As Vladimir Putin forges ahead with his invasion of Ukraine, killing all manner of Ukrainian civilians in a horrific display of mass murder, the saga of Gavrilo Princip is recalled.
Who was Gavrilo Princip?
He was a Bosnian Serb teenager who was an enthusiastic supporter of Serbian nationalism. It was 1914, and Princip, the 19-year-old enthusiast for separating Serbia from the ruling Austrian empire to create a unified Yugoslavia, made a determination that would have horrific consequences for the world.
On June 28, 1914, Austria’s Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie visited the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, controlled in the day by what was then Austria-Hungary. The Archduke and Sophie were paraded through Sarajevo in an open convertible — and Princip was waiting. The teenager, managing to position himself a mere five feet from the open car, pulled out a pistol and fired — killing both Ferdinand and Sophie.
In a grotesque slow-motion fashion, one unseen event after another was launched. Russia was an ally of … Serbia. Germany and its leader, Kaiser Wilhelm II, were allies of Austria-Hungary. As History.com reminds, a mere eight days later, on July 5:
Kaiser Wilhelm secretly pledged his support, giving Austria-Hungary a so-called carte blanche, or “blank check” assurance of Germany’s backing in the case of war. The Dual Monarchy of Austria-Hungary then sent an ultimatum to Serbia, with such harsh terms as to make it almost impossible to accept.
Convinced Austria-Hungary was gearing up for war, the Serbian government appealed to Russia for help. On July 28, Austria-Hungary made it official, declaring war on Serbia. As History.com reminds:
Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.
Indeed it had. By the time it ended in November of 1918, between 15 to 20 million people were killed, with another 23 million military personnel wounded. Not for nothing was the conflict labeled “The Great War.”
But there was more to come.
The Treaty of Versailles, which was negotiated to end the war and establish the post-war world, inflicted severe punishment on Germany. Which, of course, angered many in Germany — including a private in the German army named … Adolf Hitler.
The rest is known. Hitler and his fledgling Nazi party friends stir rebellion in Germany, with Hitler eventually emerging as the chancellor of Germany in 1933. He ended German participation in the Treaty of Versailles and spent the next six years massively rearming Germany. Finally, on September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland — and World War II had begun. When that finally ended, some 70-85 million human beings had perished, roughly 3 percent of the earth’s population in 1940.
And when that was over? The Cold War began, lasting until President Ronald Reagan, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and Pope John Paul II combined their efforts to bring it to a close at the end of the 1980s — with the assistance of, yes, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. In fact, Gorbachev became the last president of the communist Soviet Union, with the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991.
All of this happening, mind you, because a 19-year-old Serbian teenager made it his business to assassinate an Austrian archduke and his princess wife in 1914.
As the law of unforeseen or unintended consequences would go, it would be hard to top that.
But Vladimir Putin is trying.
Does anyone seriously believe that if Putin won control over Ukraine tomorrow — that would be the end of this madness?
Like Hitler and Stalin before him, it is more than reasonable to believe he would instantly set his sights on the Baltics — Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Then there’s his previous takeovers of Georgia and Crimea. At that point, if they aren’t nervous already, Poland, Bulgaria, and Romania would doubtless be very concerned, with reason.
Again, recalling all of the massive unforeseen consequences that flowed from the gunshots of a 19-year-old in Sarajevo in June of 1914, it would be foolish in the extreme to not understand that a modern-day cataclysm — this time with nuclear missiles — would quite possibly be at hand. (And recall that it was two nuclear weapons — the first of their kind — that finally brought an end to World War II when they were dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. It was a military act that was never foreseen — could not possibly have been foreseen — in 1914 by anybody.)
The hard fact for some to grasp is that Vladimir Putin is about one thing, and one thing only: restoring what once was the Soviet Union — or the once even larger old Russian Empire. And quite possibly then expanding it. With the objective beyond that of ending the dominance of the liberal, pro-democracy world order that finally triumphed with the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War in 1991.
And without question, Putin has vividly demonstrated that he will do anything — and everything — to achieve that goal.
In growing up in the 1960s Cold War era, my generation of schoolchildren frequently enough had to endure civil defense drills. The routine literally included having us kids hear an alarm that required us to dive under our school desks or hustle down the hall into the basement, where we huddled against the wall in practice for a nuclear attack.
It’s sad to say we may be returning to a modern variation of that practice.
Make no mistake, without doubt this is because a quite ruthless Russian dictator has taken his measure of a very weak American president. And he thinks he can get away with it.
Unintended consequences be damned.
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