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French Finalize War Plan with Fatal Flaws

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Getty Images

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 115th installment in the series.

May 1, 1914: French Finalize War Plan with Fatal Flaws

In April 1913, the chief of the French general staff, Joseph Joffre, presented the basic elements of his plan for war with Germany to the Supreme War Council. In its broad outlines, Plan XVII (so-called because it was the seventeenth war plan adopted by the council) envisaged a vigorous offensive by four French armies ranged along the Franco-German frontier, with one army held in reserve for follow-up attacks. The Supreme War Council approved Plan XVII shortly thereafter, and over the next year Joffre fleshed it out with general directives for each of the five armies. On May 1, 1914, the designated commanders received their final orders under Plan XVII.

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Furthest south, the French First Army under General Auguste Dubail would strike east from an area straddling the headwaters of the Moselle River, near Epinal, into southern Alsace, one of the “lost provinces” annexed by Germany following its victory over France in 1871. Meanwhile, the Second Army under Noël Édouard de Castelnau, starting around Nancy, would move northeast into Lorraine, the other “lost province,” in the general direction of Sarrebrücke. This thrust would be supported by the Third Army under Pierre Ruffey, heading due east from Verdun towards Metz. Meanwhile the Fourth Army under Fernand de Langle de Cary would be held in reserve west of St. Mihiel as a “masse de manoeuvre,” to be thrown into battle to exploit openings created by the advance of the Second and Third Armies, as Joffre saw fit. Finally the Fifth Army, under General Charles Lanrezac, was left alone in the north to face whatever German forces might advance through Belgium, to be followed by an advance into Luxembourg and maybe even Germany itself.


As this frequently ambiguous wording suggests, Plan XVII was not a detailed plan of campaign, but rather a general scheme for mobilization and concentration that also contemplated some basic opening moves. Joffre, who fully realized that war is unpredictable, intended Plan XVII to be flexible, allowing improvisation to respond to the enemy’s movements. But even in outline this strategy had fatal flaws.

First of all, Joffre—like most other European generals of his day—believed that bold offensives were the key to victory, enshrining relentless all-out attack (offensive à outrance) as a sacred principle; according to this view, troops could overcome any obstacle as long as they were sufficiently imbued with intangible qualities of spirit and will. Thus Plan XVII opened, “Whatever the circumstance, it is the Commander-in-Chief’s intention to advance with all forces united to the attack of the German armies,” and the French infantry regulations adopted on April 20, 1914 declared that French troops would achieve the best results by rushing the enemy and relying on their bayonets for hand-to-hand combat, adding, “the French Army has returned to its old traditions, and no longer recognizes any law in the conduct of operations but that of the offensive.” But the French, along with the rest of Europe, were about to learn that their “law” held no sway on the modern battlefield, where machine guns, barbed wire, rapid-fire rifles, and heavy artillery made mincemeat of men’s valor.

Even worse, Plan XVII assumed that any German attack through Belgium would be confined to the country’s southeast corner, advancing on Sedan in northern France, the scene of the decisive Prussian victory in 1870. This assumption was questioned by Joseph Gallieni, the original commander of the Fifth Army designated to face the Germans in Belgium, who correctly predicted that their invasion would reach much further north and west, passing by Namur and Dinant, allowing them to threaten French forces with a huge envelopment from behind; however Joffre refused to shift the French armies west to face the threat, and Gallieni eventually resigned in protest. Tellingly, Joffre’s first choice to replace Gallieni, General Alexis Hargon, refused to command the Fifth Army on the same grounds.

Charles Lanrezac, who ended up accepting the command, was no more confident in Plan XVII’s strategy of concentration, echoing Gallieni’s suggestion that Fifth Army and at least some other French forces should be deployed further west along the Belgian border to counter a German invasion in depth. Lanrezac also criticized the decision to send Fifth Army into southeast Belgium, noting in a letter to Joffre, “Clearly, once the Fifth Army is committed to an offensive in the direction of Neufchateau it will be unable to parry a German offensive further north.” 

Considering his earlier obstinacy towards Gallieni and Hargon, it’s highly unlikely that Joffre would have given Lanrezac’s concerns any hearing, even in peacetime. But by the time he received Lanrezac’s letter, on August 1, 1914, war was upon them and it was too late for revisions anyway. In the weeks that followed Joffre’s stubborn refusal to face the facts—especially evidence of a massive German invasion through northern and central Belgium—would bring France to the brink of disaster.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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Everything That’s Leaving Netflix in April
Warner Bros.
Warner Bros.

If you’ve been desperately trying to plan a Batman movie marathon with your friends, you’d better make it happen quickly. As of April 1, Netflix will no longer be streaming Tim Burton’s stylish 1989 reimagining of the Caped Crusader. (They’ll be eliminating Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin, too—though you may not care as much about those latter two efforts.) In order to make room for the dozens of new movies, TV series, and specials making their way to Netflix in April, here’s everything that’s leaving the streaming giant’s library.


30 Days of Night

88 Minutes

Ace Ventura: Pet Detective

Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls

American Pie

American Pie 2

Apollo 13


Batman & Robin

Batman Forever

Batman Returns


Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Cool Runnings

Death Sentence

Dolphin Tale

Eagle vs. Shark

John Mulaney: New in Town

Never Let Me Go

Set Up

Small Soldiers

The Dukes of Hazzard

The Men Who Stare at Goats

The Pursuit of Happyness

The Shawshank Redemption

The Whole Nine Yards

Wild Wild West


Starry Eyes


The Hallow

The Nightingale


The Emperor’s New Clothes


Happy Tree Friends

Leap Year


Son of God


Z Storm


The Exorcism of Molly Hartley


The Prestige


Exit Through the Gift Shop


Kung Fu Panda 3


Begin Again

12 Outrageous The Office Fan Theories

Mind-bending shows like Lost and Westworld bring out the conspiracy theorist in all of us. But even less cerebral shows have a way of inspiring some absolutely bonkers ideas. The Office was a sitcom that ran on NBC for eight years. But the way some of its fans talk on Reddit, you’d think it was a piece of science fiction. Here are 12 of the wildest theories about Andy’s “alcohorse,” radon poisoning, the Loch Ness Monster, and beyond.


One of the most enduring fan theories is that Michael Scott, noted idiot and jerk, is actually a brilliant businessman. A lot of people have suggested that Michael is putting on an act the whole time, making clients and bosses underestimate him so that he can manipulate them into giving him what he wants. Reddit points to the season two episode “The Client” as one example; this is the episode where Jan Levinson and Michael have a very important meeting, which Michael moves from the Radisson to Chili’s. He’s completely blowing it from Jan’s perspective, coming off as an unprofessional clown to their VIP client (Tim Meadows), but Michael’s approach loosens the guy up, allowing him to swiftly close the deal. There are a few other examples of Michael’s possible genius. Or he could just be a lucky dummy.


From season one, fans were rooting for Jim Halpert to win over Pam Beesly and get out of the paper business. But one fan theory suggests Dunder Mifflin’s slacker salesman manipulated us all. Reddit user Yahnster thinks Jim actually wrote the show, which is why he comes off as the hero and the coworkers he doesn’t like (i.e. Dwight Schrute) seem so annoying. Meanwhile his boss Michael, who never punishes Jim for his pranks or for being plain lazy, is written as a buffoon.


Kevin Malone isn’t the sharpest employee at Dunder Mifflin. He shreds his own credit cards by accident and can’t transfer a call to save his life. In one especially mean prank, Dwight convinces new HR exec Holly Flax that Kevin is mentally challenged. Like the Michael Scott theory, some fans believe Kevin was just pretending to be dumb—in this case, so that no one would notice he was embezzling money from the company. It would explain how he was able to buy a bar, and why he makes a weird comment about insider trading. (“I had Martin explain to me three times what he got arrested for, because it sounds an awful lot like what I do here every day.”) Check out the video above for even more evidence.


Anyone who has watched all nine seasons of The Office has probably noticed that the characters get a little bit stranger as the series goes along. There’s a theory that explains this—and it’s kind of dark! There’s a running joke on the show that the office is due for radon testing. But because Toby Flenderson is always the one bringing it up, it’s dismissed. According to one theory, Toby was right—and the entire staff has slowly been developing brain cancer. Eventually, the illness begins to alter their personalities, causing them to act in demented and strange ways. It’s also why Michael is way more mature in the series finale. Moving to Colorado with Holly did wonders for his radon-poisoned brain. Once he was out of the toxic office, he could finally grow up.


Reddit has piggybacked off the radon theory to explain Andy Bernard’s behavior, which is probably the most exaggerated of the bunch. While Andy could be suffering from radon poisoning, one theory suggests his brain damage is more directly the result of a fateful drink. In the season seven episode “Viewing Party,” Andy is having a hard time dealing with his ex Erin Hannon’s new relationship with Gabe Lewis. He’s processing all this while he’s in Gabe’s room, where he finds a mysterious container. Temp Ryan Howard tells him it’s full of powdered seahorse, which gives people superhuman strength. Andy dumps it in his wine and downs it all. The combination of alcohol and, uh, seahorse messes Andy up permanently. If this theory weren’t crazy enough, it also comes with a ridiculous name: “alcohorse.”


Fans might like the Michael theory, but they love the idea that HR’s milquetoast Toby is the Scranton Strangler. Seriously, there are entire videos laying out the claims (see one above). Could Toby actually be the notorious criminal who dominates the local news in later seasons? Fans have built up quite the case. For starters, he wasn’t at work when everyone watched the police chase and apprehend the Scranton Strangler. He didn’t even show up for the Glee party later that day! Then he makes it onto the jury, where he can help put the other guy behind bars. He’s pretty eager to share insider info from the courtroom with his coworkers—eager because of the attention, or because he’s getting away with murder? Later on, after the Strangler is found guilty, he tells everyone he’s not so sure they convicted the right guy. Did his guilty conscience overwhelm him? Or is Toby just a normal dude who takes jury duty seriously? You decide.


No really, hear this one out: A bunch of people sincerely believe that the Scranton office is hell—but that it didn’t become a hellscape until after one key episode. “Stress Relief” is a two-parter from season five. In the first part, Stanley has a heart attack in the middle of a safety drill. He survives, and soon returns to work. But what if Stanley really died that day? The theory goes that Stanley’s heart attack kills him and he’s sent straight to hell. (He did have all those affairs, after all.) Stanley hated his work more than anyone, so for him, hell is the office. But because this is hell, all his coworkers are exaggerated versions of themselves: more annoying and more cartoonish.


It’s impossible to forgot where Bob Vance works, because he repeats the name of his business (Vance Refrigeration) every time he introduces himself. But is Bob an awkward hype man, or a savvier businessman than we all suspected? One popular theory says that Bob isn’t selling his services to the people he meets onscreen, but to the people watching the documentary. It’s his way of scoring free ads, even if he does seem a little strange to Phyllis’s coworkers.


Rainn Wilson in 'The Office'

Dwight Schrute frequently struggles to separate fiction from reality. Here’s a quick list of examples, as documented by TimmestTim: He thinks he can raise and lower his cholesterol at will; he thinks Jim might be turning into a vampire and that his neighbor’s dog is a werewolf; he can’t tell the difference between a hero and a superhero or a Benjamin Franklin impersonator and the actual Benjamin Franklin. TimmestTim posits that Dwight has this disconnect because he wasn't allowed to watch movies growing up. Once he got older, and got very into fantasy and sci-fi (i.e. Battlestar Galactica), his brain couldn’t quite separate what he saw on the screen from real life. Since he had no exposure during his formative years, the distinction was harder, which is why he has no problem believing Jim is a creature of the night.


Dunder Mifflin is never the most financially stable company. Even before Sabre buys it out, Michael’s bosses are constantly warning him about layoffs or branch shutdowns—and begging him to stop spending large amounts of money on holiday parties. Based on the wider company problems and Michael’s frequent mistakes, the Scranton branch should’ve been shuttered during the first episode. So how does it survive for so long? One Reddit user theorizes that the camera crew kept them in business. Sensing that the office antics would make for great television, the crew bought up Dunder Mifflin paper so they could keep filming, and eventually make their money back on a TV show deal. Considering the damage Michael does to the warehouse alone, it must have been a lot of paper.


There’s a pretty convincing case that The Office is happening at the same time as Parks and Recreation and Dexter, and it all comes down to office supplies. In season six, a printer company called Sabre buys out Dunder Mifflin. A few Sabre employees became recurring characters, like Jo Bennet (Kathy Bates) and Gabe Lewis (Zach Woods), and the Scranton office suddenly has to drink out of metal water bottles, as per company policy. Otherwise, not much changes. But Sabre is important, because its products have appeared on other shows. Eagle-eyed viewers have spotted Sabre printers on Parks and Recreation and even Dexter. But some people think the connections run deeper. (Here’s a lengthier case for crossover involving Creed and a Parks and Rec cult.)


Creed, the strangest man at Dunder Mifflin, is the subject of many theories. But by far the best one is that he’s trying to catch Nessie. In “The Seminar,” Creed gives a speech about the Loch Ness Monster (which you can watch above), where he describes the creature and mentions the totally fake reward for its capture: all the riches in Scotland. So he’s clearly fixated on this folklore, but LaxBro316 pieced it together with another Creed non sequitur to explain his ultimate goal. “If I can’t scuba, then what’s this all been about?” he asks. “What am I working toward?” It’s unclear if Creed ever found Nessie, but we hope he’s enjoying all the riches of Scotland.


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