Sunday, June 29, 2014

Two Shots

That's all it took, really.

One hundred years ago yesterday, the heir to an empire and his morganatic wife visited the capital of the province of Bosnia-Hercegovina, Sarajevo.  The timing could have been better, as it was also the anniversary of a great Serbian military disaster, so the Serbs (who heartily resented Austria's annexation of Bosnia) were pissed off.

Certain Serbs had already decided to do something about it. 

As the Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie rode along the boulevard, someone threw a bomb.  It missed, but injured a few members of the official party.  After berating the Mayor of Sarajevo and visiting the wounded, Franz and Sophie were riding back.  The chauffeur, unused to the route, took a wrong turn and stopped to back up.

It was arguably the wrongest turn in history.

Miffed at not getting his shot at killing the Archduke, a seventeen-year-old Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip was having a brandy when his targets suddenly appeared right in front of him.  He'd been mocked as a poor shot during his training, but at this range there was possibility he'd miss.

Bang.  Bang.

Franz Ferdinand and Sophie died of their wounds.  Because she wasn't of royal blood, none of the crowned heads of Europe (many of whom were related to each other) attended the funeral.  That meeting could have avoided the stupidity that followed.

Ethnic and nationalist urges had been convulsing the Balkans and the rest of Europe for, on some cases, sixty years.  The major powers in Europe polarized into two huge blocs, with the diplomats unable or unwilling to find an acceptable formula to get themselves out of the fix.  Coupled with the military alliances and arms races, all it would take would be a single incident to start the entire avalanche crashing down on the world.

Bang.  Bang.

Two shots, fired by a teenaged terrorist, that led to the deaths of nearly twenty million people and the redrawing of the maps of the world.  We live with the unforeseen consequences of World War One - in Africa, in Southwest Asia, and we saw it in the 1990s in - where else? - the Balkans.

It's been a hundred years since those shots.  We can't forget, and mustn't.


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