Hi, there, Dear Reader. It’s almost midday in Lithia, Florida, on Tuesday, June 28, 2022. It is – yep – a hot summer day in the Tampa Bay area. Currently, the temperature is 89°F (32°C) under partly sunny skies. With the wind blowing from the southeast at 7 MPH (12 KM/H) and humidity at 63%, the heat index is 98°F (36°C). Today’s forecast calls for thunderstorms to pass through the area in the afternoon. The high will be 94°F (35°C). Tonight, we can expect scattered rain showers, and the low will be 75°F (24°C).
Today is the 108th anniversary of the assassination of Austro-Hungarian Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie by a young Serb nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. Bosnia was then part of the Hapsburg Austro-Hungarian Empire, having been annexed by that declining imperial power only six years earlier, and neighboring Serbia, the “rogue state” of the Balkans, fomented unrest there so it would break away and join Belgrade in its dream project of a Southern Slav kingdom called Yugoslavia.
Franz Josef and Sophie were in Sarajevo – against the advice of the regional governor – to observe military maneuvers planned for that week by the Austrian army. Unfortunately, June 28 is also a day of great meaning for Serbia and Serb nationalists, then and now; it is St. Vitus Day, which commemorates Serbia’s patron saint. It is also the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, where 70,000 Christian Serbs died “heroically” in a losing battle against the invading Ottoman Empire.
There were elements of the Serbian government – especially in the military – who sought war with Austria-Hungary to wrest Bosnia away from Vienna’s rule, and they formed several secret societies – aka terrorist groups – to achieve this goal. The so-called “Black Hand” was one of these, and it was controlled from Belgrade by Dragutin Dimitrijević, a colonel who was chief of the military intelligence section of the general staff in 1913.
Code-named “Apis,” Dimitrijević, acting independently from the Serb government, set in motion the assassination of Franz Ferdinand by making sure that some “Young Bosnians” learned of the archduke’s itinerary by mailing them a map of the scheduled visit with the route of the visiting dignitaries’ motorcade marked and a series of dates. There was no “Franz Ferdinand must die” commentary; Apis figured that Princip’s little band of terrorists would get the inference and act accordingly.
Unfortunately, Apis did not count on the fact that Europe in 1914 was – to use a cliché – a powder keg ready to explode if the fuse was lit. The Continent had enjoyed a century of “relative peace” after the Napoleonic Wars; countries still had gone to war with one another since 1815, but these were limited wars and often were localized affairs. But with the creation of the German Empire (Kaiser Reich) in 1871 and the ensuing formation of two rival alliances – the Triple Entente formed by France, Great Britain, and Russia, and the Triple Alliance of Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy – the end of the 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century was marked by an arms race without precedent and a “cold war” between Britain and Germany.
A discussion of this “balance of power” scheme is beyond the scope of a mere personal blog; suffice it to say that the two shots Gavrilo Princip fired at the visiting Hapsburg royals in their open touring car in the late morning of June 28, 1914 didn’t just cause a localized war between Serbia and Austro-Hungary; they lit the fuse that would ignite the European powder keg, and by August 1914, the conflict known as World War I was in full swing.