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Monday, July 4, 2011
Belgium and America
Happy Independence Day to all my American visitors. As it happens, Prince Philippe and Princess Mathilde of Belgium recently visited the United States. Above is a photograph of the couple at the Arlington National Cemetery in northern Virginia, laying a memorial wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, in honor of those who died in Belgium during World War II in the Battle of the Bulge. Despite many Americans' negative attitude to monarchy, the Kingdom of Belgium and the United States of America have a long history of friendship. As is well known, of course, together with the other Allied powers, the United States fought to free Belgium from German occupation in both world wars. Herbert Hoover also directed the famous Commission for Relief in Belgium during the humanitarian crisis of World War I. After the war, a grateful King Albert I officially designated Hoover a Friend of the Belgian People. In 1919, King Albert, Queen Elisabeth, and Prince Leopold embarked upon a triumphal tour of the United States, to enthusiastic acclaim. In 1940, Herbert Hoover organized a vindication committee to defend King Leopold III from French and British accusations of treason. Distinguished American diplomats, such as Joseph Davies, Hugh Gibson and John Cudahy, made impressive contributions to the effort to clear Leopold's name. Unfortunately, after he issued his Political Testament in 1944, repudiating the treaties which the Belgian government-in-exile had concluded with the Allies during World War II without royal approval, the official American attitude towards Leopold III would become hostile. Nevertheless, the King and his wife, Princess Lilian, found a faithful friend in General Alexander Patch, whose troops had liberated the Belgian royal family from their Nazi jailers at Strobl, Austria, in May, 1945.