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Italy Warns Austria-Hungary Not to Attack Serbia

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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 76th installment in the series. 

July 12, 1913: Italy Warns Austria-Hungary Not to Attack Serbia

By the summer of 1913, key Austro-Hungarian leaders were convinced that Serbia posed an existential threat which could only be dealt with militarily. The chief of the army’s general staff, Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, had long called for war against Serbia, and the events of the First Balkan War helped bring the indecisive foreign minister, Count Berchtold, around to Conrad’s point of view. The outbreak of the Second Balkan War, when Serbia fought Bulgaria, seemed to offer another chance for Austria-Hungary to put Serbia in its place. On July 3, 1913, Berchtold warned the German ambassador, Heinrich von Tschirschky, that the Dual Monarchy would lose its Slavic territories if Serbia became any more powerful, and Tschirschky informed Berlin that Austria-Hungary was considering intervening against Serbia. Once again war loomed on the European horizon.

German leaders, their nerves strained by months of Balkan crises, were ambivalent about the prospect of their ally Austria-Hungary going to war just when a peaceful resolution seemed to have been achieved at the Conference of London; Kaiser Wilhelm II’s scribbled note on Tschirschky’s message read simply, “Completely crazy! So war after all!” But Germany was ready to back up her ally if it came to a fight.

The decisive factor keeping the peace this time was the attitude of Italy, the third member of the Triple Alliance. Italian Prime Minister Giovanni Giolitti foresaw that Austro-Hungarian intervention against Serbia would probably provoke Russia to act to protect its “Slavic brothers” in the Balkans, leading to a general European war, and instructed the Italian foreign minister, San Giuliano, to discourage Austria-Hungary from this dangerous course.

In a meeting on July 12, 1913, San Giuliano warned the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Rome, Kajetan von Mérey, that if Austria-Hungary went to war with Serbia, it shouldn’t expect any help from Italy against Serbia’s ally Russia. True, under the terms of the Triple Alliance Italy was pledged to support Austria-Hungary if the latter were attacked—but the alliance was strictly defensive in nature, and if Austria-Hungary got itself embroiled in a conflict with Russia by attacking Serbia, Italy wouldn’t lift a finger.

In his report to Vienna, Mérey summarized San Giuliano’s warning and argument: “In view of the gravity of the situation he consulted with the Prime Minister and was obliged to inform me that Italy could not follow the Monarchy in this course. We should be seriously mistaken if we were to count on the passivity of Russia … the intervention of Russia would mean a European conflagration.” At the same time, “In the present case there is no question of imminent danger, nor in general of a serious threat to the existence of the Monarchy. These are hypothetical future perils which can be averted by quite other methods than war. An attack on Serbia by us would therefore constitute an offensive action … It would be impossible in this eventuality to want to invoke the Triple Alliance which is purely defensive in character…”

Austria-Hungary’s Count Berchtold took the hint and dropped the idea of war—for the time being, at least.

A Precedent Lost

In interpreting the terms of the Triple Alliance this way, Giolitti and San Giuliano were setting a precedent which could have helped avert disaster just over a year later: In July 1914, a similar warning, delivered in timely fashion, might have discouraged Vienna and Berlin from risking war, since they wouldn’t be able to count on Italy’s assistance.

The only problem was that Giolitti stepped down in March 1914, and was succeeded as prime minister by Antonio Salandra, a foreign policy novice who mostly followed San Giuliano’s lead. For his part, San Giuliano felt competent to manage Italy’s foreign affairs by himself; during the crisis of July 1914, he hoped to use the possibility of Italian cooperation as a bargaining chip to win territorial concessions from Austria-Hungary, so he never informed Salandra of the important precedent established in July 1913, when Giolitti put the brakes on Austria-Hungary’s plans for war. As a result the new prime minister didn’t realize it was possible—let alone urgently necessary—for Italy to make a similar intervention one year later.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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History
Someone Bought Hitler’s Boxers for $6700
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The public’s fascination with Adolf Hitler extends even to the underwear he wore. A pair of his monogrammed boxers was recently auctioned off for more than $6700, according to the International Business Times. The lucky new owner is an unnamed citizen who apparently does not want to be publicly associated with Hitler's drawers.

The undershorts, sold by Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland, were reportedly left behind after the dictator stayed at the Parkhotel Graz in Austria in April 1938. They may have been sent out for cleaning and then forgotten. (Sadly, this means we don't get to laugh at Hitler's skid marks.) The family who owned the hotel kept the underpants in pristine condition for almost 80 years. According to the IBTimes, the auctioneer who sold the boxers apparently screened potential buyers for any far-right political affiliations, ensuring that they would go to someone more interested in mocking the Führer's choice of butt-covering than paying tribute to the genocidal fascist.

The striped white linen is monogrammed with Hitler’s initials. The shorts are “surprisingly large,” according to the auction catalog, and they have loops sewn onto either side of the waistband that may have attached to the pants. Hitler was a notoriously shabby dresser, and liked to wear his clothing extra loose.

The fascination with the underpants of the Third Reich goes beyond just Hitler’s intimate apparel. The lacy underwear of his longtime mistress, Eva Braun, was sold for almost $4000 at a UK auction in November 2016. Maybe stamping out fascism requires the same technique as overcoming a fear of public speaking—you just have to imagine everyone in their underwear.

[h/t International Business Times]

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Big Questions
Why Do We Sing the National Anthem at Sporting Events?
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In early September 1814, Francis Scott Key, an American lawyer and amateur poet, accompanied American Prisoner Exchange Agent Colonel John Stuart Skinner to negotiate a prisoner release with several officers of the British Navy. During the negotiations, Key and Skinner learned of the British intention to attack the city of Baltimore, as well as the strength and positions of British forces. They were not permitted to leave for the duration of the battle and witnessed the bombardment of Baltimore's Fort McHenry on September 13 and 14. Inspired by the American victory and the sight of the American flag flying high in the morning, Key wrote a poem titled "The Defence of Fort McHenry."

Key set the lyrics to the anthem of the London-based Anacreontic Society, "The Anacreontic Song." (Nine years earlier, Key had used the same tune for “When the Warrior Returns (from the Battle Afar)” to celebrate Stephen Decatur’s return from fighting the Barbary pirates, which included the line “By the light of the Star Spangled flag of our nation.”)

The poem was taken to a printer, who made broadside copies of it. A few days later, the Baltimore Patriot and The Baltimore American printed the poem with the note "Tune: Anacreon in Heaven." Later, Carrs Music Store in Baltimore published the words and music together as "The Star Spangled Banner."

The song gained popularity over the course of the 19th century and was often played at public events like parades and Independence Day celebrations (and, on occasion, sporting events). In 1889, the Secretary of the Navy ordered it the official tune to be played during the raising of the flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson ordered that it be played at all military ceremonies and other appropriate occasions, making it something of an unofficial national anthem.

After America's entrance into World War I, Major League Baseball games often featured patriotic rituals, such as players marching in formation during pregame military drills and bands playing patriotic songs. During the seventh-inning stretch of Game One of the 1918 World Series, the band erupted into "The Star-Spangled Banner." The Cubs and Red Sox players faced the centerfield flag pole and stood at attention. The crowd, already on their feet, began to sing along and applauded at the end of the song.

Given the positive reaction, the band played the song during the next two games, and when the Series moved to Boston, the Red Sox owner brought in a band and had the song played before the start of each remaining contest. After the war (and after the song was made the national anthem in 1931), the song continued to be played at baseball games, but only on special occasions like opening day, national holidays, and World Series games.

During World War II, baseball games again became venues for large-scale displays of patriotism, and technological advances in public address systems allowed songs to be played without a band. "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played before games throughout the course of the war, and by the time the war was over, the pregame singing of the national anthem had become cemented as a baseball ritual, after which it spread to other sports.

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