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Franz Ferdinand, Whose Assassination Sparked a World War



Thanks for joining us this summer as we revisited some of the , memorable lives featured in The New York Times’s archive.

We wandered back into a fatal Alaskan odyssey and over the rainbow. We heard the echoes of shots that reverberated in America and around the world. We mingled with criminals, leaders, protesters, artists and athletes, many who forever changed their professions. We relived the first steps on the moon and the speech that divided India and Pakistan. And we asked Anderson Cooper, Cory Booker, Dominique Dawes, Tom Brokaw and David H. Petraeus whom from our archives they would dine with, and why.

You can find more fascinating New York Times obituaries, year round, here and on our Twitter feed. Click here for the continuing feature “Notable Deaths of ”, and if you want to revisit some of the most momentous obituaries to have appeared in The Times, you might look for “The Book of the Dead,” a compilation of obituaries dating back to the newspaper’s founding in It will be available for preorder and will appear on store shelves in October.

We welcome your feedback about Not Forgotten here. We hope you enjoyed it.

—-Shreeya Sinha


Princess Diana, Who Was Beloved, Yet Troubled by Her Crown

She died young. She died violently. She was a global celebrity in the broadest sense, a woman of startling charisma who became famous when she married the heir to the English throne and even more famous when she divorced him and embarked on a life of her own.

But the sudden death of Diana, the Princess of Wales, alongside her lover in a fiery car crash in a Paris tunnel on Aug. 31, , elevated her into something else entirely: a symbol of a nation’s emotional and generational conflicts, a blank slate on which an entire people — and to some extent, the world at large — could project their own fears, prejudices and passions. Britain went a little crazy. For a few disorienting weeks, everything seemed up for grabs, including the monarchy itself.


She was born Lady Diana Spencer, the daughter of an earl, in Althorp, her childhood home, was a stately, drafty pile, crammed with priceless works of art. Her childhood was privileged but lonely — her parents had a terrible divorce — and her education indifferent.

In fact, nothing remarkable at all happened to Diana until, at age 19, she married Charles, the Prince of Wales, in view of thousands of strangers (millions, if you count the television audience), wearing a voluminous puffball of a dress that drowned her slender frame.

If the wedding was a gossamer fairy tale, the marriage was a real-life nightmare. Diana was emotional, fragile, needy, anorexic, bulimic; Charles came from the stiff-upper-lip school of interpersonal relations and had a longtime (married) girlfriend, Camilla Parker-Bowles.

Charles and Diana had two sons. She eventually found various lovers, too. Their divorce was shocking and unprecedented, but it freed Diana to look elsewhere for love, and she soon took up with a man named Dodi al-Fayed, a rich playboy whose father owned Harrod’s department store. They died together in a high-speed chase in Paris, fleeing from paparazzi pursuing them in cars and motorcycles after a date.

Britain went into deep shock, wondering aloud whether it had helped cause Diana’s death by not appreciating her enough in life. The power of the emotion — and the frenzy whipped up by the tabloid newspapers — all but forced Queen Elizabeth to break with centuries of tradition and protocol and make a public address to the nation. Elton John sang at the funeral. Men, women and children lined the streets and wept as Diana’s coffin went by.

Diana is nearly as vivid a figure in death as in life. She lives on in her sons, William and Harry, who have talked in recent years about her effect on them. William’s wife, Kate, a future queen of England — this would take some time, because both Elizabeth and Charles, the current heir, would have to die before William inherits the throne — wears the massive sapphire and diamond engagement ring that Charles gave to Diana, and that William in turn gave to her.

Read the obituary “Diana Killed in a Car Accident in Paris”

—Sarah Lyall


Christopher McCandless, Whose Alaskan Odyssey Ended in Death

“No one is yet certain who he was,” said an Associated Press article that appeared in The New York Times on Sept. 13, “But his diary and two notes found at the camp tell a wrenching story of his desperate and progressively futile efforts to survive.”

The young man in question was Christopher McCandless. His identity was not confirmed for weeks, but in time he would become internationally famous as a bold, or very imprudent, figure.

Mr. McCandless died alone in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail, a desolate stretch of backcountry near Denali, in August He was surrounded by his meager provisions: a caliber rifle; some well-worn and annotated paperbacks; a camera and five rolls of exposed film; and the diary, cryptic notes on the back pages of a book that identified edible plants.

Before Mr. McCandless died, from starvation aggravated by accidental poisoning, he had survived for more than days on nothing but a pound sack of rice and what he could hunt and forage in the unforgiving taiga.

Jon Krakauer, at the time a freelance writer, heard about Mr. McCandless’s story from an editor at Outside magazine who had read the Associated Press piece. The editor wanted Mr. Krakauer to write a long article about Mr. McCandless on a tight deadline, and he delivered.

But after the story ran, Mr. Krakauer needed to learn more.

“I decided I wanted to write this book because I felt like there was a lot more to tell; there was a lot I hadn’t discovered,” Mr. Krakauer said in a telephone interview.

Over the next few years he dug into Mr. McCandless’s life and discovered a complicated, compelling story. He chronicled Mr. McCandless’s travels and lonely death in “Into the Wild” (), a national best-seller that has since sold millions of copies in the United States. A film based on the book, starring Emile Hirsch as Mr. McCandless and directed by Sean Penn, was released in

Mr. McCandless’s story continues to fascinate, confound and infuriate readers two decades after “Into the Wild” was first published. Mr. Krakauer said it was by far his best-selling work, adding, “I get more hate mail from this book than probably from anything else.”

“He’s this Rorschach test: People read into him what they see,” he said of Mr. McCandless. “Some people see an idiot, and some people see themselves. I’m the latter, for sure.”

Mr. McCandless came from a well-off family on the East Coast. He graduated from Emory University with honors, then disappeared in He donated virtually all the money in his bank account to Oxfam, a charity dedicated to fighting poverty, then drove west before abandoning his car and burning the cash he had left. He deserted his family and a privileged life without looking back.

Mr. McCandless canoed into Mexico, hitchhiked north and worked odd jobs along the way. He often roamed alone, but left an impression on many of the friends he made along the way. An older man named Ron Franz even offered to adopt him; Mr. McCandless gently turned him down.

He never contacted his parents, Walt and Billie McCandless, or his sister, Carine. His parents were worried, but knew that long, improvised jaunts were nothing new for their son.

“He was always an adventuresome, pretty self-contained individual,” Walt McCandless said in an interview. “And it’s important to realize that the trip he didn’t come back from wasn’t his first adventure.”

Some readers see Mr. McCandless’s rejection of materialism and his embrace of the natural world as romantic, taking him for a contemporary Thoreau. Many others, especially native Alaskans, have argued that he must have been mentally ill, suicidal or hubristic, and that it was irresponsible for Mr. Krakauer to glorify his story.

Walt McCandless and Mr. Krakauer both disagreed with that assessment.

In Mr. McCandless’s sister Carine published “The Wild Truth,” a memoir that depicted a physically abusive, chaotic childhood that both siblings were forced to conceal.

“Chris made his choices, and he accepted accountability,” Ms. McCandless said in an interview. But she said she does feel her parents should accept some blame.

"I do hold them accountable for his disappearance,” she said. “I think for him to leave in that extreme way, to go without telling anyone where he was — I do hold them accountable for his disappearance, but not for his death.”

Walt and Billie McCandless said they did not want to comment on the memoir.

“He was a tortured soul; he did what he had to do,” said Mr. Krakauer, who wrote the foreword to “The Wild Truth,” adding: “He suffered as a young man, and he did what he had to do to escape it.”

By the time Mr. McCandless died, he seemed to have found a measure of peace, according to one of his last notes, scrawled inside a paperback copy of “Education of a Wandering Man,” a memoir by the novelist Louis L’Amour. It said:


Read the article “Dying in the Wild, a Hiker Recorded the Terror”

Read the review “Taking Risk to Its ‘Logical’ Extreme”

An earlier version of this article, using information from Mr. Krakauer’s publisher, misstated the number of copies of "Into the Wild” that have been sold. It is several million, not “nearly two million.”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


Long May He Reign: Michael Jackson, the ‘King of Pop’

When Michael Joseph Jackson was born into a large family in a small house in Gary, Ind., on Aug. 29, , no one could have imagined that he would become perhaps the most recognizable entertainer on the planet. On the king of pop’s birthday, Not Forgotten takes you back through his life and music.

Jackson’s rise was swift. By the time he was 10, he and his brothers were pop sensations performing as the Jackson 5. The group had four No. 1 Motown hits in a little more than a year, including “I Want You Back,” all of which featured Michael’s ebullient high-pitched voice.

By 20, Jackson wanted to break away from his overbearing father, his demanding siblings and the Jackson 5 sound. His first solo album, “Off the Wall,” may be the quintessential recording of the disco era. It featured “Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough,” for which Jackson sang with a flirtatious falsetto.

Jackson’s next album was “Thriller,” which was released in and became the best-selling album of all time. It won eight Grammy Awards, spent two years on the Billboard album chart and sold more than million copies around the world. Jackson’s dancing and innovative music videos, especially the one for the title track “Thriller,” helped redefine the medium and open MTV to black musicians.

Five years later, “Bad” was released. It was also hugely successful, with five No. 1 singles and a video for the title track that was directed by Martin Scorsese.

After “Bad” the bizarre details of Jackson’s personal life often overshadowed his abilities as a musician and entertainer. His other albums include “Dangerous” () and “HIStory,” and although they all did well commercially they never approached the world-beating success of “Thriller.”

Jackson died on June 25, , from an overdose of the anesthetic propofol. There was a worldwide outpouring of grief. Radio stations played marathons of his music. And fans were left to decide which Jackson they would remember, as the pop music critic Jon Pareles wrote in an appraisal in The New York Times:

The unsurpassed entertainer, the gifted and driven song-and-dance man who wielded rhythm, melody, texture and image to create and promote the best-selling album of all time, “Thriller”? Or the bizarre figure he became after he failed in his stated ambition to outsell “Thriller,” and after the gleaming fantasy gave way to tabloid revelations, bitter rejoinders and the long public silence he was scheduled to break next month?

How do you remember Jackson? Tell us using #tellnyt.

Read the obituary “A Star Idolized and Haunted, Michael Jackson Dies at 50”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


Emmett Till, Whose Martyrdom Launched the Civil Rights Movement

Emmett Louis Till was born on July 25, , on Chicago’s South Side and was nicknamed Bobo because of his fun-loving, cheerful disposition while growing up in the segregated middle-class neighborhood. When he was 14 he went to Mississippi to spend the summer with his cousins, and his mother gave him his father’s signet ring as a gift.

On Aug. 24, , after an exhausting day of picking cotton in the scorching Delta sun, Till and his cousins went to a local store run by a poor white couple in their 20s, Roy and Carolyn Bryant. Ms. Bryant was working alone in the store when Till went in to buy bubblegum. It is not clear what happened inside, but soon afterward Ms. Bryant stormed out, presumably to get a pistol from her car parked outside. Till, unaware of the danger, whistled, and his cousins, now panicked, quickly drove him away.

Ms. Bryant later claimed that Till had flirted with her on a dare. The details would later change depending on when she told the story.

Four days later, around a.m., Ms. Bryant’s husband, Roy, and his half brother J. W. Milam pounded on the door of the Wright family home where Till was staying with a pistol. Bryant announced that they were “looking for the boy that did the talking.” Forcing their way in, according to a PBS documentary about Till, they roused Till from sleep, marched him to their car and sped away.

Till’s disfigured body was found three days later, “the most celebrated race-sex case since Scottsboro was born,” the journalist William Bradford Huie wrote in Look magazine. His body was so mutilated that it could be identified only by the silver signet ring, still on his finger.

“Someone is going to pay for this,” Till’s mother wailed, according to an American National Biography web page about her. She demanded that her son’s body be returned to Chicago for an open-coffin funeral. “I wanted the world to see,” she said.

Till’s body, unembalmed, was displayed publicly for four days. People left in tears. Some fainted.

The murder became a rallying point for the nascent civil rights movement. The Rev. Jesse Jackson called it the movement’s “Big Bang.”

“More than , people saw his body lying in that casket,” he told The New York Times in

The Bryant brothers were found not guilty. After the acquittal, they kissed their wives, lit cigars and posed for pictures. And later, protected from double jeopardy, they boasted about how they had murdered Till.

Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley, turned to the federal government to no avail. She tried to meet with President Dwight D. Eisenhower, but he refused. J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the F.B.I. at the time, declined to make the killing a federal case.

“There has been no allegation made,” he said, “that the victim Emmett Till has been subjected to the deprivation of any right or privilege which is secured and protected by the Constitution and the laws of the United States.”

The Till case became emblematic of a history of violence toward African-Americans and of the country’s legacy of white supremacy. It provoked international outrage and pressure on political leaders in the United States. Young black Americans grasped the precariousness of their own lives, and figures like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Medgar Evers and many others were galvanized to press the fight on the front lines. Ms. Till Mobley became a teacher and civil rights activist herself, as did many whites.

As Mr. Jackson said, “Emmett’s murder broke the emotional chains of Jim Crow.”

Read the article “Mississippi Jury Acquits 2 Accused in Youth’s Killing”

Read the article “Racial Issues Stirred by Mississippi Killing”

—Darold Cuba


Friedrich Nietzsche, a Philosophical Renegade Whose Ideas Endured

Friedrich Nietzsche, the rebel of 19th-century philosophy who died years ago on Aug. 25, would probably recognize some of his ideas in modern society.

Nietzsche wrote with the confidence and vehemence of any pundit. He posited extreme precursors to moral relativism and self-actualization, two ideas that have become prevalent during the last few decades. His often-aphoristic writing style would be perfect for Twitter, where there are many accounts in his name.

Whether he would be pleased about how his ideas have influenced our culture is another matter, but it would be very difficult to argue that they have not. Perhaps the most well-known example is the frequently made accusation that his writings fostered a sense of Teutonic racial superiority that Germany and then Hitler would use to justify embarking on two world wars, even though Nietzsche himself had repudiated his nationality and claimed to be descended from Polish nobles.

His ideas might seem more familiar to us now, but at his death they were controversial, even shocking.

“Nietzsche was largely influenced by the pessimism of Schopenhauer, and his writings, full of revolutionary opinions, were fired with a fearless iconoclasm which surpassed the wildest dreams of contemporary free thought,” The New York Times wrote after he died on Aug. 25, “His doctrines, however, were inspired by lofty aspirations, while the brilliancy of his thought and diction and the epigrammatic force of his writings commanded even the admiration of his most pronounced enemies, of which he had many.”

Those enemies included organized religion, especially Christianity, democracy, mediocrity, nationalism and women. Nietzsche railed against these and other adversaries on pages often densely packed with allusions, symbolism and language closer to romantic poetry than fusty metaphysics. Here is a sampling of his best-known writings:

Out of life’s school of war: What does not kill me, makes me stronger. — “Twilight of the Idols”

Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. — “Beyond Good and Evil”

God is dead! God remains dead! And we have killed him! How shall we console our selves, the most murderous of all murderers? — “The Gay Science”

Unlike many of his philosophical predecessors, Nietzsche did not argue for a specific weltanschauung, or worldview, even though his writings may suggest one. He distrusted any thinker who proposed a comprehensive system for interpreting the world, and he often wrote in a manner that allowed for multiple interpretations.

A critical examination of his work in The New York Times in explained his approach:

Nietzsche is not a philosopher in the strict and technical sense of the word. He has no system or consistent body of thought professing to explain all aspects of the universe. He does not expressly deal with epistemology, ontology or, indeed, with metaphysics in general. He concentrates himself on the moral and aesthetic aspects of things, on their “values,” as is now the custom to say, owing to Nietzsche himself, who introduced the term; and he does so with a literary force and artistic power of presentation which makes his writings specially stimulating and is really the cause of his comparative popularity.

Nietzsche’s originality may have stemmed from consideration, then renunciation. He was born on Oct. 15, , the son of a Lutheran minister. His father died when he was young, and his mother hoped he would join the church, but by the time he went to the University of Bonn (he later moved to the University of Leipzig) he had decided to study the classics and pursue a career in philology. He earned a professorship in Greek at the University of Basel in Switzerland when he was just 24 and became inspired by Richard Wagner and Arthur Schopenhauer.

By the late s Nietzsche had retired from his professorship, broken off his relationship with Wagner and tried to wrest his philosophy from Schopenhauer’s shadow.

He worked tirelessly throughout the s, producing what became “The Gay Science,” “Beyond Good and Evil” and “Thus Spoke Zarathustra,” but his physical and mental health declined. His Times obituary said that when he died he had “been hopelessly insane” since

But his ideas endured, and have since intrigued innumerable thinkers. The following description of Nietzsche’s impact, from a Times review of several books about his life in , remains as true now as it was a century ago.

“No thinker of modern times comes more unexpectedly and with less traceable connection with the general lines of European thought: in the philosophic world he is indeed a bolt from the blue.”

Read the obituary “Prof. Nietzsche Dead”

Read the article “The Nietzsche the Nazis Don’t Know”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


Aaliyah, Whose Soaring Career Was Cut Short by a Tragedy

She was the princess of R&B, a Grammy-nominated singer and actress whose glassy vocals against synthetic soundscapes pioneered a new genre. But she was also a girl next door, a teenager with her own street style who rose above the vulgarity of other stars.

Aaliyah Dana Haughton died 15 years ago along with eight other passengers of a small airplane that crashed in the Bahamas. She was 22, but she had already reached a level of fame few could achieve in a lifetime.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Detroit, Aaliyah was raised for stardom. At 11, she sang on stage with Gladys Knight. True to its title, her debut album, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number,” was released when she was It was produced by the R&B giant R. Kelly and included chart toppers like “Back and Forth” and “At Your Best (You Are Love).” It went platinum, selling more than a million copies. In one of her more gossip-provoking moments, it was widely reported that she had secretly married R. Kelly, who was in his late 20s. Their marriage was annulled.

At the beginning of her senior year of high school in , she released her second album, “One in a Million,” with help from the star producer-songwriter duo Timbaland and Missy Elliot. Timbaland’s trademark fusion of hip-hop and electronic music featured twitchy, complex syncopated beats and start-stop rhythms that complemented Aaliyah’s precocious, sultry voice. That album sold two million copies.

The collaboration with Timbaland took her to new heights in with “Are You That Somebody,“ recorded for the “Dr. Dolittle” soundtrack. The song, which the critic Simon Reynolds called “the most radical pop single” of the year, earned Aaliyah the first of her five Grammy Award nominations.

In The Times, Kelefa Sanneh wrote, “Where most divas insist on being the center of the song, she knew how to disappear into the music, how to match her voice to the bass line — it was sometimes difficult to tell one from the other.”

Aaliyah’s acting career took off in with a lead part in “Romeo Must Die.” Her hit single on the soundtrack, “Try Again,” earned her another Grammy nomination. She also had a title role in the film “Queen of the Damned,” which was released after her death.

Aaliyah died on her way back to Miami from Abaco Island, where she had finished working on the video for her latest album’s third single, “Rock the Boat,” directed by Hype Williams.

Read the obituary “Aaliyah, 22, Singer Who First Hit the Charts at 15”

Read the review “A Pioneer, Briefly, Of a New Sound”

—Shreeya Sinha


‘In Cold Blood,’ Truman Capote’s Achievement and Undoing

In , Truman Capote stumbled on a short article in The New York Times about a gruesome quadruple murder at a Kansas farm. He soon realized that it was the story he had been waiting to write for 20 years.

When he began writing professionally, Capote, who died 32 years ago today, theorized that journalism and creative writing could come together in the form of what he called the “nonfiction novel.” The subject had to be right, however; with journalism underpinning such a novel, the pitfall was that it could quickly date itself. Crime, he decided, could be the perfect vehicle.

“The human heart being what it is, murder was a theme not likely to darken and yellow with time,” he told George Plimpton in a interview in The New York Times.

The first people he shared his nonfiction novel idea with, he said, thought of it as merely a remedy for writer’s block. Capote disagreed.

“Reporting can be made as interesting as fiction, and done as artistically,” he told Plimpton.

Accompanied by his childhood friend Harper Lee, the author of “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Capote made his way to Kansas to investigate the murders of the Clutter family. Their trip resulted in “In Cold Blood,” which made his name synonymous with the true crime genre.

By then he was 35 and had already achieved fame and fortune with his fiction, which included “Other Voices, Other Rooms” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” But “In Cold Blood,” which reconstructed in stark detail the murders at the Clutter farm, was a radical departure for him.

The killers, Perry Smith and Dick Hickock, both of them ex-convicts, had intended to rob the family, which they knew to be well-off. But they were surprised to find almost no money in the house; everyone but the robbers, it seemed, knew that the farm owner, Herbert Clutter, paid only with checks.

Before arriving at the farm, Smith and Hickock had agreed that no witnesses could be left behind, whether or not the robbery was successful. The Clutters were tied up in separate rooms and killed at close range by shotgun blasts. Herbert Clutter’s throat was also slit.

“In Cold Blood” started as a series of articles for The New Yorker, based on six years of research and interviews that, Capote said, were transcribed from memory without the use of tape recorders or notes. Made into a book, it became a national best seller, despite assertions that it is not entirely factual. And it brought Capote even more financial and social success.

The book, disturbing and gory, took its toll on him, though. He told Plimpton that if he had known what was waiting for him in Kansas, he would have “driven straight on. Like a bat out of hell.”

Capote formed a bond with Perry Smith; though strikingly different, they both had endured turbulent childhoods. “Each looked at each other and saw, or thought he saw, the man he might have been,” Gerald Clarke wrote in “Capote,” his biography of the writer published in (Philip Seymour Hoffman won a best-actor Oscar for his performance as the title character in the film “Capote.”)

Capote knew that before he could finish his book, the ending — the executions of the two convicted murderers — had to happen. In , when the killers were hanged, the conflict he felt “tore him apart,” Mr. Clarke said in an email.

Capote told Plimpton: “I’m still very much haunted by the whole thing. I have finished the book, but in a sense I haven’t finished it.”

Capote lived in a “heavy-drinking generation,” as Mr. Clarke described it, but after the publication of “In Cold Blood,” his drinking got worse, and he started using drugs. Once slender, he deteriorated into a “paunchy” man, as his Times obituary noted in

In July Capote was interviewed on Stanley Siegel’s live television talk show (shown at below). Siegel, who died last January, asked the obviously inebriated Capote what would happen to him if he did not give up alcohol and drugs.

“The obvious answer is that eventually I’ll kill myself,” he replied.

He was not able to kick his destructive habits. Six years later, a coroner attributed his death, at 59, to liver failure.

At a memorial service, Robert L. Bernstein, chairman of Random House at the time, said Capote had lived “a colorful life, a complicated life, sometimes a turbulent life.”

Read the obituary “Truman Capote Is Dead at 59; Novelist of Style and Clarity”

—Medea Giordano


Hero, Criminal or Both: Huey P. Newton Pushed Black Americans to Fight Back

As many Americans protested the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., two years ago, members of the Huey P. Newton Gun Club carried their rifles on a march in Dallas. And last month, in response to more police shootings, they took them to another rally in Dallas in which five officers were fatally shot by a veteran of the Army Reserve, not a club member.

The Dallas club began in after an officer there killed an unarmed black man and wounded a child with a stray bullet but was not disciplined. The club’s members made it their mission to patrol their neighborhoods, keeping an eye on the police and others.

The name Huey P. Newton can elicit cries of “hero” or “criminal,” and the space in between reflects the distance in racial perspectives that the United States has failed to bridge since Newton helped found the Black Panthers 50 years ago, when the civil rights struggle was moving beyond the South to black neighborhoods in the North and West.

Newton advocated armed self-defense in black communities, where the organization also provided social services. They would patrol the streets, guns drawn, turning them on drug dealers and police officers alike.

“We’ve never advocated violence, violence is inflicted upon us,” Newton told The Times in , one month after a California court overturned his conviction for killing a police officer in Oakland, Calif., where the Panthers originated. “But we do believe in self-defense for ourselves and for black people.”

Expressing a willingness to defend oneself with weapons was hardly revolutionary. When Frederick Douglass was asked in what he believed to be the best response to the Fugitive Slave Act, he replied, “A good revolver.” And Malcolm X advocated the same.

The Black Panthers, which never grew beyond a few thousand members, tried to combine socialism and black nationalism. Its charter called for full employment, decent housing, and the end of police brutality.

Unlike black separatists, the Panthers welcomed all races and found wealthy liberals willing to give them money. But the group’s social programs — like a breakfast program for schoolchildren and clothing and food drives — came undone partly by the corruption of the leadership.

Historians have detailed its mistreatment of female members, extortion, drug dealing, embezzlement and murder. At least 19 Panthers were killed in shootouts with one another, the authorities or other black revolutionaries.

While “by any means necessary” became a mantra of the group, J. Edgar Hoover’s F.B.I. also did whatever possible to target the Panthers. As many members went off to prison and the group dwindled, Newton became a despotic and paranoid drug addict, wielding dictatorial powers with a small coterie, and knocking off anyone in his way.

While the Panthers’ time of influence ended quickly, Newton never escaped the organization. In , he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy. But he was shot to death on Aug. 22, , in a crack cocaine deal gone bad. He was 47, a victim of the same streets he had once tried to make safe.

Read the obituary “Huey Newton Killed; Was a Co-Founder of Black Panthers ”

Read the article “Huey Newton Symbolized the Rising Black Anger of a Generation”

—Adeel Hassan


Alice Coachman, Who Won a Gold Medal but Came Home to Segregation

During the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Not Forgotten is resurfacing obituaries about some of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

“Go anyplace and people will tell you Wilma Rudolph was the first black woman to win a medal — it’s not true,” Alice Coachman said in

Coachman was in a position to know. A very good position: 5 feet 6⅛ inches on her first attempt of the high jump at the Olympic Games in London.

That set an Olympic record and — because Coachman had achieved it on the first try — earned her the gold medal. Dorothy Tyler of Britain, who cleared ⅛ on her second try, had to settle for silver.

When Coachman died in , at 90, the fact that she was the first black woman to win an Olympic gold medal was the salient point of her obituary in The New York Times.


Sixty-six years earlier, however, The Times had not even mentioned the fact in its dispatch from London. The correspondent, Allison Danzig, barely noted that Coachman had set a record. In fact, he cast her victory not as a triumph for American women but as a “disappointment” to Tyler’s British fans.

Coachman attributed Rudolph’s pre-eminence in the public mind to the fact that the Olympics in Rome, where Rudolph won three gold medals, were televised. Viewers could see with their own eyes what newspaper reporters and radio commentators of earlier eras did not necessarily emphasize.

Coachman was treated almost as a nonperson on her homecoming to Albany, Ga., forced to use a side door of the auditorium where she was being honored. The mayor refused to shake her hand.

Racism is not the only explanation for Coachman’s relative invisibility until recent years, however. Some of it had to do with one of her gifts.


“From the very first gold medal I won in , my mama used to stress being humble,” Coachman told William C. Rhoden of The Times in “You’re no better than anyone else.”

And Wembley Stadium in London was the end of the line.

“I had accomplished what I wanted to do,” Coachman said in explaining why she retired as an athlete after the London Olympics. “It was time for me to start looking for a husband. That was the climax. I won the gold medal. I proved to my mother, my father, my coach and everybody else that I had gone to the end of my rope.”

At the Olympics, maybe. The truth is that her career as an exemplar was just beginning.

Read the obituary “Alice Coachman, 90, Dies; First Black Woman to Win Olympic Gold ”

—David W. Dunlap


Breaking Bread: Dominique Dawes and Mother Angelica

If you could have dinner with one person who is no longer with us, and whose obituary was published in The New York Times, who would it be, and why that person? Not Forgotten is asking that question of a variety of influential people this summer in a series of posts called Breaking Bread.

Today we have Dominique Dawes, the first African-American female gymnast to win an individual medal. Nicknamed “Awesome Dawesome,” she went on to compete in three Olympics.

If I could choose to have dinner with somebody who has passed away, I would choose to dine with Mother Angelica.

Mother Angelica was the nun who founded the largest religious network, Eternal Word Television Network, starting with only $ She is the only woman to have founded and led a cable network for over 20 years.

I’d invite Mother Angelica to my home and have her sit at the head of our table, alongside my husband and two baby girls. The meal I’d cook would be soul food (I grew up on it), consisting of chitlins, collard greens, cheese grits and candied yams. Mother Angelica would understand this meal: She was raised around blacks and poor Italians in a tough Canton, Ohio, neighborhood. She knew people, she understood their plights, she was one of them!

And she knew resilience most of all, raised by a single mother from an early age after her father had abandoned them.

I’d ask her to say the blessing, then proceed to ask her a few things about her life and about fortitude. A priest once told me that it’s very difficult to have a relationship with your Heavenly Father after your earthly father has abandoned you. I often wondered how she overcame this abandonment, learned to forgive her father and ultimately trust in God?

She was a cloistered nun, in a convent, yet she was seen by hundreds of millions of people worldwide as the host of a series on EWTN. How was she able to embrace both of these so very opposite vocations? (I am an introvert by nature, and performing in front of millions during the Olympic Games gave me anxiety, as does speaking at events in front of thousands now.)

Over dinner, I’d be fascinated to hear from Mother Angelica about how she channeled her own pain into a larger purpose. And I would ask her how I might help others, whether they suffer from anxiety, depression, addiction, physical ailments or the pain of abandonment or divorce. Her whole life, after all, was dedicated to helping others, especially the disenfranchised.

Mother Angelica, I would ask, how can we here on earth emulate what you did, even in a smaller way, offering help to others in a world that so desperately needs it?

Read the obituary “Mother Mary Angelica, Who Founded Catholic TV Network, Dies at 92”

—Dominique Dawes


Babe Ruth, the Slugger Who Went From Boyhood Chaos to Baseball Stardom

The Sultan of Swat. The Caliph of Clout. The Great Bambino. When baseball fans hear these monikers, nearly 70 years after Babe Ruth died on Aug. 16, , they’re taken back to the golden age of baseball, when one charismatic player ruled the sport by smacking more home runs than entire teams, changing the game in the process.

But before Ruth tantalized fans with his prodigious power, he was practically helpless. From the time he was 7 years old, Ruth grew up in St. Mary’s Industrial School for Boys, a reformatory and orphanage for children in Baltimore. He might have amounted to nothing without the help of one dedicated mentor.

George Herman Ruth Jr. was born in Baltimore on Feb. 6, His mother was the former Katherine Schamberger. He was a rambunctious child who routinely skipped school, drank and taunted local police officers around his home. He became so unruly that his parents sent him to St. Mary’s, a notoriously strict institution, although he pleaded with them not to.

At St. Mary’s, Ruth had to adhere to a grinding schedule of school, prayer and work, which left no time for carousing. His parents had signed over custodial rights to the school and essentially washed their hands of him, leaving Ruth alone and desperately in need of a father figure.

Then he met Brother Matthias, a brawny, 6-foot-6 disciplinarian and assistant athletic director at St. Mary’s, who took to Ruth immediately. Matthias was widely credited with introducing Ruth to baseball. They spent hours together honing Ruth’s skills, both as a hitter and a left-handed pitcher.

“It was at St. Mary’s that I met and learned to love the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Ruth wrote about Matthias in his autobiography, “The Babe Ruth Story.”

Ruth learned to play during the dead-ball era of the early 20th century, when hitters swung down on the ball, kept it inside the park and relied on speed as their greatest asset. Baseball was strategic, built on grounders, bunts and stolen bases instead of power.

Matthias had a different approach. He belted majestic fly balls deep into the St. Mary’s outfield. The impressionable Ruth copied Matthias’s approach, which led to his unprecedented gift for hitting bombs.

Word of Ruth’s talents spread, and Jack Dunn, owner of the minor league Baltimore Orioles, came to watch him play. Dunn was so impressed that he became Ruth’s legal guardian in order to sign the year-old. On his arrival in the clubhouse, Orioles players referred to the burly Ruth as “Jack’s newest babe,” coining one of the great nicknames in American sports history.

Ruth’s career with the Orioles was short. That summer he was acquired by the Boston Red Sox, for whom he would win his first three championships as a pitcher and an outfielder.

But the Red Sox made a grave mistake when they sold Ruth to the rival New York Yankees in Many bleacher historians blame this error for the Red Sox’ year championship drought — the so-called Curse of the Bambino.

Ruth played 15 seasons with the Bombers, amassing four more championships. His records include a slugging percentage and career home runs, a record that stood until Henry Aaron broke it on April 8,


Ruth’s place in baseball’s pantheon was apparent to anyone who saw him play. He was part of baseball’s first Hall of Fame class, in , the year after he retired. An inveterate cigar smoker, he learned he had throat cancer a decade later and died from the disease on this day in

His Yankees teammate Joe Dugan probably summed up Ruth’s larger-than-life stature best, elevating it to myth: “To understand him you had to understand this: He wasn’t human.”

Read the obituary “Babe Ruth, Baseball Idol, Dies at 53 After Lingering Illness”

—Mathew Brownstein


Teófilo Stevenson, Boxer Who Chose Country Over Wealth

During the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Not Forgotten is resurfacing obituaries about some of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time. Before tonight’s gold medal heavyweight match, between Russia’s Evgeny Tishchenko and Kazakhstan’s Vassiliy Levit, we revisit one of Olympic boxing’s most talented pugilists.

Most boxers battle for the title, money and acclaim. Teófilo Stevenson rejected all of that for his country.

Stevenson, who stood 6 feet 5 inches, weighed pounds and battered opponents with a deft left jab and a sledgehammer straight right, won three consecutive Olympic heavyweight gold medals for Cuba, in in Munich, in Montreal and in Moscow.

His victory made him the first Olympic boxer to earn three consecutive gold medals in the same division. But he might have had a chance for another: Stevenson was still a tremendous fighter when Cuba boycotted the Olympics in Los Angeles. He won the last of his three amateur boxing world titles two years later at the age of

After his first two medals, boxing promoters were practically slavering at the potential ticket sales of a Cold War-era match between Stevenson, a product of Communist Cuba, and Muhammad Ali, who died in June at

But athletes in Fidel Castro’s Cuba were not permitted to compete professionally, so Stevenson would have had to defect in order to fight Ali. He was not willing to do so, even though promoters promised him $1 million or more.

“I will not leave my country for one million dollars or for much more than that,” Stevenson said in an article, headlined “He’d Rather Be Red Than Rich,” in Sports Illustrated in “What is a million dollars against eight million Cubans who love me?”

Ali told The New York Times in that he thought Stevenson was a promising amateur fighter but that he was probably not ready for the pros.

“I saw him get a little tired in round three against the last guy he fought,” Ali said. “Imagine if he had to fight 15 hard rounds against bad people like me or George Foreman or Joe Frazier or Ken Norton, somebody who would put pressure on him.”

Ali said that Stevenson’s passing up such a lucrative payday was a big mistake.

“He’s going to fight me, we’re workin’ on it.” Ali said. “He needs money. He’s real poor. If he’s offered $2 million and don’t take it, he’s a damn fool.”

Stevenson never took the bait. He had remained a promising amateur at his death, in Havana on June 11,

(The next Olympic boxer to win three Olympic gold medals in the same weight class was Stevenson’s countryman, Felix Savon, who won the heavyweight medal from until )

“I didn’t need the money because it was going to mess up my life,” Stevenson told The Chicago Tribune in “For professional boxers, the money is a trap. You make a lot of money, but how many boxers in history do we know that died poor? The money always goes into other people’s hands.”

Read the obituary “Teófilo Stevenson, Cuban Boxing Great, Dies at 60”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


The ‘Tryst With Destiny’ Speech That Divided India and Pakistan

While the world was consumed with war in the first half of the s, three men were subsumed with growing unrest across India, with the fates of tens of millions of their compatriots in their hands.

This day — a moment, really — in history belongs to these leaders: Mohandas Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

At the stroke of midnight on Aug. 15, , power over one-fifth of humanity was transferred from Britain to the newly independent countries of India and Pakistan. But there was a fatal flaw: There were no borders.

Indians had struggled for decades to rid themselves of British rule, galvanized by the nonviolent movement led by Gandhi. Their efforts were kept in check by ruthless military force, but by the end of World War II, Britain lacked the will and the means to defeat the campaign. They reluctantly relinquished India after years, leaving the country at the brink of implosion.

Gandhi, Nehru and Jinnah were divided on what should happen once the British left. Gandhi, more an idealist than a realist, wanted an undivided nation; he chose to remain out of government.

The British negotiated with the Muslim League, led by Jinnah, who believed that a separate state was the only way to protect the rights of Muslims, who were a minority; and the (mostly Hindu) Indian National Congress, led by Nehru, who grudgingly went along with the British decision to divide India on the basis of religion.

Cyril Radcliffe, who had never been to Asia, arrived in India 36 days before the date of the partition to draw the lines to split one of world’s largest and most ethnically diverse countries. On Aug. 9, he finished drawing the map, but the British viceroy, his superior, kept it a secret. He didn’t want the British to be blamed for any ensuing violence. But it prolonged the uncertainty for millions and very likely increased the loss of life to come.

Shortly before the clock struck midnight on Aug. 15, , Nehru, Gandhi’s successor at the helm of the independence movement and India’s first prime minister, was inside Parliament in New Delhi delivering an address recognized as one of the greatest of the 20th century.

“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially,” he began.

Nearing the conclusion, he said, “There is no resting for any one of us till we redeem our pledge in full, till we make all the people of India what destiny intended them to be.”

Those stirring words met the occasion, but had no effect on the swirling chaos on the ground as mobs sought on their own to determine the religious makeup of towns and villages. Communities that had lived together for centuries viciously turned on each other. The borders were announced two days after independence: Hindu-majority India flanked by Muslim-majority West Pakistan and East Pakistan.

Up to 15 million people moved across the two borders in less than a year, one of the fastest mass migrations in history. Millions of Muslims fled India, most heading west. About the same number of Hindus and Sikhs went mostly east into the new India. About one million people were killed.

On Jan. 30, , Gandhi, who remained the strongest advocate for peace, was assassinated by a Hindu extremist who opposed his ideology.

Gandhi’s death “left all India stunned and bewildered as to the direction that this newly independent nation would take without its ‘Mahatma’ (Great Teacher),” wrote The New York Times. Jinnah, who “brought about, almost single-handed, one of the most sweeping political transformations of the century in Asia,” The Times wrote, died the same year, on Sept. 11, Nehru ruled for 17 years and died on May 27,

Those hastily drawn borders by the British became the focus of four wars and seven decades of animosity between India and Pakistan. For many millions on the subcontinent today, all the promise that came with independence remains unfulfilled.

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Read the article “India and Pakistan Become Nations”

Read the obituary “Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi: The Indian Leader at Home and Abroad”

Read the obituary “Jinnah, Founder of Pakistan, Dies”

Read the article “India Mourning Nehru, 74, Dead of a Heart Attack; World Leaders Honor Him”

Read the article “Potent Memories From a Divided India”

—Adeel Hassan

Robin Williams, Whose Films Ranged From Oscar-Winning to Outrageous

Robin Williams, an indefatigable, improvisational genius, arrived on screens as an alien and left as an Academy Award-winning actor.

After his death, two years ago today, The New York Times described him like this:

Onstage he was known for ricochet riffs on politics, social issues and cultural matters both high and low; tales of drug and alcohol abuse; lewd commentaries on relations between the sexes; and lightning-like improvisations on anything an audience member might toss at him. His gigs were always rife with frenetic, spot-on impersonations that included Hollywood stars, presidents, princes, prime ministers, popes and anonymous citizens of the world. His irreverence was legendary and uncurtailable.

We remember Williams with some of our favorite scenes and lines (some of which contain strong language), and encourage readers to do the same on Twitter using #tellnyt.

“Mork and Mindy”

Williams broke through to mainstream audiences on this quirky sitcom, in which he played Mork from Ork, a sweet, goofy alien who befriends a young Colorado woman.

“Good Morning, Vietnam”
“What is the demilitarized zone? Sounds like something from the ‘Wizard of Oz.’ Oh no, don’t go in there.”

Williams earned an Academy Award nomination for playing Adrian Cronauer, a chatty Armed Forces Radio host in Saigon in the s. “This is the first role that calls upon me to do what I do best — me,” he said.

“Rick ’em, rack ’em, rock ’em, rake! Stick that sword into that snake!”

He voiced an unforgettably zany blue genie in the Walt Disney feature.

“Mrs. Doubtfire”
“Off your Mercedes, dear, you own that big expensive car out there? Oh, dear. Well, they say a man who has to buy a big car like that is trying to compensate for smaller genitals.”

Williams played an actor who cross-dressed as a British housekeeper to spend more time with his children in this family comedy.

“Good Will Hunting”
“You’re an orphan, right? Do you think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read ‘Oliver Twist?’ Does that encapsulate you?”

Williams’s Oscar-winning turn as a therapist working with a troubled prodigy, played by Matt Damon, offered him a rare serious role that took advantage of his wide-ranging talents.

“Death to Smoochy”
“Even when you’re squeaky clean, you can still fall in the mud.”

Williams starred in this black comedy as Rainbow Randolph, a children’s TV show host who is fired for taking bribes and replaced by an upstanding performer played by Edward Norton.

Read the obituary “Robin Williams, Oscar-Winning Comedian, Dies at 63”

—Shreeya Sinha


No Matter the Game, Babe Didrikson Zaharias Played to Win

During the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Not Forgotten is resurfacing obituaries about some of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

Babe Didrikson preferred victory to humility. In , after she had won three medals at the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles, she told The New York Times reporter Arthur J. Daley that there was no other woman “who rivals me very closely as an athlete.”

Didrikson backed up her swagger; There was seemingly no sport she could not master. After her world record-breaking performance at the women’s track and field national championships in , an article in The New York Times described her as a “feminine athletic marvel” who was as adept at “swimming, boxing, tennis, baseball and basketball as she is in track.”

She was born Mildred Ella Didriksen (she later changed the “e” to an “o”) on June 26, , in Port Arthur, Tex., but went by Babe because, even as a youth, she could supposedly hit a baseball like Ruth.

In , she competed at the Amateur Athletic Union’s national track and field championships, which, at the time, served as Olympic qualifiers. Some teams had as many as 22 athletes, but Didrikson performed solo in all of the events as a publicity stunt for her sponsor. She won five individual events, tied in a sixth and won the championships single-handed.

At the Games, Didrikson won gold medals in both the javelin throw and the high hurdles. In the high jump, she cleared 5 feet 5 inches, the same as gold medalist Jean Shiley. But she was disqualified on her final jump and awarded the silver medal after a judge ruled her technique had violated Olympic rules, even though the issue had not been raised in earlier rounds.

The fact that Didrikson won only three medals also deserves an asterisk. Women were limited to three Olympic track and field events in , so Didrikson could possibly have won more had she been allowed to compete.


Didrikson’s success at the Olympics had made her internationally famous, but by the time she died, on Sept. 27, , she was also known as a champion golfer. She had only taken up the sport in , but had tackled it with the same drive she brought to all of her athletic endeavors. She met her future husband, the professional wrestler George Zaharias, when they were paired to play golf together at a tournament. She took his surname when they married in

“At least part of Mrs. Zaharias’ success could be attributed to her powers of concentration and diligence,” her obituary in The Times said. “When she decided to center her attention on golf, she tightened up her game by driving as many as 1, balls a day and playing until her hands were so sore, they had to be taped. She developed an aggressive, dramatic style, hitting down sharply and crisply on her iron shots like a man and averaging yards off the tee with her woods.”

As an amateur golfer, Zaharias once won 14 tournaments in a row. She helped found the Ladies’ Professional Golf Association and won 31 tournaments on tour. She also won 10 majors, including victories at the women’s United States Open in , and

Zaharias beat Betty Hicks by 12 strokes in the United States Open, an astonishing margin considering that Zaharias had been treated for colon cancer in and had undergone a colostomy.

Zaharias became a spokeswoman for cancer awareness and toured for as long as she could, but the disease returned. She died from it in September

“I think that every one of us feels sad that finally she had to lose this last one of all her battles,” President Dwight D. Eisenhower said at the time.

The Associated Press named Zaharias the Woman Athlete of the Year six times and the World’s Greatest Woman Athlete of the First Half of the 20th Century. Sports Illustrated lauded her as the woman Athlete of the 20th Century in individual sports. These accolades came decades after the sportswriter Grantland Rice first called her “Wonder Girl.”

But the comedian Bob Hope may have expressed Zaharias’s talents best with a self-deprecating comment he made when they played in a charity tournament together.

“I hit the ball like a girl,” Hope said, “and she hits it like a man.”

Read the obituary “Babe Zaharias Dies; Athlete Had Cancer”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


Jesse Owens: A Chilly Reception in Nazi Germany, Then Olympic Glory

During the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Not Forgotten is resurfacing obituaries about some of the greatest Olympic athletes of all time.

A few seconds, perhaps a fraction of a second, can mean the difference between victory and defeat, between becoming a legend or leaving as a footnote.

“People come out to see you perform, and you’ve got to give them the best you have within you,” the great track and field star Jesse Owens once said. “A lifetime of training, for just 10 seconds.”

Yet that lifetime of training, which propelled Owens into the history books with his performance in the Games in Berlin, seemed for a time as if it might be of little use. With the rise of Nazi Germany roiling Europe, the Amateur Athletic Union remained divided in over whether to allow American athletes to compete in Berlin; it ultimately approved their participation, but only by a narrow vote.

“I wanted no part of politics,” Owens said. “And I wasn’t in Berlin to compete against any one athlete. The purpose of the Olympics, anyway, was to do your best.

The A.A.U. wasn’t the only organization involved in a moral tug of war over the Olympics. Owens, who was black, was encouraged by some civil rights groups to boycott the games. After deciding to go, he found a chilly reception in Germany, where claims of Aryan supremacy were central to Nazi ideology. He was called racial epithets and subjected to other mistreatment.

To the dismay of Hitler and the Nazis, Owens went on to win four gold medals — in the long jump, meter dash, the meter dash and the 4x meter relay — more than any other American track and field athlete in a single Olympic Games. His long jump record, of meters, would not be surpassed for 25 years.

“I had jumped into another rare kind of stratosphere — one that only a handful of people in every generation are lucky enough to know,” Owens said of his accomplishments.


The son of a sharecropper and grandson of a slave, James Cleveland Owens was born on Sept. 12, , in Alabama and moved with his family as child to Cleveland. Sickly in his youth, he went by the nickname J.C., and a teacher’s misunderstanding during a roll call would lead to his being called Jesse for the rest of his life.

Owens broke records at the junior high school, high school and collegiate level in the s and ‘30s. But it was his time at Ohio State University that proved crucial in his development.

For all his record-breaking Olympic success overseas, his return home was sobering. President Franklin D. Roosevelt didn’t acknowledge his achievements, a snub that stung Owens. Unlike modern-day athletes who can be paid handsomely through endorsements and other commercial deals, Owens had to take myriad jobs to support his family. He later became a motivational speaker and public relations representative.

In , President Gerald R. Ford awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor given to civilians in the United States. Owens died from complications related to lung cancer on March 31,

Several movies have been made about his life, including this year’s “Race,” starring Stephan James. In a review of the film, which he called “studiously uplifting,” Stephen Holden wrote in The Times, “Long before television elevated black sports heroes into gods, there were athletes like Jesse Owens who paved the way.”

In Rio, the heirs of Owens, like Usain Bolt of Jamaica and Allyson Felix of the United States, are looking to carve their own names in Olympic history, propelled by the chance for glory, pride for country and perhaps, as Owens had expressed, a simple love for the sport.

“I always loved running — it was something you could do by yourself and under your own power,” he said. “You could go in any direction, fast or slow as you wanted, fighting the wind if you felt like it, seeking out new sights just on the strength of your feet and the courage of your lungs.”

Read the obituary “Jesse Owens Dies of Cancer at 66”

—Tamara Best


Adam Yauch, Who, With His Bandmates the Beastie Boys, Made Hip-Hop Mainstream

For the nearly 30 years that Adam Yauch’s scratchy voice blared through boomboxes, and later earbuds, he and his hip-hop group, the Beastie Boys, changed the face of music. And four years after Yauch’s death at age 47, they can’t, they won’t and they don’t stop having an influence on their beloved city: New York.

Yauch, known as MCA, was born 52 years ago on this day in Brooklyn. He was a “New York kid” with “just enough crazy,” according to his longtime bandmate Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock), and hung out at Palmetto Playground (renamed Adam Yauch Park) in Brooklyn Heights. He attended Edward R. Murrow High School in the borough’s Midwood neighborhood and spent two years at Bard College in the early s.

“Man, living at home is such a drag/Now your mom threw away your best porno mag (Busted!)/You gotta fight for your right to party”

In , Yauch’s hard-core punk band, which also included Michael Diamond (Mike D), morphed into an unlikely hip-hop trio: white Brooklynites rapping about girls, vandalism and, of course, their right to party. The Beastie Boys’ slapstick was “greeted by some hip-hop purists as a novelty act,” Jon Pareles, the New York Times music critic, wrote after Yauch’s death. “They were Jewish bohemians, not ghetto survivors; they were jokers, not battlers.”

Their album “Licensed to Ill” () exposed suburban fans of rock radio to hip-hop. It became the first hip-hop album to reach No. 1 on the Billboard chart, and its hit song “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” became a popular slogan that echoed from radios and appeared on T-shirts across New York.

Born and bred in Brooklyn the U.S.A./They call me Adam Yauch but I’m M.C.A.

Three years later, the album “Paul’s Boutique” became a hip-hop staple: a “seamless set of provocative samples and rhymes — a rap opera, if you will,” Rolling Stone magazine said at the time.

The Beastie Boys’ rhymes never became too serious, but they did mature. Yauch became a supporter of feminism and a practicing Buddhist, creating the Milarepa Fund to support Tibetan independence from China. A series of Tibetan Freedom Concerts raised awareness for his cause.

I want to say a little something that’s long overdue/The disrespect to women has got to be through

Yauch (pronounced “yowk”) also spoke out against any backlash against Islam in , long before talk of a Muslim immigration ban. “I think that another thing America needs to think about is our racism, racism that comes from the United States towards Muslim people and towards Arabic people,” he said, adding, “The United States has to start respecting people in the Middle East.”

In , the Beastie Boys offered a post-Sept. 11 tribute to their city with the album “To the Five Boroughs.”

Offstage, Yauch, Horovitz and Diamond were businessmen, too. In , they started Grand Royal, their label and magazine. Yauch also directed many of the Beastie Boys’ music videos and started Oscilloscope Laboratories in New York to produce and distribute independent films.

“I burn the competition like a flame thrower/My rhymes they age like wine as I get older”

In his 40s, Yauch missed the Beastie Boys’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: He had received a diagnosis of salivary gland cancer three years before and remained too ill to attend. He died on May 4, , but was still able to record “Hot Sauce Committee Part Two,” a album that fittingly references the s New York that gave rise to Yauch and his band of pranksters-turned-legends.

Read the obituary “Rapper Conquered Music World in ’80s With Beastie Boys”

—Carla Correa


Sprung From Poverty, the Tales of Hans Christian Andersen Endure

Hans Christian Andersen, whose fairy tales endure more than a century after his death on this day in , had a childhood as difficult as those of his plucky protagonists.

Born on April 2, , in Odense, Denmark, Andersen grew up in stark poverty, but his father, a shoemaker, cultivated his imagination.

“On Sundays he made me panoramas, theatres, and transformation pictures, and he would read me pieces out of Holberg’s plays and stories from the ‘Thousand and One Nights,’” Andersen was quoted as saying in his obituary in The New York Times. “And those were the only moments in which I remember him as looking really cheerful, for in his position as an artisan he did not feel happy.”

Andersen found beauty in his humble surroundings.

“A single little room, its floor space almost completely taken up by the shoemaker’s workbench, the bed, and the turn-up bench on which I slept, comprised my childhood home,” he wrote in his autobiography, translated as “The Fairy Tale of My Life.” “But the walls were covered with pictures, on the chest of drawers there stood beautiful cups, glasses, and knickknacks, and above the workbench, by the window, there was a shelf with books and songs.”

Andersen was a solitary child who spent most of his time making costumes for puppets and enacting plays on a model stage his father had built for him. He headed for Copenhagen when he was just a teenager.

His first play was soon produced by a theater there, and he went on to write poems, novels and, of course, children’s stories.

The hovels of Andersen’s childhood were far behind him, but he retained his gift for spinning magic from the mundane. Many of his stories featured children who persevered in the face of ridicule, ignorance and evil.

Versions of his tales, which include “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes” and “The Princess and the Pea,” remain childhood favorites. Other yarns inspired films like “The Little Mermaid,” “Thumbelina” and “Frozen,” which was originally and very loosely based on the stories he collectively titled “The Snow Queen.”

In time, Andersen became famous and traveled around Europe, meeting celebrities like Charles Dickens. So the opening line of his autobiography is hardly hyperbolic.

“My life is a lovely story,” he wrote, “happy and full of incident.”

Read the obituary “Hans Christian Andersen”

—Daniel E. Slotnik


Henri Cartier-Bresson, Whose “Decisive Moment” Shaped Modern Photography

When Henri Cartier-Bresson first picked up a tiny Leica 35mm film camera in , he began a visual journey that would revolutionize 20th-century photography.

His camera could be wielded so discreetly that it enabled him to photograph while being virtually unseen by others — a near invisibility that turned photojournalism into a primary source of information and photography into a recognized art form.

Cartier-Bresson’s concept of the “decisive moment” — a split second that reveals the larger truth of a situation — shaped modern street photography and set the stage for hundreds of photojournalists to bring the world into living rooms through magazines such as Life and Look. In , he and Robert Capa helped create the photographer-owned cooperative photo agency Magnum.


Though he often focused on the human condition in his photographs, Cartier-Besson would often look at his contact sheets or prints upside down to judge the images separate from any social content. They stood as rigorous compositions on their own.

His signature shooting technique was to find a visually arresting setting for a photograph and then patiently wait for that decisive moment to unfurl. In his obituary in The New York Times in — Cartier-Bresson had died on Aug. 3 — the critic Michael Kimmelman noted that Cartier-Bresson was equally adept at responding instantly to changing circumstance.

“Photographers and others who saw him work talked about his swift and nimble ability to snap a picture undetected,” he wrote. “(Sometimes he even masked the shiny metal parts of his camera with black tape.) They also admired his coolness under pressure. The director Louis Malle remembered that, despite all the turmoil at the peak of the student protests in Paris in May , Mr. Cartier-Bresson took photographs at the rate of only about four an hour.”


With the primacy of digital photography and social media in the 21st century, slow, painstaking image-making is becoming a relic. Photographers and their images now move at a pace as fast as the events swirling around them. Technological advances in cameras and methods of distribution have heralded in a new visual era, not unlike what Cartier-Bresson’s Leica did almost a century ago.

Photographs are no longer rare artifacts, nor primarily a means of learning about the exotic or unknown. They arrive instantaneously on our phones every day from every corner of the world and from all kinds of people. With a smart phone, everyone is a photographer, and images compete for crowd approval on social media channels like Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook.

Which raises questions on this anniversary of Cartier-Bresson’s death: Do these changes make a master’s carefully constructed images irrelevant? Or are they even more instructive today? Respond on Twitter using the hashtag #tellnyt.

Read the obituary “Henri Cartier-Bresson, Artist Who Used Lens, Dies at 95”

Read the review “A Photographer Whose Beat Was the World”

—James Estrin


July Crisis


Explaining how Europe plunged into the First World War has been a difficult challenge which has divided historians for over a hundred years and continues to be controversial. Some of the latest publications on the origins of the war in general, and the July Crisis in particular, re-opened the debate on the origins of the war on the eve of the centenary.[1] Most recent publications acknowledge that the crisis can only be understood in an international context, and try to understand the events of July by looking at the decisions taken in all the European Great Power governments.[2]

All Great Power governments shared the fear that at some point in the near future a major European war was inevitable. This fatalism underpinned most of the decision-making of the immediate pre-war years, and it also explains the decisions taken during the July Crisis. The years before the outbreak of the First World War were characterised by international tensions, mutual suspicion and a widespread arms race in Europe. While with hindsight it might seem as if a major war was almost inescapable, it is worth noting that in fact these last years of peace saw a number of successful attempts by the Great Powers to avert a large-scale war. Peace conferences and mediation, not war, were the usual way to settle international crises, at least those among the so-called Great Powers (Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Russia and Italy). While smaller states engaged with each other in armed conflicts (and occasionally with a Great Power), the governments in Vienna, Paris, Berlin, London and St. Petersburg did not, and war was avoided at several important junctures.[3] This history of “avoided wars”[4] is crucial background for understanding the decision-making of European statesmen and military leaders during the July Crisis of when the Great War, so frequently anticipated and so often avoided, finally broke out. Before the war, alliance systems both sustained peace and acted as deterrents, and it can be argued that they “generally functioned as a restraint on war”, rather than being a cause of it.[5] During the July Crisis, some governments continued to try and find a diplomatic solution to the international crisis that resulted from the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne. In Vienna and Berlin, however, there was no such desire for yet another conference or for mediation.

The Assassination↑

A general European war would need a trigger, and this was provided by the murder of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Franz Ferdinand, Archduke of Austria-Este () and his wife Sophie, Archduchess of Austria () in the Bosnian capital Sarajevo on 28 June The assassination, carried out by Bosnian Serb nationalists, has often been described as the spark that would set light to a continent that was riddled with international tensions. However, a European war was not inevitable. Right until the last moment, some European statesmen were desperately trying to avoid an escalation of the crisis by advocating mediation, while others did everything in their power to ensure that a localised war would break out whose escalation into a European conflict they were willing to risk.

The news from the Bosnian capital about the assassination of the Austrian heir to the throne hit “like lightning strike”, as the Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger reported on 29 June The previous day the nineteen-year-old Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip (), part of a small group of conspirators who had planned an attack on this representative of the Dual Monarchy, had shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife. The murder of the Archduke caused widespread outrage.

Why did the Archduke become a victim of a violent conspiracy? We know that the conspiracy can be traced back to the Serbian capital Belgrade, where each of the six young men who waited for the hapless Archduke in Sarajevo had been radicalised by Serbian nationalist and irredentist organisations such as the so-called “Black Hand”. Serbia had been a threat and irritant to Austria-Hungary, particularly since it had emerged victorious from the recent Balkan Wars of and and as a consequence nearly doubled its territory and increased its population from 3 million to million Serbs. The government’s aim was to unite even more Serbian territory and people with the country – and those people happened to live in the multi-ethnic Dual Monarchy, including parts of Croatia, the Vojdovina and the Sandžak, and Bosnia, which had been annexed by Austria-Hungary in

Three of the young conspirators had left impoverished lives in Sarajevo for Belgrade. Trifko Grabež (), Nedeljko Čabrinović () and Gavrilo Princip were all members of the revolutionary organisation Mlada Bosna (Young Bosnia). In the Serbian capital they succumbed to the anti-Habsburg propaganda of underground organisations such as the Narodna Odbrana and the “Black Hand” (its official title was “Union or Death”), a conspiratorial officers’ group which stood for the idea of a greater Serbia. Among its members were leading members of the army, including the man in charge of military intelligence, Dragutin Dimitrijević (), also known as Apis.

In Vienna, the assassination was immediately perceived as a Serbian provocation, even though actual evidence of Serbian involvement in the plot was hard to come by. They could not have known at the time that one of the instigators of this act was indeed a member of the Serbian government. The head of the Serbian military intelligence service, Apis, and members of the secret “Black Hand” organisation were behind this successful assassination just as they had been behind an unsuccessful attempt to kill Francis Joseph I, Emperor of Austria () in This was not, however, a plot which had been sanctioned by the Serbian government.

It is perhaps a tragic irony that it was Franz Ferdinand’s assassination which led to a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia. He had opposed such a war in his last few years of life, and had clashed with Chief of the General Staff Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf () over this issue.[6] More tragic still is the fact that among the decision-makers at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna, he had been in favour of granting more rights to the minorities in the Dual Monarchy. However, this actually made him more of a target, for it was feared that upon his accession to the throne, he might allow the minorities in the Dual Monarchy more of a say in their own affairs. This was a worry to the Hungarians who wanted to defend their current status as the most influential minority in the Habsburg Empire, but it was also a concern to Serbian irredentists who feared that reforms under Franz Ferdinand as Kaiser might have prevented Serbia’s future unification. After the assassination, Gavrilo Princip referred to this motive, arguing that Franz Ferdinand was dangerous for Serbia because he “would have prevented, as a future ruler, our union by realizing certain reforms which would evidently have been against our interests”.[7]

The would-be assassins were trained in the use of weapons in Belgrade and equipped with weapons from the Serbian state arsenal in Kragujevac. They smuggled these into Bosnia via different routes, aided by members of the “Black Hand”. In Bosnia, they were joined by three more conspirators: Danilo Ilić (), Veljko Čubrilović () and Civijetko Popović (). The youngest of their group was just seventeen.

They lined up along the previously announced route that Franz Ferdinand and his wife would take on that Sunday morning, travelling from the train station to Sarajevo’s Town Hall. However, the first attempt to kill the Archduke failed. Nedeljko Čabrinović threw a bomb on the Appel Quay, but it bounced off the open convertible car in which the couple were travelling. It exploded underneath the car behind, injuring a few of the onlookers and passengers in that car, among them Erik von Merizzi (), the adjutant of the Austro-Hungarian military governor of the province, Oskar Potiorek (). The Archduke was unhurt; his wife suffered a small wound on the cheek.

Čabrinović’s attempt to commit suicide with cyanide failed, and his subsequent jump into the river was also not fatal, so that the unsuccessful assassin was arrested on the river bank. The couple were hurriedly taken to the Town Hall. Potiorek, who had been responsible for the rather minimal security arrangements for the trip, declared that he could not guarantee the couple’s safety and advised to cancel the rest of the scheduled programme. However, Franz Ferdinand insisted on visiting Merizzi in the hospital before continuing the official programme. Only the visit to the National Museum would be cancelled. As a compromise, it was agreed that the convoy should follow a different route and not, as planned, travel down Franz-Joseph-Strasse. However, tragically, this change of plan appears not to have been communicated to the driver in the first car, who turned into the street as previously planned. In the hastily conducted reverse manoeuvre which followed, the Archduke’s car came to a halt right in front of Princip who had positioned himself, by chance, at the exact same spot. A few metres away from his target he managed to shoot the Archduke in the neck and his wife in the abdomen. Sophie died in the car, and Franz Ferdinand shortly after reaching the Governor's residence. The hapless young assassins could not have known to what extent they had made history that day.

Princip succeeded in murdering the royal couple, but failed to kill himself and was arrested before the outraged crowd could lynch him. The assassins did not reveal any of the details of the planning or the links to the “Black Hand”. Rumours soon began to circulate that Serbia’s Prime Minister, Nicola Pašić (), had had prior warning about the planned assassination which he had passed on to the Austrian envoy in Belgrade, though Pašić would deny any prior knowledge of the plot.[8] His warning, in turn, had not been taken seriously in Vienna, particularly by Leon Ritter von Biliński (), the finance minister who was also governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This fact was uncomfortable for both Pašić and Biliński, who in the following weeks wanted to downplay that a warning had been received. In the aftermath of the assassination, all they could do was to wait for the official reaction to this murder in Vienna.

Reactions to the Assassination↑

According to The Times in London, the assassination of the Archduke “has produced horror and consternation throughout Europe”.[9]George V, King of Great Britain () ordered a week’s mourning at court, Nicholas II, Emperor of Russia () and his foreign minister conveyed heart-felt regrets to Vienna,[10] and in Berlin, Wilhelm II, German Emperor () was genuinely grieving his friend “Franzi” whom he had last seen just weeks before. However, in Vienna the response was more varied. The official reaction to the assassination was indignant outrage, but this outward appearance was in stark contrast to the privately held thoughts of some. Franz Ferdinand had not been universally popular – the Germans within the Dual Monarchy had considered him to be too Slavophile, the Slavs too German, and the Hungarians too Austrian.[11] Moreover, some of the decision-makers in Vienna had been keen for a “reckoning” with Serbia for some time, a move that always been opposed by the Archduke, and considered this a golden opportunity.

In order to explain the escalation of the crisis into full-scale war, this article first looks at Vienna and its ally Berlin. It was in Vienna that war (that is to say a war between Austria-Hungary and Serbia) was first consciously risked and planned in response to the assassination. As Leopold Baron von Andrian-Werburg () recalled after the war had ended: “We started the war, not the Germans and even less the Entente – that I know.”[12] Germany’s support needed to be secured, and it, too, helped plan this war in the early stages of the crisis. France, Russia, Britain and Italy only participated decisively much later in July , when most decisions had already been taken and an ultimatum been given to Belgrade with the intention to begin a war.[13] Until this point, most European statesmen had been deliberately kept in the dark about the nature of their plan by the decision-makers in Vienna and Berlin. Of course, they did expect a reaction to the assassination and had got word of a planned action against Serbia, so that the ultimatum was not a complete surprise to them when it was finally delivered.[14] However, until firm demands were made of Serbia its potential allies were not in a position to influence the crisis which was, until 23 July and the delivery of the Austro-Hungarian note, almost entirely a matter for the Dual Alliance partners Austria-Hungary and Germany.

Austria-Hungary’s Chief of the General Staff Conrad welcomed an excuse for a war with Serbia. He still regretted what he, as well as his German counter-part Helmuth von Moltke () had considered the “missed opportunity” for a “reckoning with Serbia” in [15] Other so-called “hawks” in Vienna were also keen to seize the apparent opportunity of waging a war against Serbia whose pan-Slav agitation threatened to undermine the cohesion of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.[16]

Just one day after the assassination Conrad had a confidential meeting with Foreign Minister Count Leopold von Berchtold () in which the Chief of Staff immediately demanded a war against Serbia in response to the crime. Even without any direct evidence he presumed that Belgrade had been behind the assassination and demanded a “mobilization against Serbia”. Berchtold was calmer, advocating making demands of Serbia, such as the “dissolution of certain organizations, dismissal of the Chief of Police, etc.”. He agreed with Conrad that this was an opportune moment “for solving the Serbian question”, but he could not agree to an immediate mobilisation.[17]

First of all it would be necessary to establish how the Dual Monarchy’s ally, Germany, would react to any potential move against Serbia. An early opportunity for this was a meeting with the German Ambassador in Vienna, Heinrich von Tschirschky (). He, however, did not seem to favour a war. Thus he reported back to the German Foreign Office (the Auswärtiges Amt) in Berlin:

I frequently hear expressed here, even among serious people, the wish that at last a final and fundamental reckoning should be had with the Serbs. The Serbs should first be presented with a number of demands, and in case they should not accept these, energetic measures should be taken. I take opportunity of every such occasion to advise quietly but very impressively and seriously against too hasty steps.[18]

This report, when received in Berlin on 2 July, was greeted by Kaiser Wilhelm II with a characteristically irate outburst. In the margins of the document he scribbled angrily: “Who authorized him to act that way? That is very stupid. None of his business, as it is solely Austria’s matter what she plans.” Here we also find the first of much encouraging advice from Berlin to the ally in Vienna: “The Serbs must be sorted, and that right soon!” It is perhaps understandable that the Kaiser reacted in this way. He was genuinely struck by the loss of his friend, and the idea of a regicide was particularly abhorrent to him. The assassination was a crime that had to be avenged. For the Auswärtiges Amt, these marginal notes meant the Kaiser’s go-ahead for Vienna to react as it pleased, and Ambassador Tschirschky abandoned his initially cautious attitude. From now on, the government in Vienna would only receive encouragement from its ally.

The Hoyos-Mission↑

However, early in the crisis Austria-Hungary could not be certain how Germany would act in the event of an Austrian-Serbian war. Therefore, an envoy was despatched to ascertain Berlin’s position. On 5 July, Count Alexander von Hoyos () arrived in the German capital with a memorandum and a letter by Kaiser Franz Joseph which explained the Austrian predicament in the wake of the assassination and in view of Serbian provocations and asked the German decision-makers for their views on Austria’s future plans.

In Berlin, the possibility of a Balkan crisis was greeted favourably by military and political decision-makers, for it was felt that such a crisis would ensure that Austria would definitely be involved in a resulting conflict (unlike during the earlier Moroccan crises, for example). When Hoyos arrived in Berlin to ascertain the powerful ally’s position in case Austria made demands of Serbia, he was assured that Germany would support Austria unconditionally, even if it chose to go to war over the assassination, and even if such a war were to turn into a European war. This was Germany’s so-called “blank cheque” to Vienna. The Austrian Ambassador in Berlin, Count Ladislaus Szögyény-Marich () reported that

the Kaiser authorised me to inform our Gracious Majesty that we might in this case, as in all others, rely upon Germany’s full support. He must, as he said before, first hear what the Imperial Chancellor had to say, but he did not doubt in the least that Herr von Bethmann Hollweg would entirely agree with him. This was especially so regarding an action on our part against Serbia. But it was his (Kaiser Wilhelm’s) opinion that this action must not be delayed. Russia’s attitude would in any case be hostile, but for this he had been prepared for years, and even if a war between Austria-Hungary and Russia were to result, we could be convinced that Germany would stand by our side with the usual faithfulness of an ally.[19]

Historians have debated why Germany’s decision-makers decided to support their ally come what may, and some consider the “blank cheque” a crucial step that led Europe into war. For Dominic Lieven, for example, this was “the single most decisive moment in Europe’s descent into war”.[20] In the calculations of Germany’s leaders, the crisis was a golden opportunity to test the Entente which seemed to be encircling Germany and its weakening ally Austria-Hungary. They were still confident that a war, should it break out, could be won by the Triple Alliance partners (Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy), while in the long run, the Entente Powers (Russia, France and Great Britain) would be come invincible. The worry was in particular that Russia would increase its army and improve its railway infrastructure to such an extent that in the near future it would become impossible for Germany to fight a successful war against Russia. Germany would then be helplessly “encircled” by hostile powers in the East (Russia) and West (France, and possibly Britain). Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann Hollweg () summarised this strategy thus: “If war does not come, if the Tsar does not want it or concerned France counsels peace then we still have the chance to break the Entente apart over this.”[21] Thus Russia would have been defeated – either militarily or diplomatically, before its army increases could take effect.

Planning the Ultimatum↑

Berlin’s promise of support enabled the Viennese government to plan its next steps against Serbia. This occurred in an important meeting of the Joint Council of Ministers on 7 July. All participants were aware of the fact that any action against Serbia could not only lead to a war with that country, but had the potential of escalating into a war against Russia (Russia saw itself as a protector of Slavic people and might not be prepared to look on as Serbia was crushed by Austria-Hungary). Berchtold explained that “a war with Serbia could result in a war against Russia”. This was, however, unavoidable in the long term, he felt, because of Russia’s anti-Habsburg foreign policy. “The logical result […] would be to get in advance of our foes and by a timely reckoning with Serbia to stop the develop­ment of the process at present going on, which we would not be able to do later.”[22] In other words, a preventive war against an ever-strengthening Russia, as well as a “reckoning” with Serbia, was on the cards. Following long discussions the meeting agreed that a war with Serbia needed to be provoked with an ultimatum, so that, at least outwardly, Vienna appeared to be acting reasonably and moderately, rather than simply declaring war on Serbia immediately. Only the Hungarian Prime Minister István Tisza () disagreed with the general mood of the meeting

that a purely diplomatic success, even it if ended with a glaring humiliation of Serbia, would be worthless, and that therefore such far-reaching demands must be addressed to Serbia which will make a refusal almost certain, so that the road to a radical solution by means of a military action should be opened.[23]

The planned ultimatum needed to be kept a secret while Austria-Hungary’s decision-makers waited for the right moment to make their demands of Serbia. The delay was necessary for a number of reasons. This was the time of the annual harvest leave of soldiers. Not only would it have looked suspicious if these had all been recalled to their barracks, but also the harvest could not be jeopardised. As Berchtold explained on 6 July, “the Monarchy would have to exist from the harvest for an entire year”.[24] Another reason for secrecy was that the other powers should not suspect that Vienna might plan a military strike against Serbia. And furthermore, an additional problem was posed by a planned state visit of the French President and other members of the French government to Russia. Between 21 and 23 July the two allies would be able to discuss their joint response to any Austrian provocation of Serbia. Rather than allow this, it was decided to time the ultimatum so that it would arrive at the most inconvenient point in time for Russia’s and France’s leaders, just when President Raymond Poincaré () had boarded the ship France to begin his long journey home. He would not step on French soil until 29 July, leaving the French government essentially without effective leadership. As Berchtold informed Kaiser Franz Joseph:

All those present [at a further joint council’s meeting on 14 July] shared my opinion that if we sent the ultimatum during the meeting in St Petersburg, this might be regarded as an affront, and that a personal discussion between the ambitious President of the Republic and the Tsar about the new situation created by the despatch of the ultimatum would increase the probability that France and Russia may join in a war.[25]

The text of the ultimatum was decided in a further ministerial council meeting on 14 July, as well as details about its delivery. It was to be deliberately unacceptable in character, and only forty-eight hours would be given to Belgrade to respond. Berchtold advised Kaiser Franz Joseph on the same day: “The text of the note to be sent to Belgrade, as it was settled today, is such that we must reckon with the probability of war.”[26]

While most decision-makers in Vienna and Berlin did not actually want a European war, the available evidence shows that they were certainly willing to risk it. In Vienna, they were motivated by a growing awareness of Austria-Hungary’s increasing loss of prestige and by a fatalism of what the future would hold which meant they preferred, in the words of a contemporary German saying, an “end with terror to a terror that never ends”. In Berlin, they had been encouraged to accept the risk of a European war by Germany’s leading military advisers who had advocated war “the sooner the better” on many occasions and who had assured the politicians that Germany stood a good chance of defeating its enemies. Germany’s military leaders had been conjuring up the image of a Russia that could still be defeated by Germany at this time, but that in future would be too strong to be taken on successfully.[27] These fatalistic views were shared by their military colleagues in Rome and Vienna, and in London and Paris, too, there was growing concern of Russia’s predicted future strength. Neither France nor Britain felt they could abandon Russia for fear of what would happen if she emerged victorious from the war. Unfortunately, such estimations of Russia’s perceived strength did nothing to reassure Russians that their future was not in jeopardy.

Throughout these early days of the crisis, Vienna’s leaders kept their colleagues in Berlin informed of their plans, while to the outside world, both governments gave the impression of calm, even sending their main decision-makers on holiday to keep up this illusion – Wilhelm II considered this to be “childish”, but it was arguably much more devious than that.[28] It certainly helped put the other powers off the scent. As Jean-Jacques Becker has put it, “it is hard to imagine the leaders of the country indulging in the joys of tourism […] having plotted the outbreak of a European war”, and yet, this was the case for Austria-Hungary and Germany, where under the pretence of holidaying a war was plotted behind the scenes.[29]

The Italian alliance partner was also deliberately kept in the dark, save for some indiscretions of the German Ambassador Ludwig von Flotow (). Despite such deliberate deception, Russian, French and British leaders expected a reaction by Vienna and used this time to co-ordinate their stance (e.g. during the French presidential trip to St. Petersburg) – though when details of it finally emerged, the harsh nature of the ultimatum surprised everyone. It is due to this deception that the other major powers did not play a decisive role in the July Crisis until 23 July, the day when the ultimatum was finally presented in Belgrade. While increasingly suspicious of the intentions of the Austrian government and aware that some action was being planned, the governments of the other European powers expected that Austria-Hungary would seek redress of some kind, but they were largely unaware of the extent of the secret plotting in Vienna and Berlin. In the capitals of the other Great Powers, Vienna’s outrage at this act of terrorism was certainly shared, and it was conceded that it would have the right redress of some kind. However, the other powers were taken by surprise by the severity of the demands made of Serbia and now suspected that Vienna’s decision-makers were determined to provoke a war. The harsh nature of the ultimatum confirmed to the decision-makers in St. Petersburg, Paris and London that they needed to work together to prevent a war from breaking out, or if that proved impossible, to be in the best possible position to wage it. For St. Petersburg and Paris, this meant co-ordinating their response with each other, as well as trying to ensure that London would declare its support for the Entente in case of war.

The Ultimatum and Mediation Attempts↑

Hopes that an amicable solution might be found were dashed at 6 p.m. on 23 July, when the Austrian Minister in Belgrade, Wladimir Giesl (), delivered a forty-eight-hour ultimatum to the Serbian Foreign Ministry, timed carefully to ensure maximum inconvenience for France and Russia in particular, as the French President was known to be on the way home from St. Petersburg at the time the Austrian demands were handed over.[30] In addition to declaring that the Serbian government was guilty of tolerating the existence of a subversive movement in Serbia, which opposed the annexation of Bosnia by Austria-Hungary, the text of the ultimatum demanded that Belgrade would have to accept the annexation of Bosnia. It was asked to issue an official apology in the Serbian press, distancing itself from “the whole body of the efforts whose ultimate object it is to separate from the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy territories that belong to it”.[31] Some further ten separate demands forced the Serbian government, inter alia, to suppress all publications which might incite hatred and contempt of the Monarchy; to dissolve the organisation Narodna Odbrana; to eliminate anti-Habsburg teaching materials; to dismiss all officers and officials who have carried out propaganda against Austria-Hungary; to assist Austrian organs to suppress subversive movements in Serbia; to conduct a judicial enquiry against all participants in the 28 June plot; to arrest Major Voija Tankosić and Milan Ciganović, a Serbian government official, “who have both been compromised by the results of the enquiry”; to dismiss and punish those border guards who assisted in the smuggling of weapons into Bosnia.

Baron Giesl, the Austro-Hungarian Minister in Belgrade, had been charged with issuing the ultimatum, and instructed: “However the Serbs react to the ultimatum, you must break off relations and it must come to war.”[32] Forty-eight hours after he had delivered the ultimatum, Giesl and the rest of the Austrian delegation hastily left Belgrade. However, the Serbian response to the “unacceptable” ultimatum astonished everyone and was, in the words of Christopher Clark, a “masterpiece of diplomatic equivocation”.[33] Equivocally or not, on paper, the Belgrade government agreed to almost all of the demands, making Austria’s predetermined decision to reject Belgrade’s response look suspicious in the eyes of those European powers who wanted to try to preserve the peace. It is, however, doubtful that even the fullest acceptance of the Austrian terms would have secured a different outcome for Belgrade. As Thomas Otte notes, “however conciliatory the official reply to the Austro-Hungarian note, it was never likely to be sufficient. Vienna wanted war”.[34] Even Kaiser Wilhelm II now thought that every reason to go to war had gone. In Britain, Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey () took heart from the Serbian reply and suggested (repeatedly) that the issue could be resolved at the conference table, but his mediation proposals were only given half-hearted support by Berlin and not taken up by Vienna.

Instead, from 23 July the crisis was dominated by attempts on the side of the Entente as well as the Alliance to get Grey to declare Britain’s position. Both sides hoped their hand would be strengthened with a clear declaration from London as to whose side it might be on. It is important to bear in mind that from the delivery of the ultimatum onwards, this was no longer a crisis dominated by the decision of the Dual Alliance partners. Whereas until this point the Entente partners conferred with one another in the face of rumours and small amounts of intelligence gleaned from spies and careless diplomats, now France, Russia and Great Britain had to react and make decisions which would affect the outcome of events. However, despite being pressed by its Entente partners, the British government, at this point still preoccupied with the Irish question and determined to stay out of a continental quarrel, refused until the very end of July to commit to its allies. In an effort to try and prevent an escalation of the crisis, the British Foreign Secretary kept his cards close to his chest and refused to commit Britain one way or the other.

It has been argued that Britain could have played a more decisive role by declaring its intentions to support France earlier, and that the outcome of the crisis might have been different as a result. According to this point of view, if Germany’s decision-makers had known earlier and with certainty that Britain would not have remained neutral, they would have accepted mediation proposals and would have counselled peace in Vienna. Certainly Berlin worked on the (misconceived) assumption that British neutrality was possible, and even likely. However, it was impossible for Grey to declare Britain’s hand given that the British cabinet was divided over an involvement in a European war, and no definite decision to support France was possible until Germany’s violation of neutral Belgium provided Grey with a much-needed reason for joining the war. By then, he was so convinced that Britain needed to declare its support for France and Russia that he threatened to resign over the issue.[35]

In the crucial last days of July, Britain’s decision-makers were torn between their fear of a victorious Germany or a victorious Russia, if the latter managed to win the war without British support. We can of course only speculate if an earlier declaration of British involvement would have changed the minds of decision-makers in Vienna or Berlin and made them more inclined to accept mediation instead of war. The prospect of British neutrality, based on an a misunderstanding by the German Ambassador in London, Prince Karl Max von Lichnowsky (), certainly led to last minute attempts in Berlin to change the deployment plan for one that only sent German troops to the East, suggesting that British neutrality was a coveted outcome in Germany and might have changed how it began the fighting.[36] Nonetheless, it would seem unfair to see the ambivalence of Sir Edward Grey’s policy as a cause of the war, not least because his hesitant attitude was motivated by the desire to avoid an escalation of the crisis, although this certainly allowed Germany to indulge in the illusion of British neutrality.[37] Grey’s hands were tied, however, as the British public and the majority of the Cabinet were not ready to go to war over Serbia until Belgium’s demise finally provided a reason to become involved in continental affairs. Until that point Grey had feared that a definite promise of support might have led France or Russia to accept the risk of war more willingly, and had consistently refused to declare Britain’s hand one way or the other.

In France, decision-making was hampered by the fact that the senior statesmen were abroad on their state visit to St. Petersburg for many of the crucial days of the crisis (as we have seen, the ultimatum was timed to be presented at the least opportune moment for French decision-makers). France’s attitude vis-à-vis its Russian ally has been much scrutinised by historians in order to ascertain if undue pressure, or at least the ready offer of support, influenced decisions in St. Petersburg and if war-guilt can thus be attributed to France (an argument advanced, for example, by revisionists in the interwar years).[38] Certainly, the two allies reassured themselves of mutual support and agreed on “an intransigent opposition to any Austrian measure against Serbia”.[39] Poincaré certainly appears to have been willing to risk a war with his stance, if Germany and Austria chose not to back down “in the face of such unflinching solidarity”, and as Christopher Clark points out, it seems as if the two allies did not discuss what measures they would accept Austria to take legitimately following the assassination, instead simply agreeing on rejection of any demands made of Serbia.[40]

France was caught uncomfortably between two stools, wanting to reassure Russia that it could count on support from Paris while needing to appear conciliatory to keep Britain on side. Its desire to ensure British support even affected its military plans. Nothing should suggest to the Entente partner that France might be responsible for the onset of hostilities, and mobilisation measures had to be postponed until reliable news had been received of German moves, while French troops were deliberately withdrawn ten kilometres behind the border to ensure that hostile acts would not even result accidentally.

In the weeks following the assassination, Russia’s decision-makers reacted with alarm to the rumours that Austria might be planning to adopt severe measures against Serbia. Having initially been reassured by Vienna’s denials, the surprise at the ultimatum was all the greater, and the text of the ultimatum suggested to Foreign Minister Sergeij Sazonov () immediately that war would be “unavoidable”.[41] In a meeting of the Council of Ministers on 24 July, the Ministers discussed the fact that demands had been made of Serbia which were “wholly unacceptable to the Kingdom of Serbia as a sovereign state”. Nonetheless, the decision was made to advise Serbia not to offer any resistance to any armed invasion, while Vienna was to be asked to extend the time limit, and permission for mobilisation was to be sought to cover all eventualities.[42] On 25 July measures for a partial mobilisation of four districts (the “period preparatory to war”) were decided, and put into force early on 26 July. Much has been made of this early decision by historians who attribute responsibility for the war to Russia.[43] However, as Russia’s decision-makers were at pains to stress, this mobilisation did not make war unavoidable, though it is fair to say that the decision to begin the period preparatory to war “was the first Russian move down [the] slippery slope” to war.[44] At the same time, the Russian government was keen to support Britain’s mediation proposals and they also pressed the British to decide if they would become involved in a potential war on the side of the Franco-Russian alliance.

The prospect of Russia’s support was a great relief to Prime Minister Nikola Pašić in Belgrade, and it has been argued that Serbia’s rejection of parts of the ultimatum may have been made on the basis of this support.[45] However, it would have been impossible for Pašić to accept all of Austria-Hungary’s conditions, not least because of Serbia’s recent military successes, but also because, as we have seen, they were deliberately designed to be unacceptable to a sovereign state. Public opinion would arguably not have condoned such an outwardly visible expression of weakness, even if the Prime Minister had been inclined towards acceptance. Moreover, an investigation of the background of the assassination would have led the Austrians to Dragutin Dimitrijević, the head of the Serbian Military Intelligence, and the “Black Hand” organisation which had been behind the assassination. The demand of an Austrian-led enquiry was unacceptable because it would have revealed that the Serbian government, while not the instigators of the plot, had nonetheless had prior knowledge of it, and had failed in its attempt to prevent the murder from taking place.

Only at the very last minute, when it was clear that Britain, too, would become involved if war broke out, did German Chancellor Bethmann Hollweg try to restrain the Austrians, but his mediation proposals arrived far too late and were in any case not forceful enough. They also did not have the backing of Germany’s military leaders who continued to encourage their colleagues in Vienna to make a swift move. Austria declared war on Serbia on 28 July, starting the “local war” that Vienna’s decision-makers had wanted for some time, and they were unwilling to stop their war against Serbia in order to make further negotiations possible. With their declaration of war and immediate bombardment of the Serbian capital they set in motion a domino effect of mobilisation orders and declarations of war by Europe’s major powers which resulted in a war that far exceeded what they had planned or wanted.

By 1 August, any attempts to localise the conflict had failed, and Germany found itself at war with Russia, as predicted as far back as Hoyos’ visit to Berlin. Vienna’s war against Serbia now became relegated behind the war against Russia, and Berlin expected its ally to change its military plans to prioritise a mobilisation against their shared Russian enemy. By the time Britain had declared war on Germany on 4 August, following Germany’s invasion of neutral Luxembourg on 2 August and Belgium on 4 August (necessitated by Germany’s deployment plan, the so-called Schlieffen Plan[46]), the Alliance powers (without Italy, which had decided to stay neutral) faced the Entente powers in the “great fight” that had been dreaded and anticipated in equal measure for such a long time, but whose scale and outcome nobody could quite have imagined.


Historians have argued over the origins of the First World War for over a hundred years, and the July Crisis is a particularly controversial aspect of this long debate. The fact that in the victorious allies took the unusual step to attribute “war guilt” to Germany and its allies has resulted in a debate about the origins of the war that was from the start based on arguments over truth and lies. This was not helped by the fact that even before the war had broken out, lies were told about who had caused the crisis to escalate, as all sides tried to appear as though they had been attacked. No government could hope to sweep away millions of volunteers for a war of aggression. Their positioning and deceptions during the July Crisis and subsequently have obscured our view and have allowed historians to indulge in an unprecedented debate over the interpretation of the minutest of detail.

Why did “conflict avoidance” not work in as it had in previous crises?[47] What was the role played by certain key decision-makers, such as the chiefs of staff, foreign ministers and monarchs? In , Richard Hamilton and Holger Herwig contended: “Lloyd George’s notion of the innocent or unintended ‘slide’ stands sharply opposed to the evidence now available”.[48] In one of the more recent major investigation of the July Crisis, “the most complex event of modern times”, an impressive amount of international evidence is mustered without a case being made against a single state. “There is no smoking gun in this story; or, rather, there is one in the hands of every major character,” argues Christopher Clark in a revisionist account that largely exonerates Germany where once it had stood almost solely accused and focuses our attention on the decisions and actions of some of the other Great Powers instead.[49] Eschewing to place any blame or responsibility harks back to David Lloyd George (), whereas most accounts of the origins of the war since the s have sought to advance arguments which foreground the culpability of some governments over those of others whilst weighing up evidence for all.[50] Most would agree that examining the events of the summer of through a truly international lens is essential if we are to understand the actions of the “men of ”. Today there is still no consensus on the origins of the war, but there is continuing interest in examining the crisis from every conceivable angle and in new ways. However, while it is possible, based on the available documentary evidence, to construct an account which attributes some responsibility to any one or all of the major players in July , nonetheless there were those, in Vienna and Berlin, who created a crisis following the assassination, and those, in St. Petersburg, Paris and London, who reacted to the deliberate provocation of Serbia by Austria-Hungary which in turn reacted to a perceived provocation from Serbia. If all leaders are considered responsible, then arguably they were not equally so. In the governments of the Central Powers, a deliberate decision was taken to use the “golden opportunity” of the Sarajevo crime as a trigger for a war that they had long wanted to fight, and that they considered unavoidable in the long run. Moreover, a diplomatic victory was considered worthless and was deliberately ruled out in Vienna, while in London, for example, a diplomatic solution was sought until the very last days of the crisis. It was up to the other governments to choose if they wanted to accept that Austria had a genuine grievance and accommodate their demands, or if they were prepared to call their bluff and risk a general European war. Motivated by a shared fatalism that believed a future European war would be inevitable and that saw the threat of decline of one’s own Great Power status if one appeared weak to one’s allies or even one’s own population, in the end they all chose not to back down and, encouraged by each other’s support, to face up to real and imagined threats. With hindsight, it is easy to condemn all governments for their actions, for they unleashed a conflict they could not control and, in the case of the Central Powers, that they ultimately could not win. But if we ask why this crisis was not de-escalated like others beforehand, the answer is simple: not everyone wanted to prevent a war, not everyone considered it the worst-possible outcome of the July Crisis, and some were willing to risk war rather than risk a decline in their international status.

Annika Mombauer, The Open University

Section Editor: William Mulligan


  1. ↑In particular, Clark, Christopher: The Sleepwalkers. How Europe went to War in , London , re-kindled the old debate over culpability and led to soul-searching in Germany where the eve of the centenary saw a renewed interest in the origins of the First World War.
  2. ↑Among the most recent publications see e.g., Otte, Thomas G.: July Crisis. The World’s Descent into War, Cambridge ; Martel, Gordon: The Month that changed the World. July , Oxford
  3. ↑For a recent discussion of these conflicts, see Geppert, Dominik/Mulligan, William/Rose, Andreas (eds.): The Wars before the Wars. Conflict and International Politics before the outbreak of the First World War, Cambridge
  4. ↑Dülffer, Jost/Kröger, Martin/Wippich, Rolf-Harald (eds.): Vermiedene Kriege. Deeskalation und Konflikte der Großmächte zwischen Krimkrieg und Erstem Weltkrieg (), Munich More recently, the thesis that war was actually improbable was tested by Afflerbach, Holger and Stevenson, David (eds.): An Improbable War?: The Outbreak of World War I and European Political Culture before , New York
  5. ↑Mulligan, William: The Origins of the First World War, Cambridge , p. Similar arguments have been made, inter alia, by Afflerbach, Holger: Der Dreibund. Europäische Großmacht- und Allianzpolitik vor dem Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich and Kießling, Friedrich: Gegen den “großen Krieg”? Entspannung in den internationalen Beziehungen, , Munich
  6. ↑According to Franz Ferdinand’s latest biographer, Alma Hannig, it would be wrong, however, to consider him a member of a “peace party”: Franz Ferdinand. Die Biographie, Vienna
  7. ↑Princip testimony of 18 October , cited in Otte, July Crisis , p.
  8. ↑See Otte, July Crisis , p. 35 on this point, and in particular the fact that it was in Pašić’s and in the Austrian government’s interest to deny any prior knowledge of the plot after the event.
  9. ↑The Times, 29 June , p. 9.
  10. ↑On the Russian reaction, see Lieven, Dominic: Towards the Flame. Empire, War and the End of Tsarist Russia, London , p.
  11. ↑Angelow, Jürgen: Der Weg in die Urkastrophe. Der Zerfall des alten Europa , Berlin , p. For more details, see Hannig, Franz Ferdinand
  12. ↑Cited in Fellner, Fritz: Austria-Hungary, in: Wilson, Keith M. (ed.): Decisions for War, , London , p.
  13. ↑For further information on the diplomatic events of the July Crisis see, inter alia, Geiss, Imanuel (ed.): July The Outbreak of the First World War. Selected Documents, London ; as well as Albertini, Luigi: The Origins of the War of , 3 volumes, English translation, Oxford ; Fischer, Fritz: War of Illusions. German Policies from , London ; Joll, James: Origins of the First World War, London ; Wilson (ed.), Decisions for War ; Stevenson, David: Armaments and the Coming of War, Oxford , pp. ff.; Langdon, John W.: July The Long Debate , New York et al. ; Stevenson, David: The Outbreak of the First World War, London ; Mombauer, Annika (ed.): The origins of the First World War: diplomatic and military documents, Manchester
  14. ↑Flotow’s indiscretion in conversations with San Giuliano between 14 and 16 July had given some of the game away, and the French military secret service were also aware of the Austro-Hungarian intention to issue an unacceptable ultimatum. See Schmidt, Stefan: Frankreichs Außenpolitik in der Julikrise, Munich , p. 68; Mombauer, Documents , nos , Ambassador de Bunsen was able to report on 16 July that Vienna was planning a move against Serbia. Ibid., no.
  15. ↑Conrad von Hötzendorf, Franz: Aus meiner Dienstzeit , 5 volumes, Vienna et al. , volume I, p.
  16. ↑On the decision for war in Vienna, see e.g., Kronenbitter, Günther: ‘Krieg im Frieden’, Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreich-Ungarns –, Munich ; Williamson, Samuel R.: Austria-Hungary and the Origins of the First World War, London ; Rauchensteiner, Manfried: Der Erste Weltkrieg und das Ende der Habsburgmonarchie, Vienna
  17. ↑Conrad von Hötzendorf, Dienstzeit , volume IV, pp. 33f.
  18. ↑Mombauer, Documents , no.
  19. ↑Ibid., no.
  20. ↑Lieven, Towards the Flame , p.
  21. ↑Mombauer, Documents , no.
  22. ↑Ibid., no.
  23. ↑Ibid., no.
  24. ↑Conrad von Hötzendorf, Dienstzeit , volume IV, pp.
  25. ↑Mombauer, Documents , no.
  26. ↑Ibid., no.
  27. ↑See Mombauer, Annika: Helmuth von Moltke and the Origins of the First World War, Cambridge , pp. ff.
  28. ↑Mombauer, Documents , nos. , ,
  29. ↑Becker cited in Keiger, John: Raymond Poincaré, Cambridge , p.
  30. ↑For the text see e.g., Mombauer, Documents , no. For a detailed discussion of the delivery of the ultimatum and reactions to it see e.g., Otte, July Crisis , pp. ff.
  31. ↑Mombauer, Documents , no.
  32. ↑Cited in Fellner, Austria-Hungary , p.
  33. ↑Clark, Sleepwalkers , p.
  34. ↑Otte, July Crisis , p.
  35. ↑On Grey’s role see the special issue: Sir Edward Grey and the outbreak of the First World War, International History Review 38/2,
  36. ↑For details of the so-called misunderstanding of 1 August, see e.g., Mombauer, Moltke , pp.
  37. ↑On this point, see also Mombauer, Annika: Sir Edward Grey, Germany and the Outbreak of the First World War: a Re-Evaluation, International History Review 38/2, , pp.
  38. ↑More recently, Stefan Schmidt argues for France’s decisive role in strengthening Russian resolve: Schmidt, Frankreichs Außenpolitik In Clark’s interpretation, the state visit was “centrally concerned with the crisis unfolding in Central Europe”, rather than following a scheduled programme that pre-dated the assassination: Clark, Sleepwalkers , p. For details of the historiographical debate on the origins of the First World War see e.g., Mombauer, Annika: The Origins of the First World War. Controversies and Consensus, Harlow
  39. ↑Clark, Sleepwalkers , p.
  40. ↑Ibid., p.
  41. ↑See Lieven, Dominic: Russia and the Origins of the First World War, New York , p.
  42. ↑See ibid., p.
  43. ↑E.g., McMeekin, Sean: The Russian Origins of the First World War, Cambridge, MA
  44. ↑Lieven, Towards the Flame , p.
  45. ↑Albertini, Luigi: The Origins of the War of , 3 volumes, Oxford –57 (Reprint: Enigma, New York ), volume 2, pp. ; Clark, Sleepwalkers , p.
  46. ↑For details on the debate on the nature of the Schlieffen Plan see e.g., Mombauer, Annika: Of War Plans and War Guilt: the Debate Surrounding the Schlieffen Plan, Journal of Strategic Studies 28/5, October , pp. ; Ehlert, Hans/Epkenhans, Michael/Groß, Gerhard P. (eds.): Der Schlieffenplan. Analyse und Dokumente, Paderborn For details of Germany’s war plans see Mombauer, Annika: German War Plans, in: Hamilton, Richard F. and Herwig, Holger H. (eds.): War Planning , Cambridge , pp.
  47. ↑On the argument of avoided conflicts, see e.g., Mulligan, Origins ; Afflerbach and Stevenson, An Improbable War?
  48. ↑Hamilton, Richard F. and Herwig, Holger H. (eds.): The Origins of World War I, Cambridge , p.
  49. ↑Clark, Sleepwalkers , p.
  50. ↑Among them e.g., McMeekin, Sean: July Countdown to War, New York ; McMeekin, The Russian Origins ; Butler, Daniel Allen: The Burden of Guilt: How Germany Shattered the Last Days of Peace, Summer , Philadelphia et al. ; Hoffmann, Dieter: Der Sprung ins Dunkle, oder wie der 1. Weltkrieg entfesselt wurde, Leipzig ; Beatty, Jack: The Lost History of Why the Great War was not Inevitable, London ; Hastings, Max: Catastrophe. Europe Goes to War , London ; MacMillan, Margaret: The War That Ended Peace. The Road to , London ; Mombauer, Annika: Die Julikrise. Europas Weg in den Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich

Selected Bibliography

  1. Albertini, Luigi: The origins of the war of , London; New York Oxford University Press.
  2. Berghahn, Volker R.: Germany and the approach of war in , New York St. Martin's Press.
  3. Bosworth, Richard J. B.: Italy and the approach of the First World War, London; Basingstoke Macmillan.
  4. Clark, Christopher M.: The sleepwalkers. How Europe went to war in , New York Harper.
  5. Fischer, Fritz: Griff nach der Weltmacht. Die Kriegszielpolitik des kaiserlichen Deutschland, (2 ed.), Düsseldorf Droste.
  6. Fischer, Fritz: Krieg der Illusionen. Die deutsche Politik von bis (2 ed.), Düsseldorf Droste.
  7. Geiss, Imanuel: Der lange Weg in die Katastrophe. Die Vorgeschichte des Ersten Weltkriegs, , Munich Piper.
  8. Geiss, Imanuel (ed.): Julikrise und Kriegsausbruch Eine Dokumentensammlung, Hannover Verlag für Literatur und Zeitgeschehen.
  9. Hamilton, Richard F. / Herwig, Holger H. (eds.): War planning , Cambridge; New York Cambridge University Press.
  10. Herwig, Holger H. (ed.): The outbreak of World War I. Causes and responsibilities (5 ed.), Lexington D.C. Heath and Co.
  11. Joll, James / Martel, Gordon: The origins of the First World War (3 ed.), Harlow Pearson Longman.
  12. Keiger, John F. V.: France and the origins of the First World War, London; Basingstoke Macmillan Press.
  13. Kronenbitter, Günther: 'Krieg im Frieden'. Die Führung der k.u.k. Armee und die Großmachtpolitik Österreich-Ungarns , Munich Oldenbourg.
  14. Krumeich, Gerd: Juli Eine Bilanz, Paderborn Ferdinand Schöningh.
  15. Langdon, John W.: July The long debate, , New York; Oxford Berg.
  16. Lieven, Dominic C. B.: Russia and the origins of the First World War, New York St. Martin's Press.
  17. Lieven, Dominic C. B.: Towards the flame. Empire, war and the end of Tsarist Russia, London Allen Lane.
  18. MacMillan, Margaret: The war that ended peace. The road to , New York Random House.
  19. McMeekin, Sean: The Russian origins of the First World War, Cambridge; New York Harvard University Press.
  20. Mombauer, Annika: Die Julikrise. Europas Weg in den Ersten Weltkrieg, Munich C.H. Beck.
  21. Mombauer, Annika: The origins of the First World War. Controversies and consensus, Harlow; New York Longman.
  22. Mombauer, Annika (ed.): The origins of the First World War. Diplomatic and military documents, Manchester; New York Manchester University Press.
  23. Mulligan, William: The origins of the First World War, Cambridge Cambridge University Press.
  24. Neitzel, Sönke: Kriegsausbruch. Deutschlands Weg in die Katastrophe , Munich Pendo.
  25. Otte, Thomas: July Crisis. The world's descent into war, summer , New York Cambridge University Press.
  26. Schmidt, Stefan: Frankreichs Außenpolitik in der Julikrise Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Ausbruchs des Ersten Weltkrieges, Pariser Historische Studien 90, Munich Oldenbourg Verlag.
  27. Smith, David James: One morning in Sarajevo. 28 June , London Phoenix.
  28. Steiner, Zara Shakow / Neilson, Keith: Britain and the origins of the First World War, London Palgrave Macmillan.
  29. Stevenson, David: The outbreak of the First World War. in perspective, London Macmillan.
  30. Williamson, Jr., Samuel R.: Austria-Hungary and the origins of the First World War, New York St. Martin's Press.
  31. Williamson, Jr., Samuel R. / Van Wyk, Russel: July Soldiers, statesmen, and the coming of the Great War. A brief documentary history, Boston Bedford; St. Martin's.
  32. Wilson, Keith M. (ed.): Decisions for war, , London UCL Press.
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It’s possibly the single most pondered question in history – what caused World War One? It wasn’t, like in World War Two, a case of a single belligerent pushing others to take a military stand. It didn’t have the moral vindication of resisting a tyrant.

Rather, a delicate but toxic balance of structural forces created a dry tinder that was lit by the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. That event precipitated the July Crisis, which saw the major European powers hurtle toward open conflict.


The M-A-I-N acronym – militarism, alliances, imperialism and nationalism – is often used to analyse the war, and each of these reasons are cited to be the 4 main causes of World War One. It’s simplistic but provides a useful framework.


The late nineteenth century was an era of military competition, particularly between the major European powers. The policy of building a stronger military was judged relative to neighbours, creating a culture of paranoia that heightened the search for alliances. It was fed by the cultural belief that war is good for nations.

A British dreadnought – the building of these ships was a source of tension between Great Britain and Germany.

Image Credit: New York Times Paris Bureau Collection

Germany in particular looked to expand its navy. However, the ‘naval race’ was never a real contest – the British always s maintained naval superiority.  But the British obsession with naval dominance was strong. Government rhetoric exaggerated military expansionism.  A simple naivety in the potential scale and bloodshed of a European war prevented several governments from checking their aggression.


A web of alliances developed in Europe between and , effectively creating two camps bound by commitments to maintain sovereignty or intervene militarily – the Triple Entente and the Triple Alliance.

  • The Triple Alliance of linked Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy.
  • The Triple Entente of linked France, Britain and Russia.

A historic point of conflict between Austria Hungary and Russia was over their incompatible Balkan interests, and France had a deep suspicion of Germany rooted in their defeat in the war.

Hark Hark the Dogs do Bark

A British cartoon of Europe in

The alliance system primarily came about because after Germany, under Bismarck, set a precedent by playing its neighbours’ imperial endeavours off one another, in order to maintain a balance of power within Europe


Imperial competition also pushed the countries towards adopting alliances. Colonies were units of exchange that could be bargained without significantly affecting the metro-pole. They also brought nations who would otherwise not interact into conflict and agreement. For example, the Russo-Japanese War () over aspirations in China, helped bring the Triple Entente into being.

It has been suggested that Germany was motivated by imperial ambitions to invade Belgium and France. Certainly the expansion of the British and French empires, fired by the rise of industrialism and the pursuit of new markets, caused some resentment in Germany, and the pursuit of a short, aborted imperial policy in the late nineteenth century.

However the suggestion that Germany wanted to create a European empire in is not supported by the pre-war rhetoric and strategy.


Nationalism was also a new and powerful source of tension in Europe. It was tied to militarism, and clashed with the interests of the imperial powers in Europe. Nationalism created new areas of interest over which nations could compete.

Margaret MacMillan talks to her nephew Dan about the road to They discuss the role that masculine insecurity played in the build up to the war and also examine the construct of and myths surrounding nationalistic feeling in the pre-war years.

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For example, The Habsburg empire was tottering agglomeration of 11 different nationalities, with large slavic populations in Galicia and the Balkans whose nationalist aspirations ran counter to imperial cohesion. Nationalism in the Balkan’s also piqued Russia’s historic interest in the region.

Indeed, Serbian nationalism created the trigger cause of the conflict – the assassination of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The spark: the assassination

Ferdinand and his wife were murdered in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a member of the Bosnian Serbian nationalist terrorist organization the ‘Black Hand Gang.’ Ferdinand’s death, which was interpreted as a product of official Serbian policy, created the July Crisis – a month of diplomatic and governmental miscalculations that saw a domino effect of war declarations initiated.

The historical dialogue on this issue is vast and distorted by substantial biases. Vague and undefined schemes of reckless expansion were imputed to the German leadership in the immediate aftermath of the war with the ‘war-guilt’ clause. The notion that Germany was bursting with newfound strength, proud of her abilities and eager to showcase them, was overplayed.

The almost laughable rationalization of British imperial power as ‘necessary’ or ‘civilizing’ didn’t translate to German imperialism, which was ‘aggressive’ and ‘expansionist.’ There is an on-going historical discussion on who if anyone was most culpable.

Blame has been directed at every single combatant at one point or another, and some have said that all the major governments considered a golden opportunity for increasing popularity at home.

The Schlieffen plan could be blamed for bringing Britain into the war, the scale of the war could be blamed on Russia as the first big country to mobilise, inherent rivalries between imperialism and capitalism could be blamed for polarising the combatants. AJP Taylor’s ‘timetable theory’ emphasises the delicate, highly complex plans involved in mobilization which prompted ostensibly aggressive military preparations.

The German Schlieffen Plan

The German Schlieffen Plan required Germany to defeat France quickly to avoid a two front war.

Every point has some merit, but in the end what proved most devastating was the combination of an alliance network with the widespread, misguided belief that war is good for nations, and that the best way to fight a modern war was to attack. That the war was inevitable is questionable, but certainly the notion of glorious war, of war as a good for nation-building, was strong pre By the end of the war, it was dead.

Tags:Franz Ferdinand


What was the spark that ignited World War 1?

1. Imperialism
2. Nationalism
3. Militarism
4. Alliances

Germany was improving its military.
Britain was the most dominant in imperialism
Militarism and Alliances:
Central Powers-Germany, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire
Allied- Britain, France, Russia, Italy
there are more allies but these are the major ones

Before WW1 started, it was getting tense already with the European countries. Germany and Britain were tense due to the trade. Other countries tense due to Germany's growing military. These are a one part of the spark.

The other is Bosnia and Herzegovina's freedom from Austria-Hungary. Serbia wants to free Bosnia and Herzegovina from Austria because Bosnia and Herzegovina's citizens are 80% Serbians. The Black Hand, a group that wants to free Bosnia and Herzegovina, planned to combine Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina to make Greater Serbia.

The Black Hand planned to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand when the Archduke was in Serbia to take care of things regarding the freedom of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Gavrilo Princip, a member of Black Hand, was the assassin who killed the Archduke (other assassins failed). The Archduke along with his wife died by a gunshot.

Austria was enraged by this matter so they asked Germany for help and they planned to conduct an investigation on Serbia. (which Serbia agreed on)
when a country wants a different country investigated, a another country must be the one to investigate and not the country that filed an investigation*

Austrian officials weren't allowed to go with the investigation but the officials still went along. Serbia asked Russia for help since they are allies. Germany allied with Austria-Hungary. Russia asked France for help ( France agreed due to the Franco-Prussian War ) while Germany asked for France to be neutral.

June 28, Death of Archduke Franz Ferdinand
July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia
Aug. 1, Germany declared war on Russia
Aug. 3, Germany declared war on France
Aug. 4, Great Britain declared war on Germany

The spark of WW1 is more like sparks. Everything is linked and they all have consequences. The end of this war made the League of Nations ( now known as U.N )

These information's a combination of my notes of AP this school year and the my lessons from last school year.


Ww1 definition the spark

The causes of World War I, also known as the Great War, have been debated since it ended. Officially, Germany shouldered much of the blame for the conflict, which caused four years of unprecedented slaughter. But a series of complicated factors caused the war, including a brutal assassination that propelled Europe into the greatest conflict the continent had ever known.

The murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand outraged Austria-Hungary.
In June , Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie traveled to Bosnia&#x;which had been annexed by Austria-Hungary&#x;for a state visit.

On June 28, the couple went to the capital city of Sarajevo to inspect imperial troops stationed there. As they headed toward their destination, they narrowly escaped death when Serbian terrorists threw a bomb at their open-topped car.

Their luck ran out later that day, however, when their driver inadvertently drove them past year-old Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip who shot and killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife at point-blank range. Austria-Hungary was furious and, with Germany&#x;s support, declared war on Serbia on July

Within days, Germany declared war on Russia&#x;Serbia&#x;s ally&#x;and invaded France via Belgium, which then caused Britain to declare war on Germany.

Limited industrial resources fueled imperialist expansion.
A state&#x;s desire to expand its empire was nothing new in European history, but by the early 20th century the Industrial Revolution was in full force.

New industrial and manufacturing technologies created the need to dominate new territories and their natural resources, including oil, rubber, coal, iron and other raw materials.

With the British Empire extending to five continents and France controlling many the African colonies, Germany wanted a larger slice of the territorial pie. As countries vied for position, tensions rose, and they formed alliances to position themselves for European dominance.

The rise of nationalism undermined diplomacy.
During the 19th century, rising nationalism swept through Europe. As people took more pride in country and culture, their desire to rid themselves of imperial rule increased. In some cases, however, imperialism fed nationalism as some groups claimed superiority over others.

This widespread nationalism is thought to be a general cause of World War I. For instance, after Germany dominated France in the Franco-Prussian War of , France lost money and land to Germany, which then fueled French nationalism and a desire for revenge.

Nationalism played a specific role in World War I when Archduke Ferdinand and his wife were assassinated by Princip, a member of a Serbian nationalist terrorist group fighting against Austria-Hungary&#x;s rule over Bosnia.

Entangled alliances created two competing groups.
In , Germany and Austria-Hungary allied against Russia. In , Italy joined their alliance (The Triple Alliance) and Russia responded in by allying with France.

In , Great Britain, Russia and France formed the Triple Entente to protect themselves against Germany&#x;s growing threat. Soon, Europe was divided into two groups: The Central Powers of Germany, Austria-Hungary and Italy; and the Allies, which included Russia, France and Britain.

As war was declared, the allied countries emboldened each other to enter the fray and defend their treaties, although not every coalition was set in stone&#x;Italy later changed sides. By the end of August , the so-called entangled alliances had caused what should have been a regional conflict to expand to all of Europe&#x;s powerful states.

Militarism sparked an arms race.
In the early s, many European countries increased their military might and were ready and willing put it to use. Most of the European powers had a military draft system and were in an arms race, methodically increasing their war chests and fine-tuning their defense strategies.

Between and , France, Russia, Britain and Germany significantly increased their defense budgets. But Germany was by far the most militaristic country in Europe at the time. By July , it had increased its military budget by a massive 79 percent.

Germany was also in an unofficial war with Britain for naval superiority. They doubled their naval battle fleet as Britain&#x;s Royal Navy produced the first Dreadnought battleship which could outgun and outrun any other battleship in existence. Not to be outdone, Germany built its own fleet of Dreadnoughts.

By the start of World War I, the European powers were not just prepared for war, they expected it and some even counted on it to increase their world standing.

Although the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand was the spark that caused Austria-Hungary to strike the first blow, all the European powers quickly fell in line to defend their alliances, preserve or expand their empires and display their military might and patriotism.

The Spark that started WW1

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie are shot to death by a Bosnian Serb nationalist during an official visit to the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo on June 28,  The killings sparked a chain of events that led to the outbreak of World War I by early August. On June 28, , five years to the day after Franz Ferdinand&#x;s death, Germany and the Allied Powers signed the Treaty of Versailles, officially marking the end of World War I.

READ MORE: Did Franz Ferdinand&#x;s Assassination Cause World War I?

The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, annexed by Austria-Hungary in The annexation had angered Serbian nationalists, who believed the territories should be part of Serbia. A group of young nationalists hatched a plot to kill the archduke during his visit to Sarajevo, and after some missteps, year-old Gavrilo Princip was able to shoot the royal couple at point-blank range, while they traveled in their official procession, killing both almost instantly.

The assassination set off a rapid chain of events, as Austria-Hungary immediately blamed the Serbian government for the attack. As large and powerful Russia supported Serbia, Austria asked for assurances that Germany would step in on its side against Russia and its allies, including France and possibly Great Britain. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the fragile peace between Europe&#x;s great powers collapsed, beginning the devastating conflict now known as the First World War.

READ MORE: US Entry into World War I 

After more than four years of bloodshed, the Great War ended on November 11, , after Germany, the last of the Central Powers, surrendered to the Allies. At the peace conference in Paris in , Allied leaders would state their desire to build a post-war world that was safe from future wars of such enormous scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed on June 28, , tragically failed to achieve this objective. U.S. President Woodrow Wilson&#x;s grand dreams of an international peace-keeping organization faltered when put into practice as the League of Nations. Even worse, the harsh terms imposed on Germany, the war&#x;s biggest loser, led to widespread resentment of the treaty and its authors in that country&#x;a resentment that would culminate in the outbreak of the Second World War two decades later.

READ MORE: History Faceoff: Should the U.S. Have Entered World War I?


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