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.

6 Superheroes Getting Their Own Movies and TV Shows

iStock
iStock

by Mason Segall

Superheroes are all the rage right now and for the foreseeable future. The Marvel Cinematic Universe has redefined what blockbuster cinema means in the 21st century, aided in no small part by its propensity for multi-media enfranchisement.

Though their business model has been copied unsuccessfully (looking at you DCEU), many companies are looking to try their hand at the same lucrative enterprise by adopting a number of superheroes for visual media. Here are just a few of the ones that are currently in development or are upcoming.

1. INVINCIBLE

One of the hallmarks of the Image Comics label, fans have been crying for Invincible to leap off the page for years. Following a young superhero as he gradually sheds his naive innocence to overcome the increasingly large obstacles in his life, Invincible is being converted into an eight-episode Amazon animated series, making it the first partnership between Amazon and the comic's creator Robert Kirkman, who also penned the incredibly popular The Walking Dead.

2. AQUAMAN

Aquaman has always been derided as something of a novelty among superheroes. How is someone who talks to fish considered on the same tier as Superman and Wonder Woman? But then Jason Momoa was cast in the role for Justice League, and the world had to start taking him seriously as a character. Though his Justice League role wasn't highly regarded, there's still time for Aquaman director James Wan to turn things around for the character's standalone film.

3. THE BOYS

While not technically superheroes themselves, the Boys do have a lot to do with them, so they technically count for the purposes of this list. In a world where heroes are more akin to super-power celebrities than role models, the Boys are an international black ops team of super humans tasked with policing the superhero community, enforcing their own set of rules by any means necessary.

Made by the late great Garth Ennis, The Boys will be coming to Amazon in 2019 and will be produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, the same team that saw Ennis's Preacher comic adapted to television for AMC.

4. CAPTAIN MARVEL

​As the next major addition to the MCU, Captain Marvel will be the latest of Marvel's more niche comic characters to be introduced to a mainstream audience. Taking place in the 1990s, her film will see ​Brie Larson in the title role as she comes to terms with both her human and alien backgrounds, eventually becoming the most powerful force yet seen in the MCU.

5. SWAMP-THING

​​Swamp-Thing is universally regarded, among fans anyway, as one of the most underrated DC characters. As an elemental guardian, Swamp-Thing channels and protects the Green, the very force of nature itself, to fight crime and preserve the environment. He'll be getting his own limited series on DC's upcoming streaming service where James Wan, director of the upcoming Aquaman, has reportedly taken a deep interest in production.

6. SHAZAM

One of the oldest and least appreciated superheroes, ​Shazam​ (previously Captain Marvel) has the powers of legendary gods and heroes and the body of a physically perfect adult, but the mind of a little boy more interested in having fun with his magically enhanced body than saving the world. He'll be played by Zachary Levi in an upcoming Shazam! film, directed by David F. Sandberg.

Game of Thrones Fans Can Visit Westeros in Northern Ireland With New Locations Tour

HBO
HBO

by Natalie Zamora

​The ​final season of Game of Thrones is nearly upon us, so die-hard fans might as well go all out to commemorate it. No, we don't mean get GoT tattoos like ​the cast is doing (unless you really want to); we were thinking more along the lines of a visit to Westeros.

HBO and Tourism Northern Ireland have teamed up to open some of the hit show's most recognizable locations in and around Belfast to the public as tourist attractions, letting fans explore some of the staple settings, and featuring exhibitions of props, costumes, weapons, and other production materials used on set.

HBO and Tourism Northern Ireland are launching a 'Game of Thrones' tour
Tourism Northern Ireland

“The Game of Thrones Legacy attractions will be on a scale and scope bigger than anything the public has ever seen," HBO ​said in a statement. “Each site will feature not only the breathtaking sets, but will also exhibit displays of costumes, props, weapons, set decorations, art files, models, and other production materials.”

Possible sites to be included are Winterfell, the Night's Watch headquarters, Castle Black, and King's Landing.

​Though GoT is coming to an end, it's obvious that there's ​much more to be explored in Westeros (even George RR Martin ​said so at the Emmys). Bring on more tours—and more TV shows!

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