Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Let's mix it up

Steven Versperal, by Sunboys

Photo by Abajapa

Wild Arches National Park, southeastern Utah

Abandoned amusement park

Jared North, by Rome Grant

The ultimatum

One hundred years ago today, the Austro-Hungarian Empire cast the die that led to the start of The Great War.

In Vienna, the government issued an ultimatum to Serbia demanding that is small neighbor "desist from the attitude of protest and opposition" and come clean with its role in the assassination of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914.

(Sarajevo was the main city in Bosnia, which was annexed by Austria-Hungary from Serbia in 1870 in one of the endless reshuffling of boundary lines in the Balkans. High-ranking elements of the Serbian government sought to recover the lost territory, which had a minority Serb population. A Serb extremist, Gavrilo Princip, murdered the Archduke and his wife while they were on a state visit to Sarajevo on June 28.)

The historical record clearly shows that elements of the Serbian government plotted the assassination, that it promoted nationalist groups bent on creating a Greater Serbia that would include all Serbs within the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and that it supplied weapons to the Black Hand, the group responsible for the assassination. There even is evidence that suggests that the Serbian prime minister knew about the assassination in advance.

Bosnia, then and now, contained ethnic Serbs, Croats, Muslims and other groups. No one group predominated. (Serbia coveted the territory even into recent decades. In the 1990s it even went so far as to sanction the ethnic cleansing of Bosnia, to eliminate non-Serbs from the key portions of the land. The previous time that Europe witnessed such a crime against humanity was during the Hitler regime in the 1930s and 1940s.)

The dual Monarchy of Austria and Hungary encompassed numerous ethnic groups, including Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Ukrainians, Slovenes, Croats, Romanians, Italians—and Serbs.

Much has been written about the July 23 ultimatum, but I never learned the contents until I came across a website,, that contains an archive of documents about the war.

In the English translation of the ultimatum, Austria-Hungary complains that Serbia had tolerated a campaign to dismantle the Empire. The clearest evidence of this was the murder of the murder of the Archduke.

Austria-Hungary gave Serbia until July 25 to comply with the following requirements:

  1. Suppress every publication "which shall incite to hatred and contempt of the Monarchy" and question the Monarchy's territorial integrity.
  2. "Proceed at once" to dissolve the main nationalist groups seeking to undermine Austria-Hungary's annexation of Bosnia in 1909.
  3. Eliminate "without delay" any public teaching in Serbia that "serves to nourish propaganda" against Austria-Hungary.
  4. Expel from the Serbian military and administration any officials who are guilty of participating in propaganda against Austria-Hungary.
  5. Agree to cooperate with Serbia to suppress subversive movements directed against the Monarchy.
  6. Institute a judicial inquiry "against every participant" in the conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke. (Princip was not a lone wolf; at least three other Serb nationalists were directly involved and Serbian officials financed and armed them.)
  7. Arrest Major Voislav Tankosin and Milan Ciganovic, both Serbian government officials, for their possible involvement in the Archduke's death. The Austrians blamed them for supplying guns and bombs to the Black Hand. According to Austria, Princip and his allies conferred with Tankosin about their assassination plot.
  8. Prevent the smuggling of weapons from Serbia to Austro-Hungarian terrorist cells and punish those involved.
  9. Explain to the Imperial government about "the unjustifiable utterances of high Serbian functionaries" at home and abroad who had expressed hostility to Austria-Hungary at the time of the assassination.
  10. Inform the Imperial government about Serbia's progress toward meeting the demands.

(As you might notice, four of Austria's 10 demands focus on offensive words, rather than deeds. It harkens back to an era when individuals dueled over the impugning of one's reputation. Nowadays most ultimatums—for instance, the United States' demands against Iraq in 1990 and 2003 and against Afghanistan in 2001—serve as indictments of bad behavior, rather than matters of propaganda.) 

There was no immediate reaction in Serbia to the ultimatum. However, a Serbian diplomat in Vienna, in a communiqué to his superiors on July 20, "expressed no room for optimism." It was "highly probable," the diplomat said, that Austria was preparing for war against Serbia. From the diplomat's perspective, Austria believed it had an opportunity to attack and occupy Serbia "before Europe could intervene."

He could not have been more mistaken on that final point. The intervention by the other European Powers was to be swift, and the war was to last four years.

News from elsewhere on July 23, 1914

On July 23, 1914, most large international newspapers gave prominent coverage to Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia. The New York Times, for instance, devoted a full column on page 1 to report that "Austria Ready to Invade Serbia, Sends Ultimatum." (In contrast, the El Paso Herald limited its coverage to four paragraphs on page 8.)

But the world also had other things on its mind apart from the escalating tensions in the Balkans.

British newspapers continued to focus on "the Irish problem" as The Guardian of London called it. The "problem" was Irish Catholics' push for independence and the counter demand by Ulster Protestants to remain with the Empire. The Guardian reported on July 23 that a conference of leaders of all political parties was to convene at Buckingham Palace in an attempt to head off what some feared may become a civil war on the island.

Also on page 1 of The Guardian was continuing its coverage of the salacious trial of Parisian socialite. It had all the makings of tabloid journalism: sexual affairs, a power couple who together were among the richest people in France, a political double-cross involving important legislation—and the killing of a newspaper editor. 

A rival newspaper's illustration
Henriette Callaux was on trial for the shooting death of Gaston Calmette, editor of Le Figaro. Her husband, Joseph, was Finance Mininster. Calmette, a vocal opponent of Monsier Callaux, published a private letter of Callaux's which implicated him in scandalous conduct. Madame Callaux, fearing that Calmette would reveal more improprieties, including her own affair with Monsier Callaux before they had divorced their spouses, decided to protect her husband's reputation by killing the editor.

That plan didn't work so well.

The trial revealed a great detail not only about Madame Callaux but also her husband and seemingly everyone in government. On July 23, the day of Austria-Hungary's ultimatum to Serbia, European newspapers were feasting on the latest testimony by French President Poincarè. Having a French president testify in a criminal trial was a sensation never seen before. Even the Harrisburg Telegraph in Pennsylvania—and the El Paso Herald—saw fit to cover the story.

Madame Callaux was acquitted on July 28, the jurors having accepted the defense's argument that her crime was not premeditated but rather the act of uncontrollable female emotions. Male chauvinism reigned without question back then. The denouement went almost unnoticed. On that day, France was on the brink of war, and everyone's mind was on that. 

Emiliano Zapata
On July 23, 1914, Americans were preoccupied with two conflicts close to their doorsteps: the Mexican Resolution led by Emiliano Zapata and the continued political unrest in Hispaniola, the Caribbean island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Zapata's rebels were nearing Mexico City and newspapers in the United States were expressing concern about the possible harm that might befall United States citizens residing there. The Mexican president, Victoriano Huerta, reportedly left town in a hurry. The situation was described as  "desperate."

In Hispaniola, President Wilson's secretaries of State and War began considering intervening in the unrest in Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The United States government was losing patience with problems there, according to the Harrisburg Telegraph. The newspaper justified an intervention on unspecified "European pressure." (There was some truth to that; Germany had gained substantial economic influence in Haiti by 1914.)

Long story short: By July 1913, the presidency of Haiti had changed six times in four years, thanks to a series of coups. In 1915, President Wilson had enough. He ordered 300 Marines to invade Haiti to safeguard interests of United States corporations. The occupation ended just 19 years later. 

In 1916, it was the Dominican Republic's turn. It took two months for the United States to conquer the nation, due to a guerrilla insurrection. That occupation lasted eight years.

Though signs of war in Europe were ominous, there was the usual news to cover. In London, The Guardian's page 1 reported on harbor improvements, the installation of street fire alarms and an extension of electric works.

The New York Times reported on the possible dissolution of the perennially floundering New Haven Railroad. It also mentioned a libel suit filed against the young Franklin D. Roosevelt. The future President shrugged off the suit as inconsequential.