Paul Greenberg

It started as a day like any other a hundred years ago, but before it was out, it would have ushered in a century of war, revolution, terror and mass murder like no other.

For today, June 28th, is a dark centennial. It's the 100th anniversary of the day the world ended, or at least the ever more progressive world that was almost taken for granted back then. For every day in every way we were getting better and better! Till it was only a matter of time till before we were the best! The future beckoned like a golden dream. A dream made of fool's gold.

Today, June 28th, is the unbelievable day the dream would start to turn into dust and ashes -- and blood. It happened in a provincial capital called Sarajevo in what was then the Austro-Hungarian empire -- the second largest in Europe after Russia, and another realm that, like yesterday, is no more.

The archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, was in town and all was festive. He and Duchess Sophie rode in an open car through streets that echoed with cheers -- and where a series of assassins, six in all, waited along their route to do the bidding of a Serbian terrorist organization, the Black Hand. (Al-Qaida was scarcely the first terrorist threat in history to set off a war.) One terrorist who threw a bomb missed, but another took deadly aim with a semi-automatic pistol, a Fabrique Nationale Model 1910, first hitting the archduke in the jugular, then the duchess in the abdomen. And the bloody deed was done. Both would be dead before they could be brought to the governor's residence for medical treatment.

It was a tragedy, but no one expected it would lead to war. There had been other notable assassinations in those years, and they weren't confined to Europe. See the assassination of an American president, William McKinley, at the turn of the century. But a war? Especially a world war? Unimaginable.

The news scarcely made an impression even in Austria. That night the usual crowds in Vienna listened to waltzes as they drank wine. It was just one more assassination. No one could have foreseen the worldwide cataclysm it would unleash. Yet as the days passed and negotiations sputtered, mobilizations replaced them, and one led to another as each took its place in the simmering chain of events, like assassins along a road, or sticks of dynamite planted in a row. And the unimaginable became the all too actual.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.