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A "German Paperchase": The "Scrap of Paper" Controversy and the Problem of Myth and Memory in International History

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"… eyewitnesses often err… . If an event suggests some tempting interpretation, then this interpretation, more often than not, is allowed to distort what has actually been seen." Karl Popper The dismissal, in 1914, of the Belgian neutrality treaty as a "scrap of paper" by the German chancellor has become one of the enduring images of the First World War. Widely used by Allied propaganda during the war, the remark contains certain elements of "myth." Utilising hitherto untapped archival material, this article examines the final interview between the German chancellor and the British ambassador on 4 August 1914 through the prism of contemporary sources and the later '"scrap of paper' controversy" in the mid-1920s. Beyond the reconstruction of actual events, the article contends that the controversy has epistemological significance for diplomatic historians.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2007

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