Pulp Magic

SEPTEMBER 12, 2014

Just a “Scrap of Paper”

If anyone suggests to you that paper plays an inconsequential role in geopolitics, remind them that one hundred years ago in August the only thing stopping the world’s great powers from annihilating each other was a “scrap of paper.” The Treaty of London signed on 1839 by Britain, France, Russia, the German Confederation (and others) guaranteed the neutrality of Belgium and ensured that no neighboring nation would violate the tiny country’s borders. In the summer of 1914, though, tensions between the European powers put Belgium in the crosshairs. As Russia slowly mobilized its army, the Germans saw one fleeting opportunity to avoid being surrounded by enemies — it would launch a knockout attack on France and then turn its attention to Russia in the East. Unfortunately, Belgium stood between Germany and France. Britain, which had no direct interest in the brewing conflict, wanted to know what Germany’s intentions were. Would they honor the Treaty and Belgium’s neutrality, or would they cross the border and obligate the British Empire to declare war? On August 4, 1914 the British Ambassador demanded an answer from Germany’s Chancellor who exclaimed that the Treaty was just a “scrap of paper.” Despite the fact that this “scrap of paper” turned out to be the tinder that eventually engulfed the world in a terrible world war, it is also a powerful reminder that paper was and remains an essential vessel to document our hopes, dreams and desires for a more peaceful world.


Photo credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_London_(1839)