Learning Little from World War I

Gary G. Kohls

One hundred years ago, on June 28, 1914, the heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, one of the wealthiest men in Austria, was murdered in Sarajevo, Serbia. The shooting became the spark that started World War I, the war that was widely called “the war to end all wars” because of the unendurable mutual mass slaughter of an entire generation of young European men (on all sides of the war).

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But who was the Archduke, the victim of the momentous assassination? Besides his excess wealth and his over-privileged position in life, there were lots of traits to despise about Franz Ferdinand. As a member of the Hapsburg dynasty, he joined the military as a child and, given his elevated status in life, he was frequently and rapidly promoted in rank. He received the rank of lieutenant at age 14, captain at 22, colonel at 27 and major general at 31.

But the Archduke had no significant experience as a commanding officer in wartime. Europe had been in a prosperous peacetime economy for generations. A year before his assassination, Franz Ferdinand had been appointed Inspector General of the empire’s armed forces, and he was in Sarajevo discharging his duties while the empire’s occupying army was on maneuvers.

The Archduke was also a compulsive trophy hunter. Today many would call him a “slob” hunter. In his own diaries, he documented over 300,000 game kills over his lifetime, 5,000 of which were deer (100,000 of his hunting trophies were on exhibit at one of his castles).

For every oppressed Serb, the autocratic Archduke and his empire were just the latest cruel colonial powers that were occupying Serbia, oppressing and taxing the Slavic people and denying freedom for those unfortunate indigenous folks who had been living, toiling and suffering there for centuries.

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