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Falkenhayn Appointed Minister of War

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Wikimedia Commons

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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Big Questions
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.


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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.


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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


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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