The Most Important Day in Modern History

The date was June 28, 1914 and the location was Sarajevo, Bosnia – Driving to visit a wounded officer, the Archduke’s driver took a wrong turn. By chance a conspirator to murder the Archduke happened to be standing there on the side of the road as the car turned around and he fired his revolver at point blank range killing the Archduke and his wife. Exactly one month later on July 28, 2014 the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia collapsing all previous peace in Europe. Withing days, Russia, France, Great Britian, Belgium and Serbia were destined for war against Austro-Hungary and their German allies. World War I was underway.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand, wife Sophie and children

This one moment on June 28, 1914 where a car driver innocently took a wrong turn led to a series of events that transpired over the coming years leading to many events including:

  • Adolf Hitler gaining power in Germany
  • World War II swallowing Europe
  • use of the atomic bomb in Japan
  • the building of the Berlin Wall
  • onset of the cold war
  • the nuclear arms race
  • ongoing tension between world powers
So let’s start from the beginning

Prussian champion of peace and stateman, Otto von Bismarck, who had unified Germany in 1871 said later in his life that,

“One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” – Otto von Bismarck

He was right!  In June of 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and his beloved wife Sophie travel to Sarajevo to view the state of the imperial armed forces located in Bosnia and Herzogovina.  Both were previously regions under rule of the Ottoman Empire but were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 against the will of many Serbian nationalists who wanted instead to be part of the new independent Serbian nation.  The date of June 28 held meaning for the Serbs because it marked the date where in 1389 at the First Battle of Kosovo, they had gained independence from Turkey. Given the nature of the date in the hearts and minds of Serbian nationalists, you may understand why they would be opposed to a display of Austria-Hungarian military might put on full display in Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzogovina. Some of them would consider that situation to be just like we here in America would if we were conquered by Russia and had to stand by while military parades marched proudly through the streets of our cities and towns on the Fourth of July.  That is pretty much what was going on in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914 during the visit of Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

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The Archduke’s car

The Archduke’s bloodied uniform

To top all of the fanfare and to the insult of many Serbian nationalists, June 28 also marked another very interesting date.  It was the wedding anniversary of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie who was touring the military installations alongside her husband that day. While touring the city of Sarajevo in an open car, essentially a convertible, and having less security present than one may expect, a man named Nedjelko Cabrinovic, a Yugoslav Nationalist and part of the “Young Bosnia” movement, tossed a hand held bomb onto their car.  Luckily the bomb rolled off of the car but did wound a few people standing nearby including an Austro-Hungarian officer. It was just a few hours later that day that the Archduke and his wife insisted on going to visit that same wounded officer, that the line of cars in the Archduke’s motor procession took an incorrect turn at the intersection of Appel quay and Feanzjosefstrasse. At about 10:45AM, as the procession of cars attempted to turn around a co-conspirator of the man who earlier that day had attempted to bomb the Archduke’s car, just happened to be standing on the street where the Archduke’s procession happened to be.  The man was Gavrilo Princip, a 19 year old Yugoslav nationalist also part of “Young Bosnia”, a group wanting complete freedom from Austria. Seeing his opportunity, he drew his weapon and fired into the Archduke’s car at close range before attempting to shoot himself.  During the event, he was stopped from committing suicide by a witness to the shootings and a mob of citizens who proceeded to attack Princip who was then taken away by police. Both Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie on their anniversary, lay mortally wounded in the back seat of their limousine and were both dead within a hour.

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Gavrilo Princip, 19 year old Yugoslav nationalist

Over the next month, events shifted quickly from the peaceful state of affairs that the great German statesman Otto von Bismarck had helped create.  Emporer Franz Josef of the Austria-Hungrarian Empire, and uncle to Archduke Franz Ferdinand was furious and blamed the newly formed Serbian government for the attach which he hoped to use as just reason to crush the Serbian nationalism movement. Serbia was backed by Russia so the Austro-Hungarian Empire dared not declare war until they could gain the assurance of support from their German allies under Kaiser Wilheim. On July 28, 1914 Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and within days the lines for battle were drawn through the previously peaceful European continent.  Serbia, Russia, France, Great Britain and Belgium would pit themselves against the declaration of war by the Austro-Hungarian and German Empires. Time would require other nations to oppose the aggression of the Austro-Hungarian and German aggressors.  The United States, Australia, New Zealand, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Brazil and a host of central and south American forces would assist the Serbian cause in what was to be the First World War.

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39 million people were killed, wounded or missing in action during World War I

These events led to a series of escalating tensions throughout Europe and beyond following the end of World War I.  In time, World War II would erupt, once again dividing the world and would be followed by the rise of communism on European soil which would lead to the building of the Berlin wall, the cold war and the nuclear arms race.

June 28, 1914 – the day that I feel holds the most importance for dictating the course of history in the modern era.

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