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Author, film researcher and member of the Swedish Military History Commission.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

The Kid That Ignited World War One

Sarajevo, where it all started.

In less than tree weeks it will be exactly 100 years since the assassination in Sarajevo that ignited World War One. Gregor Mayer has helped me better understand this event.

The whole thing started with a kid firing two bullets from a Belgian-made Fabrique Nationale model 1910 pistol. It may seem like the simplest of facts, but the age of the Sarajevo assassins of June 28 1914... the age! For some reason it just did not get to me before I had picked up the new book Conspiracy in Sarajevo by Gregor Mayer. The main assassin, Gavrilo Princip, was 19 when he shot the Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg. Take away Princip´s moustache and what remains is a kid, even more apparent when you see not just his face. Some of Princip´s helpers were even younger. Perhaps one shouldn´t focus too much on the age of the assassins - as behind the historic action of the young Bosnian Serbs stood older men, members of the secret military society best known as the Black Hand - officers of the Serbian Army. But I still think the age of the assassins says something, like that one has to attract young men (kids) for extreme deeds.

Was the First World War truly a result of the actions of some students? Formally there is little doubt about this but Gregor Mayer also writes that the Austro-Hungarian Empire viewed the assassination as a "welcome reason" for a long contemplated punitive drive against Serbia. In other words, had there been no Gavrilo Princip there would sooner or later nevertheless have been some other action that would have prompted Austria-Hungary to declare war against Serbia, thus setting off the chain reaction that became World War One.

But there did exist a Gavrilo Princip, and thus the story of his short life and motivations should long since be well known. However, while much has been written about the assassination, the actual killer has until now not been the subject of a modern biography such as Gregor Mayer´s. Doctor Martin Pappenheim studied the imprisoned Princip and his notes were published in 1926 - everyone who has read them, raise your hand... Of course, Doctor Pappenheim´s notes are often quoted in Conspiracy in Sarajevo.

What emerges from Gregor Mayer´s book is that Princip was greatly motivated by other assassins who went before him and also by the fact that he had not been allowed to become a soldier. Mayer provides the reader with a strong picture of Princip´s final years as well as the environment in which he grew up. It is also remarkable to read the words from Princip´s trial in October 1914 and about what it is like today in Princip´s home village of Gornij Obljaj.

Right now Sarajevo is preparing for the WWI anniversary, a large photo of Gavrilo Princip can be seen on the site of the assassination, on a banner somewhat strangely proclaiming "The street corner that started the 20th century".

So far, Conspiracy in Sarajevo is only available in German, as Verschwörung in Sarajevo: Triumph und Tod des Attentäters Gavrilo Princip. But aside from hardcover format it is also available as an e-book.


  1. Hobby historian Dan Carlin is doing a podcast about WW1 called Blueprint for Armageddon. The first three parts can be found here. Part one has a lot about the lead-up to the war, including Princip's role.

  2. One of the assassins was a Bosnian Muslim. Further Franz Ferdinand was not given protection for his tour - the Austrians had a huge number of forces there, both military and police, plus the local Bosnian Muslim forces in Sarajevo. They "dangled" Franz Ferdinand in an open car, and even after a failed earlier attempt they continued his tour after a break. Also he was not liked and wasn't mourned at his funeral. So to start a war over an un-liked ruler and his morgantic wife (who was also not liked) couldn't be the real motive, just a pretext.

    And Austria was doing military maneuvers on the border with Serbia during his tour. Military maneuvers on a border are often a sign that war is being planned or considered.
    After the break on his tour, he was then driver to where Gavrilo Princip stood - even though Princip was standing in the wrong place. And the driver STOPPED right before Princip, and the car stayed stopped while Princip walked up to him and shot him.
    I saw Austrian intelligence was behind the whole arrangements and the group were a bunch of failed students who were led to believe they were doing something patriotic when in fact they were players in a set-up excuse for war.

    And another thing, the tour was on an important Serbian holy day. His tour was perfectly chosen to be on that important date.

    Both Austrians and Germans are a VERY sneaky people and the government did want to go to war with Serbia but Franz Ferdinand didn't. He stood in the way of a wanted war. The Germans were also pressuring Austria to war.

    A few years earlier Austria tried an economic war on Serbia - the so-called "Pig War" where it boycotted pigs/pork which was the main export from Serbia in those days - but Serbia switched to exporting them to Russia so the war didn't work as Austria wanted.

    Austria also illegally annexed and occupied Bosnia even though it wasn't a native land of Austrians and they were only occupiers. Serbs were the largest of the Bosnian peoples in those days. They were over 40% and next were Bosnian Muslims at somewhere over 30%. Today those numbers are reversed due to many Serbs being killed there in WWI and WWII, as well as emigration.