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Wednesday, 14 October 1914

Mr JOSEPH COOK (Parramatta) . - I most cordially second the motion. I am very glad that we are paying this special tribute to a brave people for their action in setting to the world an example of what small numbers of people can do in defence of their freedom and honour. I have asked myself more than once what there is peculiar to the Belgian case which separates it, in this war, perhaps, from that of the rest of the Allies who are fighting at the present time - and undoubtedly there are peculiar features attaching to the Belgian case which call for special mention.

In the first place, to the Belgians belong the first honours of this war. They proved that they were not to be a mere pawn on the German chessboard. In three days they so fought them down that the German soldiers were glad to ask for a truce while they buried their dead - a request which, I believe, they never once made during the whole of the great war of 1870. Meantime German proclamations were being issued from day to day breathing out threatenings and slaughter against these brave people. But these they completely ignored, and they resolutely declined to join Germany in its disgraceful treaty breaking. By their brave defence they shattered, I think, the Potsdam programme, and did a great deal to injure the morale of the German invaders. The Germans entertained the idea that they could run over the world, but this little nation completely disproved the invincibility of the German soldiery. I think that is the first great material service which the brave Belgians rendered to the rest of mankind.

Then, too, we have the spectacle, to which I have already alluded, of a small people battling bravely for their freedom. I think it was Napoleon who once said that the moral forces in war were as to material three to one, and the Belgians have proven on this occasion the value of the moral force even when applied to the ghastly and ghoulish business of war. We have had, at all events, the spectacle of what a small people can do when they are united in defence of their country, their national honour, and the privileges they enjoy. But what affect me more than anything else in connexion with Belgium are the harrowing details of the fight which was waged there in recent days. I am not quite sure whether these things come home to us as they ought to do - whether, for instance, we reflect, as we should do, upon the position of a big nation knocking down a smaller one, and then demanding tribute of it before it may rise. It upsets one's notions of fair play and fair fighting to hear of these in solent demands for indemnity on the part of the Germans every time they despoil the fair face of one of Belgium's beautiful cities. We must remember that there was an easy way out for the Belgians had they chosen to follow it, but, instead of doing so, they chose the narrow and straight way of international honour and the fulfilment of international obligations. In this way they have covered themselves with imperishable glory.

But at what cost has it been done? The best blood of that brave little nation has been shed and her flag has been trodden under foot. The Times correspondent tells us that blackmail has been levied in almost every town, and that there is a long trail of ruined towns and villages. The country side, he says, has been ravished by fire and sword, ripened cornfields have been strewn with fallen dead, factories and furnaces have been devastated, and generations will pass before the havoc which the Germans have played can be repaired.

Mr West - War is hell.

Mr JOSEPH COOK - As my honorable friend says, verily war is hell. There are many pathetic touches in this war which come home to me. I read one of them the other day, which was supplied by the Times correspondent to whom I have just referred. He spoke of an examination which was proceeding at the Liege University when the Germans came over the border. The students, he said, asked leave to present themselves for their ordinary examination, and, after some demur on the part of the authorities, it was decided that they might be examined as desired. They went through their examinations, so the story runs, and within four hours they lay dead in the trenches. These students trooped out from their examinations to defend their country in the trenches, and within four hours many of them were dead. They passed their examinations outside at least, and qualified, as I think, for a roll of honour which will cause them to be remembered through many generations. Altogether, these brave little people make a strong appeal to our sympathetic consideration, to our admiration, and, above all, to our practical help.

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