Austrians Decide on War With Serbia

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wikimedia commons

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 126th installment in the series.

July 2, 1914: Austrians Decide on War with Serbia 

The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, shocked Europe—but few, if any, guessed it would trigger the greatest war in history. And yet, by the first days of July, the wheels of fate had already been set in motion by a handful of powerful men meeting behind closed doors in Vienna. 

At first, in the immediate aftermath of the Sarajevo murders, it appeared compromise and accommodation might smooth over a serious—but not necessarily catastrophic—diplomatic crisis. Most informed observers expected Austria-Hungary to make some tough demands on Serbia, which would have to make obeisance. Serbian Prime Minister Nikola Pašić (who tried to foil the conspiracy) moved to placate Austria-Hungary by condemning the crime and sending condolences to Vienna. On the other side the German ambassador to Vienna, Heinrich von Tschirschky, warned the Austrians against “hasty measures.” But when the plotters were interrogated, it didn’t take long for the Austrian authorities to uncover the role of Serbian army officers. 

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Plenty of people already guessed that Serbia was entangled with the assassination: On July 1, the French ambassador to Belgrade, Léon Descos, noted in a letter to Paris that the Serbian nationalist movement had “allowed itself to be dragged by the military-party towards new methods and objectives… The very circumstances of the crime betray the existence of a national organization the ends of which are easy to imagine.” And the Serbian charge d’affaires in Paris later admitted that the Black Hand “were so powerful and had succeeded so well in concealing their actions… that it was impossible to stop them… Pašić knew! We all knew! But nothing could be done.” 

So while the Austrians weren’t quite clear on the structure of the conspiracy, they were basically correct in connecting the assassins to officials in Belgrade, including Milan Ciganović and Major Vojislav Tankosić, the right-hand man to Apis. And that was enough to bring the world tumbling down.

Whatever he might say in public, Pašić, for one, guessed what was coming, gloomily predicting on the afternoon of June 28, “It is very bad, it will mean war.” The next day, he ordered Ciganović, who had helped the plotters while also serving as an informer inside the Black Hand, smuggled out of Serbia to Montenegro to keep him out of reach of investigators.

But before the investigation even began, the Austrians had already decided to settle accounts with Serbia. The prime movers were the bellicose chief of the general staff, Conrad von Hötzendorf (top, center), and Foreign Minister Berchtold (top, right), who agreed on war against Serbia no later than July 2, and immediately set to work convincing Emperor Franz Josef (top, left).

Their cooperation reflected a new alignment. At first, Berchtold—who freely admitted he knew little of Balkan affairs on his appointment as foreign minister in February 1912—believed that Austria-Hungary could deal with Serbia without resorting to violence. But from 1912-1914, he grew increasingly frustrated with the intractable Serbs and used the threat of military action to force Serbia to give up Albania in December 1912, then to force Serbia’s sidekick Montenegro to give up the strategic city of Scutari in May 1913, and again to force Serbia to withdraw troops from eastern Albania in September 1913.

And still it went on: In the spring of 1914, the Austrian foreign minister suspected (correctly) that the Serbs were covertly supporting Esad Pasha Toptani, a powerful Albanian clan leader and former Ottoman officer, who organized a rebellion against the Prince of Wied, Berchtold’s preferred candidate for the Albanian throne. Berchtold was also alarmed by rumors that Serbia would absorb Montenegro, gaining access to the sea and setting the stage for the final struggle to free the Dual Monarchy’s Southern Slavic peoples. In short, the assassination of the Archduke was just the latest in an ongoing series of provocations by Serbia, all exacerbating the “real issue”—the rebellious mood among the empire’s own South Slavs, who looked to their ethnic kinsmen for liberation. In this context, Conrad’s repeated calls for war against Serbia became more and more persuasive; the outrage in Sarajevo simply provided the pretext. 

Of course, Berchtold and Conrad weren’t the sole decision-makers—but Emperor Franz Josef was also leaning towards war. Meeting with the German ambassador Tschirschky on July 2, he said he needed to confer with Kaiser Wilhelm II, “For I see the future very black… and conditions [in the Balkans] grow more disquieting every day. I do not know if we can continue any longer to look on passively and I hope that your Kaiser also measures the menace which the adjacency of Serbia signifies for the Monarchy.” To this Tschirschky replied, “His Majesty can surely rely on finding Germany solidly behind the Monarchy as soon as there is a question of defending one of its vital interests.”

Tschirschky had obviously changed his tune from just a few days before, reflecting new orders from Berlin, which shared Vienna’s fears that Slavic nationalism would undermine Austria-Hungary—leaving Germany to face the Triple Entente of France, Russia and Britain alone. As early as October 1913, the Kaiser assured Berchtold, “The Slavs are born not to rule but to obey… Belgrade shall be bombarded and occupied until the will of His Majesty [Franz Josef] has been carried out. And you can be sure that I will back you and am ready to draw the saber any time your action makes it necessary.”

Now Wilhelm, traumatized by the loss of his friend Franz Ferdinand, issued a sharp reprimand to Tschirschky for advising restraint in Vienna, scribbling in the margins of the ambassador’s June 30 report: “Will Tschirschky have the goodness to drop this nonsense! It is high time a clean sweep was made of the Serbs,” adding, “Now or never!” In the same vein, on July 1, Victor Naumann, a German publicist with close ties to Foreign Secretary Jagow, visited Vienna and told Berchtold’s chief of staff, Count Hoyos, that “after the Sarajevo murder, it was a matter of life and death for the Monarchy not to leave this crime unpunished but to annihilate Serbia… Austria-Hungary will be finished as a Monarchy and as a Great Power if she does not take advantage of this moment.”

Through formal and informal channels, Germany was already urging Austria-Hungary to act. The next step was for Count Hoyos to carry a personal letter from Franz Josef to Wilhelm, formally asking for German support for the planned reckoning with Serbia. But it was already clear that Berlin and Vienna were in agreement about Serbia; the key question was whether Russia would come to Serbia’s aid, increasing the chances of a much wider conflict. Here, in the first of a series of fatal mistakes, the German and Austrian leadership were confident that the war could be “localized,” meaning limited to Austria-Hungary and Serbia.

Meanwhile, the rest of the continent remained oblivious to the gathering storm. July was holiday season, and many members of the European elite had already left sweltering cities for country estates, health spas, and beachside retreats. The junior officials who remained behind to man the desks had even less of an idea what was brewing. Hugh Gibson, the new secretary to the U.S. embassy in the Belgian capital of Brussels, wrote in his diary on July 4: “For the last two years I have looked forward to just such a post as this, where nothing ever happens, where there is no earthly chance of being called out of bed in the middle of the night to see the human race brawling over its differences.” At the end of that fateful month Gibson felt it necessary to clarify: “No, my recent remarks about nothing ever happening in Brussels were not intended as sarcasm.”

See the previous installment or all entries.

21 Fun Facts About Elf

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Everyone knows the best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear! But the second best way is to enjoy Elf. Revel in the giddy glow of this modern holiday classic with a slew of secrets from behind the scenes.

1. Jim Carrey was initially eyed to play Buddy the elf.

When David Berenbaum's spec script first emerged in 1993, Carrey was pre-Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and attached to front the Christmas film. However, it took another 10 years to get the project in motion, at which time Saturday Night Live star Will Ferrell was signed to star. Carrey would go on to headline his own Christmas offerings—the live-action How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the CGI animated A Christmas Carol.

2. Will Ferrell worked as a mall Santa.


Warner Bros.

And his A Night at the Roxbury co-star Chris Kattan was his elf. This was back when the pair were pre-Saturday Night Live, and part of the comedy troupe The Groundlings. Ferrell recollected to Spliced Wire, "I have some experience playing Santa Claus … Chris Kattan was my elf at this outdoor mall in Pasadena for five weeks, passing out candy canes. It was hilarious because little kids could care less about the elf. They just come right to Santa Claus. So by the second weekend, Kattan had dropped the whole affectation he was doing and was like (Ferrell makes a face of bitter boredom), 'Santa's over there, kid.'"

3. Director Jon Favreau favored practical effects.

Inspired by the Christmas specials he grew up with, Favreau explained in the film's commentary track that he employed “old techniques” instead of CGI whenever possible. This included stop-motion animation, and using forced perspective to make Buddy look like a giant among his elf peers. For North Pole scenes, two sets were built—one larger scale for the actors playing elves, the other smaller to make Buddy and Santa look big. These elements where then carefully overlaid in camera, using lighting to blend the seams.

4. Snow was often computer-generated.


Warner Home Video

Some effects just couldn't be practical. These included the snowflakes that drift over the opening credits, and many of the snowballs in Buddy's pivotal fight scene. It's probably not much of a shocker that much of these were added in post, considering Buddy's perfect aim. But to further underscore the drama that is a snowball fight in frosty New York, Favreau asked composer John Debney to give this section a Western vibe that would recall The Magnificent Seven.

5. Elf's production design was heavily influenced by Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The classic stop-motion Christmas special from 1964 gave a memorable presentation of Santa's winter wonderland to which Favreau wanted to pay tribute. The elves' costumes in Elf were inspired by those worn by Hermey and his peers in the animated film. And Elf's workshops were modeled after the Rankin/Bass designs, as were the stop-motion animals of the area. The production did secure permission for these allusions, and was even granted the privilege of using the company's signature snowman.

6. There's a Christmas Story cameo.

Peter Billingsley, who memorably played the Red Ryder-wanting Ralphie in the 1983 holiday classic, popped in to play Ming the elf. It's an uncredited role, but between the glasses and those bright baby blue eyes, Billingsley stands out as an A Christmas Story Easter egg. This marks just one of many Billingsley and Favreau's collaborations. Billingsley has been a producer on several of Favreau's film and television projects.

7. Jon Favreau played multiple parts in Elf.

Jon Favreau directs Will Ferrell in 'Elf' (2003)
Alan Markfield, New Line Productions

As a writer/director/actor, Favreau has often appeared in his own films. He fronted Made with friend Vince Vaughn, and later found a sweet supporting role for himself in Iron Man. You may have picked him out as the doctor in Elf, but on the DVD commentary, Favreau revealed he also tapped in to his inner narwhal and provided the voices for some of the stop-animation critters who see Buddy off from the North Pole. He also voiced the rabid raccoon Buddy encounters.

8. Baby buddy was fired.

To play the bubbly baby version of the titular elf, Favreau had initially cast twin boys whose blonde curly hair made them great little doubles for the mop-topped Ferrell. However, the production ran into a problem when the boys couldn't perform. Instead of smiling and crawling as needed, they cried relentlessly. To replace them, brunette triplet girls were brought in, who were far perkier and more playful, and thereby ready for their close-ups.

9. Buddy was bullied in an early version.

In first drafts of Berenbaum's Elf script, Buddy's decision to seek out his dad was in part because he was being hassled by the actual elves for being different. Favreau pushed to take out this element. He preferred to keep the North Pole characters warm, even when Buddy bugs them. In the DVD commentary, Favreau offers, “It explained why Buddy was doing all these good things in New York if he grew up in a world where everybody was so sweet even when he’s obviously screwing everything up and doesn’t fit in at all.”

10. Elf hockey hit the cutting room floor.

Poor Buddy accidentally wreaks all kinds of havoc on his elf community because of his ungainly size. One such scene of his well-meaning mayhem featured Buddy playing hockey on a frozen pond. The friendly game becomes unintentionally violent when the too-big Buddy takes to the ice. Though it was shot, it ended up being chopped from the finished film.

11. Elf was shot on location in New York when it counted.

Like many productions, this one took advantage of the financial benefits of filming in Canada, and much of Elf was shot in sound stages in Vancouver. However, when Buddy comes to New York, it was important to Favreau to shoot on location whenever possible. This includes all the Manhattan exteriors, as well as scenes shot at Rockefeller Center, Central Park, and Central Park West, where Buddy's dad lives.

12. Some of Elf’s sets were built in a horror factory.

Okay, technically it was an abandoned mental hospital, where the production team constructed the interior sets for Walter's Central Park West apartment, Gimbels's lavish toy department, and that grim prison cell. The facility is called Riverview Hospital, and it has played host to a long list of film and television productions, including The X-Files, Final Destination 2, Jennifer's Body, and See No Evil 2.

13. Macy's stood in for Gimbels.

The sprawling department store that takes up a whole block in Manhattan was digitally altered to transform into Elf's Gimbels. A bit awkward: Gimbels was once a real department store, and a noted rival of Macy's. Though immortalized here and in the 1947 classic Miracle on 34th Street, the department store closed its doors in 1987, its 100th year of operation.

14. Will Ferrell broke James Caan.


Warner Home Video

The Academy Award-nominated star of The Godfather was hired to play Walter in part because Favreau wanted a stern persona to play against Ferrell's giddy Buddy, and Caan took the comedy of Elf seriously. He knew it was crucial for Walter to be annoyed—never amused—by his supposed son's antics. But when it came to the blood test scene where Buddy bellows when pricked by a needle, Caan cracked. Watch closely and you'll see he turns away from the camera so as not to ruin the take.

15. The studio didn't get a joke from the mailroom sequence.

This was the last set piece shot for Elf, and one that filmmakers were wavering on from its conception late in production. Grizzled Mark Acheson's casting as Buddy's drinking buddy concerned execs because of the line, "I'm 26 years old." The studio noted the actor does not look 26, to which Favreau—who had previously cast Acheson in a small role that had been cut before production—responded that this disconnect was part of the joke.

16. Will Ferrell went method with those jack-in-the-boxes.

In the scene where Buddy suffers as a toy tester, he's subjected to popping open an endless stream of menacing jack-in-the-boxes. The anxiety etched on Ferrell's face in these scenes is real. Rather than standard jack-in-the-boxes that would pop at the song's end, these were remote controlled by Favreau, who purposely manipulated their timing to toy with his star and get authentic reactions.

17. Will Ferrell frolicked all over New York City in character.

The final day of Elf's New York shooting was pared down from a massive crew to just three people: its star, its director, and one cameraman. Together, this trio traveled around the city, looking for mischief for Buddy to get into with random passersby turned background extras. This included him leapfrogging across a pedestrian walk, happily accepting flyers, and getting his shoes shined, all of which made it into the movie's cheerful montage.

18. That epic burp was real, but overdubbed.

Though uncredited, that lengthy belch came not from Ferrell, but from noted voice actor Maurice LaMarche, who might be best known for Brain of Pinky and the Brain. LaMarche shared his secret to such an impressive burp with The A.V. Club, saying, "I’ve always been able to do this weird effect, where I turn my tongue, not inside out, but almost. I create a huge echo chamber with my tongue and my cheeks, and by doing a deep, almost Tuvan rasp in my throat, and bouncing it around off this echo chamber, I create something that sounds very much like a sustained deep burp."

19. Elf made its star stick.

In the movie, Buddy is happy to gobble down an endless supply of sweets, including maple syrup-coated spaghetti and cotton balls made of cotton candy. But this sugary diet played havoc on Ferrell, who told About Entertainment, "That was tough. I ingested a lot of sugar in this movie and I didn't get a lot of sleep. I constantly stayed up. But anything for the movie, I'm there. If it takes eating a lot of maple syrup, then I will—if that's what the job calls for."

20. Will Ferrell refuses to make Elf 2.

Though the comedian reprised the role of Ron Burgundy for Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues and returned as Mugatu in Zoolander 2, he flat out rejected the possibility of bringing back Buddy, even after being offered a reported $29 million. In December of 2013, he told USA TODAY, "I just think it would look slightly pathetic if I tried to squeeze back in the elf tights: Buddy the middle-aged elf."

21. Elf became a hit Broadway musical.

From November 2010 to January 2011, Elf the musical ran on Broadway, boasting songs like "World's Greatest Dad," "Nobody Cares About Santa," and "The Story of Buddy The Elf." This run was a huge success, taking in more than $1.4 million in one week, a record for the Al Hirschfield Theater where it debuted. Plus, The New York Times called it, "A splashy, peppy, sugar-sprinkled holiday entertainment." A revival hit in time for Christmas 2012, and national tours have been recurring.

Can You Guess J.K. Rowling's Fantastic Beast From Its Magical Power?

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