Today In History, On June 28th, 1914, The World Went Mad

June 28th is St. Vitus’ Day, and the anniversary of the Battle of Kosovo, where in a hard-fought battle the medieval Serbian monarchy lost against the rising power of the Ottoman Empire. The battle itself was not as decisive as it is often claimed to be [1], except that it was a culmination of battles that had occurred in a time where Serbia was divided and where the kingdom did not have enough demographic strength to recover losses as easily. At the time of the battle, the Serbs used the Julian calendar, which showed the date of the battle as June 15th. It was only when the Serbs adopted the Gregorian calendar that the date of the battle itself became associated with June 28th (as it would have been on June 23rd had the Gregorian calendar been in use in 1389) [2].

In the centuries that followed the Battle of Kosovo, the stories of sacrifice and revenge and betrayal would have a strong influence on the mentality of the Serbian people, leading to a particularly grim worldview that glorified futile but brave behavior and also blamed losses on treachery from within. The historical importance of the Battle of Kosovo (one of at least four important battles fought there between 1369, when Serbia’s empire first began to fragment, and 1448, when Ottoman control over the region was secured in a victory against Hungary and its allies) far outweighs its narrow tactical inconclusiveness. In several ways, not least of which is the determination of Serbia to attempt to hold on to control of the area of Kosovo despite being a small minority in a majority-Albanian area, this battle still has a massive influence over regional (and world history).

Never was this more true than in 1914. For a variety of complicated reasons, Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand saw it necessary to go to Sarejevo to provide a warning to Serbia about Austrian desires to integrate Bosnia-Herzegovina into its territory and reject Serbian desires for rule over the South Slavs, choosing the attendance of war exercises as a way to deter Serbian efforts at aggression. Unfortunately, the heir to the Habsburg throne was himself very ill-advised in that no one apparently told him about the importance of that particular day to the Serbs or how provocative it was that an anti-Serb imperialist would choose that particular day to act against Serbia. Since he was a rather stubborn sort of man, I imagine that he might not have paid attention to any such warnings [3], but to have deliberately courted trouble would have been immensely foolhardy.

As a matter of historical record, elements of the Serbian military intelligence community, which were at odds with the civilian government and its desire for peace, had several assassins who sought to kill Franz Ferdinand on June 28th, 1914. One of them managed to succeed, Gavirlo Princip, who along with a variety of other conspirators was tried and convicted of the assassination later in 1914. Those responsible for planning the outrages were themselves tried and killed through a trial in Salonika in 1917 [4] as a result of secret talks between Serbia and Austria-Hungary. In the short term, the mission was a success, as Serbia provoked a war with Austria-Hungary and ended up achieving its goals of domination over the rest of South Slavs, until its own mistreatment led to the collapse of that rule in 1991 and thereafter. In the larger sphere, the deed itself was a disaster, leading to the charnel house that Europe became in World War I and II.

It is noteworthy that the weaknesses of the Austro-Hungarian Empire itself led to the delay between the assassination of Franz Ferdinand and the start of war. Austria-Hungary was split between two dysfunctional halves that required a great deal of time to coordinate a response [5], losing the moral momentum it had gained as a result of the horror of a heavily monarchical Europe at the political assassination of royals. Serbia’s acceptance of almost all of the terms of a stiff July ultimatum also increased the sympathy that the world had for Serbia, making Austria-Hungary appear like a bully. Serbia, as events would show, was no kinder to its constituent peoples than the Habsburg Empire was to its South Slavs, but this would not be immediately evident to the whole world. With Serbia having an ally in Russia and Austria-Hungary depending on a stronger German Empire, each action taken by one side to further its interests led to larger repercussions that sprang wildly out of control until the world was at war [6]. And that war was not ultimately decisive, except in ending the monarchies of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia, leading to another war within a generation to deal with those nations unhappy about the verdict of the first war, a war which led immediately into a lengthy and tense Cold War thanks to the insecurities of a victorious but bloodied Soviet Union, whose collapse in the decisive defeat of Communism opened up yet again the desires of minority people in various poorly governed states to be free (some, like Montenegro, whose statehood process was orderly and democratic, and some, like neighboring Kosovo, which has been much more contentious). The world has not gone sane yet, as we still are haunted by Balkan ghosts even today.

[1] See, for example:


[3] As he was warned of trouble even by Serbia’s civilian government. See, for example:

Albertini, Luigi (2005). Origins of the War of 1914. New York: Enigma Books. p. 100-101.

[4] See, for example:

MacKenzie, David (1995). Black Hand on Trial: Salonika 1917. Eastern European Monographs

[5] See, for example:

[6] Some of these consequences and repercussions were as follows:

Austria-Hungary and Germany sought to counteract the rise of Serbia by allying with Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire, both of which sought to reverse their recent defeats to Serbia and Greece, who were strongly allied with Russia and Great Britain, respectively. Russia was allied to France and the United Kingdom. Germany’s initial attack on France led it to invade Belgium, which led to the involvement of the United Kingdom, leading Germany to be blockaded by sea. Germany’s vulnerability by sea led to the use of submarine warfare and the German search to neutralize the United States by seeking allies in Mexico. As a result, the United States was provoked to support Britain and France. In addition, Italy and Romania were brought into the war on the side of the Allies as a result of promises for land gains against Austria-Hungary, while Japan joined the war to pursue its private aims of imperial gains against Germany in Oceania.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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4 Responses to Today In History, On June 28th, 1914, The World Went Mad

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