"The State of The World" Number 23
Complete Index Of All Issues
The Assassination That Triggered Two World Wars
As shown on the map below, the Austria-Hungarian Empire, despite its name, was composed of many ethnic groups of people who found themselves citizens of the imperial rule of Austria-Hungarian monarchs. Those who resented their political situation did so because they did not want a foreign leader, regardless of what form or title that he held - king, president, or anything else (see also What Did A Father Of Democracy Predict About It?).
Archduke Franz Ferdinand was the heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne. On June 28 1914, while on an official visit to Sarajevo, Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie were murdered by Gavrilo Princip, a 20 year old Serb who, along with his fellow conspirators in the assassination, wanted a "free" nation for his people.
Princip knew very well that an assassination alone would not accomplish his goal - another heir to the throne would simply replace the assassinated one. What Princip wanted was to cause a major war that would destroy the Austria-Hungarian Empire. He knew that his actions could kill millions of people.
During his trial, Princip declared: "I am a Yugoslav nationalist, aiming for the unification of all Yugoslavs, and I do not care what form of state, but it must be freed from Austria."
Princip was sentenced to 20 years in prison, but died a few years later in squalid incarceration, on April 28, 1918, from tuberculosis. He never even lived to see the end of the war that he triggered.
It was in retaliation for Franz Ferdinand's murder that Austria-Hungary invaded Serbia, upon which the nations of Europe chose sides, for or against. Within a few months of the assassination, the First World War (1914-1918) began. When it ended in November of 1918, the carnage resulted in over 40 million people killed, wounded or missing. Much of Europe was in ruins.
When the First World War ended, many did not regard the conflict over. Among those with that view was a young man from Austria who had served as a corporal in the German Army during the First World War. His name was Adolf Hitler. For Hitler, and millions of others, the Second World War was merely a continuation of the First World War.
Hitler used the "betrayal" of the politicians as his excuse for the loss of the first war (see also The Character Assassins). Many "patriotic" people found it very easy to believe Hitler's lies and delusions (see The Terrorist Attack That Enabled Hitler To Become A Dictator), so they elected Hitler as their President (Hitler had become a citizen of Germany - before then, he was Austrian, the same nationality as the assassinated Franz Ferdinand). The result was the Second World War (1939-1945). When it ended in 1945, the carnage totaled over 80 million people killed, wounded or missing. Much of Europe was again in ruins.
Gavrilo Princip's two pistol shots were the seeds that produced a harvest of 120 million casualties in two world wars.