Jun 28

How One Man Started a World War 104 Years Ago Today

Thursday, June 28, 2018 3:17 PM

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On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife, Sophie, were assassinated in the streets of Sarajevo, which loosed the forces that created World War I. Here are the elements that led to this catastrophic event:

 

AN ANNEXATION CAUSES TROUBLE IN BOSNIA

 

A satirical cartoon from La Petite Journal lampoons the crisis that was triggered by the annexation of Bosnia (Photo: The Atlantic Sentinel).

A satirical cartoon from La Petite Journal lampoons the crisis that was triggered by the annexation of Bosnia. (Photo: The Atlantic Sentinel)

Following the Crimean War and various conflicts in Eastern Europe, the Congress of Berlin proposed a treaty that granted independence to the smaller nation-states of Romania, Montenegro, and Serbia. While Austria and Russia initially promised to leave these new countries to their own devices, Austria’s sudden annexation of Bosnia in 1908 generated intense hostility from the state’s natives.

 

AN UNCONVENTIONAL HEIR

 

A young Franz Ferdinand poses in military regalia (Photo: New York Public Library digital collections).

A young Franz Ferdinand poses in military regalia. (Photo: New York Public Library digital collections)

In everything from his choice of wife to his views on universal suffrage, Franz Ferdinand was a new and refreshing contrast to his uncle, Austria’s emperor at the time. The Archduke’s tension with Franz Joseph stemmed from the latter’s opposition to Ferdinand’s choice of wife, Sophie. So strongly did the Emperor protest his nephew’s marriage to the daughter of a mere count that he forced Franz Ferdinand to sign an Oath of Renunciation. The heir’s children would have no place in the line of succession. As a result of this, the Archduke stood in fierce opposition to a number of Franz Joseph’s policies. He insisted on reforms like the reinvention of the Austrian navy and universal (male) suffrage in order to consolidate Austrian power.

 

A DAY LIKE ANY OTHER

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess Sophie greeting a local official in Sarajevo (Photo: The New York Times).

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and the Duchess Sophie greeting a local official in Sarajevo. (Photo: The New York Times)

On the day of their fourteenth wedding anniversary, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were observing the local army’s drills and enjoying a rare public outing. Sophie had an optimistic view of her new surroundings despite warnings of aggression, saying that “everywhere [they] have gone here, [they] have been treated with so much friendliness.”

 

AN ANGRY YOUTH

 

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Gavrilo Princip, the eventual assassin of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie. (Photo: The Irish Times)

Gavrilo Princip, a nineteen year old Bosnian national, united with like-minded peers and received weapons from the Serbian organization, the Black Hand. He believed in the independence of all Slavic people, stating that he was “a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and [he does] not care what form of state, but it must be free from Austria.”

 

A FAILED ATTEMPT

 

The Archduke's vehicle escaped the brunt of the bomb's blast (Photo: The Telegraph).

The Archduke’s vehicle escaped the brunt of the bomb’s blast. (Photo: The Telegraph)

After an initial, panicked failure to launch a bomb at the imperial motorcade, a second assassin hurled an explosive at the Archduke’s car. The driver avoided the bomb, which detonated near one of the other vehicles in the procession. Franz Ferdinand was unfazed, saying, “Come on, that fellow is clearly insane. Let us proceed with the program.”

 

A THWARTED ESCAPE

 

An illustration of the assassination depicts the Duchess clutching the Archduke before being targeted by Princip (Photo: The Smithsonian Magazine).

An illustration of the assassination depicts the Duchess clutching her husband before being targeted by Princip. (Photo: The Smithsonian Magazine)

Franz Ferdinand demanded that the procession reroute to visit an official who was wounded in the bombing before they made a sudden exit from Sarajevo. The driver, who was unaware of the new developments, made a wrong turn and paused in order to change course. In that moment, Gavrilo Princip seized his opportunity and opened fire on the idle vehicle, killing both the Archduke and his wife at close range. Their young assassin’s suicide was halted by furious bystanders.

 

AN UNCERTAIN RESPONSE

 

This newspaper clipping ponders the political implications in Austria following the assassination (Photo: The Telegraph).

This newspaper clipping ponders the political implications in Austria following the assassination. (Photo: The Telegraph)

While many were horrified by the swift and violent nature of the murders, the initial response of many foreign observers was to quibble over the now uncertain line of succession. Very few people contemplated the deep, long term impact that this event would have on the world.

 

BATTLE LINES ARE DRAWN

 

The New York Tribune reports the frustration felt by the Austrian people (Photo: The Library of Congress).

The New York Tribune reports the frustration felt by the Austrian people. (Photo: The Library of Congress)

Austria was swift to assign responsibility for the event to Serbia, since the Black Hand had provided Princip and his co-conspirators with the weapons used in the attack. This declaration of aggression forced European states to choose a side, lest they face the wrath of an ally. Russia stood with the accused, while Germany allied with Austria in order to preserve their uneasy military partnership. Great Britain and France were inexorably drawn into the conflict due to their agreement to preserve peace with Russia in the Triple Entente.

 

A WAR UNLIKE ANY OTHER

 

This alarmingly prescient warning in a newspaper clipping foreshadows the fate of the Lusitania (Photo: USNI Archives).

This alarmingly prescient warning in a newspaper clipping foreshadows the fate of the Lusitania. (Photo: USNI Archives)

World War I, or the Great War, introduced a level of conflict that had never been seen before. The number of nations participating, the variety of frightening new weaponry, and the scale of destruction left an entire generation scarred and forever changed. Even innocent passenger vessels learned to fear for their safety, as the British and other Allied governments issued travel warnings on account of German U-Boats.

 

THE U.S. FINALLY MAKES ITS MOVE

 

The loss of several U.S. passengers on the Lusitania spurred Americans to join the war effort (Photo: BBC).

The loss of several U.S. passengers on the Lusitania spurred Americans to join the war effort. (Photo: BBC)

The isolationist policies of the United States kept it out of the war until the last possible moment, and only a direct attack on its citizens prompted the consideration of entry into the war. The passenger ship Lusitania had one hundred twenty-eight Americans on board when it was hit by a German U-boat. While the U.S. did not immediately join the war effort, the sinking of the ship encouraged further discussion of the country’s participation in the conflict. The Zimmerman telegram, which detailed Germany’s willingness to restore several of Mexico’s U.S.-acquired territories following a victory, sealed America’s fate, and the U.S. officially entered the Great War two years after the sinking of the Lusitania.

 

AN UNINTENDED LEGACY

 

How one man's actions sparked a world-wide conflagration (Photo: Library of Congress).

How one man’s actions sparked a world-wide conflagration. (Photo: Library of Congress)

When a nineteen-year old Bosnian activist blindly fired his weapon at a perceived aggressor, he believed that he was merely avenging his nation’s loss of independence. What he could not have known was that the loss of the Archduke allowed the tension in the east to uncoil and manifest itself on an unprecedented scale. Racial and cultural tensions in the Austrian empire were brought to the forefront and forced nations to hastily decide on a victim and an antagonist. Gavrilo Princips could not have foreseen the more than thirty million casualties that would be incurred during the war, the development of chemical warfare, or the increasing division and tension that would result from the armistice’s ineffective treaties. But with the pull of a trigger, he prompted a series of events that would change the world and warfare forever.

 

References:

https://www.npr.org/sections/parallels/2014/06/27/326164157/the-shifting-legacy-of-the-man-who-shot-franz-ferdinand

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2008/nov/08/first-world-war-franz-ferdinand-sarajevo

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2014/06/28/the-assassination-of-archduke-franz-ferdinand-and-the-drumbeats-of-war/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.fc48518bbbb2

http://time.com/3880415/margaret-macmillan-on-assassination-of-franz-ferdinand-and-sophie/

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/world-war-one/10930863/First-World-War-centenary-the-assassination-of-Franz-Ferdinand-as-it-happened.html

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/projects/cp/obituaries/archives/archduke-franz-ferdinand-world-war