Commonwealth and Foreign
HOLLAND ON GUARD
By M. VAN BLANKENSTE1N
HOLLAND is anxiously scanning her eastern frontier. She is keeping keen watch, keener than she has hitherto ever kcpt. For five months her people and the authorities have lived in a state of comparative calmness. The November crisis over- whelmed the Dutch public so completely that before they became fully aware of its existence it had already passed. Only those who inhabit the regions near the frontier, and those who had to be prepared for evacuation during those days, really lived in a state of great apprehension: Their fear had not had time to spread over the country when it became evident that danger no longer threatened ; that perhaps it had never existed
Since then Holland has not allowed herself to be frightened again. The military authorities have energetically but calmly continued their work on the country's defences. When, in Janu- ary, Belgium was startled by an alarm the Dutch Government took some precautionary measures. The nature of these measures, however, made it quite clear that the Government was not par- ticularly anxious. During that time, and for some time after, there was some scepticism with regard to serious plans of attack on the part of the Germans. Attention was also attracted by the fact that the concentrations which were to be observed were directed more against the south of the country than against the strong territory to the north of the great rivers, which is defended by the inundation-lines. The country steadily returned to a state of tranquillity. Many—and amongst them also experts— were no longer able to believe in the possibility of a real war anywhere. It is true that Germans who visited Holland spoke of great things that were about to happen, and prophesied that the war would end in June, July or August with a German victory, but in most cases one got the impression that the visitor believed in an end to the war more than in a German victory.
The Dutch military authorities were highly satisfied with the warning they had been given in November, and also with the respite which had followed it. The territory designed for defence has been brought to a state of great potential resistance. Wide belts of inundatable land protect a far greater part of the country than has ever before been protected by water. There has been plenty of time to improve the traditional methods of artificial flooding. In 1914-1918 not much in this direction had been accomplished. But now a great part of the inundation- lines have functioned all through the winter. New sluices and dams were built, so that the mobility of the water-level was increased. Even in the times of severe frost it could be kept in movement. Great fields of ice were broken up by causing the water beneath to rise and sink alternately. And in the mean- time bulwark after bulwark was erected, and' the country was covered with concrete block-houses, camouflaged positions and defence-systems. It is true that Holland is not so well equipped with munitions as a country which is actually engaged in war. But the natural defences of the country have been exploited to such purpose that invasion is made extremely difficult. The Holland of April, 1940, is not the Holland of November, 1939. And even in 1939 Holland was far better prepared than during the Great War.
In the beginning of April the unrest returned, and the events in the North of Europe have aggravated this unrest. This time our military authorities took very drastic measures. Railroad transport, which had functioned normally as in peace-time from the beginning of October onwards, was paralysed for a whole week. Towards the east as well as towards the west the country was prepared for the worst. Once again highly perturbing symptoms were observed, particularly, this time, to the north of the great rivers. Considerable unrest reigned amongst the Population of the territory bordering on the frontiers.
It was unfortunate that, not long before, assertions had been made in foreign publications—including British—that Holland would not resist a German invasion. This statement was ridicu- lous. That defence would be impossible is an idea entertained by only a negligible number of Dutchmen. In the eyes of the average Dutchman—whether he be courageous by nature or not—it is certain that an invasion of this country signifies a ,truggle for life or death. He may or may not have faith in the defences of his country, but he certainly has no thought of anything than resistance. Those who think otherwise are to be
found almost exclusively amongst the National-Socialists, and even there the tendency to allow the Germans free passage is not by any means general. Of course, they too have their Quislings and their Sundlos, but that type has been dismissed from the army. Not one officer, and not one civil-servant, who is known to entertain Nazi ideas is allowed to keep his job. It has been a hard measure for such a tolerant and liberal people as the Dutch, but for a country in the position in which Holland finds itself today such a step is imperative, for the country's :ife is at stake. The authorities are keenly on their guard. During the last weeks there have twice been alarm night-manoeuvres at The Hague. The town was suddenly occupied by heavily-armed soldiers and machine-guns stood at the dominating points. It was not only a trial, it was also a warning to the "fifth column" to which the Germans, in their presumptuousness, have repeatedly appealed. The events in Norway have been a fresh warning. They have opened for good the eyes of many Dutch- men. They caused the proclamation of the state of siege in the whole of the country to facilitate action against would-be traitors.
The relations between Holland and Belgium are of great interest. It is a known fact that Belgian statesmen, in addition to their assurance of strict neutrality, have made it clear that their country would not remain indifferent should an attack on Holland threaten her own safety. An attack on Holland, how- ever, in which an invasion of the south is not the ultimate aim is almost unthinkable, even though this aim would at first be denied. What is possible, however, is that Belgium may be made the victim of an invasion which leaves Holland Um- threatened. The events of 1914 have proved that this is quite possible. It must be accepted that there is more chance of Belgium being dragged into war in the event of an attack upon Holland than of Holland's being embroiled in the war should the attack be directed against Belgium. It is therefore more likely that Holland would remain neutral alone than that Belgium should remain out of the war alone, although it must be remem- bered that neither of the two countries will needlessly allow its territory to become the scene of battle. Dutchmen and Belgians fully understand each other in regard to this, and respect each other's opinions, which they share to such a great extent.
This situation seems a little to the advantage of Holland, but in reality the position is harder for her so long as peace is main- tained. The relationship does not, while war fails to break out, inflict upon Belgium any particular burdens. Holland, on the other hand, has had to overcome great difficulties in order to fulfil her obligations towards her southern neighbour. The Netherlands could easily be defended if the defence were limited to the stronghold of Holland, which is well covered by the inundation-lines. National life could be concentrated there until the danger had passed. That was the fundamental principle of Holland's defence in the last war. After that war, however, Belgium asked for a military alliance so that military weakness in the south of the Netherlands would not, in the event of war, be a danger to Belgium, into whose territory the Germans would in such a case be able to march unimpeded. Holland did not desire any entanglements, and from 1936 Belgium has also been averse to them ; but Holland has assured Belgium that any molestation, however small, of her territory in the event of an attack upon Belgium would be regarded as a casus belli.
When danger approached, the logical conclusions were drawn, and at great expense and cost of energy defences were built in the south of the country, which actually serve to protect Belgium, so that now the latter can no longer complain about the weakness of Holland's southern frontiers. In order to remain true to her obligations Holland has now placed a great part of her army and her war material in the south. The Dutch nation desires to fulfil its obligations in all directions. There can be no more • offensive piece of injustice than the assertion that the Nether- lands had planned to adopt the line of action recently taken by Denmark, and no statement can be more dangerous to the peace of the Low Countries. Not only does the difference in national temperament make it unthinkable that Holland should adopt the line of action, or rather of inaction, taken by Denmark, but also the fact that if she did she would no longer be able to maintain her existence as a colonial Power.