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Pro Patria: I
by [?]

Pro Patria: I [1]

I need not here recall the events that hurled Belgium into the depths of distress most glorious where she is struggling to-day. She has been punished as never nation was punished for doing her duty as never nation did before. She saved the world while knowing that she could not be saved. She saved it by flinging herself in the path of the oncoming barbarians, by allowing herself to be trampled to death in order to give the defenders of justice time, not to rescue her, for she was well aware that rescue could not come in time, but to collect the forces needed to save our Latin civilization from the greatest danger that has ever threatened it. She has thus done this civilization, which is the only one whereunder the majority of men are willing or able to live, a service exactly similar to that which Greece, at the time of the great Asiatic invasions, rendered to the mother of this civilization. But, while the service is similar, the act surpasses all comparison. We may ransack history in vain for aught to approach it in grandeur. The magnificent sacrifice at Thermopylae, which is perhaps the noblest action in the annals of war, is illumined with an equally heroic but less ideal light, for it was less disinterested and more material. Leonidas and his three hundred Spartans were in fact defending their homes, their wives, their children, all the realities which they had left behind them. King Albert and his Belgians, on the other hand, knew full well that, in barring the invader’s road, they were inevitably sacrificing their homes, their wives and their children. Unlike the heroes of Sparta, instead of possessing an imperative and vital interest in fighting, they had everything to gain by not fighting and nothing to lose–save honour. In the one scale were fire and the sword, ruin, massacre, the infinite disaster which we see; in the other was that little word honour, which also represents infinite things, but things which we do not see, or which we must be very pure and very great to see quite clearly. It has happened now and again in history that a man standing higher than his fellows perceives what this word represents and sacrifices his life and the life of those whom he loves to what he perceives; and we have not without reason devoted to such men a sort of cult that places them almost on a level with the gods. But what had never yet happened–and I say this without fear of contradiction from whosoever cares to search the memory of man–is that a whole people, great and small, rich and poor, learned and ignorant, deliberately immolated itself thus for the sake of an unseen thing.

And observe that we are not discussing one of those heroic resolutions which are taken in a moment of enthusiasm, when man easily surpasses himself, and which have not to be maintained when, forgetting his intoxication, he lapses on the morrow to the dead level of his everyday life. We are concerned with a resolution that has had to be taken and maintained every morning, for now nearly four months, in the midst of daily increasing distress and disaster. And not only has this resolution not wavered by a hair’s breadth, but it grows as steadily as the national misfortune; and to-day, when this misfortune is reaching its full, the national resolution is likewise attaining its zenith. I have seen many of my refugee fellow-countrymen: some used to be rich and had lost their all; others were poor before the war and now no longer owned even what the poorest own. I have received many letters from every part of Europe where duty’s exiles had sought a brief instant of repose. In them there was lamentation, as was only too natural, but not a reproach, not a regret, not a word of recrimination. I did not once come upon that hopeless but excusable cry which, one would think, might so easily have sprung from despairing lips: