Todays post has no ephemera associated with it. But I thought it important to republish this article I wrote a few years ago. Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of what was and what is our future.
On February 4th, 2012 the most influential event in the last one hundred years silently slipped from memory into History. On that day the last surviving veteran of World War One died missing the one-hundredth anniversary of the wars start by two years.
1914 was the year Babe Ruth made his pitching debut with the Baltimore Orioles. It was the year Charlie Chaplin’s image flickered in darkened movie houses for the first time. It was just a dozen years removed from when the Wright’s gave wings to humans.
It was also the year that a teenage boy made a decision that rocked the world.
Gavrilo Princip, a frail 19-year-old outcast, was indoctrinated with anti-Austria Hungarian beliefs and the idea of radical Serbian nationalism. Though he was Bosnian by birth and Serbian by descent, he fell under the influence of revolutionary groups calling for Serbs, throughout the Balkans, to revolt and create a greater Serbian Empire. This empire was to rival Austria Hungary’s.
Expelled from school for his increased activism and political protests, Princip became even more militant towards Austro Hungarian rule. Leaving his rural Bosnian home and peasant upbringing, Princip made his way to cosmopolitan Belgrade, the capital of Serbia. There he plunged further into the Serbian hatred for Austria Hungary and its ruling family, the Hapsburgs —headed by emperor, Franz Joseph.
Franz Joseph was the militaristic leader of the dual kingdom of Austria and Hungary. At 84 years old and reigning for 66 years, his monarchy was one of the longest in European history. For the last few years he has seen tiny Serbia grow into an ill tempered mongrel biting at his ankles.
Princip’s drifting and radical beliefs led him to the Serbian terrorist organization, The Black Hand. Initially shunned due to his small size and sickly nature (he had tuberculous) Princip wasn’t their ideal recruit, but he was able to convince its leaders of his worth to the group. Youthful idealism and persuasive rhetoric bolstered his willingness to prove, in any way they wished, his dedication to their cause: returning Serbia to the days of her Medieval glory.
The Black Hand acted much like their modern terrorist counterparts — operating in small cells with a maniacal dedication to their narrow world view. It was organized in 1911 to oppose the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina, with its large Serb population, into the Austria Hungarian Empire years earlier. To propel their cause they decided to strike directly at the sovereignty of the Austria Hungarian throne, by murdering the king’s nephew and heir, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.
Plans for the assassination were hurried along to take advantage of the Archdukes June visit to Bosnia. As Inspector General of the Army, he would be reviewing military exercises near Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo. Accompanied by his wife, Duchess Sophie, their trip was to include time touring the region where the couple looked forward to celebrating their fourteenth wedding anniversary.
Princip was chosen to be a part of a small group sent to assassinate the archduke. When the groups training was completed in Serbia – where Princip showed remarkable marksmanship skills – the young assassins were smuggled across the border into Bosnia to finalize the details for the archduke’s murder.
The Sunday morning air echoed with the pure tones of church bells. From early on, preparations were underway as Sarajevo made ready for the royal couples visit. Shopkeepers fussed with their window displays; city officials polished and rehearsed their speeches. Street-vendors were busy setting up their stands and preparing their wares. Throughout the ancient city, buildings were decorated in patriotic bunting. The crowds began to gather early along the Appel Quay, the road that would lead the Royal couple to the town hall where they would receive the city’s official welcome.
Through the commotion, Princip and the six other assassins silently worked their way to their assigned positions. Spread out along the Appel Quay, which followed the north bank of the River Miljacka, it was decided that three of the hit men would be positioned on the river side of the road and the four others on the opposite side. The assassins formed a gauntlet, with seven death zones, that the Archdukes procession must pass. Hidden in their loose fitting clothing each carried either a revolver or a rudimentary hand grenade, or both. One other item was also supplied: each was given a cyanide capsule. Their orders were clear, kill the archduke. Then kill yourself.
When the formalities of the troop inspection were completed, the Archduke’s six car procession headed towards the Town Hall. In the third car, an open air convertible, rode the Archduke and his wife Sophie. She appreciated the attention and the warm kindness shown to her and her husband as she enjoyed the sweetness of the fresh bouquet presented to her. The Archduke was more cautious: behind his relaxed smile and acknowledging gestures – he along with his bodyguards – was carefully observing the crowd.
Mingled within the crowds, the assassins waited for their opportunity. But, as fast as the procession moved closer to the first gunman, that’s how fast his steely resolve faded. Would be assassin Muhamed Mehmedbasic lost his nerve and did nothing. The procession passed this first of the seven death zones without incident. Further down the street, in the second position, awaited Nedeljko Cabrinovic. As the Archduke’s car came within striking distance, he triggered his grenade and lobbed it towards the Royal couple. Seeing it, the Archduke quickly guarded his wife as he deflected the grenade, smacking it to the street. It clanked hitting the pavement and exploded under the fourth car. More that a dozen people were wounded from the blast.
Cabrinovic immediately swallowed his cyanide and jumped into the river doubly assuring his own death. The cyanide, too weak to kill, only made him vomit. The river, too shallow to drown, only helped in his capture. As the panicked crowd ran for safety and the wounded were attended to, Cabrinovic was manhandled to the river bank and arrested.
Hearing the explosion, the rest of the assassins were too dumbfounded to react as the Archdukes car sped past each of them. The Archduke’s shocked entourage made it safely to the town hall, where after a few welcoming remarks Franz Ferdinand ordered to be taken to the hospital to visit the injured.
Realizing their failure, the dejected assassins vanished into the chaos. The story would have ended here, except for one of history’s most tragic coincidences.
En route to the hospital the Archdukes chauffeur missed a turn. To correct the mistake, he stopped the car and while trying to put it into reverse, caused it to stall. The Archduke and Sophie’s car had stopped and stalled directly in front of meandering assassin Gavrilo Princip.
Seeing his prey only a few feet away, a surprised Princip reached into his jacket, pulled out his pistol and fired two shots: one striking Sophie, the other striking the Archduke. To complete his orders, Princip turned the gun on himself. Before he could pull the trigger, stunned passerby’s jumped him, yanking the pistol from his grip while beating and kicking him to the pavement. An almost inaudible “I regret nothing!” was heard as police dragged him away from the enraged mob.
Within the hour, the heir to the Austro Hungarian Empire and his wife were dead.
On June 25, 1939, three days before the 25th anniversary of the assassinations, the New York Times headline summed up the days events this way: “Two bullets – and 8,000,000 dead.”