The murder of Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo on June 28th, 1914, by the Serbian terrorist group The Black Hand, was history’s most impactful single act of terrorism. It almost never came off, and only succeeded at the last minute, after a comedy of errors involving a series of failed attempts. The parade of follies included a terrorist who threw a bomb that failed to kill the target, and who then made a failed suicide attempt by swallowing expired cyanide. He then made another failed attempt at suicide by drowning himself in a river, that turned out to be only only inches deep. One of the terrorists, Gavrilo Princep, gave up, and went to grab a bite at a cafe. To his astonishment, the Archduke’s convertible, whose chauffer had taken a wrong turn, suddenly came to a stop just a few feet away.
A World Changing Move
As the driver attempted to reverse, Princep stepped up to the open vehicle and fired two shots, killing the Archuduke and his wife. A swift chain of events followed, culminating in calamity. Austria declared war on Serbia, which dragged in Russia, Serbia’s protector. That in turn dragged in Germany, Austria’s ally. Germany’s entry brought in France, Russia’s ally. That prompted Germany to invade France via Belgium. German violation of Belgian territory brought in Britain, a guarantor of Belgian sovereignty. Over 70 million men were mobilized in the ensuing war, and 10 million were killed. Four empires vanished, and the global center of power shifted from the Old World to the New. An age of aristocracy and traditional forms of government came to an end, and a fervent and fast paced era of democracies, juxtaposed with radical ideologies and totalitarianism, took its place.
1. The Last Minute Personnel Switch That Sank the Titanic
Shortly before the Titanic sailed from Southampton to New York on April 10th, 1912, the liner made a last minute personnel change, and replaced its second officer, David Blair, with the more experienced Charles Lightoller. Unfortunately, Blair never got around to giving, and Lightoller never got around to asking for, the keys to a locker that contained the ship’s binoculars. So on its maiden voyage, the Titanic sailed with lookouts who lacked binoculars. In the days before disaster struck, nobody seems to have reasoned that lookouts might need binoculars. Or if anybody did, nobody decided that the ship’s safety might be worth breaking the lock to get the binoculars. It was a bad cost-benefit analysis, that resulted in tragedy.
A Tragic Mistake Revealed
Around 11:40PM on the night of April 14th, 1912, lookout Frederick Fleet spotted an iceberg in the Titanic‘s path, and alerted the bridge. The officer in charge ordered the engines stopped and the ship steered around the obstacle. However, given the distance to the iceberg when the alarm was sounded, the Titanic’s speed at the time, and the ship’s mass, disaster was inevitable. Basic physics made it impossible for the mammoth ship to maneuver away in time to avoid a collision, so the “unsinkable” Titanic struck the iceberg, and sank. Over 1500 passengers and crewmen lost their lives, making it one of history’s worst peacetime maritime disasters. In the ensuing investigation, lookout Frederick Fleet testified that he would have spotted the iceberg sooner, and the ship would thus have had more reaction time to steer away from a collision, if he’d only had binoculars.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading