The Man Who Started WWI; Gavrilo Princip, Photographed In Prison, 1914

April 20, 2021

Who started WWI?

The saying, “History is written by the victors,” illustrates the vagaries of truth about the past. The story of Gavrilo Princip, the Serbian national who shot and killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand, exemplifies the importance of perspective and how there’s rarely one truth. For many years, the inception of World War I was blamed upon a single lone assassin, Gavrilo Princip, who lit the powder keg by assassinating the Austrian Archduke. However, as is often the case, the truth of World War I’s genesis goes far beyond a single shooter and involves complicated geopolitics.

The fact that Serbia minted a coin with his face and the city of Belgrade raised a statue honoring Princip proves that at least one country sees history in a different light. So what’s the truth about Gravilo Princip, the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and the beginning of World War I? Was he a terrorist assassin, or a proud nationalist fighting against oppression in his country?

A Good Student In Troubled Times

Gavrilo Princip and the Young Bosnia movement that accidentally started World War I. (reddit)

Gavrilo Princip, by all accounts, flourished in school, leaving his destitute and sickly family at an early age to earn an education. Tim Butcher, a longtime correspondent for The Daily Telegraph, wrote a book about Princip and delved into his past. “Gavrilo Princip was a clever boy, a talented child. You see these report cards, they're amazing: A, A, A, really superlative performance in the first year — and then they begin to dip ... truancy through the roof, an obedient boy to begin with, but he is a slow-burn revolutionary, you could see it in the school reports alone.”