You never know where in history you are

I think I probably learned more about the leadup to the First World War from a recent edition of Talia Lavin’s “The Sword and the Sandwich” newsletter than I probably ever did in history class. The newsletter is ostensibly about sandwiches, but often veers rather sharply into other topics, and this one was about how history only looks inevitable in hindsight:

“In 1903, more than a decade before a nineteen-year-old Serbian nationalist student would spark the First World War, a coterie of Serbian Army officers entered the royal bedroom in the old Beaux-Arts palace in Belgrade that was the home of the Obrenović dynasty. Armed with revolvers, they hunted down the 26-year-old king, Alexander I, and his deeply unpopular queen Draginja, flushing them out of their hiding place in a wardrobe and filling them with bullets. The assassins then mutilated the bodies beyond recognition with their sabers, and, in an ecstasy of triumph, hurled the corpses from a second-floor window, onto piles of garden manure. 

The army officers’ leader—known by his nom de guerre “Apis,” for the primordial Egyptian bull-god—was a prominent member of the same Black Hand society that would plot the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand a decade later. The point here is that you never know where in history you are. It may well be that the May Coup organizers—decorated military men full of fanatical zeal—could not have imagined a higher drama than the one they engaged in, throwing a disemboweled king and queen onto the dung-heap that fed the royal roses.

Yet it was the tremblingly nervous teenaged fanatic Gavrilo Princip who stepped onto the footboard of the stalled royal motorcar, and shot Franz Ferdinand and his hapless wife. Princip then tried to kill himself, and failed. Another of the conspirators, eighteen years old, threw a bomb that hit the royal motorcade but caused no injuries, ate a cyanide pill that only made him vomit, and finally jumped into a river. It being summertime, the water was less than a foot deep; he died in prison three years later of tuberculosis.”

19 Replies to “You never know where in history you are”

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