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First Balkan War Ends

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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 71st installment in the series.

May 30, 1913: First Balkan War Ends

After six months of negotiations at the Conference of London (above), on May 30, 1913 the members of the Balkan League—Bulgaria, Serbia, Greece, and Montenegro—signed a peace treaty with the Ottoman Empire ending the First Balkan War. In the Treaty of London, brokered by Europe’s Great Powers, the Turks agreed to give up virtually all of their European territories to the victors, redrawing the map of the Balkans and bolstering the populations (and self-confidence) of the Balkan states.

The loss of the Balkan provinces deprived the Ottoman Empire of 54,000 square miles with a population of 4.2 million, although 400,000 Muslim refugees from the lost provinces ended up fleeing to other parts of the empire. From 1910 to 1913, between the First Balkan War and the Italo-Turkish war Ottoman territory shrank from roughly 1.39 million square miles to 928,000 square miles, while the empire’s population fell from around 26 million to 20 million (there are few firm statistics).

Although it confirmed the Balkan League’s gains at the expense of the Ottoman Empire, the Treaty of London left several major issues unresolved. First of all, the Great Powers deferred a decision on the exact borders of the new, independent state of Albania to some later date, raising hopes in Serbia and Greece that they might be allowed to keep some or all of their Albanian conquests after all (in fact, on May 14 they divided up Albania into Serbian and Greek spheres of influence). This put Serbia on a collision course with Austria-Hungary, whose foreign minister, Count Berchtold, helped create Albania in order to prevent Serbia from gaining access to the sea.

Furthermore, the Treaty of London said nothing about the division of spoils from the First Balkan War, leaving the Balkan League to divide their conquests among themselves. Since Bulgaria still claimed a large amount of territory in Macedonia occupied by the Serbians and Greeks (a final Serbian request to revise the treaty dividing up Macedonia was rebuffed on May 26, 1913) and also refused to cede its own northern territory of Silistra to Romania, this was an invitation to renewed conflict between the former allies in the Second Balkan War, now just a month away.

Consequences of the First Balkan War

Following the Ottoman Empire’s humiliating defeat in the First Balkan War, it was reasonable for the leaders of Europe’s Great Powers to assume that the “sick man of Europe,” in decline for centuries, was entering its final death throes. This, in turn, triggered a scramble by European diplomats, soldiers, and businessmen, all jockeying for a piece of the moribund empire when the big crack-up finally came.

The main menace came from Russia, which coveted Constantinople and the Turkish straits and was making inroads in eastern Anatolia as well: In June 1913, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Constantinople, Marquis Johann von Pallavicini, reported a Russian diplomat’s boast that the division of Anatolia was a done deal, and a similar warning came from the German ambassador, Baron Hans von Wangenheim, that same month. Meanwhile, France and Britain were eyeing Ottoman territories in Syria, Palestine, Mesopotamia, and the Arabian Peninsula, which they later divvied up during the Great War with the Sykes-Picot Agreement, signed March 1916. Italy had just taken Libya as well as Rhodes and some other islands in the Aegean—and could conceivably take more territory on the coast of Asia Minor.

Among the Great Powers, Russia, France, Britain, and Italy were all well-placed, either by virtue of their geographic position or naval power, to project influence across the Middle East. Germany and Austria-Hungary, however, were much less likely to benefit from a division of the Ottoman Empire in the short term; indeed, Germany’s main attempt to build its influence in the region, the Berlin-to-Baghdad Railroad, relied on continued peaceful relations with the Turks. So it was to their advantage to prop up the Ottoman Empire as long as possible, or at least until they were in a position to back up their claims with force (Kaiser Wilhelm II was hardly averse to the idea of taking a chunk of Turkish territory when the time came: On April 30, 1913, he privately vowed that when the Ottoman Empire disintegrated, “I will take Mesopotamia, Alexandretta, and Mersin,” referring to two Mediterranean ports in what is now southeast Turkey).

The Rise of Serbia

Perhaps the most important consequence of the First Balkan War, however, was the rise of Serbian power and prestige, which triggered serious alarm in Austria-Hungary.

As a result of the Balkan wars from 1912 to 1913, Serbia’s area almost doubled from 18,650 to 33,891 square miles, and its population jumped from 2.9 million to 4.5 million. Meanwhile “Yugoslav” activists (who advocated the union of all the Balkan Slavic peoples) were whipping up Slavic nationalism among the Dual Monarchy’s Serbian, Bosnian, and Croatian populations. Slavic nationalists in the Kingdom of Serbia were fanning the flames, and the Russians—while urging moderation and compromise in public—were secretly egging them on: On December 27, 1912, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, promised the Serbian ambassador, Dimitrije Popović, that “the future belongs to us,” adding that the Slavs would “shake Austria to the foundations.” On February 13, 1913, Sazonov described Austria-Hungary as a “boil” that would eventually be “lanced” by the Serbs with Russian support.

Austria-Hungary’s leaders were keenly aware of Serbian and Russian ambitions. The belligerent attitude of the chief of staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf, was well-known, and his views were gaining ground with Count Berchtold (in spite of the opposition of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the throne). By mid-1913, after months working to keep the peace, in the face of repeated Serbian provocations Berchtold was swinging around to the war party. On July 3, 1913, he warned the German ambassador, Heinrich von Tschirschky, that Austria-Hungary was in danger of losing its Slavic territories to Serbia.

As for Austria-Hungary’s ally, the Germans left no doubt they believed a confrontation was coming eventually, mirroring Russia’s advice to Serbia. On April 28, 1913, the former German chancellor Bernard von Bülow wrote to the influential Austrian publicist Heinrich Friedjung, lamenting that Austria-Hungary ought to have occupied the Serbian capital, Belgrade, at the beginning of the First Balkan War—and clearly implying that Vienna should seize the next chance to cut Serbia down to size, whenever it might arise. Bülow also dismissed the risk of Russian intervention: “Right from the beginning of the Balkan war I said the odds against a major war were nine to one. Today I say they are ninety-nine to one, but only if the Central Powers pursue a manly and courageous policy.” In a little over a year, the same attitude would lead the world to disaster.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Interactive Map Shows Where Your House Would Have Been 750 Million Years Ago
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iStock

Your neighborhood traveled a long way over several hundred million years to reach the spot it occupies today. To trace that journey over the ages, check out Ancient Earth, an interactive digital map spotted by Co.Design.

Ancient Earth, a collaboration between engineer and Google alum Ian Webster and Paleomap Project creator C.R. Scotese, contains geographical information for the past 750 million years. Start at the beginning and you'll see unrecognizable blobs of land. As you progress through the ages, the land mass Pangaea gradually breaks apart to form the world map we're all familiar with.

To make the transition even more personal, you can enter your street address to see where it would have been located in each period. Five hundred million years ago, for example, New York City was a small island in the southern hemisphere isolated from any major land mass. Around the same time, London was still a part of Pangaea, and it was practically on top of the South Pole. You can use the arrows on your keyboard to flip through the eras or jump from event to event, like the first appearance of multicellular life or the dinosaur extinction.

As you can see from the visualization, Pangaea didn't break into the seven continents seamlessly. Many of the long-gone continents that formed in the process even have names.

[h/t Co.Design]

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Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
11 Facts About the Appendix
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock
Illustration by Mental Floss / Images: iStock

Despite some 500 years of study, the appendix might be one of the least understood structures in the human body. Here's what we know about this mysterious organ.

1. THE ANCIENT EGYPTIANS CALLED IT THE "WORM" OF THE BOWEL.

The human appendix is small, tube-shaped, and squishy, giving ancient Egyptians, who encountered it when preparing bodies for funerary rites, the impression of a worm. Even today, some medical texts refer to the organ as vermiform—Latin for "worm-like."

2. THE APPENDIX SHOWS UP IN LEONARDO DA VINCI’S DRAWINGS.

The earliest description of a human appendix was written by the Renaissance physician-anatomist Jacopo Berengario da Carpi in 1521. But before that, Leonardo da Vinci is believed to drawn the first depiction of the organ in his anatomical drawings in 1492. Leonardo claimed to have dissected 30 human corpses in his effort to understand the way the body worked from mechanical and physiological perspectives.

3. IT'S ABOUT THE SIZE OF A PINKY FINGER.

The appendix is a small pouch connected to the cecum—the beginning of the large intestine in the lower right-hand corner of your abdomen. The cecum’s job is to receive undigested food from the small intestine, absorb fluids and salts that remain after food is digested, and mix them with mucus for easier elimination; according to Mohamad Abouzeid, M.D., assistant professor and attending surgeon at NYU Langone Medical Center, the cecum and appendix have similar tissue structures.

4. CHARLES DARWIN THOUGHT IT WAS A VESTIGIAL ORGAN …

The appendix has an ill-deserved reputation as a vestigial organ—meaning that it allegedly evolved without a detectable function—and we can blame Charles Darwin for that. In the mid-19th century, the appendix had been identified only in humans and great apes. Darwin thought that our earlier ancestors ate mostly plants, and thus needed a large cecum in which to break down the tough fibers. He hypothesized that over time, apes and humans evolved to eat a more varied and easier-to-digest diet, and the cecum shrank accordingly. The appendix itself, Darwin believed, emerged from the folds of the wizened cecum without its own special purpose.

5. … BUT THE APPENDIX PROBABLY EVOLVED TO HELP IMMUNE FUNCTION.

The proximity and tissue similarities between the cecum and appendix suggest that the latter plays a part in the digestive process. But there’s one noticeable difference in the appendix that you can see only under a microscope. “[The appendix] has a high concentration of the immune cells within its walls,” Abouzeid tells Mental Floss.

Recent research into the appendix's connection to the immune system has suggested a few theories. In a 2015 study in Nature Immunology, Australian researchers discovered that a type of immune cells called innate lymphoid cells (ILCs) proliferate in the appendix and seem to encourage the repopulation of symbiotic bacteria in the gut. This action may help the gut recover from infections, which tend to wipe out fluids, nutrients, and good bacteria.

For a 2013 study examining the evolutionary rationale for the appendix in mammal species, researchers at Midwestern University and Duke University Medical Center concluded that the organ evolved at least 32 times among different lineages, but not in response to dietary or environmental factors.

The same researchers analyzed 533 mammal species for a 2017 study and found that those with appendices had more lymphatic (immune) tissue in the cecum. That suggests that the nearby appendix could serve as "a secondary immune organ," the researchers said in a statement. "Lymphatic tissue can also stimulate growth of some types of beneficial gut bacteria, providing further evidence that the appendix may serve as a 'safe house' for helpful gut bacteria." This good bacteria may help to replenish healthy flora in the gut after infection or illness.

6. ABOUT 7 PERCENT OF AMERICANS WILL GET APPENDICITIS DURING THEIR LIFETIMES.

For such a tiny organ, the appendix gets infected easily. According to Abouzeid, appendicitis occurs when the appendix gets plugged by hardened feces (called a fecalith or appendicolith), too much mucus, or the buildup of immune cells after a viral or bacterial infection. In the United States, the lifetime risk of getting appendicitis is one in 15, and incidence in newly developed countries is rising. It's most common in young adults, and most dangerous in the elderly.

When infected, the appendix swells up as pus fills its interior cavity. It can grow several times larger than its average 3-inch size: One inflamed appendix removed from a British man in 2004 measured just over 8 inches, while another specimen, reported in 2007 in the Journal of Clinical Pathology, measured 8.6 inches. People with appendicitis might feel generalized pain around the bellybutton that localizes on the right side of the abdomen, and experience nausea or vomiting, fever, or body aches. Some people also get diarrhea.

7. APPENDECTOMIES ARE ALMOST 100 PERCENT EFFECTIVE FOR TREATING APPENDICITIS.

Treatment for appendicitis can go two ways: appendectomy, a.k.a. surgical removal of the appendix, or a first line of antibiotics to treat the underlying infection. Appendectomies are more than 99 percent effective against recurring infection, since the organ itself is removed. (There have been cases of "stump appendicitis," where an incompletely removed appendix becomes infected, which often require further surgery.)

Studies show that antibiotics produce about a 72 percent initial success rate. “However, if you follow these patients out for about a year, they often get recurrent appendicitis,” Abouzeid says. One 2017 study in the World Journal of Surgery followed 710 appendicitis patients for a year after antibiotic treatment and found a 26.5 percent recurrence rate for subsequent infections.

8. AN INFECTED APPENDIX DOESN’T ACTUALLY BURST.

You might imagine a ruptured appendix, known formally as a perforation, being akin to the "chestbuster" scene in Alien. Abouzeid says it's not quite that dramatic, though it can be dangerous. When the appendix gets clogged, pressure builds inside the cavity of the appendix, called the lumen. That chokes off blood supply to certain tissues. “The tissue dies off and falls apart, and you get perforation,” Abouzeid says. But rather than exploding, the organ leaks fluids that can infect other tissues.

A burst appendix is a medical emergency. Sometimes the body can contain the infection in an abscess, Abouzeid says, which may be identified through CT scans or X-rays and treated with IV antibiotics. But if the infection is left untreated, it can spread to other parts of the abdomen, a serious condition called peritonitis. At that point, the infection can become life-threatening.

9. SURGEONS CAN REMOVE AN APPENDIX THROUGH A TINY INCISION.

In 1894, Charles McBurney, a surgeon at New York's Roosevelt Hospital, popularized an open-cavity, muscle-splitting technique [PDF] to remove an infected appendix, which is now called an open appendectomy. Surgeons continued to use McBurney's method until the advent of laparoscopic surgery, a less invasive method in which the doctor makes small cuts in the patient's abdomen and threads a thin tube with a camera and surgical tools into the incisions. The appendix is removed through one of those incisions, which are usually less than an inch in length.

The first laparoscopic appendectomies were performed by German physician Kurt Semm in the early 1980s. Since then, laparoscopic appendectomies have become the standard treatment for uncomplicated appendicitis. For more serious infections, open appendectomies are still performed.

10. AN APPENDIX ONCE POSTPONED A ROYAL CORONATION.

When the future King Edward VII of Great Britain came down with appendicitis (or "perityphlitis," as it was called back then) in June 1902, mortality rates for the disease were as high as 26 percent. It was about two weeks before his scheduled coronation on June 26, 1902, and Edward resisted having an appendectomy, which was then a relatively new procedure. But surgeon and appendicitis expert Frederick Treves made clear that Edward would probably die without it. Treves drained Edward's infected abscess, without removing the organ, at Buckingham Palace; Edward recovered and was crowned on August 9, 1902.

11. THE WORLD'S LONGEST APPENDIX MEASURED MORE THAN 10 INCHES.

On August 26, 2006, during an autopsy at a Zagreb, Croatia hospital, surgeons obtained a 10.24-inch appendix from 72-year-old Safranco August. The deceased currently holds the Guinness World Record for "largest appendix removed."

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