“A Leap In The Dark”

Main Lesson

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 129th installment in the series. 

July 14, 1914: “A Leap In the Dark” 

On July 14, 1914—the day Austria-Hungary’s leaders finally decided on war with Serbia—Germany’s Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg told his friend and advisor, the philosopher Kurt Riezler, that Germany was about to take “a leap in the dark” by backing the plan. But to be honest, Germany and Austria-Hungary were already operating in the dark, stepping on each other’s toes as they stumbled towards war.

By mid-July, Berlin and Vienna had agreed on exactly one thing: Austria-Hungary was going to use the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand as a pretext to crush Serbia, which would (hopefully) end the threat of Pan-Slav nationalism once and for all. But all the critical details, including the timing of the attack, remained undecided.

To be fair, nothing was ever simple in Austria-Hungary, especially if it involved big decisions, which were avoided whenever possible. When an important decision simply had to be made, it required consultation and consent from both the Austrian and Hungarian halves of the Empire. In this case, Imperial Foreign Minister Count Berchtold and chief of the general staff Conrad von Hötzendorf (both Austrians) had to convince Hungarian Premier Count István Tisza to support their war plan. But Tisza was not the kind of man to be maneuvered into a decision he disagreed with, even if it had the support of Emperor Franz Josef himself.

Wikimedia Commons (1, 2, 3

Following the first crown council on July 7, Tisza still had serious reservations about the plan to attack Serbia, warning it could easily lead to war with Serbia’s patron Russia. To reduce the risk, he demanded that Austria-Hungary first present its case diplomatically by documenting Serbian involvement followed by a “last chance” for Serbia to knuckle under. This was the origin of the ultimatum plan devised by Berchtold as a diplomatic fig leaf: Austria-Hungary would gather evidence of Serbian complicity and then present Belgrade with demands so outrageous the Serbs would have to reject them.

From July 10 to 14, 1914, everything finally came together to sway Tisza to the war party. First his demand for evidence was satisfied by the investigation of Baron Friedrich von Wiesner, who arrived in Sarajevo on July 11 and on July 13 sent a preliminary report that cleared Serbia’s government of involvement but traced the plot back to Serbian army officers, stating there was “hardly a doubt that the crime was resolved upon in Belgrade, and prepared with the cooperation of Serbian officials…" 

Around this time, the Austrians also received a promise of neutrality from Romania in the event of war, removing another source of hesitation for Tisza, who feared unrest in Hungary’s Romanian population. But the trump card was the attitude of Berlin. Tisza knew that Austria-Hungary depended on Germany for security, and Berchtold pounded home the message that Berlin expected Vienna to settle the Serbian problem now—and if it didn’t, the exasperated Germans might decide the alliance wasn’t worth the trouble.

The foreign minister could point to a string of messages from Berlin urging action (in a typically Byzantine ruse, Berchtold may have secretly asked the Germans to send these messages to help him convince Tisza). On July 12, the Austro-Hungarian ambassador to Berlin, Count Szőgyény, advised Vienna that “Kaiser Wilhelm and all other responsible personages here … invite us not to let the present moment pass but to take vigorous measures against Serbia and make a clean sweep of the revolutionary conspirators’ nest there once and for all.” As for the risk of a wider war, the Germans believed “It is by no means certain that if Serbia becomes involved in a war with us, Russia would resort to arms in her support… The German Government further believes it has sure indications that England at the present moment would not join in a war over a Balkan country…”

As a conservative nobleman, Tisza’s main goal was maintaining the traditional order, which above all meant preserving the Hapsburg monarchy, the source of all political legitimacy. On top of this and evidence of Serbian complicity, German pressure finally tipped the balance, and at a second meeting of the crown council on July 14, 1914, Tisza agreed to the plan for an ultimatum followed by war. This should have been cause for rejoicing in Vienna and Berlin—but now the allies found themselves at odds over timing, as the Germans pressed for immediate action and the Austrians pleaded for delay.

Critical Delays

The first problem was the discovery by chief of the general staff Conrad that a large part of Austria-Hungary’s military was away on summer leave until late July. Second, Berchtold and his fellow ministers knew that French President Raymond Poincaré and Premier René Viviani were due to visit France’s ally Russia from July 20-23; if the ultimatum became public while they were still guests of Tsar Nicholas II in St. Petersburg, the French and Russian leaders would be able to confer in person and work out a coordinated response to the Austrian gambit—exactly what Berchtold didn’t want. On the other hand, if Austria-Hungary waited until after the visit to send the ultimatum, the French leaders would be at sea and relatively isolated, as long-distance ship-to-shore radio communications were still dodgy at best. The sudden death of the Russian ambassador to Serbia, Baron Nicholas Hartwig, on July 10 could only add to the confusion (hugely obese, Hartwig died of a heart attack while visiting the Austro-Hungarian embassy, fueling gossip of a covert assassination).

Beginning with the crown council on July 14, the Austrians formulated a plan employing deception on a grand scale. They would deliver the ultimatum to Serbia on the evening of July 23, after Poincaré and Viviani were safely at sea, and give Belgrade 48 hours to respond, so they could proceed immediately to mobilization on July 25. Until then, however, Vienna and Berlin would avoid any hint of belligerence in order to lull Russia, France and Britain into a false sense of security. 

The Germans weren’t happy about Vienna’s decision to wait until late July, reasoning it was better to strike now in the hopes of catching the Triple Entente flat-footed. On July 11 Riezler recorded Bethmann-Hollweg’s attitude: “[The Austrians] apparently require a frightfully long time to mobilize… That is very dangerous. A quick fait accompli, and then friendly toward the Entente, then we could survive the shock.” In the same vein, on July 13 the German chief of the general staff, Helmuth von Moltke (on vacation in Karlsbad, Bohemia) urged, “Austria must beat the Serbs and then make peace quickly.”

The Italian Question

Berlin and Vienna also disagreed on the critical question of whether to inform Italy, the unreliable third member of the Triple Alliance, about their plans. The only way Italy might be persuaded to join them in a war of aggression was the promise of territorial concessions—specifically Austria’s own ethnic Italian lands in the Trentino and Trieste (top and below, in red), long coveted by Italian nationalists as the final missing piece of a united Italy. But the Germans and Austrians didn’t see eye-to-eye on this issue: While the Germans were quite comfortable offering up chunks of their ally, the Austrians were understandably reluctant to give up lands that had been part of the Hapsburg patrimony for centuries. 

Main Lesson / Albanian Photography

As early as June 30, the German ambassador to Vienna, Tschirschky, urged Berchtold to consult Italy, and on July 2 he repeated the advice to Emperor Franz Josef, but the Austrians brushed off the German concerns. The issue reemerged in the following weeks, when it became clear Italy might not stand idly by if Austria-Hungary attacked Serbia. On July 10, Italy’s Foreign Minister San Giuliano (above) warned the German ambassador, Baron Ludwig von Flotow, that Italy would have to be compensated for any expansion by Austria-Hungary in the Balkans, naming Austrian Trentino as the price. Increasingly alarmed by the Italian attitude, on July 15 Germany’s Foreign Secretary Gottlieb von Jagow again urged Austria-Hungary to take Italy into her confidence in a message to Tschirschky, the German ambassador in Vienna:

There is no doubt in my mind that in an Austro-Serbian conflict, [Italian public opinion] would side with Serbia. A territorial extension of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, even a further spread of its influence in the Balkans, is viewed with horror in Italy and regarded as an injury to Italy’s position there… It is therefore in my opinion of the highest importance that Vienna should discuss with the Rome Cabinet the aims it proposes to pursue in the conflict and should bring it over to its side or… [at least] keep it strictly neutral… In strict confidence, the only compensation regarded as adequate in Italy would be the acquisition of the Trentino.

But once again, the German warnings fell on deaf ears in Vienna. Frustrated by Vienna’s repeated refusals, the Germans took matters into their own hands on July 11, when Flotow tried to get the ball rolling by secretly outlining Austria-Hungary’s plans in a meeting with Foreign Minister San Giuliano. Even worse from the Austro-Hungarian (and later German) perspective, the leak began spreading as San Giuliano sent telegrams to Italy’s ambassadors across Europe, warning that Austria-Hungary was planning something big. Because all the Great Powers routinely eavesdropped on diplomatic communications, Russian intelligence probably decrypted the Italian messages and informed Russian diplomats, who in turn spread the word to France and Britain. Thus Poincaré and Viviani likely knew something was afoot when they met the tsar and his ministers from July 20 to 23, giving them plenty of time to coordinate their response. 

See the previous installment or all entries.

The 25 Highest-Grossing Movies of All Time Worldwide

Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Robert Downey Jr. in Avengers: Endgame (2019).
Marvel Studios

Ever since Avengers: Endgame was announced, Hollywood insiders had no doubt it would be a box office smash. But few people could have predicted just how big of a dent the movie would make in its opening weekend alone. The latest MCU movie demolished all previous box office records by making a cool $1.2 billion in just its first few days in theaters.

It's the first film in cinema history to cross the billion-dollar mark in its opening weekend, and knocked its predecessor—Avengers: Infinity War—from the top spot in terms of opening weekends by almost double (Infinity War broke records a year ago when it made $640 million worldwide during its first weekend in theaters). After grossing $2 billion in record time, and knocking James Cameron's Titanic out of the number two spot of biggest blockbusters, Avengers: Endgame has now officially unseated yet another Cameron film, Avatar—which has held the number one spot for 10 years—to become the highest-grossing movie of all time.

  1. Avengers: Endgame (2019) // $2,790,200,000

  2. Avatar (2009) // $2,789,700,000

  3. Titanic (1997) // $2,187,500,000

  4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) // $2,068,200,000

  5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018) // $2,048,400,000

  6. Jurassic World (2015) // $1,671,700,000

  7. Marvel's The Avengers (2012) // $1,518,800,000

  8. Furious 7 (2015) // $1,516,000,000

  9. Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) // $1,405,400,000

  10. Black Panther (2018) // $1,346,900,000

  11. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 (2011) // $1,341,700,000

  12. Star Wars: The Last Jedi (2017) // $1,332,500,000

  13. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) // $1,309,500,000

  14. Frozen (2017) // $1,276,500,000

  15. Beauty and the Beast (2017)// $1,263,500,000

  16. Incredibles 2 (2017) // $1,242,800,000

  17. The Fate of the Furious (2017) // $1,236,000,000

  18. Iron Man 3 (2013) // $1,214,800,000

  19. Minions (2015) // $1,159,400,000

  20. Captain America: Civil War (2016) // $1,153,300,000

  1. Aquaman (2018) // $1,148,000,000

  1. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) // $1,123,800,000

  2. Captain Marvel (2019) // $1,120,100,000

  1. The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) // $1,119,900,000

  2. Skyfall (2012) // $1,108,600,000

Box office totals courtesy of Box Office Mojo.

12 Facts About Revenge of the Nerds For Its 35th Anniversary

Twentieth Century Fox
Twentieth Century Fox

In the summer of 1984, nerds were mainly perceived as guys who wore pocket protectors and had tape on their glasses. But in Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs was inventing the type of nerd culture we’re familiar with today. Decades later, nerds rule the world.

Revenge of the Nerds starred then-unknowns Anthony Edwards, Robert Carradine, Curtis Armstrong, James Cromwell, Larry B. Scott, John Goodman, and Timothy Busfield. In the movie, the jock-filled Alpha Beta fraternity bullies the geeks on the campus of Adams College, so to fight back, they form a frat chapter under black fraternity Lambda Lambda Lambda (Tri-Lambs), and take down the jocks. The movie’s plot and title come from a magazine article published around that time about Silicon Valley innovators—who just happened to be nerds.

The film, which was budgeted at $6 million, only opened on 364 screens (it eventually expanded to 877). Somehow the movie had legs and grossed $40,874,452 at the box office and ranked as the 16th highest-grossing film of 1984. It was successful enough to spawn three sequels, none of which were as popular as the original. To celebrate Revenge of the Nerds' 35th anniversary, here are some geeky facts about the underdog comedy.

1. Greek officials at the University of Arizona objected to the movie being filmed on their campus.

The movie filmed at the University of Arizona, and involved the college’s Greek system. The Greek officials didn’t want the movie to be another Animal House, so they threatened to halt production. “We meet with the sororities, and we’re worried we’re about to deal with a bunch of feminists who are pissed because this is a fairly sexist movie,” the film’s director, Jeff Kanew, told the Arizona Daily Star. “I just say to them, ‘Look, I have kids, and I’ll tell you now, I’d let them see this movie. It’s about the triumph of the underdog, not judging a book by its cover. This is a good movie.’” The filmmakers won, and the Greeks allowed them to film there.

2. The set was one big party.

Ted McGinley—who played Alpha Beta honcho Stan Gable—told The A.V. Club: “I was so embarrassed to say Revenge Of The Nerds.” Kanew cast him because he saw him on the cover of a Men of USC calendar, sold at the University of Arizona bookstore. His good looks attracted “hot girls” from the UofA campus to watch the dailies with the cast and crew. “They had beer and pizza and sandwiches,” McGinley said. “I mean, you just don’t do that on movie sets. It was just so much fun, and I thought, ‘It can’t be better than this!’”

3. Curtis Armstrong knew it would be a good movie, even though his character wasn't fully fleshed out.

Curtis Armstrong filmed Risky Business but then was unemployed for a year before he got Revenge of the Nerds. “You have to realize the character of Booger in the original script was non-existent almost,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “What was there was just, ‘We’ve got b*sh!’ and ‘Mother’s little d**chebag’—those kinds of lines. I was looking at it and thinking, ‘How do I take this and even begin to make it likeable or accessible?’”

With its strong cast, writers, and director, Armstrong said, “It has to be a good movie. But I wasn’t sure how it was going to be taken as opposed to Risky Business, which was sort of an art-house-type movie. This was very much broader and very much cruder, but it had a message that went beyond sex jokes.”

4. The scenes between Booger and Takashi were improvised.

The actors would bring ideas to the director and vice versa, creating a lot of improvisation in the movie. In one scene, Booger and Takashi (Brian Tochi) engage in a friendly game of cards. But unbeknownst to Takashi, Booger tricks him. “We ran and got our cots, and Brian and I were next to each other,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “It wasn’t planned that we would be next to each other. It just happened that way.”

The production asked the guys to “come up with something” for them to film. “We had nothing at all!” Armstrong said. “We went to the prop people, and they had a deck of cards. And that’s where that scene [and Booger’s whole bit about taking money from Takashi] came from. And they liked it so much that, every time Takashi and I were in the room together, we would have to come up with something else.”

5. Lambda Lambda Lambda exists in real life.

On January 15, 2006, the University of Connecticut founded the co-ed social fraternity. It’s “unaffiliated with Greek Life” and is “dedicated to the enjoyment and enrichment of pop culture and to the brotherhood of its members. Tri-Lambs does not discriminate based on race, gender, religion, class, ability, gender identity, or sexual orientation.”

6. Booger's belch came from a camel.

In one of the film's more memorable scenes, Booger and Ogre compete in a belching contest. Booger takes a swig of beer and lets out a robust seven-second belch and wins the contest. But the effects were added in post-production. “I can’t even belch on command,” Armstrong told USA Today. “If you said to me, ‘Can you belch now?' I couldn’t do it.”

To make up for Armstrong’s dearth of gas, “They wound up finding a recording of a camel having an orgasm,” Armstrong said. “They took this sound and blended it in with a human belch.”

7. Curtis Armstrong wrote a bio for Booger, but it turned out to be about himself.

Because his character wasn’t fully developed, Armstrong wrote a one-page bio for Booger. Years later he re-read the bio and realized he and Booger had similarities. “I’d basically retold my life as Booger without even being aware of it,” Armstrong told Entertainment Weekly. “[One detail] was that [Booger] used nose-picking and belching as a defense mechanism because [he’s] insecure. Now, mind you, I did not pick my nose and belch because I was insecure. However, I was insecure growing up. I didn’t have dates or anything like that; I was not good around girls. But I had other ways of defending myself other than being crude and picking my nose. When I look at it now with some distance, I realize all I was doing was writing about myself.”

8. A Dallas test screening almost killed Revenge of the Nerds.

The film tested well in Las Vegas—an 85—but when the Fox executives took the movie to Dallas, the number dipped. “You’re gonna send us to Dallas to screen a movie that celebrates nerds and in which the black guys intimidate the white football players?!” director Kanew told the Arizona Daily Star. The movie scored in the 60s, which caused Fox to cut marketing for the film and only release it on 364 screens. “I don’t really understand what happened, but it hung around and grew and grew and grew,” Kanew said.

9. Poindexter was originally named after a prop guy.

When Timothy Busfield auditioned for the movie, his character didn’t have many lines, so he had to read Lamar’s lines. At the time, the character was named Lipschultz, after the prop guy. All that was written for the character description was “a violin-playing Henry Kissinger.”

“There was one line Lipschultz had in the original, but our prop guy was named Lipschultz, and he didn’t like the fact that there was a nerd named Lipschultz, so they changed it to Poindexter,” Busfield said during a San Francisco Sketchfest Nerds reunion. Busfield found Poindexter’s costume at a thrift store and showed up to the audition with his hair parted, and danced to “Beat It.”

10. The sequel to Revenge of the Nerds afforded Anythony Edwards a pool.

Anthony Edwards told The A.V. Club that he didn’t want to appear in Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, but acquiesced because the producers talked him into it. He’s hardly in the film, but the money he earned afforded him a simple luxury. “I ended up with a pool in my backyard that I called the Revenge of the Nerds II pool,” Edwards said. “Not that I’m complaining, but they seriously overpaid me for my weeks of work on the film, so I used it to put in a pool.”

11. A remake (thankfully) got shut down.

After two weeks of filming in the fall of 2006, a Revenge of the Nerds remake stopped production. Emory University in Atlanta pulled out of filming, but according to Variety, the real reason was because a Fox Atomic executive “was not completely satisfied with the dailies.” The cast included Adam Brody and Jenna Dewan.

12. Revenge of the Nerds pushed nerdom into the mainstream.

“I’m not going to say Revenge of the Nerds was responsible for everything in nerd culture, but I do think you could make an argument that that attitude began with the last scene in Revenge,” Armstrong told HuffPost. “The last scene—the scene I probably love above all in that movie—we’re at the pep rally and come out in front of everybody as nerds, and encourage these people of different generations to join them in their nerdness. I get teary thinking about it, and you could certainly make an argument that that was the beginning of embracing nerd culture by everybody.”

This story has been updated for 2019.

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