On the centenary of Gavrilo Princip’s fateful shot in Sarajevo, let’s learn the right lessons from history

Posted on June 28, 2014, 4:59 pm
7 mins

Gavrilo Princip under arrest. Below: Princip and the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Today is the centenary of the day Gavrilo Princip took his little Belgian pistol to Sarajevo and blew the heir presumptive to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian empire into history.

As is well known, not long after young Princip caused the demise of Franz Ferdinand, archduke of Austria-Este and royal prince of Hungary and Bohemia, not to mention inspiration for future indie musicians, things went rapidly downhill.

Someone somewhere rolled the dice to score a strategic point or two in the Balkans – one of which, it’s been suggested, was to wedge Russia from the Triple Entente – and the next thing you knew all of Europe was at war, resulting in casualties from that war alone of more than 37 million human beings, 16 million of them dead.

Moreover, you could argue World War II was an extension of the same conflict, so to quote Elvis Costello on the topic of the end of the world, when Princip seized the opportunity, left his coffee on the table, ambled across the street and pulled the trigger, he really started something… 

Since no one much apparently expected a general European war to break out any time soon in the spring of 1914, and since no one much expects a world war to break out any time soon in the spring and summer of 2014, we have been subjected to a litany of commentary in the mainstream media wondering if, once again, the world could be on the brink of a major war without anyone having noticed.

This is actually quite a good question to ask, although not necessarily in the way the basso profundo voices of the Official Commentariat are asking it.

Unfortunately, in the word processors of the Canadian punditocracy, the question doesn’t mean what the question actually asks because we live in Orwellian times, in the sense that we live in an unhappy era when almost all official and quasi-official statements mean the opposite of what they appear to say.

Thus, for example, when the Harper Government puts forward legislation called “the Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” it means “an Act to Enable the Organs of State Security to Spy on the Government’s Political Opponents.” The children? Who cares about them? Certainly not Prime Minster Harper and his henchpersons!

So when the official state pundits whose work has been privatized out to Sun News Network, Postmedia News, or even the pathetic ones left at the foundering CBC, ask this question, they really mean: “What Are We Going to Do About Russia?”

The problem with Russia being, apparently, that it won’t toe the line, recognize that there is only one World Superpower and therefore one World Government. Instead, Russia actually proposes to look out for its legitimate strategic interests as if this were 1946 or something.

The answers to this question the pundits have in mind are things like “More jets to Romania!” and “Ukrainian Canadians must vote Conservative!” Their war cry is “What do we want? F-35s! When do we want them? Now!” Plus, of course, “Fair Elections Act!” (See “Protecting Children from Internet Predators Act” above.)

But, as history has shown time and again, when the war poodles start to yap, you really can end up getting a lot more than the F-35s and Ukrainian-Canadian votes you bargained for.

Back in 2003, for example, when then-opposition leader Stephen Harper was yapping about how we should have stood by George W. Bush and helped the United States invade Iraq, who would have thought Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein had it right when he promised the Mother of All Battles?

By now we humans should have figured out that the first day of an invasion is almost always the best day, but that kind of wisdom was forgotten by the Great Minds of the Canadian media about the time newspapers all shut down their libraries and turned to depending on the Internet for institutional memory.

So now it is 2014, the centenary of the event that began the Great War, but only 11 years since the invasion or Iraq and 13 since NATO’s intervention in the Afghan civil war, an effort in which Canada did participate at a huge cost in treasure and blood.

And what have we achieved? In Iraq, Saddam’s Republican Guard is back in action, fighting for the moment alongside its future jihadist enemies, as they close in on Baghdad together. In Afghanistan, the Taliban we pledged never to tolerate, let alone to talk with, are impatiently awaiting NATO’s departure so they can move back into power.

Maybe someday we’ll admit that we lost both those wars, but that will require the perspective of history – if history, and not just petroleum engineering, is still taught a generation from now.

Surely even Canada’s official pundits have enough wit to sense that nothing good can come playing games with Mother Russia to achieve strategic and ideological goals – as France did in 1812, Austria-Hungary attempted in 1914, and Germany tried in 1941 – especially when we are demanding things that we, let alone our next-door neighbour, would never permit in our own back yards.

This post also appears on Rabble.ca.

3 Comments to: On the centenary of Gavrilo Princip’s fateful shot in Sarajevo, let’s learn the right lessons from history

  1. June 28th, 2014

    David, are you on the twitters? I hear it’s all the buzz among the young folk these days.

  2. June 28th, 2014

    Very well said David. I seldom comment, but really enjoy your insights. Thanks.

  3. jerrymacgp

    June 30th, 2014

    With the greatest respect, I think the lessons from history to be drawn from the failed invasions and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, are not taken from the Great War of 1914-18, but from the global War of 1939-45, and more specifically from its aftermath. In May 1945, the Allies (which then included the Soviet Union, along with France, the UK & the US), occupied the defeated Germany and set up an Allied Military Government; in September, following the Japanese surrender, the US also occupied Japan. While the German occupation very soon became the nexus of the Cold War confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West, one thing that did not happen, and also did not happen in Japan, was a locally-based insurgency that continued to create casualties and chip away at occupation army morale for years after the formal end of hostilities. In my opinion, this is because the Allies’ investment, both in troops and in effort, in both post-WWII occupations was far higher than in the two most recent occupations, Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Had the post-9/11 Allies occupied Afghanistan with anything near the troop levels of post-war Germany or Japan, and had they put in place the kind of grassroots nation-building and democratization that occurred in post-war Germany and Japan, pacification of Afghanistan might very well have been a possibility. But the “coalition” wanted to do it on the cheap, and so there were not enough troops on the ground to really know what the Taliban and other insurgents were up to.


Leave a Reply

  • (not be published)