Fighting for Peace (1)

From Henry van Dyke’s 1917 book, Fighting for Peace, some telling fragments:

p. 34-37, about his visit to Luxembourg, an ominous conversation and an observation of German war-preparation while fishing (= Van Dyke’s hobby)


At The Hague everything pursued its tranquil course as usual. Golf set in. The tulips bloomed in a sea of splendor. I strove at the footless task of promoting the third peace conference. It was not until the season of Pentecost, 1914, that I went to Luxembourg again, intending to gather material for a report on the flourishing steel industry there, which had developed some new processes, and to get a little trout-fishing on the side. During that pleasant journey two things happened which opened my eyes. The first was at a luncheon which Prime Minister Eyschen gave me. It was a friendly foursome: our genial host; the German Minister, Von B.; the French Minister, M.; and myself. Mr. Eyschen’s wine-cellar was famous, and his old Luxembourg cook was a wonder; she served a repast which made us linger at table for three hours. The conversation rambled everywhere, and there were no chains or padlocks on it. It was in French, English, and German, but mostly in French. One remark has stuck in my memory ever since. Mr. Eyschen said to me: “You have heard of the famous Luxembourger Loch?  It is the easiest military road between Germany and France.” Then he continued with great good humor to the two gentlemen at the ends of the table: “Perhaps one of your two countries may march an army through it before long, and we certainly cannot stop you.” Then he turned to Herr von B., still smiling: “Most likely it will be your country, Excellenz! But please remember, for the last ten years we have made our mining concessions and contracts so that they will hold, whatever happens. And we have spent the greatest part of our national income on our roads. You can’t roll them up and carry them oflf in your pocket !” Of course we all laughed. But it was serious.

Two months later the French Minister had to make a quick and quiet flight along one of those very roads. A couple of days after the luncheon, at the beginning of June, I saw a curious confirmation of Eyschen’s hint. Having gone just over the German border for a bit of angling, I was following a very lovely little river full of trout and grayling. With me were two or three Luxembourgers and as many Germans, to whom fishing with the fly — fine and far off — was a new and curious sight. Along the east bank of the stream ran one of the strategic railways of Germany, from Koln to Trier. All day long innumerable trains rolled southward along that line, and every train was packed with soldiers in field-gray — their cheerful, stolid bullet-heads stuck out of all the windows. “Why so many soldiers,” I asked, “and where are they all going?’* “Ach!” replied my German companions, ” it is Pfingstferien (Pentecost vacation), and they are sent a changing of scene and air to get.” My Lux embourg friends laughed. “Yes, yes,” they said. “That is it. Trier has a splendid climate for soldiers. The situation js kolossal for that!”
When we passed through the hot and dusty little city it was simply swarming with the field-gray ones — thousands upon thousands of them — new barracks everywhere; parks of artillery; mountains of munitions and military stores. It was a veritable base of operation, ready for war. Now the point is that Trier is just seven miles from Wasserbillig on the Luxembourg frontier, the place where the armed German forces entered the neutral land on August 2, 1914.
The government and the “grande armee” of the Grand Duchess protested. But — well, did you ever see a wren resist an eagle?

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