New writer Vexman is digging through some interesting stuff at his blog and since it has come up in the comments section of his first post here at POM, I though I’d post this excerpt from my Hitler research to add to the fun…
The spark that supposedly lit the fuse.
The victor’s history will tell you that the match that lit the fuse of World War One was the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir apparent to his father, Emperor Franz Joseph, the fossilized figurehead of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Like the JFK assassination near fifty years later, the target was riding through hostile territory with the rag top of his touring car down with largely absent security.
However, this particular iteration of assassination on wheels supposedly contained an actual cabal of conspirators, unlike the American versions with their ubiquitous lone nuts. The Black Hand, a dissident group of Serbs looking for independence from the empire, was the band of misfits that has taken the blame.
The official story is as ridiculous as can be. Though no laws of physics were apparently broken on the streets of Sarajevo in late June of 1914, unlike the magic bullets flying across Dealy Plaza in late November of 1963, credulity is strained to the breaking point when the series of mistakes in judgement and bald-faced coincidences that led to the Archduke’s alleged demise are tallied.
The nonsense started at the Sarajevo train station the morning of June 28th, 1914. Three local police officers allegedly boarded the lead car of the six car motorcade by mistake. Three special officers brought along for security were then left at the station. That is the first excuse to sell this farce. The minimum security for the Archduke was now reduced to zero. Like JFK, Franz Ferdinand is driving through dangerous terrain with no military presence anywhere. The second excuse was that the local citizens would be offended if the military were seen openly protecting the heir to the imperial throne, even though intelligence reports indicated the area was teeming with violent revolutionaries.
At least a half dozen of these violent revolutionaries were stationed at points along the announced motorcade route. While the entourage passed by the waving crowds, the first two would-be assassins did nothing. They were armed with a bomb and a pistol, and for maximum melodramatic effect, cyanide capsules in the event (likely) they were caught. Murderous terrorists willing to also commit suicide- where have we heard that trope before?
One Nedeljko Čabrinović, standing near the Miljacka River did supposedly toss his bomb when the Archduke’s car was within throwing distance. The bomb was said to bounce off the back end of the folded convertible cover and went off under the car behind, blowing up the occupants and sending them to the hospital.
Čabrinović then dutifully swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the river. The pill had long expired and only caused vomiting, while the river was only a foot or so deep from drought. One can almost see Čabrinović doing a poker faced double take ala’ Buster Keaton, standing in the shallow water, completely nonplussed as the Keystone Cops slosh awkwardly towards him.
As the motorcade sped on at heightened speed, the three remaining assassins placed along the route were helpless to act and so dispersed.
The Archduke arrived safely at the Town Hall, attended the reception and cracked wise about the near miss. One of the Archduke’s attendees strongly urged the Governor-General, Oskar Potiorek, to summon local troops to secure the streets so as to allow the party to carry on unimpeded. The excuse given as to why the Governor- General vetoed the idea was that the troops would not be properly attired in dress uniforms fitting for the occasion. So far, that was the lamest excuse yet, but we are no way near done with the preposterousness of this hoax.
The Archduke, at the urging of his wife, decided to forgo their original plans and instead visit the injured members of the motorcade at the local hospital. Such spur of the moment change was apparently so confusing to the rigid Teutonic temperament that the drivers were not informed of the changes in plans and routes. Their superior just happened to be one of the injured and so was not there to insure proper chain of command.
By then the Governor-General was apparently the only man able to give orders, so he decided to avoid the center of town and suggested yet another route. Clairvoyance must have been assumed of the drivers for they were not told of these new changes. The driver of the Archduke’s car, still the third car in the procession, turned right at one point to head down a side street towards the center of town as originally planned. Why he didn’t follow the cars in front of him along the new route, and how they suddenly were aware of the change of plans is unknown, unless this story, which was concocted postmortem, is a patchwork of revisions and inventions tweaked over time, so some details are bound to make no sense.
Meanwhile, Gavrilo Princip*, the Lee Harvey Oswald of the piece, had abandoned the mission and was finishing a sandwich and coffee at a local deli when, of all people, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire, was not three yards away, trying to get his driver to back up, make a U-turn and head back to the frontage road that would avoid the center of town the driver had mistakenly made for. The excuse here is that the driver was unfamiliar with the local streets, so naturally you’d want him driving the most important man in the empire through dangerous territory, especially after a near miss assassination attempt.
Well, Princip pulled his Belgium made 9×17 millie and blew a hole in the Archduke’s jugular, then for good measure popped a cap in the wife’s gut, killing her instantly; shades of Oswald taking one in the gut from Jack Ruby who for some reason eschewed the wide open, point blank shot to Oswald’s left temple. (For the record, gut shots take some time to die from, head shots are instantaneous-)
Long story short, the entire cabal of conspirators eventually found their way to police custody, court and prison, some even to the grave via execution. If you believe in blind justice, you can leave the story where conventional history has placed it and go back to sleep. Princip got all of twenty years because he was allegedly under twenty and twenty years was the maximum sentence for a man of his youth. Some leaders of the Black Hand got the firing squad or the noose, whichever was in vogue at the time in “executing” fictional characters. Certainly, the names of the perpetrators were intelligence aliases and most probably never actually existed as anything other than fictitious characters written up in the papers. It is also certain that no one did time or was actually executed. Like actors after the final curtain call, the personas were dropped, the makeup wiped clean and the actors sent home to their real countries, pensioned off for their silence.
The Archduke left the stage as well, taking along his wife and kids. His funeral was unattended by all save the immediate family, political rivalries being the stated cause- apparently, the heir apparent was not a beloved figure. But all to the good as there was no bodies to inter and the smallest number of funeral attendees would favor the secret being kept. The number of people who actually saw a body, save the vetted coroner, would have been zero. Therefore no one would be telling outright lies. All concerned assumed the Archduke and wife were in those closed coffins and so the falsehood of history was secured.
*The name Princip is close in kind to Princep, a Latin term meaning first or most prominent individual. As an alias, and as he is often sighted as engaging in the most influential act of the age, it would indeed make for an amusing allusion… and just for shits and grins, Oswald means variously, King or Divine Power or Divine Fire. Grandiose monikers for supposed lunatics. An assassination hoax staple.