure that the Netherlands would not, at some given moment, abandon the traditional policy of neutrality and no entanglements. But the world had learned to trust to the wisdom and tranquillity of mind of the Dutch rulers, and these rulers have never forsaken the trust placed in their hands.

The reliability and the unadventurous character of Netherlands foreign policy made it possible for all powers to be on a friendly footing with the small Kingdom by the sea. Ties of friendship traditionally existed between the Netherlands and the great world powers, with Germany no less than with Britain and France, the United States and Japan. Not that the Dutch on the whole had a particular liking for the Germans. But they have long been used to dealings with all the nations of the earth, and there was little difficulty in finding a working basis for their


intercourse with their Eastern neighbors. Because of common frontiers, trade and commercial relations between the two countries were considerable, thus bringing about close contact between Germans and Dutch. Many-Germans settled in Holland. Large numbers of them merged with the native population, and after one or two generations were so completely absorbed by it that in outlook, in mentality, in behavior they could not be distinguished from people of pure Dutch descent. Others, however, associated themselves with the innumerable societies characteristic of German settlements abroad and remained completely German, so completely, in fact, that when Nazi pressure was brought to bear on them, they turned against the country which had given them a home and a livelihood.

There is one domain in the wide field of international relations which the Dutch made the object of their especial concern. It was the advancement of international law as a guiding and binding rule of intercourse between states. The Dutch, having no territorial claims on any other state, and having, as a seafaring and trading nation a major interest in a stable, well-ordered community of nations, have contributed as much as they could to furthering the rule of international law. The great work of Grotius, who wrote his immortal De jure belli et pacts during the second half of the eighty-year war against Spain, is too well known to require here more than a passing mention, and students of private international law


know what such names as Voet, Huber, Bynkershoek, and others stand for. The close of the nineteenth century and the four decades of the twentieth saw a recrudescence of Dutch activity in this realm of thought. In 1899 and 1907, the two great Peace Conferences were held at The Hague, in the course of which the laws of war on land and at sea were codified, and rules were laid down for the pacific settlement of international disputes. As a result, the Permanent Court of Arbitration was established, and it was found a fitting tribute to the serene atmosphere of the Netherlands to make The Hague the seat of this international tribunal. American munificence provided the Court with suitable quarters and with a magnificent library by establishing the Palace of Peace, with its thousands of volumes on international law and kindred subjects. After the war of 1914-18, the Permanent Court of International Justice was established at the same place; its fruitful activities during nearly twenty years were interrupted by the events of September, 1939, but it may be hoped that once peace is restored to the world, a new era of highly important work will dawn for that institution. The Palace of Peace also housed The Hague Academy of International Law, where during the summer months professors and students from all over the world discussed subjects pertaining to the law of nations. New advances were made in the codification of private international law in the course of several conferences to which the


Government of the Netherlands gave ready hospitality. The Hague had become the world's capital of international law, and, while it is fitting to acknowledge the contributions of all other states to this great work, it does not seem out of place here to recall that Holland sponsored it with all the means at her disposal for the common benefit of all nations that are of good will.

At the center of the dramatic scenes which we are now to witness stands The Hague. No doubt many readers of this book know that pleasant town, which a French author once aptly called the largest and most beautiful village in Europe. And indeed, a village it has always remained, in its curiously tranquil atmosphere. There is something leisurely about the behavior of its citizens. The unpretentious character of its simple houses, the comparative scarcity of large, striking buildings, its appearance of scrubbed cleanliness and its clear beauty all add to the impression of peace and happy living. The Hague is above all a center of governmental activity, the seat of Parliament, for which the Dutch have preserved the glorious old name of States-General. Here the Queen resides during part of the year in the unassuming Noordeinde Palace, a monument of Dutch simplicity of living and quiet dignity. Nearby, beyond a stretch of well-timbered parklike woods, lies the old "Huis ten Bosch," the "House in the Woods," where once lived William and Mary. Here, at the close of the seventeenth century, momentous decisions


were taken which changed the map of Europe and exercised a decisive influence on the history of that continent; a Royal residence in the truest sense of the word, in spite of its small size. In the international sphere, the presence of the diplomatic corps lends color to Hague society life.

Around The Hague the fertile Dutch countryside unfolds itself, with its green meadows and bulb fields, its villages and towns, its broad rivers, broader estuaries, its innumerable waterways of every size, bathed in Holland's characteristic soft clear light under its mother-of-pearl skies. The serenity of the atmosphere harmonizes with the peace-loving nature of the inhabitants. Did not Frederick the Great say that the Dutch were essentially lovers of peace, and warriors only through necessity of circumstance? They are a nation of merchants and seamen, of hardy fishermen, a people advanced in agriculture and industry. Its scholars and universities have for centuries generously contributed to the common fund of human learning. Profoundly religious as a nation, they have always made tolerance one of their chief virtues.

In 1939, this happy nation had known exactly one hundred years of peace. A century before, the sad struggle with Belgium had come to an end, and no other war had afflicted the country since. Not that Holland knew no national problems. The economic world-crisis which began in 1929 had profoundly influenced the economic situation. There still was considerable unemployment; taxation weighed heavily. In the field of foreign politics


however, the situation seemed satisfactory. There was no quarrel with any nation, great or small, and there seemed no particular reason to doubt further peaceful development.


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Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Patrick Clancey, HyperWar Foundation