History illustrates how big wars start small

It was the second shot heard round the world, but the report from this one would reverberate across the globe in just 30 days.

In June of 1914, Bosnia, recently annexed by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, seethed with resentment and sedition. On June 28, with good intentions but poor timing, the heir-apparent to the Habsburg throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, visited Bosnia's capital, Sarajevo, to inspect his imperial troops.

Neighboring Serbia had long fomented anti-empire fervor among extremists in the Balkans, including a troubled Bosnian teenager named Gavrilo Princip, who harbored quixotic fantasies of assassination and martyrdom. Goaded by a Serbian terrorist organization to slay the archduke, Princip seized his opportunity on the afternoon of the royal visit, when Franz Ferdinand and his wife were touring Sarajevo in an open motorcar. Two bullets from Princip's pistol ended their lives.

For the next four weeks, what might have remained a regional disturbance ballooned into a world crisis as one after another the great powers of Europe delivered ultimatums they could not recall. And so on July 28, 1914, the Great War began. It lasted four terrible years and cost millions of lives and unthinkable suffering.

In recalling June 28, 1914, let us not minimize the incipient danger of flare-ups in "unimportant" corners of the world.

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