The Shot that started the World War
What does it mean to you to-day? A faint memory of a place somewhere, where something happened a long time ago. Look it up on the map. A little town in the Balkans; a town as big as Huddersfield, and, as you would think, as important in the affairs of the world.
Yet at Sarajevo in 1914 was discharged the pistol that plunged a world into war.... That pistol killed an heir to a throne. It also exploded a mine whose flying fragments killed nearly eight million men outright, wounded and maimed nearly twice as many others, made wives widows and sons and daughters orphans.
Those who were killed were perhaps luckier than some of those whom death passed by; for the shot at Sarajevo left a heritage of suffering to many to whom death would have been preferable.
That shot put back the clock of civilisation a decade; it brought savagery and carnage to a peaceful world. It made a mock of treaties and covenants; it made the seas places of unknown horror; the lands places of horror known too well. It caused the markets of the world to stagger and rock; international credits to totter and fall - it was the beginning of the war that was in Mr. Lloyd George's phrase: "A war to end wars."
To-day, looking at a new Europe, arming and ever arming, with nations fighting civil wars, armaments piling upon armaments, one wonders whether any war except Armageddon can end wars. But that's as may be. Our business is to tell the tale of the shot at Sarajevo and all that it meant to the world.
The assassinated man was the Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir-presumptive to the Emperor of Austria. With him, sharing his fate, was his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg. He had made a morganatic marriage. Neither his friends nor his enemies were very happy about his marriage. He was advised not to visit Bosnia-Herzegovina, the provinces annexed by Austria in 1908 following the discovery of an alleged plot against the monarchy. In those provinces the people were largely Serbs, or of Serbian sympathies. The Balkan Wars of four years later did nothing to ease the tension.
At Sarajevo, Sunday, June 28, 1914. The scene opens on the first act of the drama of Europe.
It was a warm, sunny day. The archduke and his wife the duchess arrived at Sarajevo from Ilidzhe, a little bathing place, where they had been staying. They came to Sarajevo to fulfil an obligation - the inspection of troops - and that obligation they fulfilled. Then from the Filipovitch parade-ground they drove in a car to the town hall, where the deputy mayor was waiting to receive them.
Crowds lined the route, as crowds do when Royalty is about; but the cheers that usually accompany a Royal Progress were not the cheers to which the archduke and his duchess were accustomed. There was a tension in the air, and the archduke knew it. But he was a brave man - whatever his convictions, he was a brave man. Probably he did not suspect that when he entered the motor-car he entered a car of death - possibly he might have done, but, being a brave man, and with a brave wife by his side, he went on. At ten-fifteen, as the car was driving along the Appel Quay, a bomb was thrown. The thrower was a man named Cabrinovitch.
It was in the form of a black package, and it fell on the open hood of the car. Nobody in the crowd seemed to realise what had happened; but the archduke inside the car did. He stood up, leaned back, picked it up, and threw it out of the car.
There was a terrific explosion. Other cars were following the royal one, and when the bomb - as it proved to be - exploded with a tremendous detonation spectators thought that those in them must be killed or wounded. Actually no one was killed. An aide-de-camp (Lt.-Col. Morrizzi) to the governor was wounded in the neck by a flying fragment.
It seemed to be a miracle that no more people were hurt, for the bomb, which was filled with nails and pieces of iron, caused no fewer than seventy holes in the bottom of the following car.
But the archduke drove on. He reached the town hall - his objective, and there the mayor awaited him. The mayor had heard the noise of the detonation, but thought, naturally enough, that it was the sound of cannon salute. He began to read the address of welcome.
The archduke cut him short. "What is the good of your speeches?" he said. "I come to Sarajevo on a visit, and I get bombs thrown at me. It is ridiculous."
The mayor, still uncomprehending, went on reading his address of welcome. The archduke - a man of humour as well as of valour - let him go on to the finish. Then he returned thanks for the ovation of the crowd. He said he realised they were joyful (and this, possibly, with his tongue in his cheek) because he had not been killed. And this was the comment of a brave man on the attempt to assassinate him in a city which he could not have helped knowing was at the best semi-hostile to him.
So far there was the element of, if not comedy, the comedy with which is associated the rulers of distant states. Now there was to follow tragedy - and tragedy in heroic setting.
The Governor of Bosnia-Herzegovina - the mayor, the Chief of Police, all tried to persuade the archduke not to continue his projected drive through the town. The duchess - the woman whom he had married for love against all the advices of his peers - added her entreaties. But he was a brave man. He insisted on continuing the drive, and also on going to the hospital where Colonel Morrizzi had been taken.... So they went - to their death.
On the way the car had to slow down at the corner of Franz-Josefsgosse, where the way was very narrow; and here it was that the final tragedy of this tragic day occurred. There, hidden in the crowd, was Gavrilo Prinzip, a High School student, what we should call to-day perhaps an "intellectual." He belonged to the Serb-Orthodox Faith. He had been brought up, since his youth, on doctrines which had made him now the medium of an act which his teachers - if so there were - could not have foreseen in their wildest moments of autonomy.
From the pavement he stepped forward and fired three shots from a Browning automatic pistol. Those were the shots that started the Great War, though Gavrilo Prinzip did not know it.
The first shot struck the archduke in the throat. It penetrated an artery, and the blood-stream gushed forth. The stricken man collapsed to the side of the car. The duchess - his morganatic wife - threw herself over him in a vain endeavour to protect him. The second bullet from the assassin's pistol struck her in the abdomen. She, too, collapsed; but that was not enough for the murderer, for he fired yet a third shot, which also entered her body.
The car stopped, officials rushed around it. They found a dying archduke, still clasped in the arms of his wife. He said, "Sophie, live for our children...." But Sophie did not live. She died, as she would have liked to have died - protecting the man - the royal man - who had made her royal.
Sorrowfully the pair were taken to the official residence of General Patiorek, Chief of the Administration. There they received the Last Sacrament. She died first. Very shortly afterwards the heir to the Austrian Empire died, too.
The bodies lay in state at the Government House. Meanwhile a mob of Catholic Croats, with a number of Mussulman Serbs, paraded the streets of the town and smashed the windows of many hotels, mostly the premises of Orthodox-Serbs. The mob pillaged the premises; they threw furniture into the streets and burned it. The police were powerless. The military were called out to preserve order. Hundreds of arrests were made.
For many months the trial of the principal actors in this drama dragged on. When the war came it brought down a veil of secrecy over the doings in enemy countries, and only the official news bulletins issued from Berlin told anything of what was taking place. Occasional reports of the trial of the men appeared, but it was not until February 5, 1915, that a brief message headed Sarajevo announced that the bomb thrower, Cabrinovitch, and another man named Jovanovitch, had been put to death "in the prison of the Courts." Prinzep could not be condemned to death because of his youth. He received twenty years' penal servitude.
To no one came the news of the assassination with more poignancy than to the aged emperor. He was an old man, in years as well as in sadness. Two days before he had gone to begin his summer vacation; now he was called back. He was eighty-four - he had reigned on the Austrian throne for sixty-six years.
He saw in this last tragedy the fulfilment of what people had called the "Curse of the Hapsburgs." He could recall the "execution" in Mexico by Juarez, of his brother, Maxmilian, the tragic king who went to seek in the New World a new throne; he remembered that his son, Prince Rudolph, was in 1889 found dead in his bed in a hunting-lodge. How he died no one knows, but the note which a friend received on the day of the tragedy seemed too all-revealing. It read: "I could not do otherwise."
This was a great blow to the monarch, but he was to have a greater. In 1898 he was preparing to celebrate his Jubilee. News came to him from Geneva - news that his wife, the beautiful and fascinating Elizabeth of Bavaria, had been stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist named Luccheni. It was a silly crime. Luccheni had been an anarchist since he was thirteen years of age. He did not care whom he killed, so long as it was somebody of royal blood. Chance threw in his way a woman of whom it was said: "She never hurt a soul; she only did good all her life."
After the murder of his wife the emperor said, "Then I am to be spared nothing." It was true; there was yet a lot of trouble to come to Austria's Emperor.
As soon as the news of the assassination at Sarajevo had been telegraphed to all quarters of the globe, there came in response expressions of sympathy with the bereaved royal family. In England King George V. ordered a week's Court Mourning from Sunday, June 28, to Sunday, July 5. A State Ball had been arranged for that night - all the fashionable world of London had been invited. It was cancelled. During the evening of Monday Sir Charles Gust, equerry-in-waiting to the king, called at the Austrian Embassy to express royal sympathy.
Messages came to Vienna and the aged emperor from France, from Russia, from Germany, from across the Atlantic; all of them expressed the "horror and detestation" felt by the nations of the world about this crime in the Balkans. The Emperor returned from his holiday to attend the Lying-in-State and the funeral. England sent Sir Maurice de Bunsen. But in the midst of all this mourning there was little thought in Europe that so regrettable a catastrophe to a nation could result in a catastrophe to the whole world. Work and play went on as before in this summer of 1914. No one realised that Europe was on the brink of war.
What caused the war? Who can tell truthfully now, amidst the bewildering maze of opinions written and spoken by historians on each side of the Channel. But to understand the position it is necessary to go back for half a century. Fifty years of watching and waiting had produced a Europe which was politically inflammable. It only needed a spark to set it alight.
Germany wanted more colonies; she wanted wider world powers; she was jealous of Great Britain's steadily advancing sea power. The conception of Bismarck had not been forgotten. Austria-Hungary was afraid of two things - Russia and of internal dissensions, both of which eventually were to cleave her asunder.
Russia was emerging from a period of despotism and responding to a wave of idealism which emancipation brings in its train. She had, though it was not fully realised, relinquished any idea she may have had of a conquest of India from the East. She was a growing child beginning to walk internationally, and beginning to feel her feet.
France: France still remembered 1870, when slit lost those dear provinces, Alsace and Lorraine. She had been waiting, planning, hoping for the "day," even as the Germans waited for "Der Tag." There was a great deal of talk about armaments. On June 15 in the French Senate the War Minister, M. Messimy, had complained that France was being left behind in the race. Germany, he said, had spent on her army since 1900 a total of £88,600,000 compared with the meagre £46,750,000 which was all that France found herself able to afford. He went on to say that the French 75mm. quick-firer gun was superior to the corresponding German gun - how superior it was every man who served in France knows full well - but that Germany had the advantage in the heavier class of gun. Germany had 3,370, France only 2,504. By the end of 1917, he went on, France would have 3,020 pieces of artillery. He little knew how many more they would have by that date - that they would be standing wheel to wheel over a blood-stained battlefield. And here comes a curious passage to readers to-day. France, said M. Messimy, hoped to increase to thirty-five her "guns for use against dirigibles." Shadows of the thousands of "Archies" that were to come! However, the complaint was glossed over, and the President of the French Republic, M. Poincare, went happily on a visit to Russia.
Russia was the German's bogey. The Russian Bear was said to be menacing Germany, and certainly holding back her expansion to the east. Newspaper controversy spread the trouble... then came King George's visit to Paris, and the report that Britain had concluded a Naval Convention with Russia. Actually, she had done nothing of the sort. Lord Grey, the famous Foreign Secretary, made that clear later. All that Britain had done, he said, was to grant permission to Russian officers to engage in "conversations" with British naval officers.
Kaiser Wilhelm, referring to the situation between Russia and his own country, said: "We find ourselves in No Man's Land, between the military and the political.... I do not entertain the smallest doubt that Russia is systematically preparing war against us - and I shall govern my policy accordingly." Later, the Kaiser found himself and his men in another sort of No Man's Land.
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