Thoughts & Views: Two bullets, 10 million dead

There was a seismic change to the world on June 28. Didn’t notice anything?

That’s okay. The change occurred 100 years ago, and back then the majority of people didn’t initially notice much either.

However, what happened that day launched a chain of events that would irrevocably transform nations, society and culture in ways then inconceivable and, even now, astonishing.

On June 28, 1914, on the streets of Sarajevo, a 19-yearold Bosnian Serb assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne.

(That’s Franz in the photo.)

The gunman, Gavrilo Princip, also killed the archduke’s wife, Sophie, but I daresay if she had been the only victim the repercussions would have been minor.

Not so with the death of the archduke. This was the era of countless treaties and complicated national alliances (which I still find difficult to comprehend despite having tried), and these led to World War I.

The assassination is looked upon as the start of that war, although there would be no official declaration until a month later.

And then the dominoes began to fall.

Entire books have been written in an effort to sort out what transpired, but luckily, I found a concise account on, of all places, the U.S. Department of Defense website. I quote from the essay by Jim Garamone of the American Forces Press Service.

Garamone writes: “Austria- Hungary declared war on Serbia on July 28, 1914. Russia responded July 29 by ordering mobilization, and Germany followed by mobilizing on July 30. Germany declared war on Russia on Aug. 1.

“The German strategy was to eliminate the threat from France before turning to take on Russia. France was Russia’s ally, and Germany declared war on that country on Aug. 3. Germany’s path to France led through Belgium, and the invasion of that country led to Great Britain’s declaration of war Aug. 4.”

The Allies and the Central Powers of Europe were all in deadly play.

The United States managed to maintain neutrality until April 1917, then we, too, sent hundreds of thousands of troops to the trenches.

Before the Armistice ended hostilities at 11 a.m. on Nov. 11, 1918 (the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month), nearly 10 million soldiers from both sides would be killed, another 7.75 million would be missing in action, and 21 million would be wounded. All these figures are, of necessity, estimates.

I find it astounding that World War I does not appear to be part of some schools’ history curriculum. I recently spoke to an honor student, the product of a local educational system, who told me she had learned nothing about the Great War until she got to college. World War II, though, had been taught in high school.

This makes no sense. One cannot understand World War II unless one knows something of World War I. During the recent D-Day commemorations, one historian (I’d cite him if I recalled his name, but I can’t) commented to the effect that World Wars I and II should be viewed, and taught, “as one long conflict, with a 20-year truce in the middle.”

As the centennial of “The War to End All Wars” is marked, I will likely be writing more about it.

To my mind, it changed everything.

– Karen Zautyk

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