The Great War

One hundred years ago today, 28 June,  Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo.   To one way of thinking, the war that started that afternoon still isn’t over.

The way it went down, the assassination happened more-or-less by accident. Six or seven different individuals were trying to assassinate the arch-duke that day. One of them threw a grenade, which missed. (The way that happened: grenades at that time were activated by striking them firmly on a solid object, which fired a cap, which lit a fuse, which detonated the explosive a few seconds later. When the would-be assassin struck the grenade and fired the cap, the report made the driver of the archduke’s car think he’d blown a tire, and braked suddenly. As a result, the archduke escaped injury.)

Gavrilo Princip, the eventual assassin, never did get a shot at the archduke. So, instead, he went to a bar for a sandwich and a beer. But remember that earlier grenade attack? A member of the archduke’s party had been injured and taken to a hospital. The archduke and duchess went to visit their friend in the hospital, but their driver got lost. So he decided to turn around, and was making a three-point turn in the street outside of the bar where Princip was having lunch. Princip, noticing the opportunity, went outside and shot them both.

In modern terms, neither the archduke nor duchess needed to have died. Fast and efficient EMS and a Level One trauma center would have saved them. But as it happened, fast and efficient EMS would be a result, sixty years later, of the events that took place that day.

Within months, thanks to a set of secret treaties, all Europe (and Europe’s various colonies) was at war. World War One turned into World War Two, which became the Cold War. Bosnia was still a mess during Clinton’s administration, and right now Iraq is falling apart along fault lines set up when the country was created (Lawrence of Arabia and all that) in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, for the convenience of British Petroleum.

How is this related to me personally? My great-uncle Joe Simmit fought in the Great War as a soldier in the Austro-Hungarian Army. After the War, he moved to America where his sister was already living (central Europe as a wounded veteran of the losing side was a not-great place to be in the ‘Twenties). But when it came time to look for a wife, since in his opinion all Americans were spendthrifts, he went back to the old country to find one. He found Mitzi, a Croat, who became my great-aunt.

I never met Joe Simmit, but I did meet Mitzi when I was young.

Later, I fought in the Cold War. But that’s another story.

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