One hundred years ago today, Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie Chotek, the Duchess of Hohenberg, visited Sarajevo. Waiting for them was a band of would be assassins, who planned to use bombs to kill the heir to the Habsburg throne. The bombs failed. Unfortunately, the driver of the Imperial couple took a wrong turn, and one of the assassins, Gavrilo Princip, saw his chance and fired his pistol at the Imperial car. Both Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were killed. The heir's last words are particularly poignant: "Sophie dear, Sophie dear, don't die! Stay alive for our children."
From this one small act of barbarism sprang a century of barbarism. World War I was, as a wise teacher commented long ago, when Europe decided to commit suicide. Direct results of World War I include Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, and World War II. After tens of millions of corpses in both world wars, the supremely confident European civilization of the turn of the 20th century was replaced by the decadent and dying European civilization of today. We may never recover from the catastrophe that resulted when the statesmen of Europe proved incapable of stopping the march to war that began on June 28, 1914.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.