When news of the assassination the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand reached Brand Whitlock at his villa in Bois-Fleuri, he rushed back to Brussels.
"Everyone’s Diplomat," U.S. Minister to Belgium Brand Whitlock
U.S. National Archives
Once war broke out, the most pressing duty in the early days was to care for the thousands of panicked and stranded U.S. citizens in Brussels and throughout Belgium now wishing to return to the United States. In an August 2, 1914 letter, Whitlock described the scene at the U.S. Embassy:
“It has been a day of exciting and terrible rumors, to which, however, we pay little attention, for we have been kept busy every minute by the Americans, of all sorts and conditions, who are pouring into Brussels from all over the Continent, in panic, demanding to know how they are to get home, many of them utterly helpless, so frightened are they: in many instances the women are calmer, braver than the men.”1
In addition to aiding stranded U.S. citizens, as representative of a neutral country, Whitlock took over embassy operations and the diplomatic affairs of several belligerent countries, including Britain, Germany, Denmark, Austria-Hungary, and Japan. Thus, U.S. diplomats in Belgium became everyone’s diplomats, working on behalf of citizens of each of these countries, many of whom were stranded and far from the protection of their own governments.
Whitlock’s visions of peace and quiet were shattered. According to one of Whitlock’s biographers, however, “writing was unimportant to Whitlock when human lives and dignity were in jeopardy, and he was once more the practical politician and dedicated humanist rather than the man of letters.”2 Torn from the peaceful solitude of his writing desk, Whitlock quickly rose to the challenges of wartime diplomacy.
Brand Whitlock and Allan Nevins, The Letters and Journal of Brand Whitlock (New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Inc., 1936) Retrieved from http://www.ourstory.info/library/2-ww1/Whitlock/bwTC.html. ↩
David D. Anderson, Brand Whitlock (New York: Twayne Publishers, 1968), 84. ↩