100th Anniversary of Start of World War I Approaches
100th Anniversary of Start
of World War I Approaches
By Jim Garamone, American Forces Press Service.
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– June 25, 2014 – “One day the great European War will come out of some damned
foolish thing in the Balkans.” This prophecy, from German Chancellor Otto
von Bismarck, came in 1888, and he was spot on.
On June 28, 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the
Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife, Duchess Sophie, were visiting Sarajevo,
the capital of the Austro-Hungarian province of Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Austria-Hungary was a multinational empire in the heart of
Europe. The Dual Monarchy, as it was also known, covers land now occupied by 13
countries. The empire’s citizens came from multiple ethnic groups and spoke
scores of languages; therefore the empire often was pulled in different
directions. The Russian Empire supported the protests of the Slav minorities
inside Austria-Hungary and saw itself as a protector of Orthodox Christians
The archduke was the heir of the House of Habsburg, which
presided over this polyglot empire. His house traced its lineage to the ninth
century and ruled in the region from at least 1276.
Sarajevo was a center of unrest against foreign rule. Many
advisors had advised the archduke to not visit the city.
As the archduke’s entourage was driving through the city, a
member of the Serbian-sponsored group called The Black Hand threw a grenade at
his car. It exploded and hurt people in the vehicle behind the archduke. The
archduke and his wife went to visit those injured in the attack. On their way
back from the hospital, drivers made a wrong turn, and the motorcade stalled --
right in from of Gavrilo Princip, another member of The Black Hand.
Princip ran up to the archduke’s car and shot Duchess Sophie
and the archduke. The two died soon after.
The assassination of the heir to the Habsburg throne pushed
Europe into crisis, with the Great Powers -- Germany, Russia, France, Great
Britain and Austria-Hungary -- reacting to a confusing situation.
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 assassination was the immediate spark that started what
became known as the Great War or World War.
Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife became the first
casualties of a war that claimed the lives of an estimated 18 million people.
The Battle of the Somme, fought between July 1 and November 18, 1916, caused
about 1.6 million casualties to soldiers on both sides. The Battle of Verdun,
fought from February to December 1916, caused more than 700,000 casualties.
The United States declared war on Germany and its allies in
April 1917. A total of 117,465 Americans died in the war, with another 204,002
The war led to the downfall of the German Empire, the
Austria-Hungary Empire, the Russian Empire and the Ottoman Empire. The seeds of
the current troubles in the Middle East were sown during World War I.
The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany rose from the ashes of the
Great War, and the experience scarred all nations involved and set the tone for
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