As a history major, I am constantly plagued by what ifs. What if 9/11 hadn’t happened? What if the Cold War never existed? What if World War II could have been avoided? The biggest what if that haunts my thoughts is this: what if World War I could have been prevented? As an aspiring historian, I believe there are events that could have been avoided that would have prevented the breakout of a World War.
While World War I started because of a lot of reasons, most people trace the start back to the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. He had been in a parade in Sarajevo with his wife when he was shot by Gavrilo Princip. I believe that this assassination could have been avoided.
Previous to this event, there had been other assassinations within the Archduke’s government. In the months leading up to this conflict multiple other government officials had been assassinated. In addition to this, it was well-known that the Archduke was not well liked in certain circles, mainly The Black Hand, a terrorist group that was eventually responsible for the death of the Archduke. The Austrian government should have taken more precaution because of this. There should have been more security put on the Archduke’s life. This, in my opinion, was the first mistake of the Austrian government.
Then, on the day of the assassination, there were multiple attempts on the Archduke’s life. A bomb had gone off, but missed the car that the Archduke and his wife were riding in. Instead of seeking shelter after this incident, the Archduke continued on his way through the parade. Later, another member of The Black Hand was waiting with a gun, which was supposed to be used to assassinated the Archduke. This member decided not to go through with the plan, and never fired the gun. Because of complications, the parade took a different route. By sheer luck, Gavrilo Princip was on this changed parade route and took his chance to fire at the Archduke. If the Archduke had sought safety after the first attempt on his life, he would not have ended up being shot.
Despite all of this, I cannot keep victim blaming the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Not everything was his fault. The alliances between countries also largely contributed to the breakout of a world war. Austria-Hungary (the country of the Archduke) was allied with Germany, while Russia took the side of Serbia. Germany offered Austria-Hungary a blank check, basically providing anything they would need to go to war. Once Germany did this, Russian troops mobilized. This triggered other allies and enemies to become involved, bringing this conflict to a global scale. Without these entangled alliances, this conflict could have been isolated. It could have been a regional struggle between Austria-Hungary and Serbia, without involving the rest of the world.
Like I said before, there are a lot more reasons why World War I happened, but if the immediate conflict between Austria-Hungary and Serbia could have been prevented, there is a solid chance that World War I may have never happened. Even if this assassination had not been avoided, the entangling alliances between countries could have been avoided, making this a regional struggle, not a global one.
It’s too late to go back now, and history cannot be changed. But I, along with every other historian, will always wonder how things could have been different, even if only one small detail were changed. I rest assured that, were this event to happen again, we as a people can look back to history to guide us in our decisions.