The Sandwich that Killed One Hundred Million People

The worst damage one would expect a sandwich to cause is a mild case of food poisoning. It is almost unimaginable that one chicken sandwich in Sarajevo was responsible for the deaths of a hundred million people.

Before we get to the sandwich we have to travel back a little way. In summer 1878 the leading statesmen of the European Great Powers and the Ottoman Empire met in Berlin and agreed that “The provinces of Bosnia and Herzegovina shall be occupied by Austria-Hungary”. The treaty didn’t really work. Skipping forward thirty years Serbia, a rising power came to loggerheads with Austro Hungary over Bosnia and Herzegovina and Britain had to step in to intervene in the Bosnian Crisis. The Bosnian Crisis was resolved in 1909 only for two wars to break out in the region between 1912 and 1913.

At the end of the fighting Austro Hungary remained in control of Bosnia and Herzegovina, but many segments of the population were in favour of Serbian influence over Austro Hungarian. Danilo Ilić was one such man. Ilić was leader of the Serbian terrorist organisation the Black Hand in Sarajevo. The organisation was eager to carry out an act of terrorism against Austro Hungary that would revive the revolutionary spirit of Bosnia. All they needed was a target.

When the heir to the Austro Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, announced a visit to Sarajevo he became the perfect target. For months Ilić and the Black Hand plotted the assassination. It failed. Spectacularly. The plan was simple, throw a bomb at the Archduke as he drove by. Just to make sure it succeeded three assassins were placed along the route. The first one did nothing. The second also did nothing. Whether, the streets were too crowded, they didn’t see the car or they just chickened out we will never know.  The third assassin though got things right, almost. He threw his bomb at Franz Ferdinand’s car as it approached. The bomb bounced off the back of the Archduke’s car and exploded underneath another car. Although twenty people were hurt Franz Ferdinand was unscathed. The assassin meanwhile tried to avoid capture y committing suicide. He took a cyanide pill and jumped into the river Miljacka. The pill was gone off and only induced vomiting and as it was the middle of the summer the river was only three inches five inches deep. He was arrested on the spot.

After the failed assassination one of the Black Hand, Gavrilo Princip felt a bit down and decided to pop out for lunch. He visited Schiller’s delicatessen, a local food shop near the Black Hand HQ. When he got inside he bought himself a chicken sandwich. If he had not felt the need to buy that sandwich a hundred million lives would have been saved. Princip stepped out the door of Schiller’s delicatessen and was surprised to see Archduke Franz Ferdinand driving passed. The Archduke was visiting the injured in hospital and the driver took a wrong turn passed the Black Hand’s favourite lunch time stop. Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand dead.

Shortly afterwards the Austro Hungarian Empire lay the blame with Serbia and with the aid of Germany declared war on Serbia. Russia and France came to Serbia’s aid and for some reason Britain did too and Italy joined with Germany. In the following four years, over sixteen million people died in The First World War. Sixteen million would be bad enough but it is not a far jump to say the root cause of the Second World War was the first one. Between 1939 and 1945 nearly eighty million people lost their lives.

One cannot help but wonder how many of those lives could have been saved if Gavrilo Princip had not wanted a chicken sandwich?

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