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Germany Gives Austria-Hungary a “Blank Check”

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The First World War was an unprecedented catastrophe that shaped our modern world. Erik Sass is covering the events of the war exactly 100 years after they happened. This is the 127th installment in the series.

July 5, 1914: Germany Gives Austria-Hungary a “Blank Check”

The “blank check” is an infamous episode in the history of the First World War; the first truly fatal error made by Germany – a promise of unconditional support for whatever action Austria-Hungary might take to punish Serbia.

In the days following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, key officials in Vienna decided the time had come to crush Serbia, long a thorn in the side of the Dual Monarchy. But Austria-Hungary still needed an official promise of support from Germany. This was the background to the “Hoyos Mission” of July 4-5, 1914, when Foreign Minister Berchtold dispatched his chief of staff, Count Alexander von Hoyos (above), to Berlin with a personal letter from Franz Josef to Kaiser Wilhelm II. The elderly emperor was unambiguous:

The attack directed against my poor nephew is the direct consequence of the agitation carried on by the Russian and Serbian Pan-Slavists whose sole aim is the weakening of the Triple Alliance and the destruction of my Empire… [I]t is no longer an affair at Sarajevo of the single bloody deed of an individual but of a well-organized conspiracy, of which the threads reach to Belgrade… [T]he continuance of this state of things constitutes a constant danger to my house and to my realm.

Franz Josef then proposed a new balance of power in the Balkans reconciling Bulgaria, Romania, Greece, and the Ottoman Empire – “But this will not be possible unless Serbia which is at present the pivot of Pan-Slavist policy is eliminated as a political factor in the Balkans.” In other words, the key to peace in the Balkans was the destruction of Serbia. An attached memorandum emphasized the Pan-Slav threat to Germany:

Russia's policy of encirclement directed against the Monarchy… has for its final aim to make it impossible for the German Empire to resist the aims of Russia or her political and economic supremacy. For these reasons those in charge of the foreign policy of Austria-Hungary are convinced that it is in the common interest of the Monarchy, as in that of Germany, to oppose energetically and in time in this phase of the Balkan crisis, the development foreseen and encouraged by Russia by a pre-concerted plan.

The letter and memo included nothing like a point-blank demand for support – Austrian diplomacy was both too proud and too delicate for that – but they left no doubt that Austria-Hungary was asking for German backing in a very risky venture that might involve war with Russia. The Austro-Hungarian ambassador, Count Szőgyény, certainly made the request crystal clear when he lunched with Wilhelm on July 5, while in a separate meeting Hoyos put the case to German undersecretary for foreign affairs Arthur Zimmerman (filling in for Foreign Secretary Jagow, on his Swiss honeymoon).

Over lunch, Wilhelm told Szőgyény he understood the need for “severe measures” against Serbia, adding, “he did not in the least doubt that [Chancellor] Bethmann von Hollweg would entirely agree with his own view” in favor of war. The German attitude was confirmed by Zimmerman, who told Hoyos that Germany “regarded immediate intervention against Serbia as the most radical and best solution of our difficulties in the Balkans.”

Wikimedia Commons [1,2,3,4]

That evening, the Kaiser met with Bethmann-Hollweg, Zimmerman, and chief of the general staff Helmuth von Moltke, and informed them of his tentative promise of support to Szőgyény, which they of course approved. Around 10 p.m. on July 5, Szőgyény telegraphed Berchtold in Vienna that they could count on Germany’s “full support,” come what may, and the next day Bethmann-Hollweg said Franz Josef could “rest assured that His Majesty will faithfully stand by Austria-Hungary, as is required by the obligations of his alliance...”

The Germans seemed remarkably relaxed after the meetings on July 5: no one thought it necessary to recall Foreign Secretary Jagow from his honeymoon, and the next day the Kaiser left for his annual summer cruise aboard the royal yacht in the Norwegian fjords while the ailing Moltke returned to his own extended vacation – a “spa cure” in Karlsbad, Bohemia.

The Germans managed to convince themselves the Russians wouldn’t back up Serbia, but this proved to be wishful thinking. Indeed, the Russians were already beginning to express unease. On July 6, Foreign Minister Sergei Sazonov warned the Austro-Hungarian charge d’affaires in St. Petersburg, Count Otto von Czernin, that it would be “dangerous” for Austria-Hungary to try to trace the Sarajevo conspiracy back to Serbia, adding that St. Petersburg would object to any excessive demands on Belgrade. But Sazonov’s warnings, like others to come, were dismissed as “bluff.”

The “blank check” of July 5 was above all an act of negligence by Germany, in part because it failed to address important details like the timing of all subsequent moves. Berlin expected Vienna to take swift action against Serbia while the Sarajevo murders were still fresh, delivering a sudden fait accompli to the Triple Entente and thus (maybe) decreasing the chances of a wider war. What they got instead were the classic Austrian traits that always drove the efficient Prussians crazy: indecision, prevarication, and delay.

It started on July 6, when chief of the general staff Conrad belatedly announced that many of the Dual Monarchy’s units were away on summer leave, including most of the Hungarian troops, who were helping bring in the early harvest. This embarrassing turn of events – the first of many in store for Austria-Hungary – meant mobilization couldn’t be ordered until around July 25 at the earliest. And the longer they waited, the more time Russia, France, and Britain would have to confer and work out a coordinated response.

See the previous installment or all entries.

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10 Badass Facts About Jason Statham
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Jason Statham is one of the preeminent action heroes of a generation—some would say he’s our last action hero. On the screen, he's been a hitman, a transporter, a con man, a veteran, and a whole host of other unsavory, but oddly endearing, tough guys. Before he stepped foot on his first movie set, though, Statham had a past life that would rival any of the colorful characters he’s brought to the screen. To celebrate his 50th birthday, we’re digging into what makes this English bruiser tick with these 10 fascinating facts about Jason Statham.

1. DIVING WAS HIS FIRST CALLING.

Before becoming a big-screen tough guy, Jason Statham exuded grace and fluidity as one of the world’s top competitive divers in the early 1990s. He spent 12 years as part of the British National Diving Squad, highlighted by competing in the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland, New Zealand.

Though he was an elite diver, Statham never qualified for the Olympics, which he admits is still a “sore point” for him. "I started too late," he has said of his diving career. "It probably wasn't my thing. I should have done a different sport."

2. HE DABBLED IN MODELING.

With his diving career over, Statham entered the world of modeling for the fashion company French Connection. If his rugged image doesn’t seem to naturally lend itself to the world of male modeling, that was exactly what the company was going for.

“We chose Jason because we wanted our model to look like a normal guy," Lilly Anderson, a spokesperson for French Connection, said in a 1995 interview with the Independent. "His look is just right for now—very masculine and not too male-modelly."

3. HE DANCED HALF-NAKED IN A COUPLE OF MUSIC VIDEOS.

A word of warning: The internet never forgets. Back in 2015, two ‘90s music videos went viral—“Comin’ On” by The Shamen and “Run to the Sun” by Erasure—and it’s not because the songs were just that good. It’s because both videos featured a half-naked, and quite oily, Jason Statham curiously dancing away in the background.

Both make liberal use of Statham’s lack of modesty, which is a far cry from the slick suits and commando gear we’d later see him sporting in The Transporter and Expendables series. So which one is your favorite? Leopard-print Speedo Statham from “Comin’ On” or his Silver Surfer look from “Run to the Sun”? And no, “both” isn’t an option. (Though “neither” is acceptable.)

4. GUY RITCHIE CAST HIM BECAUSE HE WAS SELLING KNOCKOFF JEWELRY AND PERFUME ON THE STREET.

After years of high dives, modeling, and pelvic gyrations, Statham was still looking to make a real living in the late ‘90s. His next odd job? Selling knockoff perfume and jewelry on London street corners. Luckily, that type of real-world hoodlum was exactly what director Guy Ritchie needed for 1998's Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.

Ritchie was introduced to Statham through his modeling gig at French Connection and saw the potential this real-world con man had for the movie. He wrote the role of Bacon specifically for Statham, which would end up being the movie that propelled him to Hollywood stardom.

5. JOHN CARPENTER WANTED HIM AS THE LEAD IN GHOSTS OF MARS.

Though Statham gained acclaim for his role in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, he wasn’t quite a leading man yet. Director John Carpenter wanted to change that by casting him as James “Desolation” Williams, the main character in Ghosts of Mars.

While Carpenter was convinced that Statham was ready for the role, the producers weren’t. They pushed the director to cast someone with more name value, eventually settling on Ice Cube. Statham stayed in the movie in a smaller role as Sgt. Jericho Butler.

6. HE REGULARLY DOES HIS OWN STUNTS.

Jason Statham in Wild Card (2015).
Lionsgate

In addition to being in impeccable shape, Statham also takes pride in doing many of his own stunts in his movies, from hand-to-hand combat to dangling from a helicopter 3000 feet above downtown Los Angeles. In fact, he’s almost dogmatic in his belief that actors should be doing their own stunts.

“I'm inspired by the people who could do their own work,” the actor said. “Bruce Lee never had stunt doubles and fight doubles, or Jackie Chan or Jet Li. I've been in action movies where there is a face replacement and I'm fighting with a double, and it's embarrassing.”

The worst offenders? Superhero movies. And Statham isn't shy about sharing his thoughts on those:

"You slip on a cape and you put on the tights and you become a superhero? They're not doing anything! They're just sitting in their trailer. It's absolutely, 100 percent created by stunt doubles and green screen. How can I get excited about that?"

7. FILMING EXPENDABLES 3 ALMOST KILLED HIM.

For all the authenticity that Statham likes to bring to the screen by doing his own stunts, sometimes things don’t go according to plan. While filming an action scene for Expendables 3, the brakes failed on a three-ton stunt truck Statham was driving, sending it off a cliff and into the Black Sea.

If you've ever wondered if the real Statham was anything like the movie version, his underwater escape from a mammoth truck should answer that.

"It's the closest I've ever been to drowning,” Statham said on Today. “I've done a lot of scuba diving; I've done a lot of free diving ... No matter how much of that you've done, it doesn't teach you to breathe underwater ... I came very close to drowning. It was a very harrowing experience."

8. HE PRACTICES A RANGE OF MARTIAL ARTS.

Statham’s fitness routine is about more than just weights and core work. The actor is also involved in a variety of different fighting disciplines like boxing, judo, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu. Out of everything he does to stay in shape, it’s the martial arts that have the been most helpful for Statham’s onscreen presence. “That’s what I have to give most of my time to these days: training for what I have to do in terms of providing action in an authentic manner," he told Men's Health

Statham is not alone in his passion for martial arts; director Guy Ritchie is also a black belt in jiu-jitsu and a brown belt in karate. When Men’s Health asked Statham if the two ever sparred, he responded, “I remember when we started out, we’d go on a press tour for Lock, Stock… and we’d be moving all the furniture out of the way in the hotel room, trying to choke each other out.”

After all, what are collaborators for?

9. HE’S WELL AWARE SOME OF HIS MOVIES HAVE BEEN DUDS.

When asked by Esquire if he ever watched one of his movies during the premiere and thought "Oh, no ...," his response was a very self-aware: "Yeah, I think I've said that more often than not. Yeah."

He went on to rattle off his Guy Ritchie movies, The Bank Job, Transporter 1 and 2 (not 3), and Crank as being among his favorite films. As for the others, the actor joked, “And the rest is sh*t."

He clarified that remark as a joke and said, “I mean, you do a lot of films. You're always aiming for something and trying to push yourself to do something good.”

He then compared his work to the inner workings of a watch, saying, “A movie, it's like a very complicated timepiece. There's a lot of wheels in a watch. And some of those wheels, if they don't turn right, then, you know, the watch ain't gonna tell the time."

10. HIS MOVIES HAVE MADE MORE THAN $1.5 BILLION IN THE U.S. ALONE.

Statham's films may have a tough time impressing critics, but audiences and studio executives can’t get enough. Taken as a whole, Statham’s filmography has raked in just a touch more than $1.5 billion in the United States, with the worldwide total standing at $5.1 billion.

A lot of this is due to his more recent entry into the Fast and Furious franchise, but he’s also had seven movies cross the $100 million mark worldwide outside of that series. This isn’t an accident; Statham knows exactly what type of movie keeps the lights on, as he explained in an interview with The Guardian.

“So if you've got a story about a depressed doctor whose estranged wife doesn't wanna be with him no more, and you put me in it, people aren't gonna put money on the table. Whereas if you go, 'All he does is get in the car, hit someone on the head, shoot someone in the f*cking feet,' then, yep, they'll give you $20 million. You can't fault these people for wanting to make money.”

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The 5 Best Sci-Fi Movies on Netflix Right Now
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Nicolas Cage stars in Knowing (2009).
Vince Valitutti/Summit Entertainment

If you’re in the mood for some speculative fiction and your pile of Arthur C. Clarke books has been exhausted, you could do worse than to tune in to Netflix. The streaming service is constantly acquiring new films in the sci-fi and fantasy genres that should satisfy most fans of alternative futures. Here are five of the best sci-fi movies on Netflix right now.

1. THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)

If any film stands as a proper influence on The Twilight Zone and its use of science-fiction and fantasy to mask political and civil issues, it’s The Day the Earth Stood Still, a Cold War-era parable about an alien named Klaatu who arrives on Earth carrying a warning about warfare. Naturally, all humans want to do is shoot him.

2. METROPOLIS (1927)

Inspiring everything from Star Wars to Lady Gaga, Fritz Lang’s silent epic about a revolt among the oppressed people who help power an upper-class city remains just as visually impressive today as it did nearly 100 years ago.

3. TROLL HUNTER (2010)

A Norwegian fairy tale with bite, Troll Hunter follows college-aged filmmakers who convince a bear trapper to take them along on his exploits. But the trapper fails to disclose one crucial detail: He hunts towering, aggressive trolls.

4. KNOWING (2009)

The histrionics of Nicolas Cage: You either like them or you don’t. Knowing is Cage at half-caf: While he enjoys a few meltdown scenes, he’s largely reserved here as an astrophysics professor who stumbles onto information that could herald the end of the world.

5. THE HOST (2006)

A slow-burn monster movie from South Korea, The Host has plenty of tense scenes coupled with a message about environmental action: The river-dwelling beast who stalks a waterfront town is the product of chemical dumping.  

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