WEEKEND BRIEFING
Domino Theory

Jul. 25 - This evening the DMB and I will be heading to Prague to see the Stones concert Sunday. It's our last little breath of fresh air before wedding preparations completely consume us. That's my excuse for posting a four-day briefing today—to cover July 25 through 28—but I'll be back on Tuesday and will recount our Czech adventures then.

Domino Theory

In my first book, The Five-Minute Iliad and Other Instant Classics: Great Books for the Short Attention Span, I observed with characteristic stupidity that by the turn of the previous century, "the nations of western civilization had woven themselves into a tight and complicated knot of treaties designed to prevent the kind of widespread military conflagration that had plagued Europe at regular intervals since the French Revolution. Sadly, these were weak treaties, many of them having been written on the backs of cocktail napkins or matchbook covers, and pretty much everyone knew that sooner or later it was all going to blow up in their faces."

On a sweltering July 28, 1914, it did just that. That was the day on which, still reeling from the recent assassination of their Archduck Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia.

Because Russia was a Slavic nation, like Serbia, Czar Nicholas II sent a few troops toward Vienna the very next day, hoping either that Austria-Hungary would become nervous and back off or that the Russian troops would loot someone else for a change.

But it was hot, people were angry, and Austria wasn't in any mood to back off. If anything, they were feeling a little pissy: a day later, they sent some troops of their own toward Russia.

The Russian Czar was unaccustomed to this kind of confrontational behavior. His self-esteem in tatters, he mobilized the entire Imperial Army against Austria and began calling himself Tsar.

Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany observed the Russian mobilization with unease. The Slavs of Russia considered the Slavs of Serbia their blood cousins, but the Germans and Austrians were closer still. Like brothers. Like twin brothers. (Fraternal, not identical). The Emperor dashed off a note to his friend the Tsar (formerly the Czar), asking if maybe Russia wouldn't mind calling her troops back within, say, the next twenty-four hours or else. He sent another little note to France, asking if they wouldn't mind promising to keep their noses out of certain other peoples' business, if certain other people should happen to go to war within the next, say, eighteen hours.

Neither Russia nor France offered any reply to the Emperor's little notes, and his feelings were understandably hurt. He mobilized his own army, declared war against Russia on August 1, against France on August 3, and started calling himself Kaiser.

To reach France, the Germans had to cross through Belgium. Belgium expressed its sincere desire not to be crossed. This was unreasonable and forced the Germans to start killing Belgians on the night of August 3.

Britain, meanwhile, didn't care about Serbia. Britain didn't care about Russia. And Britain certainly didn't care who attacked France—it had been their own national sport for centuries. But they had foolishly pledged their support to unreasonable little Belgium, and had no choice but to declare war on Germany on August 4.

On the same day, the United States declared its reluctance to become involved in the European conflict until it had a better idea who'd win.

Austria, meanwhile, had been touched by the fervor with which Germany had come to her defense—and by the rapidity with which Russian troops were advancing toward both of them. Emperor Franz Josef declared war against Russia on August 5.

Serbia, already being pounded by Austria, declared war against Germany on August 6. Montenegro considered this bold and dashing, and wanted a piece of the action: she declared war against Austria on August 7, and, ebullient at finding herself intact a whole five days later, went so far as to declare war against Germany on Aug 12.

Already at war with Germany, an irritated France declared war against Austria on August 10. Caught up in the excitement, Britain declared war against Austria on August 12. By now it seemed like everyone was getting involved. There was a mad rush to war. Japan declared war against Germany on August 23.

Japan's hostilities toward Germany offended Austria, who declared war against Japan on August 25. Fastidiously egalitarian in their foreign policy, they declared war against Belgium three days later. Things were now spinning wildly out of control. On August 29, France declared war against Mongolia, Ireland declared war against Lichtenstein, and dogs declared war against cats.

World War One was underway. In just four years, it would claim 8.5 million lives and leave 21.2 million wounded, and lay the groundwork for an eventual rematch.

Other Stuff

On July 28, 1794, Maximilien "The Incorruptible" Robespierre was guillotined for having ravaged the French meteorological cycle with his nefarious Rain of Terror.

On July 28, 1945, a B-25 bomber flew into the side of the Empire State Building. It seemed funny when I started this almanac back in '99. Now I just leave it in each year because it doesn't seem right to take it out.

On July 25, 1943, Benito Mussolini resigned as Head Evil Bastard of Italy. He did not receive a gold watch. His 401(K) was in tatters. He was therefore machine-gunned to death, suspended upside down, and urinated on by the people of Italy as a civic reminder of the importance of retirement planning.

On July 25, 1689, King Louis XIV of France declared war on Britain for having joined the League of Augsburg and the Netherlands in order to oppose the French invasion of the Rhenish Palatinate. This caused the Battle of Schenecteday in New York.

British statesman Arthur James Lord Ballfour was born on July 25, 1848. In 1917, as Foreign Secretary of the British Government, Lord Ballfour declared that "His Majesty's Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country." This came to be known as the Ballfour Declaration, acknowledged by scholars throughout the world as the beginning of the Middle East Peace Process.

Ballfour has given us quite a walk.

Besides Lord Ballfour (really Balfour), July 25 is also the birthday of Katherine Kelly Lang, Barbara Harris, Jay Ferguson, Estelle Getty, Brad Renfro, and Adnan Khahoggi.

The 25th is Flag Day in Argentina, Constitution Day in Fiji, St. James' Day in Spain, and Republic Day in Tunisia.

July 26 is celebrated by some Muslims as The Prophet's Birthday.

Born on July 26: Sandra Bullock (1965), Kevin Spacey (1959), Dorothy Hamill (1956), Mick Jagger (1943), Stanley Kubrick (1928), Blake Edwards (1922), Jason Robards, Jr. (1922), Vivian Vance (1912), Gracie Allen (1902), Aldous Huxley (1894), Carl Jung (1875), and George Bernard Shaw (1856).

On July 27: Peggy Fleming (1948), Betty Thomas (1947), Jerry Van Dyke (1931), and Norman Lear (1922).

On July 28: Sally Struthers (1948), Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis (1929), Rudy Vallee (1901), and Beatrix Potter (1866).

July 27 is Independence Day in both Liberia and Maldives. July 27 is independence Day in Belarus.

July 28 is Independence Day in Peru.

Enjoy the weekend.

And Monday.

2003, The Moron's Almanac™

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