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Belgian Soldiers Firing on German Troops, 1914

In this photograph, a squad of Belgian soldiers have taken cover in a shallow ditch or depression and are firing at a German patrol near a windmill. This scene was photographed in 1914 near the start of the war, when both sides were still employing tactics of movement and maneuver. The front was still fairly fluid and involved in many areas skirmishes between relatively small groups of soldiers, who would hold or yield positions as necessary. As the war developed, the fighting bogged down into relatively static trench warfare involving hundreds of thousands of men facing each other across a no man’s land between the opposing trench systems.

Belgium, a small and relatively unarmed country, has expected to remain neutral during the War. But it was invaded by the Germans who hoped to march quickly through Belgium in order to outflank the French frontier defences, and rapidly capture Paris and bring the war to a quick end. The German mistreatment of Belgium galvanized world opinion against Germany. And the heroic and stubborn resistance of the small Belgian army slowed the German advance, throwing their schedule of invasion off schedule. One has to wonder how the history of the world might have been different if the Belgian army had collapsed more quickly, and the Germans had been able to score a quick knock out blow against France as they had done in 1870. While one cannot help but sympathize with the Belgians, the world might have been better off if the world war had never really developed into a world war, and remained basically a conflict between Germany and France and Russia. A quick end would have saved the lives of millions of people and prevented the second world war, at least in the form that it took in our timeline.