It happened today - October 11, 2015
Exactly 100 years ago Edith Cavell, an English nurse in Belgium, was executed by the Germans for helping Allied prisoners escape.
Now I have this much sympathy with the Germans. They were in a war and trying to hold POWs in an occupied country and couldn’t just ignore people helping them get away. But then again, what business did they have occupying Belgium, and making a war they had largely provoked against France and, because it honoured a treaty with its ally Belgium, Britain as well (and Russia too, whose collapse into Bolshevism under the strain of war was a global catastrophe)?
Moreover, even when the Germans had little choice but to adopt harsh measures given the corner they’d backed themselves into, they often gave a disquieting impression of being proud of their toughness rather than sorry it had come to this. Including the execution of Cavell and the more general widespread mistreatment of Belgian civilians.
Over the years an impression has grown up of the First World War as an exercise in morally equivalent brutal stupidity on all sides. But that’s not how it seemed at the time including an international outcry against Cavell’s execution that the Germans seemed to take perverse pride in defying.
As I argue in my documentary The Great War Remembered, it was a necessary and morally justified struggle against an enemy that, while certainly not Hitler, was ruthless, aggressive and a menace to liberty.