Blowback

Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerrilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy. … Fewer than 20 unarmed Suicide soldiers from some apparently primitive country somewhere on the other side of the world took out the World Trade Center and half the Pentagon with three quick and costless strikes on one day. … We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? — Hunter S. Thompson, “Fear and Loathing in America”, Hey Rube, ESPN.com, September 12, 2001

I’m remembering a terrorist attack today.

It was an attack at the very heart of a Very Important, Very Powerful nation. The aggrieved nation was Very Angry at the other nation which had harbored the assassins, and attacked that other nation in order to root out the terrorists. Sadly, the whole thing escalated into a terrible, lengthy conflict that cost millions of lives, and in the end, many more years later than anyone had anticipated, that Very Important, Very Powerful nation existed no longer.

Oh, you thought I was talking about 9/11?

Nope. Hunter S. Thompson in my epigram was talking about 9/11, but I was talking about 6/28. 9/11 was a very important day in world history, certainly one of the most if not THE important and pivotal days in the last half-century. I know this is an important and serious and traumatic anniversary for millions of Americans. I have no intention of minimizing this horrible attack, its anniversary, or the consequences that we continue to feel today. But I think it’s also important that we talk about one of the most, if not THE most, important and pivotal days in the preceding half-century, and that is 6/28.

franz-ferdinand-and-sophie-newspaper-headline-assasination

To be exact, June 28, 1914. The Very Important, Very Powerful nation to which I referred on that day was the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Together with the then-recently-united German Empire, they controlled Central Europe and wielded enormous influence not only over all of Europe, but much of the world as well. And around the turn of the 20th century, an arms race was going on, with the German and Austro-Hungarian armies and navies frantically building to be able to be the equal of those of Britain, France, and russia.

What happened on 6/28? Well, let’s back up a bit. What used to be Yugoslavia — now Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, and Kosovo — had mostly been part of the Ottoman Empire or the Austro-Hungarian Empire (or sometimes one after the other). By 1914, Austria-Hungary possessed Slovenia, Croatia, and Bosnia; Serbia (then including Macedonia and Kosovo) and Montenegro were independent. The “fires of nationalism” were burning bright in Europe; for example, Bulgaria had recently gained independence from the Ottomans. And Serbian people, both in independent Serbia and in occupied Bosnia (home of a mixture of people who called themselves Serbs, Croats, or Bosniaks), were at least as fiery in their nationalist desires as any other European people.

1901 saw the genesis of what we might today call a “terrorist group” known as “the Black Hand” (Црна рука/Crna ruka). It started with a group of army officers of the Kingdom of Serbia who wanted to see a united southern Slav nation (i.e. Yugoslavia). By 1914, they had affiliated themselves with “Young Bosnia”, a student-led and Serb-led independence movement within Bosnia.

June 28 is a very important anniversary for Serbs. In 1389, Serbs were fighting the invading Ottomans in the Battle of Kosovo. Both armies were almost wiped out, but the Ottomans had more troops in the rest of the empire, and all of what is now Yugoslavia soon fell under Ottoman rule. But during the battle, a Serb knight pretended to defect to the Ottomans, and then managed to assassinate Ottoman Sultan Murad Hüdavendigâr. This heroic act has been commemorated ever since by Serbs. And in 1914, members of Young Bosnia, co-ordinated by Bosnian Serb and Black Hand member Danilo Ilić,  decided that June 28, 1914, would be the day to assassinate the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

The Archduke had been ordered by his uncle Emperor Franz Joseph to inspect military maneuvers in Bosnia, and so he and his wife Sophie went to Sarajevo (the capital of Bosnia). On the fatal day, they were in an open convertible as part of a motorcade driving from the train station to a military barracks, and then to Sarajevo town hall. Six would-be assassins lined the Appel Quay road (now Obala Kulina bana) by the Miljacka River. Two failed to act when the motorcade passed, but the third, Nedeljko Čabrinović, threw a hand grenade at the royal couple’s convertible at 1010 in the morning. The grenade bounced off the folded-back convertible’s cover and ended up underneath the car behind the Archduke’s, where it exploded, disabling the car and wounding at least 16 people. The remaining cars sped up to avoid further attacks, passing the other three assassins, who had no time to act.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

At 1045, the motorcade left the town hall, but with a change of plans; they planned to drive to the hospital to visit those injured by the grenade. But one driver didn’t get the change, turned down a side street, tried to turn around, and stalled, bringing the whole motorcade to a halt. Gavrilo Princip, one of the other assassins, had retreated to Schiller’s Delicatessen, hoping to act when the motorcade returned, and it was right outside Schiller’s where the Archduke’s car had stopped. Princip leapt to his feet, and, with an FN Model 10 Browning pistol in .380 ACP, fired twice, hitting Sophie in the abdomen, and Franz Ferdinand in the neck. The car rushed towards the residence of the governor for medical attention, but both the Archduke and the Duchess had died from loss of blood.

franzferdinand_uniform

What happened next was eerily paralleled by what happened after the 9/11 attacks. Austria-Hungary angrily issued an ultimatum to Serbia demanding a Serbian investigation and arrest of any co-conspirators, suppression of Serbian military propaganda advocating the destruction of Austria-Hungary, and preventing the smuggling of guns and explosives from Serbia into Austria-Hungary. The rejection of the ultimatum by Serbia led to Europe’s complex system of alliances all mobilizing their military forces, and 30 days after the assassination, on July 28, Austria-Hungary formally declared war on Serbia, and World War I had begun.

If you believe, as I and many historians do, that World War II was essentially “Act 2” of the first Great War, then we can say that this assassination, and Austria-Hungary’s response, was the spark to a powder keg whose explosion let to more than three decades of war, shattering Europe with the deaths of over 40 million people, and setting the stage for  a half-century of “cold war”. Europe in 1914 was hardly a stable place, and if this assasination hadn’t happened, some other spark somewhere else could easily have led to a similar result. But I still have to wonder how things would be different if Austria-Hungary had responded differently to this terrorist attack.

Why is this all important? Because of the reaction of the aggrieved nation (the United States of America) after the terrorist attack on September 11, 2001. The 19 hijackers were almost all from Saudi Arabia, and the leader of al Qaeda, Osama bin Ladin, was also a Saudi. They had gotten their funding from mostly Saudi sources. But Saudi Arabia, since the 1973 oil crisis (triggered in large part by US support for Israel in that year’s Six-Day War), has wielded enormous influence over the United States, thanks to US dependence on oil from Saudi Arabia and other nations in the unofficially-Saudi-led Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC). Then-US President George W. Bush is part of a rich Texas family whose fortune came from oil. He and his administration certainly weren’t going to give any kind of ultimatums to Saudi Arabia. So instead, they went after Afghanistan, which is where Osama and al Qaeda leadership were in hiding at the time. And later, lying to the world and to Americans (and Britons, thanks to then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair), Bush also went after Iraq, and toppled Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein.

Since that response, Afghanistan and Iraq have devolved into chaos. At least 75,000 people, and as many as 170,000, have died in Afghanistan. At least 600,000 have died in Iraq. Today, a fanatic militant group called the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) or Daesh (Arabic acronym for ad-Dawlah al-Islāmiyah fī ‘l-ʿIrāq wa-sh-Shām/الدولة الإسلامية في العراق والشام‎) has occupied large amounts of territory in Iraq and Syria, and seems determined to create an Islamic caliphate to rule Muslims in the area (and around the world) with terror.

No, the consequences of 9/11 haven’t led to more than a million deaths … yet. Those consequences may never match the toll of the consequences of 6/28. But on this historic anniversary, I think we should still try to learn from the lessons of history on other historic anniversaries, and ask ourselves if we’ve learned anything from history, or if we’re just repeating it.

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