At some point in middle school or high school, most Americans learned that the assassination of a relatively unknown Archduke (Ferdinand) of Austria (indirectly) caused World War One, or as it was called at the time- “the war to end all wars”. What most do not remember is the name or backstory of the infamous 19 year old Yugoslavian named Gavrilo Princip who pulled the trigger. More importantly, is the “next” Gavrilo living in the world today?
Gavrilo was of Serbian descent and belonged to the Mlada Bosna movement, whose main aim was to be free from Austrian/Hungarian rule. His upbringing and the strife within his nation and community did likely have a hand in his decision to commit a homicide.
Princip was born in a small rural hamlet as one of 9 children; six of whom died in infancy. He himself was very sickly as a child, but managed to survive. His (Christian) parents were poor farmers who were often oppressed by their Muslim landlords.
In the past 102 years the population of the world has almost quadrupled. By basic statistical analysis alone, it would be almost four times as likely in 2016 that there is a Gavrilo Princip walking around today.
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Today we have many millions of people who are poor, and living for the very basics. That has not changed.
Today we have several nations which are continually torn apart by sectarian violence and/or nationalism. That has not changed.
Today we have NATO, the E.U., the United Nations, and other affiliations. We have countries which are tied into other countries where they must help if their ally is attacked. That general status has not changed.
One could argue that, at least in the United States and western Europe, the population at large is less moral. Certainly we are less Christian; we as a whole have less prudent guidance. Often times those who are wandering without any moral compass (be it Christianity or another religion) are more likely to engage in humanistic tendencies and devalue other human life.
The one sector that we are better off today than a century ago would be in regards to security and surveillance measures and techniques. It is more likely possible to catch someone now than back in 1914. However, in a free society, there will ALWAYS be occasions where powerful persons are susceptible to an assassination attempt. It only takes one overzealous ideologue.
All told, it seems quite likely that there are already people today that have similar aspirations to Princip. What would that look like?
Possibly this could involve Russia with a state of the former Soviet Union. Ukraine, or someone else.
Maybe more likely would be a scene within the current debacle involving the Syrian refugees as they migrate and try to live throughout eastern and western Europe. This crisis has led to closed borders and nationalistic views, and anti-immigrant fervor.
The key to a scenario which could escalate into a several nation war is that the “lone wolf” would have to be directly or indirectly advocating for a leader or political party of an actual country. I don’t think a crusader from ISIS could or would start a major international incident. Not unless there was a specific and clear association and backing with the leaders of Iran or somewhere similar.
The world is as interconnected, maybe moreso, than it was 100 years ago. It is also as dangerous as it was all those decades past. Have we learned from history? Are we smarter than in 1914? To those two questions, I would begrudgingly answer “Probably not”.
Modern society has been lucky over the past 50+ years to avoid a major worldwide conflagration. I am hopeful that we can be as fortunate over the next few decades, but that is a tall order. If Gavrilo Princip’s actions as a 19 year old peasant in 1914 can change the course of history, who is to say he is the last such character?
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