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Next Time France Won’t Back Down, Poincaré Vows

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that killed millions and set the continent of Europe on the path to further calamity two decades later. But it didn’t come out of nowhere. With the centennial of the outbreak of hostilities coming up in 2014, Erik Sass will be looking back at the lead-up to the war, when seemingly minor moments of friction accumulated until the situation was ready to explode. He'll be covering those events 100 years after they occurred. This is the 58th installment in the series. (See all entries here.)

February 27, 1913: Next Time France Won’t Back Down, Poincaré Vows

With Raymond Poincaré’s inauguration as President of France, the Third Republic’s foreign policy took a decisive turn away from appeasement towards a more assertive stance vis-à-vis Germany. The new direction was clearly visible in the appointment of Théophile Delcassé, an outspoken critic of Germany, as ambassador to Russia, France’s most important ally. Just in case there were any lingering doubts in St. Petersburg, the new president was even more explicit in his first meeting with Count Aleksandr Izvolsky, Russia’s ambassador to France.

According to Izvolsky’s report to the Russian foreign ministry, in their meeting on February 27, 1913, Poincaré recalled the Second Moroccan Crisis, when Germany had tried to intimidate France by sending a gunship to the Moroccan port of Agadir, and vowed that “in view of the present excited state of French national feeling, neither he nor his ministers would tolerate a repetition of the Agadir incident and they would not agree to a compromise like the one of that time.” In short, next time around, France wasn’t going to meekly submit to German bullying.

Poincaré’s promise to Izvolsky was significant in several ways. First, by confirming that France still viewed Germany as the main threat, he reassured the Russians that France would adhere to the alliance. Furthermore, reading between the lines, by signaling that France would pursue a more confrontational policy towards Germany, Poincaré was also encouraging Russia to do the same.

Indeed the timing of the statement, coming amid the crisis resulting from the First Balkan War, left little doubt that Poincaré hoped the Russians would take a firmer line with Germany and Austria-Hungary—because while Agadir had hurt French interests, and Balkan affairs were of more concern to Russia, these sorts of events actually affected the prestige of both partners. As France and Russia formed a single diplomatic “bloc,” their interests became so closely intertwined that they might as well be identical.

This represented a big evolution of the Franco-Russian alliance. On paper, the alliance was strictly defensive, calling for the allies to support each other if either were attacked by Germany, or Austria-Hungary supported by Germany. Now, however, Poincaré was broadening the interpretation of the treaty to promise cooperation in other scenarios—implying that France would come to Russia’s aid even if Russia precipitated the conflict, for example, by mobilizing in order to protect Russian interests in the Balkans. Naturally, Poincaré hoped the Russians would return the favor if France felt compelled to take the offensive against Germany in the west.

Of course there was still a big advantage to letting Germany make the first move. During his meeting with Izvolsky on February 27, Poincaré repeated his earlier disclosure to Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov, assuring the Russians that (despite the apparent improvement in Anglo-German relations) Britain could be counted on to support France and Russia in a war with Germany—but only if France and Russia were clearly the victims, not the aggressors. Public opinion simply wouldn’t allow the British government to intervene on the side of any country viewed as a European warmonger. As one of the main advocates of closer relations between Russia and Britain, Izvolsky was familiar with the delicate art of managing British public opinion, and therefore understood the importance of ensuring Germany bore the blame for starting any future conflict, even if more assertive French and Russian policies helped cause it. 

By this point, key members of France’s civilian and military leadership undoubtedly believed war with Germany was inevitable. As noted previously, on February 24, 1913, Sir Henry Wilson, the British officer in charge of coordinating military planning with France, told London that top French generals were “of the opinion that it would be far better for France if a conflict were not too long postponed,” and on March 3 the warning was repeated by Francis Bertie, the British ambassador to France, who wrote to British foreign minister Edward Grey that in light of French public opinion “any incident with Germany might lead to war." In fact “many Frenchmen… think that war is predictable within the next two years and that it might be better for the French to have it soon.”

At the center of French plans was a new law extending the term of military service from two to three years. On March 2, 1913, Maurice Paléologue, a veteran French diplomat who was also fiercely anti-German, told the new French foreign minister, Charles Jonnart, “that the probability of a war with Germany, or more exactly, of a great European conflict, increases from day to day, [and] that an ordinary incident may suffice to precipitate the catastrophe… We must make ourselves strong without delay. We must restore as soon as possible the three-year service term.”

See previous installment, next installment, or all entries.

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Why Do the Lions and Cowboys Always Play on Thanksgiving?
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Because it's tradition! But how did this tradition begin?

Every year since 1934, the Detroit Lions have taken the field for a Thanksgiving game, no matter how bad their record has been. It all goes back to when the Lions were still a fairly young franchise. The team started in 1929 in Portsmouth, Ohio, as the Spartans. Portsmouth, while surely a lovely town, wasn't quite big enough to support a pro team in the young NFL. Detroit radio station owner George A. Richards bought the Spartans and moved the team to Detroit in 1934.

Although Richards's new squad was a solid team, they were playing second fiddle in Detroit to the Hank Greenberg-led Tigers, who had gone 101-53 to win the 1934 American League Pennant. In the early weeks of the 1934 season, the biggest crowd the Lions could draw for a game was a relatively paltry 15,000. Desperate for a marketing trick to get Detroit excited about its fledgling football franchise, Richards hit on the idea of playing a game on Thanksgiving. Since Richards's WJR was one of the bigger radio stations in the country, he had considerable clout with his network and convinced NBC to broadcast a Thanksgiving game on 94 stations nationwide.

The move worked brilliantly. The undefeated Chicago Bears rolled into town as defending NFL champions, and since the Lions had only one loss, the winner of the first Thanksgiving game would take the NFL's Western Division. The Lions not only sold out their 26,000-seat stadium, they also had to turn fans away at the gate. Even though the juggernaut Bears won that game, the tradition took hold, and the Lions have been playing on Thanksgiving ever since.

This year, the Lions host the Minnesota Vikings.

HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS?


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The Cowboys, too, jumped on the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving as an extra little bump for their popularity. When the chance to take the field on Thanksgiving arose in 1966, it might not have been a huge benefit for the Cowboys. Sure, the Lions had filled their stadium for their Thanksgiving games, but that was no assurance that Texans would warm to holiday football so quickly.

Cowboys general manager Tex Schramm, though, was something of a marketing genius; among his other achievements was the creation of the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.

Schramm saw the Thanksgiving Day game as a great way to get the team some national publicity even as it struggled under young head coach Tom Landry. Schramm signed the Cowboys up for the game even though the NFL was worried that the fans might just not show up—the league guaranteed the team a certain gate revenue in case nobody bought tickets. But the fans showed up in droves, and the team broke its attendance record as 80,259 crammed into the Cotton Bowl. The Cowboys beat the Cleveland Browns 26-14 that day, and a second Thanksgiving pigskin tradition caught hold. Since 1966, the Cowboys have missed having Thanksgiving games only twice.

Dallas will take on the Los Angeles Chargers on Thursday.

WHAT'S WITH THE NIGHT GAME?


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In 2006, because 6-plus hours of holiday football was not sufficient, the NFL added a third game to the Thanksgiving lineup. This game is not assigned to a specific franchise—this year, the Washington Redskins will welcome the New York Giants.

Re-running this 2008 article a few days before the games is our Thanksgiving tradition.

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Why Your Traditional Thanksgiving Should Include Oysters
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If you want to throw a really traditional Thanksgiving dinner, you’ll need oysters. The mollusks would have been featured prominently on the holiday tables of the earliest American settlers—even if that beloved Thanksgiving turkey probably wasn’t. At the time, oysters were supremely popular additions to the table for coastal colonial settlements, though in some cases, they were seen as a hardship food more than a delicacy.

For one thing, oysters were an easy food source. In the Chesapeake Bay, they were so plentiful in the 17th and 18th centuries that ships had to be careful not to run aground on oyster beds, and one visitor in 1702 wrote that they could be pulled up with only a pair of tongs. Native Americans, too, ate plenty of oysters, occasionally harvesting them and feasting for days.

Early colonists ate so many oysters that the population of the mollusks dwindled to dangerously low levels by the 19th century, according to curriculum prepared by a Gettysburg University history professor. In these years, scarcity turned oysters into a luxury item for the wealthy, a situation that prevailed until the 1880s, when oyster production skyrocketed and prices dropped again [PDF]. If you lived on the coast, though, you were probably still downing the bivalves.

Beginning in the 1840s, canning and railroads brought the mollusks to inland regions. According to 1985's The Celebrated Oysterhouse Cookbook, the middle of the 19th century found America in a “great oyster craze,” where “no evening of pleasure was complete without oysters; no host worthy of the name failed to serve 'the luscious bivalves,' as they were actually called, to his guests.”

At the turn of the century, oysters were still a Thanksgiving standard. They were on Thanksgiving menus everywhere from New York City's Plaza Hotel to train dining cars, in the form of soup, cocktails, and stuffing.

In 1954, the Fish and Wildlife Service tried to promote Thanksgiving oysters to widespread use once again. They sent out a press release [PDF], entitled “Oysters—a Thanksgiving Tradition,” which included the agency’s own recipes for cocktail sauce, oyster bisque, and oyster stuffing.

In the modern era, Thanksgiving oysters have remained most popular in the South. Oyster stuffing is a classic dish in New Orleans, and chefs like Emeril Lagasse have their own signature recipes. If you’re not looking for a celebrity chef’s recipe, perhaps you want to try the Fish and Wildlife Service’s? Check it out below.

Oyster Stuffing

INGREDIENTS

1 pint oysters
1/2 cup chopped celery
1/2 cup chopped onion
1/4 cup butter
4 cups day-old bread cubes
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1 teaspoon salt
Dash poultry seasoning
Dash pepper

Drain oysters, saving liquor, and chop. Cook celery and onion in butter until tender. Combine oysters, cooked vegetables, bread cubes, and seasonings, and mix thoroughly. If stuffing seems dry, moisten with oyster liquor. Makes enough for a four-pound chicken.

If you’re using a turkey, the FWS advises that the recipe above provides enough for about every five pounds of bird, so multiply accordingly.

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