March 15, 2002
Gavrilo Princip was a terrorist and in June of 1914 he set
out with six other members of the Bosnian group Black Hand
to murder the heir to the throne of the Austrian Empire during
his visit to the Bosnian city of Sarajevo and strike a blow
at a government he despised.
To meet his date with evildoer destiny Princip had to get
very lucky. One of his co-conspirators had hurled a bomb at
the Archduke's car as it entered the city, injuring several
people but leaving Franz Ferdinand and his wife unharmed.
After angrily denouncing the mayor at the official welcome
ceremony the Archduke asked to be taken to the hospital to
visit those who had been injured by the grenade. A General
traveling with the Archduke suggested an alternative to the
normal route to the hospital in case there were other terrorists
in the area. The driver, however, turned down the wrong street
and the General demanded that he stop the car and turn around.
He stopped the car, incredibly, a few feet from the café
where Princip had gone to drown his sorrows after concluding
that he would not be able to get a shot at the Archduke.
Princip took advantage of his good fortune and fired two
shots killing the Archduke and his wife and in the process
helped to bring about 80 years of war and political turmoil.
Princip could not accomplish this all by himself, of course.
The crowned heads of the sclerotic dynasties, a succession
of inept leaders in England and France and the tragically
flawed idealist, Woodrow Wilson, gave Princip all the help
a sickly, unemployed evildoer could possibly want. In fact
with the crumbling Austrian, Ottoman and Russian empires and
the emerging nationalist and socialist movements the world
has rarely been in as volatile a situation as it was in 1914.
In addition military technology had advanced to the point
where the carnage wiped out almost an entire generation of
European males. Princip may have lit the fuse but the powder
keg was sitting there waiting for him.
Today a war has already started prompted by another terrorist
act but up to now it's been narrow war with a vague, elusive
enemy. Yet the conditions that allowed a loser like Princip
to send the world over a deadly precipice in 1914 are staring
the world in the face again.
The Muslim world contains more than a billion people in a
vast area stretching from Indonesia to East Africa. The countries
that have oil money tend to be sparsely populated and ruled
by autocratic governments. The ones without oil are often
heavily populated political cauldrons with unstable governments
struggling to contain the increasingly radical elements of
their own people. What's ominous for the world is that not
a single government of a Muslim county would dare denounce
the extreme elements of Islam. They can speak up (mildly)
when one of them knocks over a skyscraper or blows himself
up in a pizza parlor but the sentiments that prompted such
acts are totally off limits. They've allowed schools to be
taken over by radical Islamics who are now in the process
of creating future generations of insular, paranoid fanatics
ready to take their culture war to the rest of the world.
At the center of the turmoil are the Palestinians and Israelis
who are in their sixth decade of fighting over the same small
piece of land. The hard liners on both sides have succeeded
in only in ratcheting up the violence and creating a demand
for an even harder line. There may be a peace settlement there
for all to see - the 1967 borders and a divided Jerusalem
- but the emotions on both sides make it impossible for either
to seize it. An outbreak of war could pull both hemispheres
into a death struggle and cause an economic chaos that would
vaporize the prosperity that the West has become accustomed
The country that provided the world's stability through most
of the last century has embarked on an unrealistic crusade
to eliminate terrorism, much as Wilson thought he was fighting
the "War to End All Wars." But like Wilson's unrealistic
vision the quixotic campaign against the faceless terrorist
has morphed quickly into a war against countries we don't
like, and this week the specter of using weaponry previously
considered unthinkable. Even worse America has telegraphed
its intentions, signaling to the Saddam Husseins of the world
that if they've got the nukes or the bugs or the gas they'd
better use it. The country that wants to be the world's beacon
of freedom may through recklessness or anger or plain ineptitude
be ready plunge it into its darkest hour.
The seething emotions that convulsed the world in 1914 are
in place again - or maybe they just never went completely
away. On the street where the Archdukes driver made his fateful
wrong turn sits a small monument in HONOR of Gavrilo Princip
who died in 1918 without seeing a fraction of the human anguish
he helped cause. And somewhere in the world sits the next
Gavrilo Princip with a gun or a vial or a suitcase bomb and
the potential to do even more damage. And as we learned in
1914 he may only need to be in the right place at the right