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Austria-Hungary Mobilizes Against Montenegro

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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 66th installment in the series.

April 29, 1913: Germany Promises to Respect Belgian Neutrality, Austria-Hungary Mobilizes Against Montenegro

The neutrality of Belgium, agreed by international treaty in 1839 following Belgium’s revolt against the Netherlands, was a cornerstone of peace and stability in Western Europe. With memories of Louis XIV and Napoleon always in the back of their minds, British diplomats insisted that Europe’s other Great Powers guarantee the neutrality of the new, independent kingdom in order to keep France contained. Ironically, the rationale for Belgian neutrality would shift in subsequent decades—but British commitment never wavered, as the little kingdom’s territorial integrity was still crucial to the European balance of power.

After Prussia’s stunning defeat of France and creation of the German Empire in 1870 and 1871, Belgian neutrality suddenly became a safeguard for France against Germany’s growing strength. Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, who had no desire to alienate Britain, reaffirmed Germany’s commitment to Belgian neutrality in 1871. Nevertheless, in the early years of the 20th century it was widely suspected that Germany might violate Belgian neutrality in an attempt to circumvent France’s new defensive fortifications and outflank French armies from the north. Of course this was exactly what the Germans envisioned in the Schlieffen Plan—and of course they had to deny it up and down.

British and French fears were shared by German anti-war socialists, who deeply distrusted Germany’s conservative military establishment (for good reason). Thus on April 29, 1913, a prominent Social Democrat, Hugo Haase, threw down the gauntlet in a speech to the Reichstag, noting, “In Belgium the approach of a Franco-German war is viewed with apprehension, because it is feared that Germany will not respect Belgian neutrality.” After this blunt reminder there was no way to avoid the subject, and the German government was forced to make a public declaration.

The government response was delivered by foreign minister Gottlieb von Jagow (above), who reassured the Reichstag that “Belgian neutrality is provided for by international conventions, and Germany is determined to respect those conventions.” The message was reiterated by war minister Josias von Heeringen, who promised parliament that “Germany will not lose sight of the fact that the neutrality of Belgium is guaranteed by international treaty.” Needless to say, both men were aware that the Schlieffen Plan called for the violation of Belgian neutrality—Jagow since January 1913 and von Heeringen since December 1912, at the latest. In fact, both were personally opposed to it on the grounds that it would provoke Britain to enter the war against Germany, as indeed it did (they were ultimately ignored, and in any event their private views can’t excuse these bald-faced lies to the public).

Austria-Hungary Mobilizes Against Montenegro

The fall of Scutari to Montenegro on April 23, 1913—the last major event of the First Balkan War—triggered yet another diplomatic crisis which threatened to provoke a much larger conflict. Spurred to action by the Austro-Hungarian war party led by chief of staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, foreign minister Count Berchtold demanded that the Montenegrins withdraw from Scutari, which had been assigned to the new, independent state of Albania by the Great Powers at the Conference of London. Meanwhile, Berchtold also put pressure on the other Great Powers to back up their decision with the threat of force against Montenegro, currently under blockade by a multinational fleet—and if France, Britain, and Russia weren’t willing to use military action to enforce their will, he warned, Austria-Hungary would do it for them. But on April 2, Russian foreign minister Sergei Sazonov had insisted that Austria-Hungary could not act alone; Berchtold’s threat raised the possibility of another standoff between Austria-Hungary and Russia—or even war.

On April 25, 1913, the Conference of London refused Berchtold’s request for a naval bombardment of Montenegrin forces. Meanwhile, German foreign minister Jagow told the Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Berlin, Count Szogeny, that Germany would support military action by Austria-Hungary against Montenegro, even if it was unilateral (meaning, against the wishes of the other Great Powers); the next day the Germans warned the Conference that Austria-Hungary might proceed against Montenegro on its own. On April 28, Berchtold repeated his request for a naval bombardment, but (expecting another rebuff) also decided to go ahead with Austria-Hungary’s own military preparations.

On April 29, 1913, Austria-Hungary mobilized divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina and began massing troops near the Montenegrin border. The following day, Jagow warned the French ambassador in Berlin, Jules Cambon, that if the situation spiraled out of control, resulting in a Russian attack on Austria-Hungary, Germany would stand beside her ally. On May 2, the Austro-Hungarian cabinet agreed to military measures against Montenegro, and the Germans repeated their support for aggressive action. Once again Europe teetered on the edge of disaster.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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History
The Day Notre Dame Students Pummeled the Ku Klux Klan
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At first glance, there was nothing unusual about the men who stepped off the train in South Bend, Indiana on the morning of May 17, 1924. Dapper and mannered, they drifted from the station to the downtown area. Some headed for a nearby office that sported a red cross made out of light bulbs stationed in the window. Others roamed around looking for Island Park, the site of a planned social gathering.

A closer look at these visitors revealed one common trait: Many were carrying a folded white robe under their arm. Those who had arrived earlier were fully clothed in their uniform and hood, directing automobile traffic to the park.

The Ku Klux Klan had arrived in town.

Fresh off a controversial leadership election in Indianapolis, Indiana, there was no reason for Klansmen to have any apprehension about holding a morale booster in South Bend. Indiana was Klan territory, with an estimated one in three native born white men sworn members within state lines. Just a few months later, Klansman Ed Jackson would be elected governor.

It was only when Klansmen found themselves guided into alleys and surrounded by an irate gang of Catholic students from nearby Notre Dame University that they realized mobilizing in South Bend may have been a very bad idea.

The Klan wanted a rally. What they got was a full-scale riot.

Photo of KKK Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
Indiana Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson
By IndyStar, Decemeber 12, 1922 issue, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Politically-endorsed prejudice was the order of the day in the early part of the 20th century, when the Klan—first created in 1866 to oppose Republican Reconstruction with violent racial enmity and then revived in 1915—expanded its tentacles to reach law enforcement and civil service. No longer targeting people of color exclusively, the KKK took issue with Catholics, the Jewish faith, and immigrants. An estimated 4 million Americans belonged to the Klan in the 1920s, all echoing the group’s philosophy that only white, God-fearing citizens were worthy of respect.

Under the guidance of Indiana's Grand Dragon D.C. Stephenson, the group had attempted to shift public perception from the lynch mobs of the past to an orderly and articulate assembly. Rallies were held in KKK-friendly areas; propaganda material was becoming an effective weapon for their cause. Acceptance of the Klan’s ideology seeped into political office; Stephenson was a prominent Indiana politician.

To help continue that indoctrination, the Klan made plans for a parade in South Bend to be held on May 17, 1924. That it would be in close proximity to the Notre Dame campus was no mistake: At the time, 75 percent of the school's nearly 2000 students were Catholic, a religion the Klan found abhorrent. By pledging allegiance to the Vatican, their reasoning went, Catholics were acknowledging a foreign power. In the fall of 1923, they had persisted in setting crosses on fire near the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio, a predominantly Catholic college, and were frequently chased off by angered football players. That December, the Klan set off firebombs in Dayton during Christmas break. While no one was seriously injured, the intent was to send a message—one they wanted to spread to Indiana.

In the weeks and months leading up to the parade, both students and faculty began to get a taste of that perspective. Copies of the Fiery Cross, the official Klan newspaper, circulated on campus; one Klansman showed up at an auditorium to broadcast that Catholics were not good Americans. He exited the stage when attendees began throwing potatoes at him.

If that public response was foreshadowing, the Klan either ignored or failed to heed the warning. Members began arriving the Friday evening prior to the rally and were met at the train station by irritated students, who scuffled with the early arrivals by ripping their robes. By Saturday morning, when more Klansmen arrived, hundreds of students were in town, a loosely organized anti-Klan task force.

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Klan members were used to breezing into towns without incident. Here, they were immediately confronted by young, ornery college kids proud of their Catholicism. Klansmen were led into alleys and tossed into walls; students who played for the school’s legendary football squad formed wedges, the offensive line-ups found on the field, and plowed into groups of Klan members like they were challenging for a state title.

The violence, swift and sudden, prompted the Klan to retreat to their headquarters in South Bend. The students followed, their blood pumping hot at the sight of the red cross lit in the office window. Below it stood a grocery store with barrels of fresh potatoes. The students lobbed them at the glass, smashing the bulbs inside.

The conflict had been uninterrupted by law enforcement, but not for lack of trying. Deputy Sheriff John Cully, himself a Klansman, tried to enlist the National Guard but was shot down by officials. Notre Dame president Matthew Walsh had already implored students not to go into town, but his words went unheeded.

Unencumbered by authority, the 100 or so students idling near the Klan’s office decided they wanted to seize the hideout. Dozens began running up the stairs but were greeted by a Klan member who produced a gun. Unarmed, the students backed off. Four seniors went back and came to an impromptu truce: The student body would disperse if the Klan agreed to hold their rally without weapons or their robes.

The agreement seemed to placate both sides until Stephenson finally arrived in town before the parade’s scheduled 6:30 p.m. start. Assessing the roughed-up Klansmen and their skittish behavior, he complained to the police, who posted officers on horseback around their assembly at Island Park.

But there would be no rally: A heavy downpour prompted Stephenson to call it off, although the potential for further violence likely weighed on his mind. Lingering students who still hadn’t returned to campus met departing Klansmen as they attempted to drive out of town, smashing windows and even tipping over one car.

By Sunday, things seemed to have settled down. Walsh cringed at newspaper reports of the incidents, fearing it would portray the students as thugs.

Unfortunately, neither side was done protesting. And when they met a second time, the robed men would be backed up by lawman Cully and a squad of 30 deputized Klansmen.

Denver News - The Library of Congress (American Memory Collection), Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Students back on campus Monday had taken to hanging up seized Klan robes and hoods on their walls like trophies. It had been a rout, with the Klan barely putting up a fight.

Now, word was spreading through the halls that the Klan had captured or perhaps had even killed a Notre Dame student. Roughly 500 students jogged the two miles back into South Bend, eager for another confrontation.

When they arrived at the Klan’s headquarters, the light bulb cross had been rebuilt. It was an act of defiance, and the students moved forward. But the Klan was prepared: Many had been deputized, and uniformed officers joined the melee. Axe handles and bottles were brandished, and blood began to stain the street. It was a clash, with parties on both sides laid out.

When he got word of the conflict, Walsh rushed to the site and climbed on top of a cannon that was part of a monument. Shouting to be heard, he implored students to return to campus. His voice cut through the sounds of breaking glass, snapping the students out of their reverie. They returned to the school.

Absent any opposition, the Klan did the same. Stragglers from out of town returned home. With bombastic prose, writers for the Fiery Cross later recapped the event by accusing Notre Dame students of “beating women and children.” Later that summer, they declared they’d be returning to South Bend in greater number.

It never happened. Although the Klan maintained an aura of strength for several more years, the conviction of Stephenson for raping and murdering a woman in November 1925 extinguished one of their most enthusiastic leaders; the Depression dampened the ability of new recruits to pay dues. By 1930, the Klan was down to an estimated 45,000 members.

While Walsh never condoned the vigilante justice exacted that weekend, he never disciplined a single student for it.

Additional Sources:
Notre Dame vs. the Klan, by Todd Tucker (Loyola Press, 2004)
"Hearing the Silence: The University of Dayton, the Ku Klux Klan, and Catholic Universities and Colleges in the 1920s" [PDF], by William Vance Trollinger

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Why the Berlin Wall Rose and Fell
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One of history's most notorious barriers broke ground early in the morning on August 13, 1961, when East German construction workers, guarded by soldiers and police, began tearing up the Berlin streets.

As European history professor Konrad H. Jarausch explains in this video from Ted-Ed, the roots of the Berlin Wall can be found in the period of instability that followed World War II. When the Allies couldn't decide how to govern Germany, they decided to split up the country between the Federal Republic of Germany in the West and the German Democratic Republic in the East. Eventually, citizens (especially young professionals) began fleeing the GDR for the greater freedoms—and higher salaries—of the West. The wall helped stem the tide, and stabilized the East German economy, but came at great cost to the East's reputation. In the end, the wall lasted less than three decades, as citizen pressures against it mounted.

You can learn more about exactly why the wall went up, and how it came down, in the video below.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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