Just over a hundred years ago, a car took a wrong turn. It happened to stop just in front of Gavrilo Princip, a would-be assassin. Princip took out his gun and shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife from point blank range. This triggered a chain of events that would soon lead to the Great War. Millions died in the trenches, and the map of Europe was redrawn. In those few breathless minutes, history had taken a different, more sinister turn.
The First World War has been described as the calamity that led to all the other calamities. It was almost certainly the precondition to many of the horrors of the 20th Century. Without World War I, there would have been no World War II, the Holocaust, as well as no Rape of Nanking, and no Hiroshima and Nagasaki… Without it, there probably would have been no Russian Revolution, and therefore no Stalinism and Gulags, perhaps no Maoism and the Great Leap Forward, or the killing fields in Cambodia. And so forth.
Some people dream of being historically significant, of making a difference on a grand scale. For most of us, this is nearly impossible. Few of us have even a real shot at being a historical footnote, or a footnote to such a footnote. Princip was no Napoleon or Hitler, let alone a Mandela or Ghandi. But in that single fatal act, this very ordinary man made a massive difference. He acquired historical significance to a degree he could not have imagined. It is often said that it is easier to destroy than to create.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.