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There had long been a pact among the great powers that in the event of war Belgium neutrality would be honored.

Germany's plan for fighting a two-front war against France and Russia included an invasion of France through Belgium. Disregarding the treaty, Germany gave Belgium an ultimatum - allow German soldiers to pass through Belgium and escape unharmed, or resist and face the devastation of the huge German army.

King Albert
King Albert of Belgium would not sacrifice his country's honor by allowing Germany to use Belgium to attack France. He shocked Germany by refusing the ultimatum.
The sufferings of Belgium became the focus of international propaganda.
Belgium poster
propaganda poster
Germany dismissed the treaty guaranteeing Belgian neutrality as "a scrap of paper." 

Sir E. Goschen, the British Ambassador in Berlin, called on Chancellor von Bethmann-Hollweg for a final interview. Goschen's report to Sir Edward Grey indicates the origin of the phrase, "a scrap of paper," which had an important effect on world public opinion. "His Excellency at once began a harangue which lasted for about 20 minutes. He said the step taken by His Majesty's Government was terrible to a degree, just for a word "neutrality", a word which in wartime had so often been disregarded - just for a scrap of paper, Great Britain was going to make war on a kindred nation who desired nothing better than to be friends with her. All his efforts in that direction had been rendered useless by this last terrible step, and the policy to which, as I knew, he had devoted himself since his accession to office, had tumbled down like a house of cards................"

The Belgian resistance gave France time to meet the German invasion, so much of Germany's surprise advantage was lost. France was able to turn back the German advance to a line which became known as the Western Front. A stalemate ensued which lasted for most of the war. Neither side could advance due to the nature of trench warfare.

World War I

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