The Man Who Changed the World


     Most of us have heard and often think that one man cannot change the world...that we are just a small cog in the very large machine that is humanity and civilization. And while most of us will be born, live our lives, and die in relative obscurity in the annals of history that does not mean that some of us cannot fundamentally set events in motion that will change the paradigm. One man who was by all means unremarkable did just that. He did not change the way we look at the fabric of creation like Einstein. He did not command armies into glorious victories or massive defeats. He never ran for or won elected office. He did not live a long life. He was however a match, a spark, that lit a volatile world ablaze. The fire that ensued saw the destruction of three empires, the deaths of 17 million people, and the destabilization of a balance of power in western society that had endured for over a century. He did this all in one single day. His name was Gavrilo Princip.

     The year was 1914 and Europe teetered on the edge. A balance of power had existed since the downfall of Napoleon I of France. However the rise of the German Empire at the leadership of  Hohenzollern Prussia starting in 1871 made the balance fragile. The new German Empire was eager to earn its place in the sun amongst the older powers of Great Britain, France, and Russia. It fielded a massive army...indeed Prussia alone had historically been the equal of its continental rivals often being known as the "army with a country". The additional strength it garnered through the absorption of men and material following the defeat of France and subsequent unification of German lands(outside Austria-Hungary and Switzerland) made it a potential juggernaut. Indeed in a few decades it sought to not only field such a massive army, but to challenge the British in terms of naval strength. Under Kaiser Wilhelm II and Grand Admiral Tirpitz, the goal was to be on par with every power in every way. Along the way German industry and science also became a threat economically. Some countries feared the rise of Germany and some welcomed it. Countries conducted secret negotiations and signed secret treaties allying with and against the Kaiser. Even though the ruling families of Russia, Great Britain, and Germany were all related it seemed to not stem the tide of nationalism.

   There had been several close calls in terms of warfare from 1871 until 1914. The race for empire, to which Germany was a late comer prompted two crises in its quest for African colonies. In 1905 and 1911 Germany attempted to use Morocco( a French territory) as an angle to isolate France from it's British allies and to gain more control in equatorial Africa. Cooler heads prevailed in both cases but the tension was high for almost a decade as an uneasy Europe moved forward. Everyone felt war was coming, but the nationalist fervor made all parties confident any war would be swiftly over. Germany was certain it would be a repeat of the 1870-1871 defeat of France. France was certain it could do the same to Germany. Russia was confident that it's shear numbers of men would provide an edge and Britain was confident in its navy and professional army(most other nations used conscription to build their armies).

  Nationalism had other consequences, especially in south eastern Europe. For the last century the highly diverse area had seen the rise of zealous independence movements. In 1912 and 1913 two short wars erupted in the Balkans. The results were that the old Ottoman Empire had been pushed out of Europe with the exception of Istanbul and after that success the smaller nations fought over the newly liberated areas. Nationalism was creating radicals in all countries, large and small. With the Ottoman Empire pushed out of Europe, several of these small ethnic groups turned their eyes towards the Austro-Hungarian Empire, another old empire that was in decline since the Napoleonic Wars. It had suffered revolution in 1848 and a horrendous defeat in 1866 at the hands of Prussia. Serbia, feeling confident after winning in the conflicts of 1912 and 1913 spawned nationalist groups such as the terrorist Black Hand. It was a young member of the Black Hand named Gavrilo Princip that would change the world on June 28th 1914 with the pull of a trigger.

     The heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was in the city of Sarajevo to give a speech and make a diplomatic visit. The Black Hand and Princip planned to assassinate the Archduke by throwing bombs at his procession of vehicles as they drove by. And indeed this is what they attempted. However, the bombs thrown by Princip's accomplice bounced off the lowered convertible top of the Archduke's car and instead detonated under one of the cars to the rear. The assassin attempted to commit suicide by taking cyanide and jumping from a bridge into the river below. He surprisingly survived the poison and the fall thanks to vomiting and the river being shallow due to drought and was promptly arrested.  Shaken but not deterred the Archduke gave his speech...the paper soaked in the blood of the injured men carrying it in the car that was bombed. Following the speech the Archduke and his remaining procession went to make their next stop. However the driver was unfamiliar with the city and turned down the wrong street. It was this street where Princip was sitting at an eatery contemplating the failed attempt earlier. When the driver was informed of the wrong turn he stopped and discussed the proper route with a fellow passenger. Princip surprised at the turn in fortune, calmly walked up to the stationary car and fired his Browning 1910 pistol wounding the Archduke in the neck and his wife in the abdomen. In minutes the couple was dead and Princip was immediately arrested.

    One man, in one minute, of one day set in motion the events that lead to every one of the secret treaties going into effect. Austria, certain Serbia was responsible for the Black Hand declared war on that nation after having its demands rejected. Russia, then in a state of pan-Slavic fanaticism declared war on Austria and began to mobilize. Germany, bound by a treaty to defend Austria-Hungary warned the Russians to stop, but they did not. Russia continued to mobilize against Austria forcing Germany to declare war against Russia. This declaration of war between Germany and Russia brought in France.. The German invasion of Belgium shortly after in its offensive to destroy France brought in Britain who had long ago guaranteed Belgian sovereignty.Soon Italy and the Ottoman Empire would join the fray.

   So next time someone tells you that one person cannot change the world, let them know that one time a man changed the world in under a minute. The second lesson....don't keep secrets, they can lead to trouble.

Have a nice day and thanks for reading!


The arrest of Gavrilo Princip after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand

Prncip in prison. He would die in 1918 at the age of 23 from Tuberculosis. He lived long enough to see his actions set in motion the worst war in modern times up to that point. 


Popular posts from this blog

Joan Claybrook and the "Safe Motorcycle"

Yang Kyoungjong - The Most Captured Man of WW2

The Darker Side of Christmas