07/05/06 - the great war begins

In today's excerpt - Gavrilo Princip, member of a Serb nationalist group known as the Black Hand, assassinates Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian throne in June of 1914. This started a chain of events that would lead to World War I, the Great War, an unprecedented war with over 15 million deaths and 22 million wounded:

"On the morning when the drama opened, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was making an official visit to the city of Sarajevo in the province of Bosnia, at the southernmost tip of the Austro-Hungarian domains. ...

"In the crowds along the route of the motorcade that day were six young men who had traveled to Sarajevo for the purpose of killing the archduke. Five of them ... were Bosnian Serb teenagers—youths born and raised in Bosnia but of Serbian descent. All five were sick with tuberculosis, curiously enough, and all were members of Young Bosnia, a radical patriot organization linked to and supported by a deeply secret Serb nationalist group, formally called Union or Death, but known to its members as the Black Hand. Though the Black Hand had been active for years, Austria-Hungary's intelligence services still knew nothing of its existence. Its purpose was the expansion of the Kingdom of Serbia, a smallish and ambitious country adjacent to Bosnia, so that all the Serbs of the Balkans could be united. Its ultimate goal was the creation of a Greater Serbia that would include Bosnia, and its members were prepared to use terrorism to achieve this goal. ...

"... Gavro Princip, nineteen years old ... pulled out his revolver, pointed it at the stopped car, and fired twice. ...

"Assassinations were not unusual in those days. In the two decades before 1914, presidents of the United States, France, Mexico, Guatemala, Uruguay and the Dominican Republic had been murdered. So had Prime Ministers of Russia, Spain, Greece, Bulgaria, Persia and Egypt, and kings, queens and empresses of Austria, Italy, Serbia, Portugal and Greece. People had grown accustomed to such things, and to expecting that their consequences would not be terribly serious."


G.J. Meyer


A World Undone: The Story of the Great War 1914 to 1918


A Division of Random House, Inc.


Copyright 2006 by G.J. Meyer


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