The Belgian Myth and Liberal Interventionism in the 21st Century | Matthew Murphy

In July 1914, Europe was mobilised as the greatest crisis of the Long 19th Century saw diplomacy break down. The German Empire activated a plan to invade France through Belgium- a neutral country protected by the British. This plan brought the British Empire hurtling into the First World War, as our treaty obligations meant we had to save the defenceless Belgian people from the barbaric warmongering German. This should sound very familiar to anyone with any remote awareness of history, we are all taught it at great length and have been so for a great period of time. It’s untrue. 

Belgium had very little, if anything at all, to do with Britain’s involvement in the First World War. During the July Crisis that preceded the war, several members of the Liberal Asquith Cabinet threatened resignation over neutrality, most prominently the foreign secretary Sir Edward Grey, entire days before Belgium was even mentioned in discussions. For all intents and purposes, Belgium existed solely as a propaganda piece. This is not hidden history. Memoirs from many important figures of the time, such as future Prime Minister David Lloyd-George, all point to Sir Edward Grey’s jingoism and Germanophobia as the cause of British involvement in that bloody war, not towards our treaty obligations to Belgium, which the Germans quite rightly described as little more than ‘a scrap of paper.’

So why are we still taught that it was over Belgium? More importantly, how does this matter in the modern day? The First World War is deeply ingrained in the psyche of the modern Briton. It laid the foundations of our modern culture. Suffice to say, we today would not be modern Britons without the First World War. At the heart of this, of course, is the cause for the bloodshed. We were protecting the Belgians, we are told. We fought what was at the time the bloodiest and most brutal conflict in history to save a weak nation from barbaric despoilers. This has been ingrained in our culture.

If we are able to do that, what then is it so bad about, say, bombing Serbia to save the Kosovans from the Serbs? What is so terrible about marching into Baghdad to save the Kurds from the Iraqis? Of course, these are not the real reasons we involve ourselves in these nations’ affairs. There is little doubt that our conflict in Iraq is far more about oil than about saving the poor, oppressed people of the country. Our goals are neo-imperialist, just as our true goals in the First World War were imperialist. We didn’t die in the trenches to save the Belgians, we died in the trenches to build a railway in Africa, and to stop the Germans building a railway in Turkey. We didn’t bomb Libya into famine to save the Libyans, we bombed Libya into famine to destabilise Ghaddafi’s regime and open the way to further intervention in the Middle East, for the sake of oil.

Looking deeply at it, one can see how ridiculous it would be for us to throw our stability and prosperity in the bin all over Belgium. We as a people are conditioned from a rather young age that this is the fact of the matter- and this normalises the concept of liberal interventionism. If Belgium isn’t ridiculous, then applying similar logic to other countries can’t be either.

At the heart of all this is the Belgian myth. So long as the myth of Belgium is propagated throughout our education and our national consciousness, so long as the media talks about Belgium on Remembrance and so long as our history teachers tell us it’s why British men died in the trenches, any politician can justify great suffering of both our soldiers and the supposed enemy for the sake of liberal interventionism; for the sake of saving people, be it from some partially fictionalised foreign oppressor or even from themselves. I believe it is extremely important for the Revolutionary Conservative movement to acknowledge the Belgium myth, as a means to dispel further liberal wars in the name of interventionism.

Photo Credit.

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