With or Without the Archduke

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard & Jay Holmes

Conventional history widely attributes the cause of WWI to be the assassination of Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria by Serbian Gavrilo Princip. While the Archduke’s murder was the excuse for WWI, it was not the reason. Whether or not the Archduke had been targeted, the relevant parts of history would still read the same.

 

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and wife Sophie in Sarajevo
public domain dedication, wikimedia commons

 

At the time of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination on June 28, 1914, Germany and Austria-Hungary were poised, waiting for the right moment to strike.

They had already calculated that they could invade, capture, and annex Serbia before its ally, Russia, could mobilize a response. They assumed that, when presented with a fait accompli, Western Europe would protest loudly, but not mobilize against Germany and Austria-Hungary. They only needed an excuse. That excuse came in the form of Gavrilo Princip, a member of the anti-Austria-Hungary Serbian group Black Hand.

Princip has often been described as an anarchist. However, he was part of a popular movement that sought the formation of a new nation-state that would arise from the joining of Serbia, Herzegovina, and Bosnia. The nine-member conspiracy to assassinate the Archduke appears to have been arranged by the head of Serbian Army Intelligence, Dragutin Dimitijevik, without the knowledge or approval of the Serbian government.

Princip fired on the Archduke at close range, striking him in the neck and hitting the Archduke’s wife in the abdomen. Princip then turned his pistol on himself, but police and spectators took him under control before he could fire. According to Serbian law, he could not be sentenced to death because he had not quite reached his 20th birthday. Instead, he received a 20-year prison sentence. Princip died in prison of tuberculosis four years later.

 

Gavrilo Princip public domain, wikimedia commons

Gavrilo Princip
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

One of the terrible ironies of WWI is that the Austria-Hungarian royal family and its government might have eventually assassinated Archduke Ferdinand themselves.

He had become a source of consternation to his Hapsburg family by insisting on marrying Sophie Chotek. Chotek was a member of a royal family, but not a direct descendant of a European ruler, and, therefore, was not eligible to marry Crown Prince Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria. His royal relations and the leaders in Vienna were not pleased.

After the Archduke’s assassination, Austria-Hungary made one of the worst diplomatic moves in the history of mankind.

On July 23, 1914, Austrian diplomat Baron Giesl von Gieslingen delivered an ultimatum to the government of Serbia – a demand that it outlaw anti-Austria-Hungary statements and activity and arrest of groups that Austria-Hungary believed to be involved in the assassination, including the Black Hand. Austria-Hungary also demanded control of the Serbian investigation, and a reply within 48 hours. The Austrians and their German allies had carefully crafted this ultimatum to ensure a negative response.

 

Library at Louvain public domain, wikimedia commons

Library at Louvain
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The next day, in response to Serbian pleas for help, Russia ordered a partial mobilization of its large, but poorly-equipped army. On July 25, Serbian Prime Minister Nicola Pasic ordered the Serbian Army to mobilize, and he personally delivered Serbia’s response to the Austria-Hungarian embassy. Serbia agreed to all terms but one – while it would allow international observers to participate in the investigation of the Archduke’s assassination, it would not violate its constitution by allowing Austria-Hungary to take full control of the investigation.

On the flimsy excuse that Serbia would not turn over the investigation, Austria-Hungary broke diplomatic relations and, on July 28, initiated WWI by declaring war on Serbia. With visions of what it thought would be a cheap victory that would expand the Austria-Hungarian Empire, Austria-Hungary launched what it was sure would be a fast and successful military campaign.

The leaders of Austria-Hungary saw an opportunity that did not exist, and they outsmarted themselves, bringing a hitherto unimaginable tragedy to Europe. Four years and 16,500,000 dead people later, the Austria-Hungarian empire had vanished. Most of Europe was left in ruin, and the conditions for World War Two were in place.

 

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat'l Cemetery Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Nat’l Cemetery
Image by PH2 Daniel J. McLain, US Navy

 

On November 11, 1918, at 11 a.m., both England and France buried an “Unknown Soldier” in Westminster Abbey and the Arc de Triomphe, respectively, to commemorate the ending of World War I – the Great War. Thereafter, November 11 became known internationally as Armistice Day.

America followed suit in 1921, establishing the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington Cemetery. In 1938, Armistice Day became a national holiday in America, and in 1954, President Eisenhower changed the name to Veterans Day, a day to thank living veterans for dedicated and loyal service to their country.

 

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

Our profound gratitude to all veterans, past, present, and future, on this Veterans Day.

*   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *   *

 

Advertisements

4 comments on “With or Without the Archduke

  1. K.B. Owen says:

    Great post! That period of time was so volatile that WWI was inevitable, no matter what the provocation. Between the buildup/development of more deadly armaments, the backdoor treaties, and rival imperialisms, countries were looking for any excuse to win more land and resources in colonial areas of Africa and Asia. Of course, everyone thought it was going to be quick and easy, not realizing the massive carnage they were unleashing upon themselves.

  2. Don Royster says:

    Only goes to show you that the Germans and Hapsburgs knew how to live up to their motto: Anything for a party.

  3. D. London says:

    Thanks for the visit, it brought me to this very well written article and an inspirational site. I look forward to reading through your archives.

Talk to us. We talk back.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s