100 years since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by Gavrilo Princip in Sarajevo, a politically charged event that would be used as the excuse to catapult Europe into the first World War. I find it interesting that on this day the History Channel would rather do a biopic on cars while Google celebrates the World Cup match between Uruguay and Colombia than on the 100th anniversary of a critical, history making event.
Facts remain as history progresses forward in its own story: Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year old nationalist enlisted in the Black Hand, assassinates a member of Austrian aristocracy as well as the future emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire and his wife as they drive through the streets of Sarajevo. It’s a tragic story for all parties involved – the Archduke and his wife died not too long after and Gavrilo succumbs to illness in prison seven months before armistice in 1918, he would never live to see the full ramifications of his decisions play out in the greatest historical war theatre: World War II. Imagine that. For an instance. A man decides to take one life, an event which will knock down the dominoes of history, and two decades later millions will die in gas chambers because those dominoes fell in such a way that would allow the likes of vegetarian, animal rights activist, and failed artist to take over Germany. This isn’t to say that what Gavrilo Princip did was out of malicious intent to persecute a population that adhered to a certain religious practice… but it does place long-term perspective, especially the idea that we have no idea what will happen once we get the ball rolling.
The first that I heard of this incident I was fifteen, attending Mr. Prior’s sophomore level World History Honors course. Dynamic, witty, and charming Mr. Prior could spin a tale so vivid that it left you at the edge of your seat – he did what so few teachers and professors are capable of doing: he brought the dull and musty pages of history to technicolor if not digital life. That day he opened up class with a hypothetical situation that made us think we were going to do something quite different… it sounded like a lecture on suicide prevention, almost like a school mandated intervention.
Mr. Prior: “Good morning, everyone. Today we are going to discuss something quite serious, it may even be happening to someone you know. Imagine there was a guy in your class who all the girls loved and all the other boys wanted to be-“
Male Student: “What if I’m gay? Saying I can’t fall in love with him, Mr. P?”
Mr. Prior: “Touche! Alright who all the other boys wanted to be and all the straight/bi girls and gay/bi boys fell in love with so easily. Cool?”
Male Student: “Cool. But why does everyone have to like him that much?”
Mr. Prior: “Because he’s popular, wealthy, cultured, strong, intelligent, successful, voted most likely to be the future CEO of insert-fortune-500-corporation-here… he’ s just got it all: loving family, girlfriend – or boyfriend – and just the whole world thinks he’s fabulous. But… what if one day I’m standing here in front of you to tell you that your beloved student is dead. He just went home one day, took out his father’s gun, loaded it, and shot himself in the head.”
Everyone: *Silence. I guess we were all pretty much wondering what the heck was going on in class today*
Mr. Prior: “So, I want you all to ask yourselves a question: Why? Why would this person do that: the world looks up to him, he’s got it all, and one day he just decides to blow his brains out. That is the question you will be asking yourself over the course of the next three months as we cover Europe (which had it all: power, prestige, culture, respect) and their decision to enter war over a political death, how that turned into a World War, and more importantly, if this is what’s happening to a country you know and live in (albeit we’re slightly less cultured and sophisticated and all-round not as well liked but we still have a lot going for it. Keep it in the back of your minds).”
And we did. I don’t know if he realizes just how much he revolutionized our worlds. Those last three months of school were perhaps the most enlightening in that we learned a valuable lesson about international politics that was in all honesty quite frightening: first, the idea that what one would at first consider to be a politically insignificant event only years earlier suddenly has new meaning under the right circumstances. Secondly, sometimes it just doesn’t matter why something happens – the reason could have been anything in the end, not sure how anyone feels about conspiracy theories because I’m not trying to push one – because if the powers that be are itching for a war, for a reason to use the toys they’ve been amassing… it will happen.
TO READ MORE ON THE DAY THAT CHANGED THE COURSE OF HISTORY