La défense de la Belgique à la frontière. L'avis d'une population directement menacée.

The Defence Of Belgium At Its Boundaries The Opinion Of A Directly Involved Population: The military reforms introduced on the eve of the first world war proved ineffective because they had been brought about too late. Was the lesson taken to heart ? Apparently not, for it lasted until 1931, before a complete defence policy was proposed and approved of in Parliament. The plan Maglinse, requiring a complete disposition of troops along the boundary, as well as general Hellebaut's conception of a defensive disposition as close to the boundaries as possible was rejected in favour of Galet's theory of a "strategical retreat". The fortified positions of Liège, Namur and Antwerp would be relieved and a bridge-head would be erected in Ghent in order to permit the constitution of a national redoubt. The entry in parliament of the liberal, Albert Deveze, in December, 1932 and the aggravation of the international situation from 1933 onwards, made the controversies on the defensive policy run high. How did the important political organizations of Liège, the largest urban agglomeration of the Eastern part of the country react ? The attitude of the liberals of Liège was unanimous : the defence of Belgium was to take place at the very boundaries, any other solution meaning suicide. They won their case when, on 2 October, the cabinet had adopted Albert Devèze's plan : resistance to the utmost to the North of the Vesdre. The catholics of Liège also claimed a defence along the boundary and they particularly paid attention to the problem of manpower. To the catholics, as well as to the liberals French help seemed indispensable. The socialists' concerne was entirely contrary to the preoccupations of the other political groups. They did not discuss the merits of a strategical plan but what they were concerned with was the very principle of national defence. Until 1934 the socialists argued in favour of common security and pacifism. As their hopes had been disappointed they devoted themselves to a new conception of nationale defence, a conception particularly advanced by Henri De Man. The socialists' coming into power in 1935 facilitated the reunion of the advocates of national defence. The left wing never paid any attention to boundary defence, on the contrary, the Galet plan seemed to enjoy their preference. The socialists also claimed that the foreign policy should deliberately remain neutral. Besides we should not overlook the fact, that the socialists, who turned down an original position, contented themselves with following the directives of the party. Yet, as several organisations were, in this respect, troubled so much about the problem of boundary defence, they expressed a wish to influence the upper middle classes. They organized meetings in order to act upon the public opinion. Among these organisations were the municipal and the provincial councils of Liège of 1933, the "Travailleurs Chrétiens" and the "Assemblée Wallonne" of 1934, the municipal council of 1935, the "Croix the Feu", the "Union des Officiers de Réserve", the "Ancienne Garde au Rhin", the "Assemblée Wallonne" and the "Ligue pour la Défense de la Frontière de l'Est" (League for the Defence of the Eastern Boundary) of 1936. As for the public meetings, one was held by general Molitor and a speech was made by the Lord Mayor, Xavier Neujean. In 1933 meetings were organized by the "anciens combattants" and by the "Ligue d'Action Wallonne". In 1934 Albert Devèze held two meetings and in 1936 he again addressed a meeting. In 1936 the prime minister in person came to Liège and expounded his military plans. 1336 was an important period in the evolution of the defensive policy on Belgium. On 6 March, the Franco-Belgian military agreement of 1920 was rejected. This dealt a heavy blow to the defensive conception, the people of Liège were attached to. A month before, in a special issue announcing the coming rejection of the convention with France, the "League d'Action Wallonne" had warned them of the danger. But the formal denials of several ministers had aroused suspicion as to the information of the "Action Wallonne". The remilitarisation of the Rhineland, on 7 March, 1936, made the reinforcement of our defensive system indispensable. On 25 March, a mixed commission was charged with the study of the new military projects. All dailies in Liège expressed the fear that these negotiations might result in the surrender of the Eastern part of Belgium without any real combat. This fear proved well-founded, as in August the commission adopted the principle of "neutrality" of the national defence. On 14 October, the king laid down the new orientation of Belgium's foreign policy which is closely connected with the military policy. Whereas the "Gazette de Liège" warmly welcomed the address by Leopold III, "Le Journal de Liège", "L'Express" and "La Wallonie" were strongly opposed to the diplomatic policy set forth in it. Yet, the most violent reaction came from "L'Action Wallonne". This magazine accused the king of having delivered up Belgium to Hitlerite Germany. On the other hand it must be admitted that the new trend entirely corresponded to the desires expressed by the majority of the Belgian, who hoped to escape the war. The year 1936 was marked by the defeat of the Liège preferences with regard to defence, for the new international statute of Belgium implied the abandonment of a defensive system at the Eastern boundary. The efforts of the Liège press and the "Ligue d'Action Wallonne" aimed at its maintenance thus proved unsuccessful.