The 100-year anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand’s assignation is marked on June 28, 2014, and has some intriguing parallels to today. In fact, the anniversary, which marks the spark that ignited World War I, is extremely similar to events occurring in modern times, making many experts concerned that history may repeat itself.
“The ideological rivalries between the superpowers now and then look strikingly similar to today,” said Richard Evans, a professor of history at the University of Cambridge.
According to Evans, one hundred years ago the Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand and his pregnant wife Sofia rode through the streets of Sarajevo. At the time, Austria and Hungary were the world super powers, full of confidence and military might. According to the Economist magazine, times were also optimistic and upbeat as revolutionary technologies such as telephones, trains and steam ships helped unite the world.
However, underlying tensions between Europe and the Balkans were also present. The Austrians were extremely fearful of their Serbian neighbors, whose nationalistic pride was growing every day. When the assassin’s bullet killed a powerful representative of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, it was perceived to have come from a Serbian pistol. This created a perfect scenario for Germany to justify an attack on Serbia, and by extension, begin a quest to control all of Europe. The result of the counter-attack set in motion the greatest war the world had ever seen, and resulted in the deaths of a generation of young men.
According to the Brookings Institution, more than 9 million men were killed during the 4-year war that started in 1914, and the new technologies of the era were immediately turned into weapons of mass destruction and death. The world quickly divided into sides and World War I took over.
Historians and scholars point to the similarities of 20th century Germany and 21st century China. According to the Brookings Institution, China, like 1914 Germany, is an emerging power that is looking for its place in the world and expressing itself brashly in its approach to foreign policy. The significance is that the anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination has definite parallels to today.
“There is no doubt we do face a very similar situation,” said Oxford College professor Margaret MacMillan.
MacMillan pointed out that China’s claims on a small set of islands is strikingly similar to the German claim over Africa and the Middle East before 1914. In addition, scholars point to other significant similarities. The Middle East and the bloody civil war in Syria with rival Islamic military factions is symbolic of and even proxy for the rivalry between Shia and Sunni Islamic groups. Add in the double-whammy of fear and danger provided by Israel, a country that possesses a nuclear arsenal, and Iran, who wants to build a nuclear arsenal, the similarities become striking. As these conflicts define themselves, China and Russia line up at one side while NATO and the United States aligns themselves on another. The world today, experts explain, is situated for another igniting point.
“There are lots of Archduke Ferdinand’s around and there are lots of bullets that could be fired by assassins,” said Evans.
According to Canadian Television reporter, Katherine DeClerq, there are lessons to be learned from history. The key to avoiding the repeat of history, explained DeClerq, lies in the ability of world leaders to take actions to avoid the potential of mass-scale war erupting out of a regional event.
“These crises can be avoided if world leaders are clever or brave enough to take action,” said Declerq.
One hundred years have passed since a bullet killed a leader of the powerful Austrian-Hungarian Empire, but it seems like the past is once again knocking on the door. With the anniversary of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination present in the minds of historians, it may be a good time to dust off the history books and connect the dots to the parallels of today’s world.
By Vincent Aviani