Institution: National Institute of Technology-Tiruchnapalli

Author: Adithya Vikram Sakthivel

Nearly a century has passed since the surrender of the Central Powers, marking the end of
the Great War. It was a conflict that changed geopolitics, transforming the world from
one dominated by aristocracies to ones lead by democracies. The Great War, also known
as World War I, was a war that claimed two million lives, emotionally scarring even
more in the process; it was the war that paved the pathway leading to the art of modern
warfare. This turn of events were all the aftereffects of the growing hatred and mistrust
between major European nations, a power which blinded world leaders and turned
countries against one another, sending hundreds and thousands of troops to the
slaughterhouse. In other words, the Great War was an inevitable aftereffect of European
colonial ambitions.

The incident which triggered this infernal bloodshed was the assassination of one world
leader on the eighteenth of June 1914. Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir of the then
powerful Austrian-Hungarian Empire, along with his wife Sofia were assassinated by a
nineteen year old Bosnian Serb student named Gavrilo Princip, who fired two shots
killing them in the Bosnian town of Sarajevo. In theory, under normal conditions, Princip
and his fellow conspirators would have been put on trial and sent to gallows, and nothing
as drastic as a global conflict would have occurred. However further investigations by the
Austria-Hungarian authorities uncovered a larger conspiracy, one involving territorial
ambitions and hostile competing nations.

It was discovered that Princip wasn’t acting on his own, in fact he was a member of an
ultranationalist organization known as Young Bosnia. Formed during the 1900s, Young
Bosnia predominately consisting of school students and, this group had an ideology that
Bosnia, a territory of the Austria-Hungarian Empire, should merge with neighboring
Serbia, due to the large number of ethnic Serbians residing in Bosnia. Young Bosnia was
inspired from a variety of ideas, movements, and events; such as German romanticism,
anarchism, Russian revolutionary socialism, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Friedrich Nietzsche,
and the Battle of Kosovo. Due to their extreme ideologies, Young Bosnia was classified
as a terrorist organization by the Austria-Hungarian government. Due to mutual interests
and goals, Young Bosnia had allied itself with an even more notorious organization, a
secretive brotherhood operating under the name of the Black Hand. The history of this
secret society goes back to the late nineteenth century, formed with an objective to unite
all ethnic Serbs under one flag by the “liberation of Serbs outside Serbia from Habsburg
or Ottoman rule” regardless of the damage such a colossus act would inevitably cause.
This resulted in the use of acts of violence and terrorism by this organization to achieve
its goals. By the early twentieth century, this organization had clandestinely participated
in many regional conflicts and had amassed several prominent members in both Serbia
and Montenegro, primarily high ranking military officers and some government officials,
as a result holding considerable authority in these nations.

Intel gathered by the Austria-Hungarian authorities revealed a meeting on Serbian soil
between a Young Bosnian delegation and Black Hand leadership, including a colonel
Dragutin Dimitrijević, head of Serbian foreign intelligence, and the de facto leader of the
Black Hand. Having deduced that the Serbian government is sympathetic towards the
Black Hand, the Austria-Hungarian came to the assumption that the government of
Serbia confidentially supported and funded this joint Black Hand/Young Bosnia
operation. Due to this reason along with territorial ambitions, the Austria-Hungarian
Empire launched an ultimatum towards Serbia, demanding them to hand over certain
territories along with a reduction of Serbian military presence on the joint border.

Serbia at first complied with the Austria-Hungarian demands, however, they appealed for
help from their powerful ‘secret’ ally, the Russian Empire. The Tsarist regime in Russia
declared war on the Austria-Hungarian Empire as they were strong rivals, along with the
fact that both sides wanted to have considerable influence in the Balkans. The unpopular
Russian ruler, Tsar Nicholas II believed that the population would support his rule if he
supported the Serbs, with whom the Russian people shared many cultural similarities.
Due to this Russia-Serbian alliance, the Austria-Hungarian Empire called on their long-
time ally German Empire for military assistance, this resulted in the French Third
Republic to join the Serbian side of the conflict as they considered German influence as
disastrous to French ambitions. This eventually led to Great Britain eventually joining the
Serbian side, which eventually became known as the allies to protect Belgium from the
advancing German army. The Ottoman Empire later joined the Austria-Hungarian side
which was known as the Central Powers. This eventually led to the world power being
divided into two complicated alliances at conflict with each other, with the previously
neutral United States, an emerging power joining the allies on the sixth of April 1917, as
the German navy sank an American civilian vessel under the assumption that the United
States covertly provided military assistance to Great Britain by supplying weapons via
civilian cargo vessels.

As the war waged on, the Black Hand’s illegal activities were closely monitored by the
Serbian government, who now sought to destroy them. As the Black Hand members
became so powerful that their authority challenged that of the government. In order to
eliminate these rivals, Prince Alexander, commander in chief of the expatriate Serbian
army, brought the leaders of the Black Hand to trial on dubious charges at Salonika (a
town located in the Macedonian Front), in 1917. Dimitrijević and two others were
executed, and more than two hundred alleged members of the society were imprisoned. It
can be stated with confidence that the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand is what
led to this. The irony of this purge of Black Hand members was that they were the
architects of their own destruction, being blinded by their own ambitions and extreme
nationalism which led to a global conflict and their downfall in the process.

“The Role Gavrilo Princip in the Greater Serbian Movement”
Anthony M. Brescia (1965)

“Did teenage anarchists trigger World War I? What were the politics of the assassins of Franz
Ferdinand on 28 June 1914?”

“Who’s Who – Gavrilo Princip”

“Gavrilo Princip: The Assassin Who Started the First World War”
Peter Villiers (2010)

“Ideology and International Relations in the Modern World”
Alan Cassels

“The Origins of World War I: 1871-1914”
Joachim Remak (1971)

“How and why did the First World War start?”

“World War I History”

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