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German Newspapers Beat the War Drums

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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 August, 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 106th installment in the series. 

March 2, 1914: German Newspapers Beat the War Drums

“Two years ago there was hesitation, but now it is said openly even in official military journals that Russia is arming itself for a war against Germany,” the Kölnische Zeitung (Cologne Gazette) warned its readers in a hair-raising article, “Russia and Germany,” published on March 2, 1914. The inflammatory article sparked alarm across Europe, fueling fears in Russia, France, and Britain that the German government was preparing its public for war.

There was reason for fear: Many European newspapers were semiofficial mouthpieces, and it was widely known that the Kölnische Zeitung was often “inspired” by German officials, who either wrote articles under pseudonyms or provided sensitive information to publicists and journalists. In this case the article was supposedly written by the German military attaché in St. Petersburg, Oberleutnant Richard Ulrich, or perhaps a pan-German publicist with access to Ulrich.

Whoever wrote it, the article painted a terrifying picture of Russian military development, apparently on track to achieve superiority over Germany in the next few years thanks to the Great Military Program, expanding Russian land forces, artillery, and railroads to speed mobilization. According to the author, “the purely geographical deployment of these arms points to the western border, thus toward Germany.” The article also condemned anti-German agitation in Russia’s pan-Slav press and complained of Russian ingratitude for Germany’s efforts to restrain its ally Austria-Hungary during the recent Balkan crises. Summing up, the author warned that Germany had to prepare herself for conflict in the not-too-distant future, as Russia would be ready to attack in the fall of 1917.

Vast and backward, Russia was already a bogeyman across the German political spectrum. German liberals and socialists deplored Russia’s reactionary Tsarist regime, while the conservative aristocrats who ran the Second Reich feared Russian territorial designs in German East Prussia and the northeastern provinces of Austria-Hungary, where Slavs predominated. Many educated Germans also embraced social Darwinist views that held Germans superior to Slavs and forecast an impending “racial struggle” between them. In strategic terms the chief of the general staff, Helmut von Moltke, was concerned that Russian efforts to accelerate mobilization would upset the Schlieffen Plan, which allotted six weeks to deal with France on the assumption Russian forces would take at least that long to get ready.

Embarrassed by the controversy resulting from the article, the Imperial Government disavowed any connection with the Kölnische Zeitung—but archival evidence confirms that this was indeed the strategic outlook in the top echelons of the German government. When the German ambassador to St. Petersburg, Count Friedrich Pourtalès, wrote a report arguing the situation wasn’t as dire as the article suggested, Kaiser Wilhelm II scribbled in the margins, “then you are mistaken,” adding, “According to all my reports, I as a military man harbor not the slightest doubt that Russia is systematically preparing for war against us; and I direct my policy accordingly.”

Meanwhile a number of German newspapers, all sympathetic to the military, amplified the message with warnings of their own. On February 24, 1914, the Berliner Post called for a preemptive strike to break through the Triple Entente’s encirclement before it was too late: “At the moment the state of things is favorable for us. France is not yet ready for war. England has internal and colonial difficulties, and Russia recoils from the conflict because she fears revolution at home. Ought we to wait until our adversaries are ready?” Instead Germany should “prepare for the inevitable war with energy and foresight” and then “begin it under the most favorable conditions.” In early March another newspaper, Die Post, echoed the call for a preemptive war, and the usually moderate Berliner Tageblatt asserted “we wish to keep the peace as long as possible with our great neighbor, but that is no reason to why we should continue to yield before his arrogant pretensions.” Finally, on March 14, the ultranationalist Alldeutsche Blätter warned its readers: “We maintain, today more than ever, that Germany and Austria-Hungary, even with the most honorable desire for peace, can not avoid war with their eastern and western neighbors; that a frightful, decisive struggle will be forced upon them.”

Some historians have contended that European newspapers helped push the continent into war by pressuring their respective governments to take aggressive stances, but it was more likely the other way around, as governments used newspapers to whip up public support for confrontational policies. That’s certainly how it looked to Eyre Crowe, a veteran British diplomat, who wrote on March 16, 1914: “No German government, nor the Emperor, will be driven into war by popular clamour. On the contrary, the necessary popular clamour will be engineered by the German government if it wishes to go to war. Public opinion alone is of no account whatever.”

The Triple Entente were in no mood to be bullied: on March 12, 1914, Russian War Minister Sukhomlinov penned an anonymous response in the Birzhevye Vedmosti, a Russian financial newspaper, stating that Russia wanted peace—but was prepared for war. And the London Times opined: “If something were still necessary to pull the Triple Entente closer together, or to strengthen the decision of the French masses to maintain their three-years’ compulsory army service, nothing could be so effective as the articles that have been allowed to appear in the German press.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Pop Culture
Fumbled: The Story of the United States Football League
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There were supposed to be 44 players marching to the field when the visiting Los Angeles Express played their final regular season game against the Orlando Renegades in June 1985.

Thirty-six of them showed up. The team couldn’t afford more.

“We didn’t even have money for tape,” Express quarterback Steve Young said in 1986. “Or ice.” The squad was so poor that Young played fullback during the game. They only had one, and he was injured.

Other teams had ridden school buses to practice, driven three hours for “home games,” or shared dressing room space with the local rodeo. In August 1986, the cash-strapped United States Football League called off the coming season. The league itself would soon vaporize entirely after gambling its future on an antitrust lawsuit against the National Football League. The USFL argued the NFL was monopolizing television time; the NFL countered that the USFL—once seen as a promising upstart—was being victimized by its own reckless expansion and the wild spending of team owners like Donald Trump.

They were both right.

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Spring football. That was David Dixon’s pitch. The New Orleans businessman and football advocate—he helped get the Saints in his state—was a fan of college ball and noticed that spring scrimmages at Tulane University led to a little more excitement in the air. With a fiscally responsible salary cap in place and a 12-team roster, he figured his idea could be profitable. Market research agreed: a hired broadcast research firm asserted 76 percent of fans would watch what Dixon had planned.

He had no intention of grappling with the NFL for viewers. That league’s season aired from September through January, leaving a football drought March through July. And in 1982, a players’ strike led to a shortened NFL season, making the idea of an alternative even more appealing to networks. Along with investors for each team region, Dixon got ABC and the recently-formed ESPN signed to broadcast deals worth a combined $35 million over two years.

When the Chicago Blitz faced the Washington Federals on the USFL’s opening day March 6, 1983, over 39,000 fans braved rain at RFK Stadium in Washington to see it. The Federals lost 28-7, foreshadowing their overall performance as one of the league’s worst. Owner Berl Bernhard would later complain the team played like “untrained gerbils.”

Anything more coordinated might have been too expensive. The USFL had instituted a strict $1.8 million salary cap that first year to avoid franchise overspending, but there were allowances made so each team could grab one or two standout rookies. In 1983, the big acquisition was Heisman Trophy winner Herschel Walker, who opted out of his senior year at Georgia to turn pro. Walker signed with the New Jersey Generals in a three-year, $5 million deal.

Jim Kelly and Steve Young followed. Stan White left the Detroit Lions. Marcus Dupree left college. The rosters were built up from scratch using NFL cast-offs or prospects from nearby colleges, where teams had rights to “territorial” drafts.

To draw a line in the sand, the USFL had advertising play up the differences between the NFL’s product and their own. Their slogan, “When Football Was Fun,” was a swipe at the NFL’s increasingly draconian rules regarding players having any personality. They also advised teams to run a series of marketable halftime attractions. The Denver Gold once offered a money-back guarantee for attendees who weren’t satisfied. During one Houston Gamblers game, boxer George Foreman officiated a wedding. Cars were given away at Tampa Bay Bandits games. The NFL, the upstart argued, stood for the No Fun League.

For a while, it appeared to be working. The Panthers, which had invaded the city occupied by the Detroit Lions, averaged 60,000 fans per game, higher than their NFL counterparts. ABC was pleased with steady ratings. The league was still conservative in their spending.

That would change—many would argue for the worse—with the arrival of Donald Trump.

Despite Walker’s abilities on the field, his New Jersey Generals ended the inaugural 1983 season at 6-12, one of the worst records in the league. The excitement having worn off, owner J. Walter Duncan decided to sell the team to real estate investor Trump for a reported $5-9 million.

A fixture of New York media who was putting the finishing touches on Trump Tower, Trump introduced two extremes to the USFL. His presence gave the league far more press attention than it had ever received, but his bombastic approach to business guaranteed he wouldn’t be satisfied with an informal salary cap. Trump spent and spent some more, recruiting players to improve the Generals. Another Heisman winner, quarterback Doug Flutie, was signed to a five-year, $7 million contract, the largest in pro football at the time. Trump even pursued Lawrence Taylor, then a player for the New York Giants, who signed a contract saying that, after his Giants contract expired, he’d join Trump’s team. The Giants wound up buying out the Taylor/Trump contract for $750,000 and quadrupled Taylor’s salary, and Trump wound up with pages of publicity.

Trump’s approach was effective: the Generals improved to 14-4 in their sophomore season. But it also had a domino effect. In order to compete with the elevated bar of talent, other team owners began spending more, too. In a race to defray costs, the USFL approved six expansion teams that paid a buy-in of $6 million each to the league.

It did little to patch the seams. Teams were so cash-strapped that simple amenities became luxuries. The Michigan Panthers dined on burnt spaghetti and took yellow school buses to training camp; players would race to cash checks knowing the last in line stood a chance of having one bounce. When losses became too great, teams began to merge with one another: The Washington Federals became the Orlando Renegades. By the 1985 season, the USFL was down to 14 teams. And because the ABC contract required the league to have teams in certain top TV markets, ABC started withholding checks.

Trump was unmoved. Since taking over the Generals, he had been petitioning behind the scenes for the other owners to pursue a shift to a fall season, where they would compete with the NFL head on. A few owners countered that fans had already voiced their preference for a spring schedule. Some thought it would be tantamount to league suicide.

Trump continued to push. By the end of the 1984 season, he had swayed opinion enough for the USFL to plan on one final spring block in 1985 before making the move to fall in 1986.

In order to make that transition, they would have to win a massive lawsuit against the NFL.

In the mid-1980s, three major networks meant that three major broadcast contracts would be up for grabs—and the NFL owned all three. To Trump and the USFL, this constituted a monopoly. They filed suit in October 1984. By the time it went to trial in May 1986, the league had shrunk from 18 teams to 14, hadn’t hosted a game since July 1985, kept only threadbare rosters, and was losing what existing television deals it had by migrating to smaller markets (a major part of the NFL’s case was that the real reason for the lawsuit, and the moves to smaller markets, was to make the league an attractive takeover prospect for the NFL). The ruling—which could have forced the NFL to drop one of the three network deals—would effectively become the deciding factor of whether the USFL would continue operations.

They came close. A New York jury deliberated for 31 hours over five days. After the verdict, jurors told press that half believed the NFL was guilty of being a monopoly and were prepared to offer the USFL up to $300 million in damages; the other half thought the USFL had been crippled by its own irresponsible expansion efforts. Neither side would budge.

To avoid a hung jury, it was decided they would find in favor of the USFL but only award damages in the amount of $1. One juror told the Los Angeles Times that she thought it would be an indication for the judge to calculate proper damages.

He didn’t. The USFL was awarded treble damages for $3 in total, an amount that grew slightly with interest after time for appeal. The NFL sent them a payment of $3.76. (Less famously, the NFL was also ordered to pay $5.5 million in legal fees.)

Rudy Shiffer, vice-president of the Memphis Showboats, summed up the USFL's fate shortly after the ruling was handed down. “We’re dead,” he said.

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entertainment
The Time Douglas Adams Met Jim Henson
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On September 13, 1983, Jim Henson and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams had dinner for the first time. Henson, who was born on this day in 1936, noted the event in his "Red Book" journal, in characteristic short-form style: "Dinner with Douglas Adams – 1st met." Over the next few years the men discussed how they might work together—they shared interests in technology, entertainment, and education, and ended up collaborating on several projects (including a Labyrinth video game). They also came up with the idea for a "Muppet Institute of Technology" project, a computer literacy TV special that was never produced. Henson historians described the project as follows:

Adams had been working with the Henson team that year on the Muppet Institute of Technology project. Collaborating with Digital Productions (the computer animation people), Chris Cerf, Jon Stone, Joe Bailey, Mark Salzman and Douglas Adams, Jim’s goal was to raise awareness about the potential for personal computer use and dispel fears about their complexity. In a one-hour television special, the familiar Muppets would (according to the pitch material), “spark the public’s interest in computing,” in an entertaining fashion, highlighting all sorts of hardware and software being used in special effects, digital animation, and robotics. Viewers would get a tour of the fictional institute – a series of computer-generated rooms manipulated by the dean, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew, and stumble on various characters taking advantage of computers’ capabilities. Fozzie, for example, would be hard at work in the “Department of Artificial Stupidity,” proving that computers are only as funny as the bears that program them. Hinting at what would come in The Jim Henson Hour, viewers, “…might even see Jim Henson himself using an input device called a ‘Waldo’ to manipulate a digitally-controlled puppet.”

While the show was never produced, the development process gave Jim and Douglas Adams a chance to get to know each other and explore a shared passion. It seems fitting that when production started on the 2005 film of Adams’s classic Hitchhiker’s Guide, Jim Henson’s Creature Shop would create animatronic creatures like the slovenly Vogons, the Babel Fish, and Marvin the robot, perhaps a relative of the robot designed by Michael Frith for the MIT project.

You can read a bit on the project more from Muppet Wiki, largely based on the same article.

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