Archduke Francis Ferdinand, also known as Franz — the heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was gunned down by an 18-year old student named Gavrilo Princip on June 28, 1914, and it changed the world.
Hundred and seven years ago, on this very day, an enraged Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip assassinated Franz and his wife, the Duchess of Hohenberg, while in a motorcade. The fatal shooting was the second attempt upon the lives of the couple during the day, and is believed to have been the result of a political conspiracy, The Times reported.
The killings initiated a chain reaction that led to the outbreak of World War I by early August. On June 28, 1919, five years to the day after Franz’s death, the Treaty of Versailles was signed by Germany and the Allied Powers, officially marking the end of World War I.
What Caused World War I?
The causes of World War I or the Great War have been debated since it ended. However, Germany shouldered much of the blame for the conflict, which saw four years of unprecedented slaughter. But a series of complicated factors, including the immediate provocation in the form of the murder of Franz, propelled Europe into the conflict the world had ever known.
First of all, there was a feeling of extreme nationalism that inflamed racial pride among people belonging to different countries and embittered rivalries between States. Secondly, the alignment of powers into mutually suspicious groups was fraught with dangerous consequences to international peace. Thirdly, in an age riven with imperialist ambitions, economic stakes characterized by struggles for markets led to hostilities among States.
After the assassination, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. Soon after, Europe and much of the world, entered into war, one country after another, siding with previously established alliances — either with the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary and their allies) or the Allies (France, Britain, Russia and others, including the United States, eventually).
Ominous End Of The Great War
After more than four years of bloodshed, the Great War ended on Nov. 11, 1918, soon after Germany, the last of the Central Powers surrendered to the Allies.
At the Paris peace conference in 1919, the allied leaders together stated their desire to build a post-war world safe from future wars of such a diabolic scale. The Versailles Treaty, signed in June 1919, tragically failed to achieve this objective. The then U.S. President Woodrow Wilson’s grand dreams of an international peace-keeping organization faltered when it was put into practice as the League of Nations.
Even worse, the harsh terms imposed on Germany, the war’s biggest loser, led to widespread resentment of the treaty and its advocates in that country — a resentment that would culminate into a much devastating conflict, the Second World War, two decades later.