Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Belgian Neutrality and Akin Gump

I originally published this post on November 24, 2009.

On August 3, 1914, Great Britain sent an ultimatum to Germany not to invade Belgium. The next day, German troops were in the neutral country and Great Britain declared war. Great Britain's reasoning was that Belgium was an independent, neutral state whose existence and sovereignty was guaranteed by Great Britain, France, Russia, Austria, and Germany. It's creation dates back to the Treaty of London, signed in 1839. The German Chancellor referred to this document as a "scrap of paper." The German Chancellor stated that "just for a scrap of paper Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her." The Times, "The Eve of War," August 28, 1914.

Why was Belgian neutrality so important to the Allies? I never understood that. Maybe Claire Hirshfield could answer that question. Was Belgian neutrality so important that it was worth four years of war, millions of lives lost, war costs in the billions of dollars -- and any of the many other unfortunate consequences of World War I?

I just don't understand what was so important about Belgium. Who cares about Belgium anymore? Do you ever hear President Obama talking about Belgium, let alone Belgian neutrality?

In 1990 I worked at the law firm of Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. I started to see a psychiatrist in January 1990: Stanley R. Palombo, M.D. (202 362 6004). I told him early in our work that I thought he was in communication with my employer. His response: "You must think you're important. You think you are so important that I would talk to your employer about you?" So he attributed my unsupported belief to grandiosity.

Sometimes insignificant people take on significance for other people. Belgium took on significance for the Allies. I might have taken on an importance for the lawyers for whom I worked. Why? Who knows? It may have had little to do with me. The entire matter may have been a concern solely for The Powers That Be. Yes, I might have taken on significance for The Great Powers irrespective of my intrinsic importance.

I fail to see how Dr. Palombo's comment was pertinent. I don't see my allegation against Dr. Palombo as an arrogation of importance on my part. I don't see how my allegation that I was a victim of a crime (namely, the violation of the D.C. Mental Health Information Act) meant that I was grandiose.

I recently thought of an analogy. A woman claims she was raped. Would the police say to her "You think you're so attractive that a man would want to rape you? On what planet do you spend most of your time? Let me tell you something, sweetheart, you're not that attractive. In fact, you're pretty much of a dog! No man would want to rape you."

Speaking metaphorically, Dr. Palombo, sometimes ugly women get raped. But then, I have a problem with metaphors.

1 comment:

Gary Freedman said...

The Rape of Belgium (4 August through September 1914) was a series of German war crimes in the opening months of World War I. The neutrality of Belgium had been guaranteed by Prussia in 1839. Germany accepted Prussia's diplomatic obligations and offered additional guarantees in 1871 and at the Hague Conference in 1907. However the German war plan, known as the Schlieffen Plan, called for Germany to violate this neutrality in order to outflank the French Army, concentrated in eastern France. The German Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg dismissed the Treaty of London, 1839 as a mere "scrap of paper".

German troops, fearful of Belgian guerrilla fighters, or francs-tireurs, burned homes and executed civilians throughout eastern and central Belgium, including Aarschot (156 dead), Andenne (211 dead), Tamines (383 dead) and Dinant (665 dead). The victims included women and children. On August 25, 1914 the Germans ravaged the city of Leuven, burning the University's library of 230,000 books, killing 248 residents, and forcing the entire population, 42,000, to evacuate. Large amounts of strategic materials, food stuffs and modern industrial equipment was looted and removed to Germany. These actions brought worldwide condemnation.

Horn and Kramer give an explanation of these crimes:

The source of the collective fantasy of the People’s War and of the harsh reprisals with which the German army (up to its highest level) responded are to be found in the memory of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1, when the German armies indeed faced irregular Republican soldiers (or francs-tireurs), and in the way in which the spectre of civilian involvement in warfare conjured up the worst fears of democratic and revolutionary disorder for a conservative officer corps.
—John Horn, German war crimes