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.

New Jersey's Anthony Bourdain Food Trail Has Opened

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

Before Anthony Bourdain was a world-famous chef, author, or food and travel documentarian, he was just another kid growing up in New Jersey. Earlier this year, Food & Wine reported that Bourdain's home state would honor the late television personality with a food trail tracing his favorite restaurants. And that trail is now open.

Bourdain was born in New York City in 1956, and spent most of childhood living in Leonia, New Jersey. He often revisited the Garden State in his books and television shows, highlighting the state's classic diners and delis and the seafood shacks of the Jersey shore.

Immediately following Bourdain's tragic death on June 8, 2018, New Jersey assemblyman Paul Moriarty proposed an official food trail featuring some of his favorite eateries. The trail draws from the New Jersey episode from season 5 of the CNN series Parts Unknown. In it, Bourdain traveled to several towns throughout the state, including Camden, Atlantic City, and Asbury Park, and sampled fare like cheesesteaks, salt water taffy, oysters, and deep-fried hot dogs.

The food trail was approved following a unanimous vote in January, and the trail was officially inaugurated last week. Among the stops included on the trail:

  1. Frank's Deli // Asbury Park
  1. Knife and Fork Inn // Atlantic City
  1. Dock's Oyster House // Atlantic City
  1. Tony's Baltimore Grill // Atlantic City
  1. James' Salt Water Taffy // Atlantic City
  1. Lucille's Country Cooking // Barnegat
  1. Tony & Ruth Steaks // Camden
  1. Donkey's Place // Camden
  2. Hiram's Roadstand // Fort Lee

10 Sweet Facts About Napoleon Dynamite

© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox
© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

ChapStick, llamas, and tater tots are just a few things that appear in Napoleon Dynamite, a cult film shot for a mere $400,000 that went on to gross $44.5 million. In 2002, Brigham Young University film student Jared Hess filmed a black-and-white short, Peluca, with his classmate Jon Heder. The film got accepted into the Slamdance Film Festival, which gave Hess the courage to adapt it into a feature. Hess used his real-life upbringing in Preston, Idaho—he had six brothers and his mom owned llamas—to form the basis of the movie, about a nerdy teenager named Napoleon (Heder) who encourages his friend Pedro (Efren Ramirez) to run for class president.

In 2004, the indie film screened at Sundance, and was quickly purchased by Fox Searchlight and Paramount, then released less than six months later. Today, the film remains so popular that in 2016 Pedro and Napoleon reunited for a cheesy tots Burger King commercial. To celebrated the film's 15th anniversary, here are some facts about the ever-quotable comedy.

1. Deb is based on Jerusha Hess.

Jared Hess’s wife Jerusha co-wrote the film and based Deb on her own life. “Her mom made her a dress when she was going to a middle school dance and she said, ‘I hadn’t really developed yet, so my mom overcompensated and made some very large, fluffy shoulders,’” Jared told Rolling Stone. “Some guy dancing with her patted the sleeves and actually said, ‘I like your sleeves … they’re real big.'"

Tina Majorino, who played the fictional Deb, hadn’t done a comedy before, because people thought of her as a dramatic actress. "The fact that Jared would even let me come in and read really appealed to me," she told Rolling Stone. "Even if I didn’t get the role, I just wanted to see what it was like to audition for a comedy, as I’d never done it before."

2. Napoleon's famous dance scene was the result of having extra film stock.

At the end of shooting Peluca, Hess had a minute of film stock left and knew Heder liked to dance. Heder had on moon boots—something Hess used to wear—so they traveled to the end of a dirt road. They turned on the car radio and Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat” was playing. “I just told him to start dancing and realized: This is how we’ve got to end the film,” Hess told Rolling Stone. “You don’t anticipate those kinds of things. They’re just part of the creative process.”

Heder told HuffPost he found inspiration in Michael Jackson and dancing in front of a mirror, for the end-of-the-movie skit. But when it came time to film the dance for the feature, Heder felt "pressure" to deliver. “I was like, ‘Oh, crap!’ This isn’t just a silly little scene,” he told PDX Monthly. “This is the moment where everything comes, and he’s making the sacrifice for his friend. That’s the whole theme of the movie. Everything leads up to this. Napoleon’s been this loser. This has to be the moment where he lands a victory.” Instead of hiring a choreographer, the filmmakers told him to “just figure it out.” They filmed the scene three times with three different songs, including Jamiroquai’s “Little L” and “Canned Heat.”

3. Napoleon Dynamitefans still flock to Preston, Idaho to tour the movie's locations.

In a 2016 interview with The Salt Lake Tribune, The Preston Citizen’s circulation manager, Rhonda Gregerson, said “every summer at least 50 groups of fans walk into the office wanting to know more about the film.” She said people come from all over the world to see Preston High School, Pedro’s house, and other filming locations as a layover before heading to Yellowstone National Park. “If you talk to a lot of people in Preston, you’ll find a lot of people who have become a bit sick of it,” Gregerson said. “I still think it’s great that there’s still so much interest in the town this long after the movie.”

Besides the filming locations, the town used to host a Napoleon Dynamite festival. In 2005, the fest drew about 6000 people and featured a tater tot eating contest, a moon boot dancing contest, boondoggle keychains for sale, and a tetherball tournament. The fest was last held in 2008.

4. Idaho adopted a resolution commending the filmmakers.

'Napoleon Dynamite' filmmakers Jerusha and Jared Hess
Jerusha and Jared Hess
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

In 2005, the Idaho legislature wrote a resolution praising Jared and Jerusha Hess and the city of Preston. HCR029 appreciates the use of tater tots for “promoting Idaho’s most famous export.” It extols bicycling and skateboarding to promote “better air quality,” and it says Kip and LaFawnduh’s relationship “is a tribute to e-commerce and Idaho’s technology-driven industry.” The resolution goes on to say those who “vote Nay on this concurrent resolution are Freakin’ Idiots.” Napoleon would be proud.

5. Napoleon was a different kind of nerd.

Sure, he was awkward, but Napoleon wasn’t as intelligent as other film nerds. “He’s not a genius,” Heder told HuffPost. “Maybe he’s getting good grades, but he’s not excelling; he’s just socially awkward. He doesn’t know how much of an outcast he is, and that’s what gives him that confidence. He’s trying to be cool sometimes, but mostly he just goes for it and does it.”

6. The title sequence featured several different sets of hands..

Eight months before the theatrical release, Fox Searchlight had Hess film a title sequence that made it clear that the film took place in 2004, not in the ’80s or ’90s. Napoleon’s student ID reveals the events occur during the 2004-2005 school year. Heder’s hands move the objects in and out of the frame, but Fox didn’t like his hangnails. “They flew out a hand model a couple weeks later, who had great hands, but was five or six shades darker than Jon Heder,” Hess told Art of the Title. “If you look, there are like three different dudes’ hands—our producer’s are in there, too.”

7. Napoleon Dynamite messed up Netflix's algorithms.

Beginning in 2006, Cinematch—Netflix’s recommendation algorithm software—held a contest called The Netflix Prize. Anyone who could make Cinematch’s predictions at least 10 percent more accurate would win $1 million. Computer scientist Len Bertoni had trouble predicting whether people would like Napoleon Dynamite. Bertoni told The New York Times the film is “polarizing,” and the Netflix ratings are either one or five stars. If he could accurately predict whether people liked the movie, Bertoni said, then he’d come much closer to winning the prize. That didn’t happen for him.

The contest finally ended in 2009 when Netflix awarded the grand prize to BellKor’s Pragmatic Chaos, who developed a 10.06 percent improvement over Cinematch’s score.

8. Napoleon accidentally got a bad perm.


© 2004 Twentieth Century Fox

Heder got his hair permed the night before shooting began—but something went wrong. Heder called Jared and said, “‘Yeah, I got the perm but it’s a little bit different than it was before,’” Hess told Rolling Stone. “He showed up the night before shooting and he looked like Shirley Temple! The curls were huge!” They didn’t have much time to fix the goof, so Hess enlisted Jerusha and her cousin to re-perm it. It worked, but Jon wasn’t allowed to wash his hair for the next three weeks. “So he had this stinky ‘do in the Idaho heat for three weeks,” Jared said. “We were shooting near dairy farms and there were tons of flies; they were all flying in and out of his hair.”

9. LaFawnduh's real-life family starred in the film.

Shondrella Avery played LaFawnduh, the African American girlfriend of Kip, Napoleon’s older brother (played by Aaron Ruell). Before filming, Hess phoned Avery and said, “‘You remember that there were no black people in Preston, Idaho, right? Do you think your family might want to be in the movie?’ And that’s how it happened,” Avery told Los Angeles Weekly. Her actual family shows up at the end when LaFawnduh and Kip get married.

10. A short-lived animated series acted as a sequel.

In 2012, Fox aired six episodes of Napoleon Dynamite the animated series before they canceled it. All of the original actors returned to supply voices to their characters. The only difference between the film and the series is Kip is not married. Heder told Rolling Stone the episodes are as close to a sequel as fans will get. “If you sit down and watch those back to back, you’ve got yourself a sequel,” he said. “Because you’ve got all the same characters and all the same actors.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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