The current issue of WORLD’s cover date is June 28, a date that should live in infamy. On June 28, 1914, an assassin killed Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in the Balkan city of Sarajevo. That incident touched off World War I, which ended with 18 million dead bodies and led to a Communist takeover of Russia (millions more) and, eventually, World War II (tens of millions more).
Recently I read in Christopher Clark’s “The Sleepwalkers” (see “A century ago,” in this issue) how one false step among the leaders of England, France, Germany, Russia, and Austria-Hungary led to another. While turning the pages, I watched on the AMC network “The Godfather” (second greatest American movie of all time, according to the American Film Institute) and its sequel, “The Godfather Part II” (32nd greatest).
The regular refrain in “The Godfather,” as its characters plan murders, is, “Nothing personal. It’s just business.” Europe’s leaders had the same rationale as they slouched into war during post-assassination July. The two “Godfather” films form the tragic story of how, in director Francis Ford Coppola’s words, “a good man becomes evil.” A theologically deeper assessment might note that it’s about sinners becoming even more sinful. World War I’s beginning one century ago had a similar arc.
Here’s one more famous “Godfather” line: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” Europe’s warring monarchs in 1914 were close (three of them were cousins)—and this spring I looked back with wonder and dismay at the arrogance and miscalculation that (nothing personal) slaughtered so many people.
At that point I almost went thoroughly astray. The assassination of Franz Ferdinand took place because of a thoroughly unlikely set of circumstances. The assassin with a handgun, Gavrilo Princip, was a bad shot, but Ferdinand’s driver made a wrong turn and backed up, then stopped, in a way that left Ferdinand several feet from Princip, who at that distance couldn’t miss. And that got me thinking: Why didn’t God (acting as He usually does, in ways subtle enough to give atheists deniability) keep Ferdinand from being shot?