Russians Cry Foul on von Sanders Mission

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 92nd installment in the series.

November 10, 1913: Russians Cry Foul on von Sanders Mission

The European diplomatic world was a small one, composed of no more than a few hundred men, almost all aristocrats, most of whom knew each other to varying degrees. Between the gossip mill and ubiquitous espionage networks, it didn’t take long for news to circulate—so it was only a matter of time before word got out about the appointment of a German officer, Liman von Sanders (above), to command the Turkish First Army Corps guarding Constantinople.

It wasn’t uncommon for Europeans to train and sometimes even command the troops of second-rank powers, but von Sanders’ mission far exceeded the usual scope of these arrangements: By placing a German in charge of the Constantinople garrison, the Turks were effectively giving Germany control of the capital and the Turkish straits—a move sure to anger the Russians, who hoped to conquer Constantinople and the straits themselves in the not-too-distant future. 

The “Liman von Sanders Affair,” as it was soon known, began in earnest on November 10, 1913, when the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Sazonov, instructed the Russian ambassador in Berlin, Sergei Sverbeev, to tell the Germans that the von Sanders mission, would be regarded by Russia as an “openly hostile act.” In addition to threatening Russia’s foreign trade, half of which flowed through the Turkish straits, the mission raised the possibility of a German-led Turkish assault on Russia’s Black Sea ports (not to mention imperiling Russia’s devious plans for expansion in eastern Anatolia).

While the von Sanders mission was troubling to Sazonov, he also understood that the Germans couldn’t simply back down for reasons of prestige. Thus the Russian foreign minister sought a solution that would allow them to withdraw and still save face. On November 18, the Russian premier, Count Vladimir Kokovtsov, who happened to be visiting Germany, paid a visit to Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg and suggested that von Sanders be given a different assignment, preferably somewhere other than Constantinople. 

For his part, Bethmann-Hollweg was only vaguely aware of the von Sanders mission—it was an initiative of the German army, which sometimes seemed to be conducting its own foreign policy—and he certainly had no desire to alienate Russia following a year of seemingly endless Balkan crises. But even if the German government was willing to reach an accommodation, it wasn’t solely their decision to make—and the Turks, fed up with European bullying, were in no mood to compromise. 

See the previous installment or all entries. 

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College Board Wants to Erase Thousands of Years From AP World History, and Teachers Aren't Happy
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iStock

One would be forgiven for thinking that the Ides of March are upon us, because Julius Caesar is being taken out once again—this time from the Advanced Placement World History exam. The College Board in charge of the AP program is planning to remove the Roman leader, and every other historical figure who lived and died prior to 1450, from high school students’ tests, The New York Times reports.

The nonprofit board recently announced that it would revise the test, beginning in 2019, to make it more manageable for teachers and students alike. The current exam covers over 10,000 years of world history, and according to the board, “no other AP course requires such an expanse of content to be covered over a single school year.”

As an alternative, the board suggested that schools offer two separate year-long courses to cover the entirety of world history, including a Pre-AP World History and Geography class focusing on the Ancient Period (before 600 BCE) up through the Postclassical Period (ending around 1450). However, as Politico points out, a pre-course for which the College Board would charge a fee "isn’t likely to be picked up by cash-strapped public schools," and high school students wouldn't be as inclined to take the pre-AP course since there would be no exam or college credit for it.

Many teachers and historians are pushing back against the proposed changes and asking the board to leave the course untouched. Much of the controversy surrounds the 1450 start date and the fact that no pre-colonial history would be tested.

“They couldn’t have picked a more Eurocentric date,” Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks, who previously helped develop AP History exams and courses, told The New York Times. “If you start in 1450, the first thing you’ll talk about in terms of Africa is the slave trade. The first thing you’ll talk about in terms of the Americas is people dying from smallpox and other things. It’s not a start date that encourages looking at the agency and creativity of people outside Europe.”

A group of teachers who attended an AP open forum in Salt Lake City also protested the changes. One Michigan educator, Tyler George, told Politico, “Students need to understand that there was a beautiful, vast, and engaging world before Europeans ‘discovered’ it.”

The board is now reportedly reconsidering its decision and may push the start date of the course back some several hundred years. Their decision will be announced in July.

[h/t The New York Times]

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Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Sylvia Plath's Pulitzer Prize in Poetry Is Up for Auction
Nate D. Sanders Auctions
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

A Pulitzer Prize in Poetry that was awarded posthumously to Sylvia Plath in 1982 for her book The Collected Poems will be auctioned on June 28. The Los Angeles-based Nate D. Sanders Auctions says bidding for the literary document will start at $40,000.

The complete book of Plath’s poetry was published in 1981—18 years after her death—and was edited by her husband, fellow poet Ted Hughes. The Pulitzer Prize was presented to Hughes on Plath’s behalf, and one of two telegrams sent by Pulitzer President Michael Sovern to Hughes read, “We’ve just heard that the Collected Plath has won the Pulitzer Prize. Congratulations to you for making it possible.” The telegrams will also be included in the lot, in addition to an official congratulatory letter from Sovern.

The Pultizer’s jury report from 1982 called The Collected Poems an “extraordinary literary event.” It went on to write, “Plath won no major prizes in her lifetime, and most of her work has been posthumously published … The combination of metaphorical brilliance with an effortless formal structure makes this a striking volume.”

Ted Hughes penned an introduction to the poetry collection describing how Plath had “never scrapped any of her poetic efforts,” even if they weren’t all masterpieces. He wrote:

“Her attitude to her verse was artisan-like: if she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy. The end product for her was not so much a successful poem, as something that had temporarily exhausted her ingenuity. So this book contains not merely what verse she saved, but—after 1956—all she wrote.”

Also up for auction is Plath’s Massachusetts driver’s license from 1958, at which time she went by the name Sylvia P. Hughes. Bidding for the license will begin at $8000.

Plath's driver's license
Nate D. Sanders Auctions

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