The Rape of Belgium

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In The Rape of Belgium: The Untold Story of World War I, a well-written and thoroughly documented study, Larry Zuckerman revisits one of the lesser-known episodes of World War I, the German seizure and four-year occupation of Belgium. Disillusion with the war’s outcome and doubts about anti-German propaganda led many historians to question whether what the Germans did in Belgium was as bad as it was claimed to be at the time. Zuckerman contends in a convincing manner that the performance of the German military anticipated the harsh tactics of that country in World War II in the way in which the Belgium economy was devastated. Conscription of Belgians for the German war effort also represented a severe blow to the captive nation.

Zuckerman is properly critical of what the Germans did and the rationalizations they used to justify their harsh methods. He is also scathing about the performance of the Allied nations and their politicians, and particularly President Woodrow Wilson, for their failure to carry through on pledges to assist Belgium after the fighting ended. This insightful study documents how much the Belgian people suffered and how bravely they endured their ordeal. Zuckerman shows how the twin issues of human rights and war crimes were present for the Belgians and their occupiers. His excellent book also reveals that military occupations can disclose the worst aspects of nations that embark on them for what their leaders claim to be the best of motives. In that regard, Zuckerman’s look at World War I Belgium has much to say to modern readers.