Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

The Conspiracy Forms

Wikimedia Commons
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 97th installment in the series. 

December 31, 1913: The Conspiracy Forms

The assassination of the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 was the culmination of a conspiracy that began forming six months before. But conspiracies have a tendency to mutate or evolve, and this plot was no exception: In fact, it initially targeted a different person altogether.

The man who set the ball rolling was Vladimir Gaćinović, well known in Serbian nationalist circles as the author of a pamphlet lionizing Bogdan Zerajic, who in 1910 tried unsuccessfully to assassinate General Varešanin, the Austrian governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, then killed himself, becoming a martyr to the cause. Gaćinović was also a member of Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia), a revolutionary group inside Bosnia, and Ujedinjenje Hi Smert (Unity or Death, also called Crna Ruka, the Black Hand), an ultranationalist cabal led by the chief of Serbian military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević, codename Apis (above, left).

In autumn 1913, Dimitrijević’s right-hand man Major Vojislav Tankosić (above, center) instructed Gaćinović, who was then living in Lausanne, Switzerland, to convene a meeting of Mlada Bosna members to plot the assassination of a high-ranking Austrian official. At this stage it wasn’t quite clear who the target would be, and frankly it didn’t really matter; the most important thing was that the murder should inspire violent resistance by Slavic nationalists inside the Austro-Hungarian Empire, hopefully leading to a general uprising.

Towards the end of December 1913, Gaćinović invited several members of Mlada Bosna to a secret meeting in Toulouse, France, in January 1914. Participants included Gaćinović himself; Mustafa Golubić, another member of the Black Hand who later became a Soviet agent in Yugoslavia in the interwar period; and Muhamed Mehmedbašić, a cabinetmaker from a minor Bosnian Muslim noble family which had fallen on hard times.

According to Mehmedbašić, the plotters discussed a number of potential targets, including Franz Ferdinand, but finally agreed that the victim should be Oskar Potiorek (above, right), the Austrian governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina, who succeeded Varešanin in May 1911 and earned the hatred of Slavic nationalists by declaring a state of emergency in the restive province in May 1913. Mehmedbašić was supposed to carry out the assassination using a dagger dipped in poison provided by Gaćinović—but it didn’t take long for this plot to fizzle out. According to his own account, on the way back to Bosnia Mehmedbašić panicked and threw the dagger and poison away when Austrian police boarded the train and began searching the compartments (it later turned out they were looking for a thief).

Still hoping to strike a blow against Austrian tyranny, back in Sarajevo Mehmedbašić got in touch with his friend Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian schoolteacher and journalist who volunteered in the Serbian army during the Second Balkan War in 1913, joined the Black Hand while living in Belgrade, and later returned to Sarajevo to work with Mlada Bosna. Ilić was in contact with Gaćinović in Switzerland and was also best friends with a young Bosnian Serb nationalist named Gavrilo Princip, who’d been drifting back and forth between Sarajevo and Belgrade—where he was supposedly attending high school but actually spent most of his time in grimy cafes frequented by radical nationalists and anarchists. As a matter of fact, Ilić and Princip had discussed their own plan to assassinate Potiorek in 1912, but this also came to nothing.

Lurking in the background of these overlapping, often half-baked plots was always the puppet master Apis, pulling strings through his Black Hand henchmen including Tankosić and another man, Milan Ciganović—a Bosnian Serb who’d served as a paramilitary commander in the Balkan Wars and now worked for the Serbian state railroad (as it happened Ciganović and Princip came from the same district in Bosnia and briefly lived together in the same house in Belgrade in 1912).

Not long after the Toulouse meeting, in February or March, 1914, Apis learned that Archduke Franz Ferdinand was planning to attend military maneuvers in Bosnia in June 1914, and would even have the audacity to visit Sarajevo on the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo in 1389—a key event in Serbian history, symbolizing Serbia’s long history of foreign oppression. Now a new plot began to take shape. 

A Look Back at 1913, the Last Year of Peace

As 1913 drew to a close, ordinary Europeans could look forward with relief to the New Year: after a series of crises Europe finally seemed to be recovering its equilibrium, and there was every reason to hope for lasting peace. But all the apparent successes of diplomacy, negotiation, and compromise were in fact setting the stage for disaster.

The Year 1913 had been born in crisis, with Austria-Hungary and Russia facing off in the wake of the First Balkan War, in which Bulgaria and Serbia conquered the Ottoman Empire’s European territories. Austria-Hungary’s Foreign Minister Count Berchtold correctly viewed Serbia as a magnet for the nationalist aspirations of the Dual Monarchy’s Southern Slavs, and was determined to force the Serbs to give up their conquests in Albania, thus denying Serbia access to the sea (which would have bolstered Serbian prestige). This put Austria-Hungary on a collision course with Serbia’s Slavic patron Russia, where Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov was under pressure from “Pan-Slav” ideologues to support their ethnic kinsmen in the Balkans. This crisis was eventually resolved by the Hohenlohe Mission, a personal appeal from Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Josef to Russia’s Tsar Nicholas II that paved the way for a compromise at the Conference of London, including the creation of an independent Albania.

But this wasn’t the end of the Balkan crises—not even close. While Serbian forces began withdrawing from Albania, in April 1913 Serbia’s sidekick Montenegro captured Scutari, an important city that had also been granted to Albania at the Conference of London. This second crisis was resolved when Europe’s Great Powers offered Montenegro’s King Nikolai the choice of a carrot (a sweetheart loan from Britain and France) or a stick (war with Austria-Hungary); Nikolai wisely chose the carrot and the Montenegrins withdrew from Scutari.

And still the turmoil continued with the Second Balkan War from June to August 1913, when Bulgaria attacked Serbia and Greece over the spoils of the First Balkan War—then swiftly reaped the whirlwind as Romania and the Ottoman Empire piled on from the rear. Defeated on all fronts, Bulgaria turned to Russia for protection, but Sazonov, indecisive as ever, dithered, delayed and finally ended up cutting the Bulgarians loose in favor of the Serbians and Romanians, leaving the Bulgarians understandably embittered—and Serbia as Russia’s only remaining ally in the Balkans. This meant Russia would have to back up Serbia in future crises unconditionally, or risk losing all its influence in the region.

The final Balkan crisis of the year came about in September, when ethnic Albanians in the southern Serbian territory of Kosovo rebelled and the Serbs responded by invading Albania proper, threatening to undo all Austria-Hungary’s recent efforts to create the new nation. Ultimately the Serbs backed down in the face of a unilateral threat from Austria-Hungary—another alarming development, as it convinced the Austrians they could go it alone in the Balkans, without having to consult the other Great Powers.

Indeed, this was probably the closest Europe came to war during the past year: By autumn 1913, the hawks in Vienna, led by chief of staff Conrad von Hötzendorf, had persuaded Austrian Foreign Minister Count Berchtold (and Germany’s Kaiser Wilhelm II) that war was the only way to deal with the obstreperous Serbs. Ironically the only person standing in their way was the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, who warned that an attack on Serbia would bring war with Russia. If the Archduke were somehow removed from the scene, the hawks would be in the ascendant.

See the previous installment or all entries

Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Would You Be Able to Pass a World War I Military Literacy Test?
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain
Sergeant Marshall/Department of Defense, NARA // Public Domain

Though reading and writing might not come to mind as the first requirement for trench warfare, during the early 20th century, the U.S. Army became increasingly concerned with whether or not its soldiers were literate. Thousands of World War I soldiers couldn't read printed directions on basic military tasks. The Army didn't implement its first major literacy program until the 1940s, but literacy tests were included in a battery of psychological evaluations World War I recruits went through to determine their mental fitness and intelligence, as the blog Futility Closet recently highlighted.

These unconventional literacy tests largely took the form of a yes or no questions with obvious answers, according to the 1921 report from the U.S. Surgeon General, Psychological Examining in the United States Army. Edited by pioneering intelligence-testing psychologist Robert Yerkes, who developed the military's first psychology exams for new recruits (and was also famous for his support for eugenics), the volume is a lengthy compilation of all of the methods the U.S. Army used to test the intelligence of its future soldiers. Many of these tests are now considered racist and culturally biased—some of the "intelligence" testing questions required recruits to know things like what products Velvet Joe (a figure used in tobacco campaigns) advertised—but some of the literacy questions, in particular, simply come off as weird in the modern era. Some are downright existential, in fact, while others—"Is a guitar a disease?"—come off as almost poetic.

A long questionnaire to test literacy, including questions like 'Is coal white?'
Psychological Examining in the United States Army, Google Books // Public Domain

One test, the Devens Literarcy Test, asked recruits questions like "Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?" and "Does success tend to bring pleasure?" Another section of the test asked "Do boys like to play?" and "Do clerks enjoy a vacation?"

Other questions seem like they're up for debate, like "Are painters ever artless individuals?" and "Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?" Surely the answers to questions like "Should criminals forfeit liberty?" and "Is misuse of money an evil?" depend on the opinions of the reader. The answer to "Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?" might be different depending on how the person feels about their Congressional representative, and could surely be the spark for an hour-long argument at most dinner parties.

Still others are tests of cultural knowledge, not reading skill—a major modern criticism of Yerkes's work. Despite being arguably a pretty literate person, I certainly don't know the answer to the question "Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?" A question like "Are 'diminutive' and 'Lilliputian' nearly identical?" isn't exactly a test of literacy, but a test of whether or not you've read Gulliver's Travels, which doesn't exactly seem like a necessity for military success.

Luckily, some of the questions are pretty obvious, like "Is coal white?" That one I can answer. The full list of questions used in the various versions of the Devens test is below for you to test your own Army-level literacy.

  • Do dogs bark?
  • Is coal white?
  • Can you see?
  • Do men eat stones?
  • Do boys like to play?
  • Can a bed run?
  • Do books have hands?
  • Is ice hot?
  • Do winds blow?
  • Have all girls the same name?
  • Is warm clothing good for winter?
  • Is this page of paper white?
  • Are railroad tickets free?
  • Is every young woman a teacher?
  • Is it always perfect weather?
  • Is the heart within the body?
  • Do clerks enjoy a vacation?
  • Is the President a public official?
  • Would you enjoy losing a fortune?
  • Does an auto sometimes need repair?
  • Is it important to remember commands?
  • Are avenues usually paved with oxygen?
  • Do we desire serious trouble?
  • Is practical judgment valuable?
  • Ought a man's career to be ruined by accidents?
  • Do you cordially recommend forgery?
  • Does an emergency require immediate decision?
  • Should honesty bring misfortune to its possessor?
  • Are gradual improvements worth while?
  • Is a punctual person continually tardy?
  • Are instantaneous effects invariably rapid?
  • Should preliminary disappointment discourage you?
  • Is hearsay testimony trustworthy evidence?
  • Is wisdom characteristic of the best authorities?
  • Is extremely athletic exercise surely necessary?
  • Is incessant discussion usually boresome?
  • Are algebraic symbols ever found in manuals?
  • Are tentative regulations ever advantageous?
  • Are "diminutive" and "Lilliputian" nearly identical?
  • Is an infinitesimal titanic bulk possible?
  • Do all connubial unions eventuate felicitously?
  • Is a "gelatinous exaltation" ridiculous?
  • Are "sedate" and "hilarious" similar in meaning?
  • Is avarice sometimes exhibited by cameos?
  • Can a dog run?
  • Is water dry?
  • Can you read?
  • Do stones talk?
  • Do books eat?
  • Do cats go to school?
  • Are six more than two?
  • Is John a girl's name?
  • Are there letters in a word?
  • Is your nose on your face?
  • Can you carry water in a sieve?
  • Do soldiers wear uniforms?
  • Does it rain every morning?
  • Are newspapers made of iron?
  • Are "forward" and "backward" directions?
  • Do many people attend motion-picture theatres?
  • Do handkerchiefs frequently injure human beings?
  • Do magazines contain advertisements?
  • Are political questions often the subject of debates?
  • Are empires inclosed in envelopes?
  • Are members of the family usually regarded as guests?
  • Is genuine happiness a priceless treasure?
  • Do imbeciles usually hold responsible offices?
  • May chimneys be snipped off with scissors?
  • Is moderation a desirable virtue?
  • Are apish manners desired by a hostess?
  • Do conscientious brunettes exist?
  • Do serpents make oblong echoes?
  • Do voluntary enlistments increase the army?
  • Is hypocrisy approved by honest men?
  • Is virile behavior effeminate?
  • Do alleged facts often require verification?
  • Do pestilences ordinarily bestow great benefit?
  • Are painters ever artless individuals?
  • Do the defenders of citadels sometimes capitulate?
  • Do physicians ameliorate pathological conditions?
  • Is embezzlement a serious misdemeanor?
  • Do vagrants commonly possess immaculate cravats?
  • Are "loquacious" and "voluble" opposite in meaning?
  • May heresies arise among the laity?
  • Are piscatorial activities necessarily lucrative?
  • Do tendrils terminate in cerebral hemorrhages?
  • Does a baby cry?
  • Can a hat speak?
  • Do hens lay eggs?
  • Is a stone soft?
  • Is one more than seven?
  • Do the land and sea look just alike?
  • Are some books black?
  • Does water run up hill?
  • Are stamps used on letters?
  • Do 100 cents make a dollar?
  • Are we sure what events will happen next year?
  • Do ships sail on railroads?
  • Do stones float in the air?
  • May meat be cut with a knife?
  • Are ledges common in mountain districts?
  • Does success tend to bring pleasure?
  • Are diamonds mined in mid-ocean?
  • Is misuse of money an evil?
  • Should criminals forfeit liberty?
  • Is special information usually a disadvantage?
  • Are attempted suicides always fatal?
  • Are exalted positions held by distinguished men?
  • Does confusion favor the establishment of order?
  • Is a civil answer contrary to law?
  • Is a dilapidated garment nevertheless clothing?
  • Are textile manufacturers valueless?
  • Do thieves commit depredations?
  • Does close inspection handicap accurate report?
  • Do transparent goggles transmit light?
  • Do illiterate men read romances?
  • Is irony connected with blast furnaces?
  • Do avalanches ever descend mountains?
  • Are scythes always swung by swarthy men?
  • Do pirates accumulate booty?
  • Are intervals of repose appreciated?
  • Are intermittent sounds discontinuous?
  • Is an avocational activity ordinarily pleasurable?
  • Are pernicious pedestrians translucent?
  • Are amicable relationships disrupted by increased congeniality?
  • Are many nocturnal raids surreptitiously planned
  • Are milksops likely to perpetrate violent offenses?
  • Are "precipitancy" and "procrastination" synonymous?
  • Is snow cold?
  • Can a dog read?
  • Do houses have doors?
  • Has a horse five legs?
  • Are three more than ten?
  • Do mice love cats?
  • Does a hat belong to you?
  • Do animals have glass eyes?
  • Should fathers provide clothing for children?
  • Is it true that lead is heavy
  • Do poor men have much money?
  • Is summer colder than winter?
  • Can a horse tell time by a watch?
  • Is a city larger than a country town?
  • Does Christmas ever fall on Tuesday?
  • Do Christians often overlook faults?
  • Are difficult problems easily solved?
  • Do convicts sometimes escape from prison?
  • Should the courts secure justice for everybody?
  • Are scoundrels always intoxicated?
  • Is a guitar a kind of disease?
  • Do jugglers furnish entertainment?
  • Should we build on insecure foundations?
  • Do annual conventions take place biweekly?
  • Does persistent effort favor ultimate success?
  • Is a shrewd man necessarily admired?
  • Is manual skill advantageous?
  • Are elaborate bonnets inexpensive?
  • Are petty annoyances irritating?
  • Are false arguments valid?
  • Do you approve of ruthless massacres?
  • Do blemishes occur in complexions?
  • Is air found in a complete vacuum?
  • Do robins migrate periodically?
  • Are weird tales sometimes gruesome?
  • Do felines possess locomotor appendages?
  • Do demented individuals frequently have hallucinations?
  • Are laconic messages sometimes verbose?
  • Are perfunctory endeavors usually efficacious?
  • Would a deluge extinguish a smouldering trellis?
  • Are devastated suburbs exhilarating vistas?
  • Are "contingent" and "independent" alike in meaning?

[h/t Futility Closet]

10 Not-So-Small Facts About the Volkswagen Beetle

While Volkswagen has announced—for a second time—that it's going to cease production on the Beetle, people are still singing the praises of the quirky little car. Here are 10 not-so-small things you need to know about the German car that was once named one of the top four cars of the century.


Adolf Hitler checks out a VW Beetle
Getty Images

It’s long been said that Adolf Hitler was the man behind the Beetle, and that’s sort of true. The dictator wanted German families to be able to afford a car, so he enlisted automaker Ferdinand Porsche (yes, that Porsche) to make “the people’s car.” But the basis for the Beetle had been around since long before Hitler’s demand; the Bug was heavily influenced by Porsche's V series. Rumors that Hitler directly designed the car are probably false; though he was the one who reportedly said that the car should look like a beetle, because “You only have to observe nature to learn how best to achieve streamlining,” it’s likely that he was regurgitating something he had read in an automotive magazine. Still, one thing is for certain: Hitler himself placed the cornerstone for the Porsche factory in Wolfsburg, Germany.


Perhaps still wary of anything imported from Germany, Americans shunned the Beetle when it was introduced in the States in 1949: Only two were sold in the first year. But after that, sales grew quickly. By the 1960s, hundreds of thousands of Bugs were sold every year, topping out at 570,000 in 1970.


A pink VW Beetle

We have the public to thank for the car’s distinctive nickname. Originally known as the Volkswagen Type 1, the car’s curves and rounded top led to its later, insect-like moniker. Volkswagen must have realized they had a good thing on their hands, because they started referring to the car as the VW Beetle in the late 1960s.


The UK and the U.S. aren’t the only countries that bestowed a new name on the Volkswagen Type 1. In France, it's called Coccinellewhich means ladybug. It's Maggiolino and Fusca in Italy and Brazil, respectively, both of which mean "beetle." Mexico calls it Vocho; it's Peta (turtle) in Bolivia; and Kodok (frog) in Indonesia. 


In 1999, Advertising Age declared the car's not-so-small ad campaign to be the best campaign of the last 100 years, besting Coca-Cola, Marlboro, Nike, and McDonald’s. The quirky concept and copy—which, according to Advertising Age, “Gave advertising permission to surprise, to defy and to engage the consumer without bludgeoning him about the face and body”—was a game-changer for the entire industry.

The "Think Small" line and accompanying self-deprecating copy was written by Julian Koenig, who was also responsible for naming Earth Day and coming up with Timex’s “It takes a licking and keeps on ticking” tagline. He’s also half-responsible for daughter Sarah Koenig, whom you may know from NPR’s This American Life and Serial.


Herbie the Love Bug

Because of their distinctive aesthetic, VW Bugs have been associated with everything from the Beatles to Transformers. A few highlights:

  • The Beetle with the license plate “LMW 28IF” on the cover of The Beatles' Abbey Road album was sold at an auction for $23,000 in 1986. It is now on display at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum at the company’s headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany.
  • The Fremont Troll sculpture in Seattle, a huge statue lurking under the Aurora Bridge, clutches an actual VW Beetle. An in-progress picture shows that the car was once red. It also once contained a time capsule of Elvis memorabilia, which was stolen.
  • The Herbie the Love Bug series was a big hit for Disney in the late 1960s and early 1970s. One of the original Herbies sold for $126,500 at an auction in 2015.
  • In the original Transformers cartoon, Bumblebee transformed from a VW Bug. The car was changed to a Camaro for the live-action movies.


The so-called “blumenvasen,” a small vase that could be clipped to the dashboard, speaker grille, or windshield, was porcelain when it was originally offered. The nod to flower power became such a symbol of the car that it was incorporated into the 1998 redesign. Sadly, it didn’t make the cut for the most recent overhaul: The vase was eliminated in 2011 by marketing execs apparently seeking to make the car more male-friendly.


When the millionth VW Beetle rolled off the line in 1955, the company capped the achievement by plating the car in gold and giving it diamante accents. They also created a Bug with a wicker body in collaboration with master basket-maker Thomas Heinrich.


After WWII, the VW factory in Wolfsburg, Germany, was supposed to be handed over to the British. No British car manufacturer wanted to take responsibility for the company, though, saying that "the vehicle does not meet the fundamental technical requirement of a motor-car," "it is quite unattractive to the average buyer," and that "To build the car commercially would be a completely uneconomic enterprise." Whoops.


The last VW Bug
Getty Images

Beetle #21,529,464—the one celebrated by the mariachi band—is now at Volkswagen's AutoMuseum.


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