“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.

Keep Your Cat Busy With a Board Game That Doubles as a Scratch Pad

Cheerble
Cheerble

No matter how much you love playing with your cat, waving a feather toy in front of its face can get monotonous after a while (for the both of you). To shake up playtime, the Cheerble three-in-one board game looks to provide your feline housemate with hours of hands-free entertainment.

Cheerble's board game, which is currently raising money on Kickstarter, is designed to keep even the most restless cats stimulated. The first component of the game is the electronic Cheerble ball, which rolls on its own when your cat touches it with their paw or nose—no remote control required. And on days when your cat is especially energetic, you can adjust the ball's settings to roll and bounce in a way that matches their stamina.

Cheerable cat toy on Kickstarter.
Cheerble

The Cheerble balls are meant to pair with the Cheerble game board, which consists of a box that has plenty of room for balls to roll around. The board is also covered on one side with a platform that has holes big enough for your cat to fit their paws through, so they can hunt the balls like a game of Whack-a-Mole. And if your cat ever loses interest in chasing the ball, the board also includes a built-in scratch pad and fluffy wand toy to slap around. A simplified version of the board game includes the scratch pad without the wand or hole maze, so you can tailor your purchase for your cat's interests.

Cheerble cat board game.
Cheerble

Since launching its campaign on Kickstarter on April 23, Cheerble has raised over $128,000, already blowing past its initial goal of $6416. You can back the Kickstarter today to claim a Cheerble product, with $32 getting you a ball and $58 getting you the board game. You can make your pledge here, with shipping estimated for July 2020.

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HBO Max: Everything You Need to Know About the New Streaming Service

What will you binge-watch first?
What will you binge-watch first?
WarnerMedia

This week, WarnerMedia launched HBO Max, the long-awaited streaming platform that the company hopes can compete with the likes of Netflix and Disney+. But with HBO GO and HBO NOW already in existence, the addition of a third platform for HBO content has caused no small amount of confusion among both prospective customers and current HBO subscribers. Here are answers to all your burning questions about the buzzworthy new service.

What is HBO Max?

HBO Max is a direct-to-consumer streaming platform that you can download as an app or access through your cable or internet provider. Just like Apple has Apple TV+ and Amazon has Prime Video, WarnerMedia now has HBO Max.

How is HBO Max different from HBO NOW and HBO GO?

hbo max streaming platform
This user's viewing habits are eclectic, to say the least.
WarnerMedia

Before HBO Max, WarnerMedia had two different apps with the same library of HBO series and certain Warner Bros. films. HBO GO is for viewers who already pay for HBO through their cable TV provider, which is why you have to log in through your TV provider. HBO NOW is for independent subscribers who pay $15 a month for access to the same content. In other words, HBO GO is for customers with cable, and HBO NOW is for those without it.

Like HBO NOW, HBO Max is an independent subscription service that you don’t need a TV provider in order to access. The main difference comes down to content: While HBO NOW and HBO GO only include HBO series and some films, HBO Max offers tons of additional shows and films licensed from other distributors—plus new, exclusive originals (more on that in a minute).

How much does HBO Max cost, and how do I get it?

You can sign up for HBO Max here. Your first seven days will be free, and it will cost you $15 per month after that.

Do I already have access to HBO Max?

If you’re already an HBO NOW subscriber, your app should have automatically updated to the HBO Max app (if you don’t have automatic updates enabled, make sure to update it manually), and you can log into HBO Max using your existing HBO NOW credentials. Your recurring monthly payment of $15 will also now automatically start applying to HBO Max instead of HBO NOW.

If you watch HBO through your TV or mobile provider, there’s a good chance you can access HBO Max at no additional cost, too. Apple TV channels, AT&T TV, DIRECTV, Hulu, Spectrum, Verizon FIOS, Xfinity, and many other providers are included—you can see the full list here.

Which platforms will HBO Max be on?

You can stream HBO Max on your desktop on HBOMax.com, or you can download the app through the Apple app store, Google Play, or Samsung TV. You can also access HBO Max content on your TV through any of the providers listed here.

What's playing on HBO Max?

hbo max channel hubs
Elmo and James Dean in the same place, at last.
WarnerMedia

HBO Max boasts 10,000 hours of content that includes all HBO shows, many Warner Bros. films from the past century, new Max Original series, and other programs from CNN, Cartoon Network, TNT, TBS, TCM, Adult Swim, and more.

To name a few highlights, the service currently offers all eight Harry Potter films, all 10 seasons of Friends, an exclusive selection of Studio Ghibli classics like Howl’s Moving Castle (2005) and Spirited Away (2002), and 2019’s Joker. The first few episodes of some highly-anticipated Max Originals are also available, including Anna Kendrick’s rom-com series Love Life, the voguing house reality competition Legendary, and Sesame Workshop's The Not-Too-Late Show With Elmo (featuring guests Kacey Musgraves, John Mulaney, the Jonas Brothers, Lil Nas X, and more—so far).

Will I get to see the Friends Reunion?

Yes, the Friends reunion will definitely debut on HBO Max, but no air date has been confirmed yet. Production was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, and they’re tentatively hoping to film it sometime this summer. (But hey, at least you have access to all the other Friends episodes to help you pass the time.)