The Spark of World War I

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The conflicting national interests in western and eastern Europe drove the major countries to form protective coalitions, even with nations that had once been bitter enemies. Smaller countries were forced to choose sides, and by 1914, Europe was separated into two heavily armed camps. Any spark would have been enough to ignite the war everyone expected.

That spark was touched off in Sarajevo, the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina. In an attempt to ease tensions between Austria-Hungary and people in the Balkans, the Austrian Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his wife made a ceremonial trip to Sarajevo.

Ferdinand was in line to be the next emperor of the Austria-Hungarian Empire. The Archduke had made enemies in the neighboring kingdom of Serbia because he once favored the reorganization of the empire to create a third kingdom of Croatia. At the same time, Serbia was attempting to expand its power by bringing all of the ethnic Serbs under its dominion, so it had designs on Croatian territory as well.

As Ferdinand's caravan of open cars made its way through Sarajevo, it was attacked by a group of bomb-throwing terrorists who hoped to assassinate Ferdinand. Their grenade missed the Archduke but killed others in the caravan. Terrified, the Archduke's driver tried to escape by turning the carriage around and racing towards the train depot. In an ironic twist of fait, he got lost and entered a street where nineteen-year-old Gravilo Princip, a young Serbian nationalist, was hiding. Princip was part of the terrorist group, and he quickly realized a second opportunity to kill the Archduke was a hand. He pulled out a pistol and began to fire, hitting Sophie, who had tried to shield her husband. Princip continued to fire and killed the Archduke.

Rulers of Austria-Hungary believed the Serbian government had planned the attack, and they immediately invaded Serbia. This aggressive action prompted a full-scale war that eventually spread throughout Europe, to parts of...
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