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Serbs Back Down, But Kaiser Warns of Coming Race 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 89th installment in the series.

October 18-20, 1913: Serbs Back Down, But Kaiser Warns of Coming Race War

In October 1913, Franz Josef (top)—Emperor of Austria, Apostolic King of Hungary, King of Bohemia, Croatia, Galicia and Lodomeria, and Grand Duke of Krakow—was 83 years old and no longer in the best of health. The elderly monarch understandably hoped to live out his twilight years in peace, enjoying the company of his longtime companion (and perhaps mistress) the beautiful actress Katharina von Schratt, taking the air at the resort town of Bad Ischl or tea at the imperial palace of Schönbrunn in Vienna.

But Franz Josef was also a dutiful sovereign, motivated by feelings of responsibility to his subjects and the ancient house of Hapsburg to preserve and pass on his imperial inheritance intact. This meant seeing off various internal and external dangers, many of them linked, including nationalist movements among Austria-Hungary’s many minority populations and military threats from Russia and Italy—Great Power rivals who hoped to dismember the Empire and annex bordering territories.

What’s more, it was widely feared that Russia was encouraging its Balkan client state, Serbia, to trigger the Empire’s final crackup by stirring up dissent among its southern Slav populations; these fears were only heightened by Serbia’s expansion in the Balkan Wars and its continued meddling in the new nation of Albania, culminating in an invasion in September 1913. By openly defying Austria-Hungary, Serbia threatened to diminish the Empire’s prestige and even call into question its status as a Great Power.

All this was daunting enough, but Franz Josef’s task was further complicated by differences of opinion among his top officials and advisors. On one hand, chief of staff Conrad von Hötzendorf argued that Serbia indeed posed an existential threat to Austria-Hungary, which could only be ended by war, and by October 1913, the bellicose chief of staff had also persuaded Franz Josef’s foreign minister, Count Leopold von Berchtold, that Serbia had to be dealt with militarily; in their view, the Serbian invasion of Albania offered an ideal opportunity to settle accounts. Opposing Conrad was the heir to the throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who warned that attacking Serbia would bring Austria-Hungary into conflict with Russia, with potentially disastrous consequences.

But in the authoritarian Dual Monarchy the ultimate decision lay with Franz Josef. After initially siding with Franz Ferdinand, in mid-October the Emperor, doubtless dismayed by Belgrade’s defiant responses to several “friendly warnings” from Berchtold, decided to split the difference: Austria-Hungary would once again threaten to mobilize its troops against Serbia if the latter didn’t withdraw its troops from Albania immediately. Hopefully Serbia would comply, resolving the problem without war—but at the end of the day the old Emperor was ready to fight to protect his Empire’s interests.

On October 18, 1913, Berchtold sent a note to the Serbian government in Belgrade stating: “It is indispensable in the eyes of the Imperial and Royal government that the Serbian government shall proceed to the immediate recall of the troops… who… occupy territories forming part of Albania… Failing this, the Imperial and Royal government will to its great regret find itself compelled to have recourse to the appropriate means to assure the fulfillment of its demand.” He gave the Serbs one week to comply.

The Serbs, who faced more rebellions in Macedonia as well as continuing hostility from Bulgaria, caved almost immediately: On October 20, the Serbian ambassador to Vienna, Jovan Jovanović, promised Berchtold that the Serbian armies were being withdrawn behind the borders agreed at the Conference of London, and on October 25 Belgrade followed up with a second note announcing that the withdrawal was complete. Yet another Balkan crisis had been resolved peacefully. 

But several unfortunate precedents had been set. For one thing, while Berchtold carefully lined up support from Austria-Hungary’s German ally, he didn’t consult with the other Great Powers before delivering the ultimatum. This meant Britain, France, Italy, and Russia never had a chance to intervene, for example by warning Serbia to withdraw or persuading Austria-Hungary to moderate its stance, as Italy had in the crisis of July 1913. Because everything worked out, the other Great Powers didn’t protest (too much) and Berchtold drew the conclusion that Austria-Hungary could go it alone in the Balkans, dealing with Serbia one-on-one without interference from the other Great Powers. In July 1914 this assumption would prove sadly mistaken.

Meanwhile, Germany’s leaders—already paranoid about being “encircled” by France, Russia, and Britain—feared losing their only ally, as the rise of Slavic nationalism threatened Austria-Hungary with dissolution. The only remedy for Serbian defiance, they felt, was war. On October 18, 1913, Kaiser Wilhelm II told Conrad, who was visiting Germany for the centennial celebration of Napoleon’s defeat at Leipzig: “I go with you. The other [Powers] are not prepared, they will not do anything about it. In a few days you will be in Belgrade. I was always a supporter of peace, but there are limits.” 

As always, Germany’s leaders were haunted by anxiety about a looming “racial war” between Teutons and Slavs. Meeting with Berchtold during a visit to Vienna on October 26, Wilhelm shared his fear about the “powerful forward surge of the Slavs,” warning that “War between East and West was in the long run inevitable.” He elaborated: “The Slavs are born not to rule but to obey,” and if Serbia didn’t comply with Vienna’s demands, “Belgrade shall be bombarded and occupied until the will of His Majesty [Franz Josef] has been carried out. And you can be sure that I will back you and am ready to draw the saber any time your action makes it necessary.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

An etching of Amerigo Vespucci
Henry Guttmann/Getty Images

Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

A black and white image of young women wearing bloomers
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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