The Black Hand Committed History’s Most Impactful Terrorist Act
No single act of terrorism has had a greater impact than did the murder of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife in Sarajevo by Black Hand assassins. After a comedy of errors in which various assassins tried but failed to kill the Archduke, including one who threw a bomb that didn’t kill its target, then attempted to commit suicide by swallowing cyanide that had expired, and drowning himself in a river that was only inches deep, the royal’s convertible took a wrong turn that brought it within a few feet of Gavrilo Princep, an assassin who had given up on the affair and gone to grab a bite. Princep stepped up to the open vehicle and fired two shots that killed Franz Ferdinand and his wife.
Austria eventually declared war on Serbia, which dragged in Russia, Serbia’s protector. That, in turn, dragged in Germany, Austria’s ally, which brought in France, Russia’s ally against Germany, which prompted Germany to invade France via Belgium. That gave Britain a more palatable justification to join as an outraged guarantor of Belgium’s violated sovereignty, in lieu of the realpolitik European balance of power considerations which would have compelled her to fight Germany anyhow.
In the ensuing war, over 70 million men were mobilized and 10 million were killed. Four empires vanished, and the global center of power shifted from the Old World to the New. A staid age of aristocracy and traditional forms of government came to an end, and a new fervent and fast-paced era of democracies juxtaposed with radical ideologies and totalitarianism emerged in its place. The Black Hand’s bullets in Sarajevo irrevocably changed the world.
Serbia did not fare well. It stood off an initial Austrian onslaught, but in 1915 the Germans joined and helped the Austrians overrun Serbia. One-fifth of Serbia’s population perished during the war – the highest casualty percentage suffered by any country in WWI. Serbia’s prime minister finally had enough of the Black Hand, which had grown too powerful and too meddlesome. In 1917, its leaders, including Apis, were arrested and tried on trumped up charges for conspiracy to murder the Prince Regent. They were convicted, sentenced to death, and executed, and the group was outlawed.