Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919

By Sally Marks | Go to book overview
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When the diplomatists, professors, and politicians converged on Paris to make peace after World War I, the spotlight naturally focused upon the ranking representatives of the five great victor powers. It quickly became evident, however, that first in prominence among the twenty- two other states present was a small country that had never even declared war on Germany. Belgium, soon to be the reluctant and unofficial spokesman of the smaller nations, had throughout the war been staunchly with the Allied and Associated Powers but never of them. At the firm insistence of her king, she had stood squarely upon her unique legal status, had conducted her own military operations on Belgian soil only, and had formulated her own strictly limited official war aims separated from the broader pronouncement of the Allied leaders.

Along with the crucial importance of her geographic location and the outspoken nature of her foreign minister, it was the special legal status of Belgium and the resulting legal, moral, and military character of the war in that country which pushed Belgium into prominence at the Paris Peace Conference. The whole western world was familiar with the tale of the famous "scrap of paper" and with the carefully nurtured picture of King Albert fighting grimly on with the remnants of his tattered army in "the little corner never conquered." Thanks to German actions and announcements regarding the scrap of paper, the Belgian wartime public stance was not only famous but morally and legally impeccable. As Anglo-Saxon publicists turned the war in part into a crusade for the rights of small nations, the roi-chevalier in Flanders field became the shining symbol of that crusade.

Although the tale of the scrap of paper was widely publicized, few outside the chancelleries of Europe were aware of the contents of this document or, more accurately, set of documents, or of the substantial Belgian dissatisfaction with them. The treaties of 1839 had in some respects served Belgium well, and some of her strongest claims at


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Innocent Abroad: Belgium at the Paris Peace Conference of 1919


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