- In the Wars of the Spanish Succession, the Bourbons of France and Spain, duked it out with the Habsburg Monarchy, Great Britain, the United Provinces and the Kingdom of Prussia among others (over the right of Philip, Duc d’Anjou to become king of Spain) went through Belgium with battles at Ramillies (1706), Oudenaarde (1708), and Malplaquet (1709).
- The Battle of Fleurus – It was part of the French Revolutionary Wars. In 1794, France faced off against Great Britain, Hanover, the Dutch Republic, and Habsburg Monarchy. In other words, all the usual players. It’s famous because it is the first time the French used a military hot air balloon. Go figure, an aerial view of a battle gives you a tactical advantage.
- The Battle of Waterloo – Everyone knows of Waterloo, but not all Americans realize that it is a town in Belgium. Although it wasn’t of Napoleon Bonaparte‘s first trip to Belgium with his army, It was there that the Alliance of the Seventh Coalition (the United Kingdom, Prussia, Austria, Russia and others) defeated him in 1815.
- World War I The Battles of Flandres – There were five, yes five. The First Battle of Ypres, the Second Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele, the Battle of the Lys, and the creatively named Fifth Battle of Ypres. Germany and the Western Allies faced off once again in Belgium. Industrialization increased the scale of wars and they took on a far more devastating nature. Battles with over 50,000 fatalities became common. Mustard gas doesn’t seem like a particularly good way to go either. Belgian farmers still turn up canisters of gas when they plow their fields in the spring!
- When the Germans wanted to invade France’s Mangiot Line fortifications built after WWI, they just went to Paris via Belgium. Like many of the occupied countries during WWII, most of them weren’t too happy about their visitors.
- Battle of the Ardennes (also known as the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne) – After the Allies landed in Normandy, they made their way to Germany. If you’ve read the last few bullets, you know the easiest way from France to Germany (and vice versa). Southern Belgium has the Ardennes mountains, which happen to be a good place to entrench (and freezing in the winter). The Germans mounted an offensive and surrounded almost 20,000 American troops. It’s famous for General Anthony McAuliffe‘s line, ‘Nuts,’ in response to the German’s request to surrender. Although I have heard that ‘Nuts’ was the only printable equivalent of the word that was actually used, it goes without saying that a battle ensued.
You get the idea. If you got tired reading that list, you can imagine how tired the Belgians were of the wars themselves.
My Belgian friend explained to be that linking their economies and cultures so thoroughly that untangling them was more difficult and costly than waging war was the only way to prevent it from happening again. At that time, many people were alive who’d lived through the occupation and the war. I met people whose family members were shot dead in front of their house by the Nazis. When you think about it, Belgium is a country that only experienced intermittent periods of peace before foreign powers again waged war on their soil. As a citizen of the tiny country that was continually caught in the cross-fire, they were hopeful that the European Union would help put an end to the seemingly never-ending series of wars waged by European powers like England, Spain, France, and Germany on their soil.
You can’t read the news today without reading about the European Union’s problems. Some countries, like Switzerland, have good reasons for not joining (which they haven’t in order retain their neutrality and independence). Nevertheless, as someone who likes a lot of Europeans and likes to travel, there hasn’t been a war on Belgian soil since WWII and I will happily celebrate that.