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German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

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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 94th installment in the series. 

December 4, 1913: German Government Rocked by Anti-Militarism Protests

In the early years of the 20th century, a visitor to Germany might marvel at the appearance of a calm, orderly society based on conservative values like education, hard work, duty, and respect for authority. But appearances can be deceiving: Germany’s rigid social structures concealed a deep, widening rift between the industrial working class on one side, and the aristocracy and middle class on the other.

Angry about low wages and long hours, German workers increasingly fell under the sway of socialism, a modified version of Marxism calling for the proletariat to take control of the means of production through organized labor and legislation. This goal became more plausible after the government lifted its ban on socialist political activity in 1890. With support from trade unions, the reinvigorated Social Democratic Party won huge electoral gains—but found its ambitions frustrated by Germany’s authoritarian government.

One of the fiercest controversies concerned the military’s dominant position in German society. As part of a self-proclaimed internationalist movement, socialists decried the European arms race as a dangerous waste of money, while at home the SDP reviled the aristocratic military elite as a natural ally of big business and an entrenched opponent of democratic reform. The army could also be used to put down strikes and protests, further limiting the power of organized labor.

The controversy finally boiled over in the autumn of 1913 following a seemingly minor incident in Alsace, a province with a mixed population of French and German speakers annexed from France in 1871. On October 28, Günter Freiherr von Forstner, a 19-year-old Prussian second lieutenant stationed in the town of Zabern (Saverne), made disparaging comments about the local Alsatian population and seemed to encourage his men to brutalize civilians. After local newspapers reported Forstner’s comments, his superiors refused to take serious disciplinary action, triggering protests by townsfolk.

On November 28, 1913, a large number of protesters surrounded the barracks in Zabern, alarming the garrison commander, who then authorized his troops to disperse the crowd by force. That’s when things really started to unravel, as hundreds of peaceful protesters were arrested without cause, including several local notables, and the town was placed under unofficial martial law. All in all it was a clear case of the military acting with total disregard for civilian rights (as depicted in the cartoon published in the satirical magazine Simplicissimus in November 1913, above).

As these events thrust Zabern into the national spotlight, there was still a chance for the central government to defuse the situation. But in typical fashion Kaiser Wilhelm II—trained in the Prussian military and no one’s idea of a statesman—did exactly the wrong thing. On November 30, the German emperor met with Prussian War Minister Erich von Falkenhayn to hear the military’s side of the story, but completely ignored civilian representatives. The same day the SDP organized the first of a wave of protests in Mülhausen (Mulhouse), a big town in Alsace, which soon spread to the rest of the country. 

Things were about to get even worse, as Forstner—apparently none the wiser for having caused a national crisis, and none too bright to begin with—took center stage again. While drilling with troops on December 2, 1913, the second lieutenant heard some townsfolk mocking his fancy uniform, lost his temper, and struck a partially disabled apprentice cobbler named Karl Blank with his sword. Naturally this provoked a fresh public outcry, but once again Forstner’s superiors refused to take real disciplinary action, further escalating the conflict. 

The Zabern Affair was now a full-blown political crisis for the government, as traditional allies like the Center Party and Conservative Party distanced themselves to express their disgust over its incompetent handling of the situation. On November 30, the SDP’s newspaper Vorwarts (Forwards) called for the Reichstag to assert itself:

“If the Reichstag stands for the terror of the sword in Zabern, and the guilty are not called to account in the most unconditional manner, and guarantees given to prevent the repetition of similar military excesses, then the government by constitution and law will have capitulated altogether before the arbitrariness of our Militarism!”

On December 3, 1913, Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg finally addressed the Reichstag on the Zabern Affair—but instead of asserting civilian authority, the weak-willed head of government just offered lame excuses for the military. True, Forstner had referred to Alsatians with the insulting term “wackes,” but Bethmann Hollweg said this merely meant “screwball” and wasn’t an ethnic slur (it was); anyway the military had now banned the use of the word “screwball” so it wouldn’t happen again. The chancellor conceded that Forstner’s behavior has been improper, but dismissed it as an “unpleasant but certainly not … world-shaking” event, and completely dodged the real issue—the illegal arrests and imposition of martial law in Zabern.

The Reichstag wasn’t buying it: On December 4, 1913, the deputies voted 293 to 54 that the government’s handling of the affair was “not the view of the Reichstag.” This was a humiliating blow to Bethmann Hollweg, equivalent to a vote of “no confidence,” which could have triggered the fall of the government. One observer said the chancellor looked physically ill, maybe even at risk of a nervous breakdown. However the Center and Conservative Parties refused to join the SDP in demanding his resignation, since this might open up the possibility of a power struggle between the military, backed by the Kaiser, and the socialist opposition – and then who knew what would happen.

December 7 delivered another blow to the government’s prestige, as mass protests organized by the SDP gripped 17 cities around Germany. But the Zabern Affair was already starting to subside: on December 5, 1913, the Kaiser (with his usual impeccable timing) relented and ordered Forstner’s unit moved to a remote village away from the public eye, as the Alsatians had demanded all along. Thus an opportunity for reform had been missed, meaning the conflict between soldiers and socialists would only grow more intense during the maelstrom to come. 

See the previous installment or all entries

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15 Facts About the First Episode of The Simpsons
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FOX

On December 17, 1989, The Simpsons premiered on FOX. Nearly 30 years later, the Simpson family and their fellow Springfield residents are still going strong. Let's look back at where it all started—"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire."

1. IT WAS SUPPOSED TO PREMIERE IN SEPTEMBER.

The Simpsons was originally planned to premiere earlier in the fall of 1989, but because of animation problems, the series began on December 17 with "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire." The original pilot, "Some Enchanted Evening," later aired as the season finale.

2. MARGE WAS SUPPOSED TO GET DRUNK.

According to Al Jean, the original premise of the episode was that "Homer was worried that Marge was going to get drunk at a party and get him in trouble at the office."

3. IT'S LACKING THE SERIES' NOW-FAMOUS OPENING SEQUENCE. 

The episode lacked the now-famous opening sequence, which was added in the second episode, "Bart the Genius," because creator Matt Groening thought a longer opening sequence would mean less animation.

4. GWEN STEFANI'S BROTHER PLAYED A KEY ROLE IN ITS CREATION.

One of the layout artists for "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was Eric Stefani, brother of Gwen Stefani and a founding member of No Doubt.

5. BARNEY LOOKED A BIT DIFFERENT.

In the first episode, Barney had yellow hair, which was the same color as his skin. This was later changed because the people behind the show thought that only members of the Simpson family should have yellow hair.

6. LISA REALLY WANTED A PONY.

Lisa asks for a pony six times on her Christmas list (it's her first line in the series). She would later get her pony in the season 3 episode "Lisa's Pony."

7. PART OF IT WAS INSPIRED BY MATT GROENING'S SECOND GRADE SCHOOL REPORT.

According to the DVD commentary, the "Santas of many lands" portion of the Christmas pageant was inspired by a second grade report Matt Groening did on Christmas in Russia.

8. IT DIDN'T INVENT THE ALTERNATE VERSION OF "JINGLE BELLS."

Additionally, Groening claims that this episode has been incorrectly credited with creating the "alternate version" of "Jingle Bells." (Bart sings, "Jingle Bells/Batman Smells/Robin Laid an Egg...")

9. IT WAS ONLY THE SECOND ANIMATED SERIES TO AIR IN PRIMETIME SINCE THE FLINTSTONES.

The Simpsons was just the second animated show to air in primetime since The Flintstones went off the air 23 years earlier. (The other was Wait Till Your Father Gets Home, which aired from 1972-1974.)

10. THE IDEA WAS CONCEIVED UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL.

According to executive producer James L. Brooks, "The Simpsons series began like many things begin: with an animator getting drunk at a Christmas party ... We were already doing Tracey Ullman, and David Silverman, who was with us then and would go on to direct The Simpsons Movie, cornered me and poured out his heart about what having a primetime Simpsons show would mean to animators."

11. LISA WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A "LITTLE HELL-RAISER."

The Simpsons in 'The Town'
Fox

According to Al Jean, in the original shorts, "Lisa was supposed to be this little hell-raiser like Bart, but their character differentiation was wider when we went to full series."

12. YEARDLEY SMITH AUDITIONED FOR BART.

Yeardley Smith, the voice of Lisa, originally auditioned for Bart. "That lasted a good eight or nine seconds," Smith recounts, "It was like: "Cut, cut, cut! You sound too much like a girl!"

13. A SECOND CITY PERFORMANCE GOT DAN CASTELLANETA AN AUDITION.

Dan Castellaneta was invited to read for Homer Simpson after Tracey Ullman saw him perform a sketch comedy bit about a blind, crippled comedian at Second City in Chicago.

14. IT WAS MILLHOUSE'S FIRST APPEARANCE, BUT HE ALREADY EXISTED.

"Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" is the first time Milhouse appeared on the show, however he was featured in a Butterfinger commercial in 1988.

15. SANTA'S LITTLE HELPER WENT MISSING.

Because "Simpsons Roasting on an Open Fire" was originally meant to be the eighth episode, Santa's Little Helper is mysteriously absent from the next episode ("Bart the Genius"). According to DVD commentary, the creators of the show received letters of praise for heightening the awareness of the abandonment of racing dogs even though they didn't know it was a real problem when they created the episode.

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27 Festive Facts About Christmas Vacation
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

On December 1, 1989, a new chapter of Griswold family dysfunction was unleashed upon the world when National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation made its debut in movie theaters and an instant holiday classic was born. Here are 27 things you might not know about everyone’s favorite Christmas comedy.

1. THE MOVIE IS BASED ON A SHORT STORY.

Like the 1983 original, Christmas Vacation is based on a short story, “Christmas ‘59,” written by John Hughes for National Lampoon in December 1980. Its literary predecessor is paid tribute to when Clark is trapped in the attic and pulls out a box of old home movies, including one labeled “Christmas ’59.” (Eagle-eyed viewers might notice that when Clark is watching the film, it actually says “Christmas 1955.”)

2. CLARK GREW UP IN SAMANTHA STEVENS’S HOUSE.

If Clark’s childhood home featured in those old movies looks familiar, that’s because it’s the same house featured on Bewitched as well as The New Gidget. Except it’s not a house at all; it’s part of the Warner Bros. back lot, located on what is known as Blondie Street. The rest of the Griswolds’ neighborhood is on a studio back lot as well. And if the home of their snooty neighbors, Todd and Margo, looks familiar, that’s because it’s where Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) and his family lived in Lethal Weapon.

3. JOHN HUGHES WASN’T A FAN OF SEQUELS.

Though many of Hughes’ films have spawned sequels, the man himself was not a fan of retreads. “The only sequels I was involved in were under duress,” Hughes once stated in an interview. Though he’s credited as a writer on European Vacation, he said that was only because he had created the characters. “But the studio came to me and begged for another [Vacation movie], and I only agreed because I had a good story to base it on. But those movies have become little more than Chevy Chase vehicles at this stage. I didn't even know about Vegas Vacation until I read about it in the trades! Ever since it came out, people have been coming up to me with disappointed looks on their faces, asking ‘What were you thinking?’ ‘I had nothing to do with it! I swear!’”

4. IT’S ONE OF ONLY TWO CHRISTMAS MOVIES RELEASED IN 1989.

Though the holiday season is usually packed with Christmas-themed movies, Christmas Vacation was one of only two that were released in 1989. The other was John Hancock’s Prancer. Johnny Galecki, a.k.a. Rusty Griswold, starred in both.

5. AUDREY IS (MIRACULOUSLY) OLDER THAN RUSTY.

Johnny Galecki, Beverly D'Angelo, Chevy Chase, and Juliette Lewis in 'Christmas Vacation' (1989)
Warner Bros.

In both the original Vacation and European Vacation, Rusty is believed to be the older of the two Griswold children. In Christmas Vacation, Rusty somehow morphs into Audrey’s younger brother.

6. THE FILM HAS TIES TO IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE.

In addition to footage from the Frank Capra classic actually appearing in the film, Christmas Vacation has another fun tie to It’s a Wonderful Life: Frank Capra’s grandson, Frank Capra III, is Christmas Vacation’s assistant director.

7. THE CAST OF CHRISTMAS VACATION WAS PRETTY IMPRESSIVE.

In addition to featuring future stars Johnny Galecki and Juliette Lewis (who scored a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination three years later for her role in Cape Fear), star Beverly D’Angelo was most impressed with the older actors who came along for the Christmas Vacation ride. “I attribute that to Jeremiah Chechik and his direction in bringing in E.G. Marshall, Doris Roberts, and Diane Ladd,” she noted. “That was really a special cast.”

8. IN A WAY, STANLEY KUBRICK IS TO THANK FOR CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation marked the directorial debut of Jeremiah Chechik, who began his career as a fashion photographer for Vogue then moved into commercial directing. “I had made these commercials that became quite iconic here in the U.S.,” Chechik told to Den of Geek! in 2011. “They were very dark and sexy and sort of a little bit ahead of their time in terms of style. And what happened was they gained the notice of [Stanley] Kubrick, who had mentioned them as his favorite American filmmaking, ironically, in a New York Times article.” It didn’t take long for Chechik’s phone to start ringing and for studios to start sending him scripts. “And the script that really piqued my interest was Christmas Vacation," he said. "And the reason is I had never done any comedy—ever.”

9. CHECHIK HAD NEVER SEEN A VACATION MOVIE.

“I hadn't seen the first two [Vacation movies], and so I wasn't really influenced by anything other than the fact that it was a big—at the time—their big Christmas movie, and comedy,” Chechik said. “And I just felt if I could crack this maybe there's a whole other world of filmmaking for me.” Following Christmas Vacation, Chechik directed Benny & Joon, Diabolique, and The Avengers plus episodes of The Bronx is Burning, Gossip Girl, Chuck, and Burn Notice.

10. THE MOVIE HAD A HUGE BUDGET, PARTICULARLY FOR A COMEDY.

A $27 million budget, to be exact. Which was particularly high considering that the film had no special effects a la Ghostbusters (which was made for $30 million). But it had no trouble making its budget back; the film’s final domestic gross was $71,319,526.

11. ROGER EBERT DID NOT LOVE THE FILM.

Though it has become a bona fide holiday classic, not everyone was a fan of Christmas Vacation. In his two-star review of the film, Roger Ebert described the movie as “curious in how close it comes to delivering on its material: Sequence after sequence seems to contain all the necessary material, to be well on the way toward a payoff, and then it somehow doesn't work.”

12. IT’S THE ONLY SEQUEL IN THE VACATION FRANCHISE TO HAVE ITS OWN SEQUEL.

Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie's Island Adventure DVD
Warner Home Video

But don’t be disappointed if you didn’t know that. Or haven’t seen it. The 2003 film, National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation 2: Cousin Eddie’s Island Adventure, was made for television. It finds Randy Quaid and Miriam Flynn (as Eddie and Catherine) stranded on an island in the South Pacific for the holidays. Yes, really. It currently holds a 12 percent approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

13. AUDREY IS THE ONLY GRISWOLD TO APPEAR IN CHRISTMAS VACATION 2.

Dana Barron, who played Audrey in the original Vacation, reprised her role for the Christmas Vacation sequel. Eric Idle, who appeared in European Vacation, also makes an appearance, playing “English Victim.”

14. COUSIN EDDIE IS RANDY QUAID’S BEST-KNOWN CHARACTER.

At least it’s the role that gets him the most recognition. In a 1989 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Quaid admitted that he was amazed by the impact the character made. “People still come up to me and quote lines from that part. I get a lot of recognition from that role—probably as much, if not more, than any other.”

15. COUSIN EDDIE IS BASED ON A REAL GUY.

Quaid borrowed many of Cousin Eddie’s mannerisms from a guy he knew growing up in Texas, most notably his tendency toward tongue-clicking. But Eddie’s sweater/Dickie combo? That was an idea from Quaid’s wife.

16. YOU CAN BUY YOUR OWN DICKIE.

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Collectibles is a website dedicated to all things Christmas Vacation (obviously). Among the many fun items are Cousin Eddie wardrobe staples, moose mugs, and punch bowls.

17. EDDIE’S SON, ROCKY, DOESN’T SPEAK IN THE FILM.

Nope, not a word.

18. AUNT BETHANY IS BETTY BOOP.

Christmas Vacation marked the final film of Mae Questel, who began her career as the voice of Betty Boop in 1931. She passed away at the age of 89 in January of 1998.

19. BETHANY AND LOUIS’ ENTRANCE MADE THE EARTH SHAKE.

At the same time the production filmed the arrival of Uncle Louis and Aunt Bethany at the Griswold house, a minor earthquake struck. The camera shakes slightly as a result of it as Bethany walks through the front door.

20. CHRISTMAS VACATION WENT STRAIGHT TO VIDEO IN ENGLAND.

Though the movie is a popular holiday film in the UK too, it was never actually shown in theaters there. Instead, it went straight to home video.

21. YOU WON’T HEAR “HOLIDAY ROAD” IN CHRISTMAS VACATION.

Christmas Vacation is the only movie in the series that doesn’t feature Lindsey Buckingham’s song, “Holiday Road.” Instead, a new song—the aptly titled “Christmas Vacation”—was written for the film by married songwriting duo Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil. A cover of the song appears on the 2007 Disney Channel Holiday album.

22. RANDY QUAID IS THE THIRD COUSIN OF GENE AUTRY.

Which may just sound like a random. But at the end of the film, when the police raid the Griswold home, the version of “Here Comes Santa Claus” being used is Autry’s.

23. ELLEN GRISWOLD LIED TO THE COPS.

In the same scene, Ellen Griswold apologizes to Mrs. Shirley—the wife of Clark’s boss and Eddie’s kidnapping victim—assuring her that “This is our family's first kidnapping,” when, in fact, it is their second. At least the second that we know of: In the first Vacation film, the Griswolds force Lasky, the security guard at Wally World (played by John Candy), to open the park for them.

24. CHEVY CHASE, BEVERLY D’ANGELO, AND JULIETTE LEWIS REUNITED IN 2012.

The trio got together to film a series of Old Navy commercials for the holiday season. Though Johnny Galecki wasn’t there, two previous Rustys—Anthony Michael Hall and Jason Lively—were. As was Dana Barron.

25. JOHNNY GALECKI RECEIVED AN AWARD FROM CHEVY CHASE.

In a 2012 interview, The Sydney Morning Herald asked Johnny Galecki whether he has kept in touch with Chevy Chase. He admitted that “the only time I’ve seen him since that movie, which was 21 years ago I think, is when he presented us with our People’s Choice Award, so that was really neat. If you’re going to run into Chevy again it may as well be as he’s giving you an award.”

26. CHEVY CHASE AND BEVERLY D'ANGELO WERE ANXIOUS TO SEE ANOTHER VACATION MOVIE HAPPEN.

On July 29, 2015, the latest film in the Vacation franchise—simply titled Vacation—made its debut. And it couldn't have happened soon enough for Chase and D'Angelo. In 2011, Chase told Ain’t It Cool News that “I just got off the phone with Beverly D’Angelo. We are trying to work up a new Vacation and apparently Warner’s is working on one with grandchildren, but the one that Bev and I want … You know, we are just trying to think of ideas, because she is very funny and very brilliant, so when you get her in a writing mood and me in writing mood, it’s good, but it’s very hard to get the time.”

27. THE STUDIO WON THAT ONE.

Chase and D’Angelo may have had their own ideas, but the studio moved ahead with that whole “one with grandchildren” thing. Written and directed by John Francis Daley (Sam from Freaks and Geeks) and Jonathan M. Goldstein (who wrote Horrible Bosses), Vacation featured a grown-up Rusty (played by Ed Helms) taking his own family on a road trip.

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