When pondering who was the most important person of the 20th century — a great question for an essay in world history, btw — Adolph Hitler, Winston Churchill, Josef Stalin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Mao Tse Tung come initially to mind. Most definitely NOT Gavrilo Princip. Who? You may ask. But if not for him, the others would not have become nearly as important. Granted, this is taking the Great or Bad Man Theory of history to extremes. Agree or Disagree?
Hero or Villain? As Balkan countries mark the start of the first world war, history books show widely different interpretations (UK Guardian). Was he a terrorist or a rebel with a cause? A statue of Princip is erected in Serb-run eastern Sarajevo. In the Serbian capital, Belgrade, children are taught that he was struggling for a just cause. The Serbian Orthodox church has proclaimed the assassin a national hero. Princip and his organization Young Bosnia did not cause World War I; it was caused by the imperial aspirations of Austria-Hungary and Germany, according to this interpretation. They sought to secure control over south-eastern Europe. Franz Ferdinand was a symbol of the Austria-Hungarian Empire’s occupation of Serbia. Yes, Princip shot him. “Then Austria-Hungary and the German empire invaded Serbia, and the brave Serbs struggled and suffered during the war but were on the right side.”
Jelena Cebic, a salesperson, said: “The blame for World War I should be on Austria-Hungary and its imperial desire to capture the whole of the Balkans for its empire. Serbia should not take any blame for Princip.”
In contrast, schools in Croatia teach that Serbia was to blame for helping to spark the 1914-18 conflict, by seeking to expand its territory and supporting a terrorist.
What If Questions
“Suppose Someone gave Gavrilo Princip a decent sandwich before he went to restaurant where he would eat that lame lettuce tomato mayo sandwich at the restaurant where he would kill Franz Ferdinand. Would this prevent both world wars? Would this chain of events stop Hitler, Stalin, and Mao from ever coming to power? Basically, I’m wondering, if I had a time machine as a single person (can’t implement education on disinfectant, agriculture, vaccines, or whatever nor could I stop colonization or the slave trade), is this the single act that would save the most possible lives?” Discussion.
“June 28th, 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, weary of the recent attacks on his life, ups his guard. When his car passes the sandwich shop, and Gavrilo Princip reveals his gun, he is detected by a quick thinking soldier and is shot. How do events proceed?” Discussion.
“What if the Archduke and his wife are not killed in Sarajevo? So for some reason his driver does not take a wrong turn, which gave Gavrilo Princip the chance to shoot them, or his gun misfires and he is arrested. How would the Archduke run Austria-Hungary after the death of his father in 1916? Does a major European conflict still break out in the future?” Discussion.
“How much stock do you all put in the concept of butterflies? How much of history was certain to happen?” Discussion.
That Sandwich That Changed History
A detailed investigation of the claim that Gavrilo Princip was able to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and cause the First World War because he went to buy a sandwich from Schiller’s Delicatessen.
Crash Course World History: How WWI Started
John Green of Crash Course generally takes a “big picture” perspective that underplays the role of the individual in world history. Instead of blaming Gavrilo Princip for the start of World War I on June 28, 1914, he tends to see the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand as simply the spark that set off an explosion in a room full of gasoline or dynamite. Long-term diplomacy years earlier should have been working to stave off the war, the knee-jerk alliances and prejudices nations had for each other. Transcript.
Look at the timeline. Austria declared war on Serbia on July 28. Then czarist Russia declared its support for Serbia and started to mobilize its troops. Feeling defensive, Germany declared war on Russia on August 1 and two days later declared war on France, launching an invasion. Britain then declared war on Germany. A week later Japan declared war on Germany.
“The Austrians and the Serbs probably both imagined that the war could stay localized to the Balkans especially since there had been previous conflicts in the region that hadn’t blown up into a world war,” Green observed. “You know, like in 1908 and 1912 and 1913.”
Assassinating Franz Ferdinand was critical to destroying the moderate perspective. “Franz Ferdinand was the one leader in the empire who might have come up with a solution to the problems of Serbian expansion and Bosnian independence. And murdering moderates has a way of making other moderates, you know, more extreme,” Green pointed out.
“Those living in June and July of 1914 could never have imagined how significant that month would be for human history and when thinking about them, it’s worth remembering that we also can’t imagine what our decisions today will mean in 100 years,” he concluded.
Archdukes, Cynicism and World War I
John Green “teaches you about the war that was supposed to end all wars. Instead, it solved nothing and set the stage for the world to be back at war just a couple of decades later. As an added bonus, World War I changed the way people look at the world, and normalized cynicism and irony. John will teach you how the assassination of an Austrian Archduke kicked off a new kind of war that involved more nations and more people than any war that came before. New technology like machine guns, airplanes, tanks, and poison gas made the killing more efficient than ever. Trench warfare and modern weapons led to battles in which tens of thousands of soldiers were killed in a day, with no ground gained for either side. World War I washed away the last vestiges of 19th century Romanticism and paved the way for the 20th century modernism that we all know and find to be cold and off-putting. While there may not be much upside to WWI, at least it inspired George M. Cohan to write the awesome song, ‘Over There.’ ” Transcript.
“World War I wasn’t the most destructive war, or the first total war, and it certainly wasn’t – despite its billing – the war to end all wars. But it was the war to change all wars. World War I changed our outlook, it normalized cynicism and irony, which, I think you’ll agree, are kind of dominant lenses for describing our world today. Basically, I’d argue that World War I helped make possible everything from The Simpsons to intentionally unattractive mustaches.”
“Most people think of World War I as a tragedy because it didn’t need to happen and didn’t really accomplish much, except for creating social and economic conditions that made World War II possible.”
All Quiet on the Western Front
Lawrence of Arabia
battle of the Somme in 1916
Treaty of Versailles
“Leninists claim war grew out of imperialism and was fueled by capitalist rivalries; and others claim it was a war between Germany’s radical modernism and Britain’s traditional conservatism.”
“Over 15 million people were killed and over 20 million wounded.”
Over There by George M. Cohan performed by Bill Murray: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wbggEG…
The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman