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Falkenhayn Appointed Minister of War

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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 72nd installment in the series.

June 7, 1913: Falkenhayn Appointed Minister of War

On June 7, 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II appointed General Erich von Falkenhayn (above) to the position of Minister of War for Prussia (and in effect Germany), replacing Josias von Heeringen, who was forced out because he opposed further expansion of the standing army. A relatively junior officer, Falkenhayn—a court favorite since his reports on the Boxer Rebellion in China from 1899 to 1901—was elevated to the top administrative position over a number of older generals, reflecting the Kaiser’s personal style of government. In a little over a year, he would play a key role in steering Germany into the First World War.

Born in 1861, Falkenhayn was just a child during the Franco-Prussian War and German unification in 1870 and 1871, but was keenly aware of lingering French antipathy and increasingly anxious about the prospect of “encirclement” by France, Russia, and Britain. He also recognized the threat posed to Germany’s ally Austria-Hungary by the rise of Slavic nationalism in the Balkans, and believed that Austria-Hungary would have to deal with the upstart Kingdom of Serbia someday—preferably sooner rather than later.

In the near term, the new war minister was more receptive than his predecessor to suggestions for military expansion, reflecting the views of his imperial master. In November 1913, Falkenhayn reassured the Bundesrat that the newly expanded army was ready for action, hinting that more new recruits could be assimilated if funds were allocated, and later urged expansion of Germany’s espionage capabilities, warning that “in the great life and death struggle, when it comes, only the country which presses every advantage will have a chance of winning.” [Ed. note: The translation of this quote was slightly edited for clarity.]

In the July Crisis of 1914, Falkenhayn was even more aggressive than his rival, chief of staff Helmuth von Moltke, urging Austria-Hungary to move against Serbia as soon as possible and advising the Kaiser to declare pre-mobilization while last-ditch negotiations were still underway. He was also afflicted with the same curious fatalism displayed by other German leaders: In the final days of July, he concluded they had already “lost control of the situation,” adding, “the ball that has started to roll cannot be stopped.” As war began, he famously stated: “Even if we go under as a result of this, still it was beautiful.” Not long afterwards, Falkenhayn would replace Moltke as chief of staff after the failure at the Battle of the Marne, and in 1916 he became the architect of the bloodiest battle in history up to that point—the apocalypse of Verdun.

Russians Press Reforms on Ottoman Empire

A week after the Ottoman Empire made peace with the Balkan League, the Russians returned to the attack (diplomatically) in the east. Their devious plan to undermine Constantinople’s control over Anatolia involved arming Muslim Kurds and encouraging them to attack Christian Armenians—creating an opening for Russia to intervene on “humanitarian” grounds. After lining up diplomatic support from Britain and France (Germany and Austria-Hungary were opposed) the next step was forcing the Turks to implement decentralizing reforms granting more autonomy to the Armenians.

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On June 8, 1913, a Russian diplomat in Constantinople, André Mandelstamm, presented a proposal for reforms drawn up by the Russians and Armenians which would, in essence, place ultimate authority over six Ottoman provinces in eastern Anatolia in the hands of European officials—whom the Russians would of course help appoint. Building on the groundwork laid by the provincial reforms forced on the Turks in March 1913, the June proposal called for redistricting the provinces along ethnic lines to form ethnically homogenous communes. The Sultan would appoint a European as governor-general with authority over official appointments, courts, and police (also under European commanders) as well as all military forces in the region. Armenian-language schools would be established, and land taken from Armenians by Kurds would be restored to its previous owners. Christians (Armenians) and Muslims (Turks and Kurds) would receive seats in provincial assemblies in proportion to their populations, and no Muslims would be allowed to move into Armenian areas, ensuring lasting Armenian control.

At the same time the Russians were fostering Armenian nationalism, so the Armenians would likely pursue independence from the Ottoman Empire, at which point they would be presented with a fait accompli: After breaking away, they would have no choice but to seek Russian protection and eventually unite with Russia’s Armenian population under Russian rule.

The Ottoman leaders understood that implementing the proposed reforms would mean the loss of eastern Anatolia, which they considered the Turkish heartland. Later, Ahmed Djemal—a member of the Young Turk triumvirate which ruled the empire in its final years, along with Ismail Enver and Mehmed Talaat—wrote in his memoirs: “I do not think anyone can have the slightest doubt that within a year of the acceptance of these proposals the [provinces] … would have become a Russian protectorate or, at any rate, have been occupied by the Russians.” On top of all this, the Ottoman Empire’s other populations were starting to agitate for autonomy as well: on June 18, 1913, the Arab Congress met in Paris to discuss their own demands for reforms.

In 1913 and 1914, all these factors—the humiliating defeat in the First Balkan War, nationalist movements, brazen foreign interference, plus a general awareness of stagnation and decline—provoked a sense of crisis that galvanized the Turkish leadership and population alike. With the very core of the empire threatened, their backs were against the wall and they had nothing to lose. In a letter sent May 8, 1913, Enver Pasha seethed: “My heart is bleeding … our hatred is intensifying: revenge, revenge, revenge, there is nothing else.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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13 Fantastic Museums You Can Visit for Free on Saturday
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On Saturday, September 23, museums and cultural institutions across the United States will open their doors to the public for free, as part of Smithsonian magazine’s annual Museum Day Live! event. Hundreds of museums are set to participate, ranging from world-famous institutions in major cities to tiny, local museums in small towns. While the full list of museums can be viewed, and tickets can be reserved, on the Smithsonian website, we’ve collected a small selection of the fantastic museums you can visit for free this Saturday.

1. NEWSEUM // WASHINGTON, D.C.

The Newseum in Washington, D.C. is an entire museum dedicated to the First Amendment. Celebrating freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly and petition, the museum features exhibits on civil rights, the Berlin Wall, and the history of news media in America. Their latest special exhibitions take a look back at the event of September 11, 2001 and go inside the FBI's crime-fighting tactics.

2. INTREPID SEA, AIR & SPACE MUSEUM // NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK

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New York's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum doesn’t just showcase America’s military and maritime history—it is a piece of that history. The museum itself is one of the Essex-class aircraft carriers built by the United States Navy during World War II. Visitors can explore its massive deck and interior, and view historic airplanes, a real World War II submarine, and a range of interactive exhibits. Normally, a ticket will set you back a whopping $33 (or $19 for New York City residents), but on Saturday, general admission is free with a Museum Day Live! ticket.

3. AUTRY MUSEUM OF THE AMERICAN WEST // LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA

Perfect for art lovers, history buffs, and cinephiles alike, the Autry Museum of the American West (named for legendary singing cowboy Gene Autry) offers up an eclectic mix of art, historical artifacts from the real American West, and Western film memorabilia and props.

4. MUSEUM OF ARTS AND SCIENCES // DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA

A massive art, science, and history museum located on a 90-acre nature preserve, the Museum of Arts and Sciences features the largest collection of Florida art anywhere in the world, as well as the largest collection of Coca-Cola memorabilia in all of Florida. Its diverse exhibits are alternately awe-inspiring, informative, and quirky, ranging from an exploration of 2000 years of sculpture art to an exhibition of 19th and 20th century advertising posters.

5. INTERNATIONAL MUSEUM OF THE HORSE AT THE KENTUCKY HORSE PARK // LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY

The International Museum of the Horse explores the history of—you guessed it!—the horse. That might sound like a narrow scope, but the museum doesn’t just display horse racing artifacts or teach you about modern horse breeds. Instead, it endeavors to tackle the 50-million-year evolution of the horse and its relationship with humans from ancient times to modern times.

6. THE PEGGY NOTEBAERT NATURE MUSEUM // CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

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The 160-year-old Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum is pulling out all the stops for this year’s Museum Day Live! In addition to their vast exhibits of animal specimens and cultural artifacts, the museum will be hosting a live animal feeding and a butterfly release throughout the day.

7. OGDEN MUSEUM OF SOUTHERN ART // NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA

The Ogden Museum of Southern Art aims to teach visitors about the rich culture and diverse visual arts of the American South. Right now, visitors can view a collection of William Eggleston's photographs and check out the museum's 10th annual invitational exhibition of ceramic teacups and teapots.

8. BALTIMORE MUSEUM OF INDUSTRY // BALTIMORE, MARYLAND

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Located in a 19th century oyster cannery on the Baltimore waterfront, the Baltimore Museum of Industry tells the story of American manufacturing from garment making to video game design. Visitors this weekend can meet video game designers and create custom games at the museum’s interactive “Video Game Wizards” exhibit.

9. SYLVAN HEIGHTS BIRD PARK // SCOTLAND NECK, NORTH CAROLINA

You can meet 2000 birds from around the world this weekend at the 18-acre Sylvan Heights Bird Park. Visitors to the massive garden can walk through aviaries displaying birds from every continent except Antarctica, including ducks, geese, swans, and exotic birds from all over the world.

10. DELTA BLUES MUSEUM // CLARKSDALE, MISSISSIPPI

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Visitors to the Delta Blues Museum can learn about the unique American musical art form in “the land where blues began,” with audiovisual exhibits centered on blues and rock legend Don Nix, as well as Paramount Records illustrator Anthony Mostrom.

11. NATIONAL MUSEUM OF NUCLEAR SCIENCE & HISTORY // ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO

America’s only congressionally chartered museum dedicated to the story of the Atomic Age, the National Museum of Nuclear Science & History features exhibits on everything from nuclear medicine to representations of atomic power in pop culture. Adult visitors to the museum will delight in its impressively nuanced take on nuclear technology, while kids will love the museum’s outdoor airplane exhibit and hands-on science activities at Little Albert’s Lab.

12. MUSEUM OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN // PINEDALE, WYOMING

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Dedicated to the mountain men who explored and settled Wyoming in the 19th century, the Museum of the Mountain Man brings American folklore and legends to life. The museum features exhibits on the Rocky Mountain fur trade and tells the story of American folk legend and famed mountain man Hugh Glass (the man Leonardo DiCaprio won an Oscar playing in 2015's The Revenant).

13. BESH BA GOWAH ARCHAEOLOGICAL PARK AND MUSEUM // GLOBE, ARIZONA

Arizona’s Besh Ba Gowah Archaeological Park and Museum lets visitors connect with history firsthand. The museum is home to the ruins and artifacts of the Salado Indians who inhabited Arizona from the 13th century through the 15th century, and even lets visitors wander through an 800-year-old Salado pueblo.

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‘American Gothic’ Became Famous Because Many People Saw It as a Joke
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In 1930, Iowan artist Grant Wood painted a simple portrait of a farmer and his wife (really his dentist and sister) standing solemnly in front of an all-American farmhouse. American Gothic has since inspired endless parodies and is regarded as one of the country’s most iconic works of art. But when it first came out, few people would have guessed it would become the classic it is today. Vox explains the painting’s unexpected path to fame in the latest installment of the new video series Overrated.

According to host Phil Edwards, American Gothic made a muted splash when it first hit the art scene. The work was awarded a third-place bronze medal in a contest at the Chicago Art Institute. When Wood sold the painting to the museum later on, he received just $300 for it. But the piece’s momentum didn’t stop there. It turned out that American Gothic’s debut at a time when urban and rural ideals were clashing helped it become the defining image of the era. The painting had something for everyone: Metropolitans like Gertrude Stein saw it as a satire of simple farm life in Middle America. Actual farmers and their families, on the other hand, welcomed it as celebration of their lifestyle and work ethic at a time when the Great Depression made it hard to take pride in anything.

Wood didn’t do much to clear up the work’s true meaning. He stated, "There is satire in it, but only as there is satire in any realistic statement. These are types of people I have known all my life. I tried to characterize them truthfully—to make them more like themselves than they were in actual life."

Rather than suffering from its ambiguity, American Gothic has been immortalized by it. The country has changed a lot in the past century, but the painting’s dual roles as a straight masterpiece and a format for skewering American culture still endure today.

Get the full story from Vox below.

[h/t Vox]

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