That throne, such as it was, was over an empire as ailing as its emperor was, now in his eighties. Austria-Hungry was what its name implied. The two people groups of Austria and Hungry melded together, with two capitols, in Budapest and Vienne, and two allegiances, and they did not meld very well. There was constant infighting, and work in the bureaucracy never seemed to get done. A new, young worker said no one seemed to care if he got there late, left early, and did nothing while he was there. The army was strong, but they had a strong enemy to the north in Russia. At their back they had their friend Germany, but to the country it seemed that they were the only ones they had in the world.
To make matters worse, one this day, June 28, in the town of Sarajevo, the capitol of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, at the age of fifty-one, would be assassinated by a boy, who, when caught, was legally too young to be executed.
As his car passed along the road in procession, the third car in line, a bomb was thrown at it by a member of The Black Hand, a radical group. The bomb bounced off and landed under the car behind the duke’s, blowing up there instead. The duke survived, but, according to a press report, twenty were wounded in the surrounding crowd.
The motorcade continued to the Town Hall where the duke was to have made a speech. But he found his notes were wet with blood of the wounded. He and his wife then decided to visit those who had been wounded at the hospital. His driver made a wrong turn on the way there, driving straight up to Gavrilo Princip, another member of the conspiracy. He probably could hardly believe his dumb luck. He fired point blank, the duke folded over, saying something to his wife.
Both were quickly pronounced dead, and the empire went into an uproar.
The assassins, who were caught, were from nearby Serbia. The enraged magistrates of Austria-Hungry had been wanting to go to war with them for a while. They then couched an ultimatum to Serbia which, if not accepted, they said would cause them to be forced to break off all diplomatic ties.
The ultimatum, according to the wife of one of the men at the foreign office, was written in terms so as to not be acceptable to Serbia. She later said were husband got up constantly during the night before the day he had to send it, unable to sleep, to add one more clause, and then another, just to be certain it would not be accepted.
The much smaller country of Serbia wanted nothing like war with its much larger neighbor. The ultimatum came, and they had forty-eight hours to respond. They did respond, begging to be allowed to negotiate. They were willing to say yes to every one of the clauses of the document, except those that quite literally made them no longer a sovereign nation.
The other powers of the world hastily attempted to intervene, but to little avail. Austria-Hungry would go to war with Serbia. The Tsar of Russia, a cousin of both the king of England and the Kaiser of Germany, attempted to call for peace, but the Kaiser thought he was only trying to buy time, and himself told Austria-Hungry he had their back. He wrote in the margins of a telegram the Tsar sent him, asking for peace, saying he was stalling Germany for time, and Germany would not be denied.
There had in recent years, been many European crises. Something like a large group of boys in adolescence, all trying to figure out how their new found bodies and physical power works, and banging and jostling into each other in the process. But always before, in Austria-Hungry, there had been a voice for peace. Ferdinand himself had been the greatest friend the Serbs had, but now he was dead, and there was no one left to speak for them. The same day that he died, the Russian pacifist near the throne, the almost mythical Rasputin, was stabbed in the stomach by a mad woman, and incapacitated.
Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia. Russia declared war of Austria-Hungry. Germany declared war on Russia. Then they invaded France to protect their other border. To get at France they went through Belgium. The British, outraged at the invasion of a small country without protection, declared war on Germany, and the world was at war.
The one man who perhaps could have stopped it, was dead, shot by nationalists of the very country that would be destroyed by this coming war they could not sustain. More than eight million deaths later, Gavrilo Princip, the assassin who was too young to die but not to kill, died in prison, unrepentant about the massive bloodbath he had unleashed.
The bullet fired from his gun brought down the Russian and German dynasties, and ended the world as it was then known. The planet was torn in visible ways, such as the great long gash of trenches between Switzerland and the sea, stretching for many miles with shell craters, decaying bodies, and worse, all along the ground.
But it was scarred in invisible ways as well. The old era was officially gone. What was perhaps the last great cavalry charge in history happened in the fall of the first year, cavalry charging down on parked planes somewhere in France. Those European boys had grown up, watching their schoolmates fall and die all across a massive killing front. But no one really learned, it seemed, and barely two and a half decades later, they would do it again. The now disgraced and banished Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany, said of the rising star he was hearing of, Adolf Hitler “It will run away with him, just as it ran away with me."
Andrew C. Abbott