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Kaiser Warns Belgian King that War is Inevitable

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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 91st installment in the series.

November 6, 1913: Kaiser Warns Belgian King That War Is Inevitable

Kaiser Wilhelm II was not known for his finesse or sense of decorum; in fact, he was notorious for his complete lack of tact. Take, for example, a speech he gave in 1900 urging his soldiers to model themselves on the barbarian Huns, or the time in 1908 when he told a British newspaper that most Germans hated the British. But the gaffe-prone German emperor outdid himself on November 6, 1913, when he turned a pleasant diplomatic meet-and-greet into a terrifying dinner party from hell for the guest of honor. 

The unhappy object of Wilhelm’s attentions was King Albert of Belgium (above), a quiet, reasonable man whose personal modesty and intellect were matched only by his integrity and Catholic piety—a perfect monarch for an unassuming realm. Albert was paying the first visit to Berlin by a Belgian king since his uncle Leopold II in 1904; the Belgian royal family was of German descent (the House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, which also includes the British royal family, renamed the House of Windsor in 1917 due to anti-German sentiment) and the two countries enjoyed strong economic and cultural ties, so there was every reason to expect a friendly, low-stress encounter, limited to the usual aristocratic pastimes of horseback riding, dancing, champagne, cigars and gossip.

It was not to be. It seems Albert’s hosts had decided to take the opportunity to persuade the Belgian king to ally with Germany in any future war with France—or at least allow the Germans to pass through Belgium unimpeded on their way to France, as called for by the Schlieffen Plan. Wilhelm and the German chief of staff, Helmuth von Moltke (the Younger), set about the task in typically muddled fashion, prying and bullying by turns as they sought to ascertain Belgium’s likely course of action. It was all especially bizarre given Wilhelm’s own reputation as a man of peace; unsurprisingly, this totally unexpected assault left their guests confused and frightened—Hohenzollern hospitality at its best.

Speaking with Albert at the ball before dinner, the Kaiser pointed to general Alexander von Kluck and stated matter-of-factly that he was the man who would “lead the march on Paris.” This shocking statement was merely the amuse-bouche for a four-course meal of insane (and possibly inebriated) invective. The Belgian ambassador to Berlin, Baron Napoleon-Eugène Beyens, recalled: “The Kaiser discoursed at length on the political situation in Europe. He thinks it so bad, through the fault of France, that he regards war with her as inevitable and imminent… The King tried to overcome this disastrous error of judgment… All to no purpose. The Kaiser obstinately went on declaring that a conflict was inevitable and that he had no doubt of the crushing superiority of the German army.” Among other things, he cited the Three-Year Service Law as proof of French hostility.  

After Wilhelm’s opening salvoes, Moltke took the lead with all the subtlety of a Prussian drill sergeant, warning his listeners, “Small countries, such as Belgium, would be well advised to rally to the side of the strong if they wished to retain their independence.” Albert’s military advisor Captain Emile Joseph Galet noted: “This was more than intimidation; it was a shameless threat against the neutrality and independence of Belgium.” And still they pounded away at their bewildered guests. When the Belgian military attaché Major Melotte demurred, Moltke snapped: “Do not have any illusions. War with France is inevitable and much nearer than you think. We do not desire it… [but] we are sure of being victorious… We shall lose battles but shall win in the end.”

With this terrifying scenario laid out, Moltke again demanded to know what Belgium would do if, say, one of the Great Powers violated her neutrality: would she actually fight, even if it were hopeless, or would she bow to the inevitable and lay down her arms (as the Germans hoped)? Shocked, Melotte replied that Belgian honor required her to fight any invader with all her strength. Turning back to Albert after dinner, Moltke now blithely contradicted his earlier assertion that Germany didn’t want war: “Your Majesty cannot examine the irresistible enthusiasm which will permeate Germany on The Day.”

Wilhelm and Moltke were careful to avoid an open diplomatic breach; the Teutonic duo could always claim that they were simply inquiring whether Belgium would defend itself against France in the event of war, as required by the international treaty decreeing its neutrality. But following distinctly lukewarm German promises to respect Belgian neutrality earlier that year, all this talk of a hypothetical invasion was hardly reassuring.

The dazed, distraught Belgians looked to the other Great Powers for help and reassurance—and to warn them about the prevailing mindset in Berlin. With Albert’s permission, on November 10, 1913, Beyens described the incident to the French ambassador to Berlin, Jules Cambon, who in turn passed the news on to Paris. Key figures in the French government took note: In December 1913, President Poincaré, citing Cambon’s report, warned his associates that war with Germany was coming in the not-too-distant future. 

Of course the Belgian warnings fell on fertile ground, as many French leaders already believed war was inevitable: in February 1913, Sir Henry Wilson, the British officer in charge of coordinating military planning with France, noted that top French generals were “of the opinion that it would be far better for France if a conflict were not too long postponed,” and the following month the warning was repeated by Francis Bertie, the British ambassador to France, who wrote to British foreign minister Edward Grey that “many Frenchmen … think that war is predictable within the next two years and that it might be better for the French to have it soon.” Thus fear and suspicion fed on itself in a vicious cycle, which soon became a whirlpool, dragging in all the nations of Europe. 

See the previous installment or all entries.


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Civilian Researchers Discover Wreckage of the USS Indianapolis
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Wikipedia/Public Domain

On July 30, 1945, the cruiser USS Indianapolis sank in the Pacific Ocean after it was torpedoed by the Imperial Japanese Navy submarine I-58. More than 70 years after the historic naval tragedy— which claimed the lives of nearly 900 crew—The New York Times reports that the ship’s mysterious final resting place has been found.

The discovery came courtesy of a team of civilian researchers, led by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. His state-of-the-art research vessel, Petrel, located the wreck 18,000 feet below the Pacific’s surface, the team announced on Saturday, August 19.

"To be able to honor the brave men of the USS Indianapolis and their families through the discovery of a ship that played such a significant role in ending World War II is truly humbling,” Allen said in a statement. “As Americans, we all owe a debt of gratitude to the crew for their courage, persistence, and sacrifice in the face of horrendous circumstances."

Before it sank, the USS Indianapolis had just completed a top-secret mission to a naval base on the Northern Mariana island of Tinian. After delivering enriched uranium and components for Little Boy— the atomic bomb that the U.S. would drop on the Japanese city of Hiroshima about a week later—the cruiser forged ahead to Guam, and then to the Philippines. It was supposed to meet the battleship USS Idaho at Leyte Gulf in the Philippines to prepare to attack Japan.

The USS Indianapolis never made it to Leyte Gulf. Shortly after midnight on July 30, the Japanese submarine I-58 spotted the cruiser and fired six torpedoes. The USS Indianapolis—which was hit twice—sank within 12 minutes. Around 300 to 400 sailors and Marines were killed in the attack; the rest were stranded in the Pacific Ocean for several days.

Many of these survivors would ultimately lose their lives to sharks, a grisly scene that would be famously (albeit semi-accurately) recounted in the 1975 movie Jaws. Others died from drowning, heat stroke, thirst, burns and injuries, swallowing salt water or fuel oil, and suicide. More than 300 crew members were rescued after a bomber pilot accidently sighted the imperiled men while on a routine antisubmarine patrol.

The mass tragedy—which wouldn’t be announced to the public until August 15, 1945—sparked controversy: Charles B. McVay III, captain of the USS Indianapolis, was found guilty in a court martial of failing to steer the ship on a “zigzag” course to elude Japanese submarines. A Japanese submarine captain testified that this precautionary measure wouldn’t have thwarted the enemy, but McVay was charged nonetheless. The captain died by suicide in 1968, and wouldn’t be officially exonerated by the Navy until 2001.

For decades, the remains of the USS Indianapolis were lost to the ravages of time and nature. But in 2016, naval historian Richard Hulver found a historic ship log that mentioned a sighting of the USS Indianapolis. Allen’s search team used this information to locate the ship, which was west of where experts assumed it had gone down.

Allen’s crew took pictures of the wreckage, including a piece of its hull, and will search for more of the ship. They plan to keep the exact location of the USS Indianapolis a secret, however, to honor the sunken ship as a war grave.

"While our search for the rest of the wreckage will continue, I hope everyone connected to this historic ship will feel some measure of closure at this discovery so long in coming,” Allen said.

[h/t The New York Times]

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The Time That Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis Opened Competing Restaurants on the Sunset Strip
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From 1946 to 1956, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were show business supernovas. With an act that combined singing, slapstick, and spontaneous hijinks, the duo sold out nightclubs coast to coast, then went on to conquer radio, television, and film. Long before Elvis and The Beatles came along, Dean and Jerry  were rock stars of comedy.

Offstage, there was a cordial but cool friendship between the laidback Martin and the more neurotic Lewis. But as the pressures of their success increased, so did the tensions between them. Martin grew tired of playing the bland romantic straight man to Lewis’s manic monkey boy. And when Lewis started to grab more headlines and write himself bigger parts in their movies, Martin decided to quit the act. In an angry moment, he told Lewis that he was “nothing to me but a f**king dollar sign.”

After the split, both men went on with their individual careers, though it took Martin a few years before he regained his footing. One of his ventures during that transitional period was a Hollywood eatery called Dino’s Lodge.


In the summer of 1958, Martin and his business partner, Maury Samuels, bought a controlling interest in a restaurant called The Alpine Lodge, at 8524 Sunset Boulevard. They hired Dean’s brother Bill to manage the place, and renamed it Dino’s Lodge.

Outside they put up a large neon sign, a likeness of Dean’s face. The sign turned into a national symbol of hip and cool, thanks to appearances on TV shows like Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and most prominently, in the opening credits of 77 Sunset Strip.

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Dino’s Lodge was popular from the get-go, serving home-style Italian food and steaks in an intimate, candlelit, wood-paneled room meant to replicate Martin’s own den. In the first year, Dean himself frequented the place, signing autographs and posing for photos with starstruck diners. He also occasionally brought along famous friends like Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine. To promote the idea of the swingin’ lifestyle that Martin often sang about, Dino’s served “an early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 a.m.” The restaurant also had a lounge that featured singers, though only females. Dean apparently didn’t want any male vocalists encroaching on his turf.

But as with many a celebrity venture into the food business, this one soon turned sour. And most of that was due to the jealousy of Jerry Lewis.


In late 1961, Lewis wooed Martin’s business partner Maury Samuels away, ponied up some $350,000, and opened his own copycat restaurant three blocks down Sunset. It was called Jerry’s. To make it clear he was out for top billing, Lewis had his own likeness rendered in neon, then mounted it on a revolving pole 100 feet above his restaurant. In contrast to Dino’s Italian-based menu, Jerry’s would serve “American and Hebrew viands.” Lewis didn’t stop there. Within a few months, he’d hired away Dino’s top two chefs, his maître d', and half his waitstaff.

Wire Photo, eBay, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

When Lewis was in Los Angeles, he made of point of table-hopping and schmoozing with his guests at his restaurant, and he occasionally brought in a few of his celebrity friends, like Peggy Lee and Steve McQueen.


By the following year, a disgusted Dean Martin was fed up with the restaurant business and cut ties with Dino’s Lodge. Much to his aggravation, he lost a motion in court to have his likeness and name removed from the sign. So the new owners carried on as Dino’s Lodge, with the big neon head staring down on Sunset for another decade before the place finally went bust.

Jerry’s lost steam long before that, folding in the mid-1960s.

For the rest of the 1960s and the early 1970s, Martin and Lewis avoided each other. “Jerry’s trying hard to be a director,” Dean once told a reporter. “He couldn’t even direct traffic.”

In 1976, Frank Sinatra famously engineered an onstage reunion of the pair during The Jerry Lewis Telethon. While the audience roared their approval, Sinatra said, “I think it’s about time, don’t you?” And to Sinatra, Lewis said under his breath, “You son of a bitch.”

What followed was an awkward few moments of shtick between the former partners. Reportedly, Martin was drunk and Lewis was doped up on painkillers. There was a quick embrace, Martin sang with Sinatra, then blew Lewis a kiss and disappeared from his life for good. Martin died in 1995. Lewis passed away today, at the age of 91.


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