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Serbia and Greece Ally Against Bulgaria

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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 68th installment in the series.

May 14, 1913: Serbia and Greece Ally Against Bulgaria

By May 1913, the Balkan League had disintegrated, as the former allies turned on each other over the spoils of the First Balkan War. Deprived of its Albanian conquests by the Great Powers, Serbia asked to revise its 1912 treaty with Bulgaria to get a bigger share of Macedonia, but was rebuffed (or rather, ignored). To the south, Greece refused to give up Salonika, also claimed by the Bulgarians, while to the north Romania wanted a chunk of Bulgarian territory in Dobruja in return for agreeing to Bulgarian expansion elsewhere. Looking around, Bulgaria’s impetuous Tsar Ferdinand (above) suddenly found himself long on enemies and short on friends.

On May 14, 1913, Greece and Serbia cemented their secret treaty of May 5 with a military convention directed against Bulgaria, dividing Macedonian territory claimed by Bulgaria and outlining a plan of attack to secure their goals. In the disputed area, the Greeks and Serbians agreed to a border west of the Vardar River, although the details remained fuzzy; meanwhile, both partners were already moving their troops to concentration areas near Bulgarian-occupied territory, and the Serbs were organizing paramilitary groups to create chaos behind enemy lines.

Crucially, while the new alliance was directed against Bulgaria, it also divided up the new nation of Albania into Greek and Serbian spheres of influence—indicating that whatever promises they made to the Great Powers at the Conference of London, the Serbs had no intention of actually giving up their claim to Albanian territory. Of course, this put them on a collision course with Austria-Hungary, whose foreign minister, Count Berchtold, had been the driving force behind the creation of Albania precisely to prevent Serbia from gaining access to the sea.

The Serbs and Greeks now turned to delaying tactics: By dragging out peace negotiations at the Conference of London, they gave their armies more time to concentrate near the Bulgarian border while keeping Bulgarian troops tied up in the east, where the Bulgarians still faced Turkish armies at Chataldzha and the Gallipoli peninsula. For their part, the Bulgarians were eager to make peace with Turkey so they could redeploy their troops west against Serbia and Greece. The conflicting national aspirations of the Balkan states were bubbling up, and the Second Balkan War was a month and a half away.

The Romanian Conundrum

The Romanian situation was another headache for Tsar Ferdinand, who refused to give up Bulgarian territory in Dobruja even after the Great Powers awarded it to Romania at a side conference in St. Petersburg on May 8, 1913. Romania was benefiting from rivalry between the two European alliance blocs, as both the Triple Alliance (Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Italy) and the Triple Entente (France, Russia, and Britain) vied for Romania’s favor by taking her side in territorial disputes—a classic example of the “tail wagging the dog,” as a smaller state exploits tensions between larger states to force them to do its bidding.

Although nominally aligned with the Triple Alliance, Romania was drifting towards neutrality—or even an outright switch to the Triple Entente. The matter was complicated for the Triple Alliance by Austria-Hungary’s large Romanian population, which resented the oppressive policies adopted by the Hungarian half of the Dual Monarchy against its own ethnic minorities. The Hungarians feared (not without reason) that Romanians in the Kingdom of Hungary wanted to be reunited with their ethnic kinsmen in the neighboring Kingdom of Romania, much as the Empire’s Slavs hoped for union with Serbia.

Of course the political disenfranchisement of Romanians in Hungary also angered Romanian nationalists in Romania itself—presenting yet another dilemma for Count Berchtold, who somehow had to square all these interests when crafting the Dual Monarchy’s foreign policy. If the vacillating foreign minister made too many concessions to the Romanians, he would anger the Hungarian elite and lose his domestic support; if he let the Hungarians bully their own Romanian subjects too much, Romania might leave the Triple Alliance and join the Triple Entente.

On top of all this, there was political intrigue to deal with as well: The heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and chief of staff Conrad von Hötzendorf both hated the Hungarians and favored concessions to the Romanians at home and abroad, but were opposed by the powerful Hungarian statesman István Tisza, who seemed to be the only politician able to keep Hungary in line with Austria. On June 4, 1913, Emperor Franz Josef was forced to ask Tisza to form a new Hungarian government, further limiting Berchtold’s freedom of movement on the Romanian issue.

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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