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.

This Damn Fine Twin Peaks Box Set Is the Only One Fans Will Ever Need

Amazon
Amazon

Fans of David Lynch’s three-season drama Twin Peaks know there’s quite a lot to excavate. The series, which ran from 1990 to 1991 on ABC and returned for a one-season engagement on Showtime in 2017, has been a perpetual source of ambiguity, red herrings, and the downright inexplicable.

Now there’s a centralized hub of all things Peaks to dwell on. Twin Peaks: From Z to A is a Blu-ray box set containing all episodes of the original series; 1992’s feature film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me; 2017's Twin Peaks: The Return; an international version of the 1990 pilot with additional footage; as well as an abundance of new and archival material totaling 20 hours in length.

The box for the 'Twin Peaks: From Z to A' Blu-ray DVD set is pictured
Amazon

Inside the package, which is illustrated with the Douglas firs that are part of the show’s iconography, are mini-figures of Special Agent Dale Cooper and Laura Palmer, played in the show by Kyle MacLachlan and Sheryl Lee, respectively. The box acts as a diorama of sorts and opens to reveal the Red Room, a location where many of the show’s most surreal moments took place. A series of three-by-five index cards provide backdrops of key scenes. The only thing the set doesn’t have is Lynch’s hand-drawn map of the show’s Washington location, but you can find that here.

The set is limited to 25,000 copies. It retails for $139.99 on Amazon and is due for release on December 10.

[h/t Newsweek]

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Unraveling the Many Mysteries of Neil Diamond's 'Sweet Caroline'

Keystone/Getty Images
Keystone/Getty Images

The story of Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" has it all: love, baseball, Kennedys, Frank Sinatra, Elvis, and the triumph of the human spirit. It’s pop’s answer to the national anthem, and as any karaoke belter or Boston Red Sox fan will tell you, it’s way easier to sing than "The Star-Spangled Banner." As the song celebrates its 50th birthday this year, now’s a good time—so good, so good, so good—to dig into the rich history of a tune people will still be singing in 2069.

"Where it began, I can’t begin to knowing," Diamond sings in the song’s iconic opening lines. Except the "where" part of this story is actually pretty simple: Diamond wrote "Sweet Caroline" in a Memphis hotel room in 1969 on the eve of a recording session at American Sound Studio. By this point in his career, Diamond had established himself as a fairly well-known singer-songwriter with two top-10 hits—"Cherry Cherry" and "Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon"—to his name. He’d also written "I’m a Believer," which The Monkees took to #1 in late 1966.

 

The "who," as in the identity of the "Caroline" immortalized in the lyrics, is the much juicier question. In 2007, Diamond revealed that he was inspired to write the song by a photograph of Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, that he saw in a magazine in the early ‘60s, when he was a "young, broke songwriter."

"It was a picture of a little girl dressed to the nines in her riding gear, next to her pony," Diamond told the Associated Press. "It was such an innocent, wonderful picture, I immediately felt there was a song in there.” Years later, in that Memphis hotel room, the song was finally born.

Neil Diamond sings the National Anthem prior to Super Bowl XXI between the New York Giants and the Denver Broncos at the Rose Bowl on January 25, 1987 in Pasadena, California
George Rose/Getty Images

Perhaps because it’s a little creepy, Diamond kept that tidbit to himself for years and only broke the news after performing the song at Kennedy’s 50th birthday in 2007. "I’m happy to have gotten it off my chest and to have expressed it to Caroline," Diamond said. "I thought she might be embarrassed, but she seemed to be struck by it and really, really happy."

The plot thickened in 2014, however, as Diamond told the gang at NBC’s TODAY that the song is really about his first wife, Marsha. "I couldn’t get Marsha into the three-syllable name I needed,” Diamond said. "So I had Caroline Kennedy’s name from years ago in one of my books. I tried ‘Sweet Caroline,’ and that worked."

It certainly did. Released in 1969, "Sweet Caroline" rose to #4 on the Billboard Hot 100. In the decade that followed, it was covered by Elvis Presley, soul great Bobby Womack, Roy Orbison, and Frank Sinatra. Diamond rates Ol’ Blue Eyes’ version the best of the bunch.

"He did it his way," Diamond told The Sunday Guardian in 2011. "He didn't cop my record at all. I've heard that song by a lot of people and there are a lot of good versions. But Sinatra's swingin', big-band version tops them all by far."

 

Another key question in the "Sweet Caroline" saga is "why"—why has the song become a staple at Fenway Park in Boston, a city with no discernible connection to Diamond, a native of Brooklyn?

It’s all because of a woman named Amy Tobey, who worked for the Sox via BCN Productions from 1998 to 2004. During those years, Tobey had the wicked awesome job of picking the music at Sox games. She noticed that "Sweet Caroline" was a crowd-pleaser, and like any good baseball fan, she soon developed a superstition. If the Sox were up, and Tobey thought they were going to win the game, she’d play the song somewhere in between the seventh and ninth innings.

"I actually considered it like a good luck charm," Tobey told The Boston Globe in 2005. "Even if they were just one run [ahead], I might still do it. It was just a feel." It became a regular thing in 2002, when Fenway’s new management asked Tobey to play "Sweet Caroline" during the eighth inning of every home game, regardless of the score.

At first, Tobey was worried that mandatory Diamond would lead to bad luck on the actual diamond. But that wasn’t the case, as the Sox won the World Series in 2004, ending the "Curse of the Bambino" and giving Beantown its first title since 1918. In 2010, Diamond made a surprise appearance at Fenway to perform "Sweet Caroline" during the Red Sox's season opener against the New York Yankees. He wore a Sox cap and a sports coat emblazoned with the message "Keep the Dodgers in Brooklyn."

 

A different mood greeted Diamond when he returned to Fenway on April 20, 2013, just five days after bombings at the Boston Marathon killed three people and injured nearly 300 others. "What an honor it is for me to be here today," Diamond told the crowd. "I bring love from the whole country." He then sang along with the ‘69 recording of the song, leading the crowd in the "Ba! Ba! Ba!" and "So good! So good! So good!" ad-libs that have essentially become official lyrics. Diamond also donated all the royalties he received from the song that week, as downloads increased by 597 percent.

The Red Sox aren't the only sports team to have basked in the glory of "Sweet Caroline." The song has become popular with both the Penn State Nittany Lions and Iowa State Cyclones football squads and has even crossed the Atlantic to become part of the music rotation for England's Castleford Tigers crew team and Britain's Oxford United Football Club.

Over the last five decades, millions of people have had their lives touched by "Sweet Caroline" in one way or another. The enduring popularity must be a pleasant surprise for Diamond, who had no idea he’d written a classic back in 1969. "Neil didn't like the song at all," Tommy Cogbill, a bass player at American Sound Studio, said in an interview for the 2011 book Memphis Boys. "I actually remember him not liking it and not wanting it to be a single."

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