Serbian deserves century's top ranking World-shaking assassin deserves nod

January 08, 2000|By GREGORY KANE

BEFORE THE new year gets too old, let's just attend to some traditional year-end business, shall we?

I don't believe in this "end of the century/end of the millennium" nonsense that was bandied about through all of 1999. I would point out, as letter writer Doy Prunty of Baltimore observed, that "the new century and the new millennium will begin at the stroke of midnight on December 31, 2000." Prunty also advised those skeptics who insist on counting quantities -- years, in this case -- by starting with zero instead of one that he would give them 99 cents for every buck they gave him.

But let's just consider the century and millennium over as of right now. Do we really want to go through choosing the athlete of the century, the entertainer of the century and the person of the century all over again?

I would doubt it, especially since all the selections were wrong. The ESPN network -- noting the findings of 48 "experts" -- chose Michael Jordan over Babe Ruth as athlete of the century. It's still debatable if Jordan is even the greatest basketball player of the century. Picking him over the clear choice -- the Babe -- is excusable when you consider that ESPN never said what, exactly, was the area of expertise of those 48 cognitively challenged dimwits.

TV Guide magazine chose Elvis Presley as the "entertainer of the century." Those of us who figured the entertainer of the century was one Francis Albert Sinatra are very perplexed indeed. Sinatra's music and film record should have made him the obvious choice over Elvis. Methinks the folks at TV Guide are in the group that believes Elvis and God are synonymous. Someone should break the truth to them gently.

Time magazine chose physicist Albert Einstein as the "person of the century." At first glance, that would appear a reasonable choice. The guy revolutionized his science and discovered the equation that allowed man to split the atom and unleash the power of nuclear energy. But the person of the century would have to be the one who, for good or ill, had the most impact on the century.

Who was that person? Einstein? Adolf Hitler? Winston Churchill? Franklin Delano Roosevelt? Martin Luther King Jr.?

None of the above. Try Gavrilo Princip. You do remember Gavrilo, don't you?

Never heard of him, you say? Think back to your high school or college world history classes. Is it coming back yet? Think of June 28, 1914. Sarajevo, Bosnia. Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir-presumptive of the Austro-Hungarian empire, and his wife, Sophie, are riding along a parade route when a Serbian nationalist named Vaso Cubrilovic tosses a bomb at their car. It bounces off the archduke's hand and explodes in the street near another car in the procession, injuring a passenger.

Now at this point, you would figure that either the archduke or the people responsible for his security would have hustled him out of Sarajevo to safer environs, wouldn't you? That's because you can think, an area in which the archduke was apparently not adept. The idiot continues to Sarajevo's town hall, makes a speech and then resumes his little joy-ride through the streets.

Another potential assassin, that Gavrilo Princip guy, is still hanging around, itching to literally get his shot at the archduke. Princip jumps on the running board of the archduke's car and pumps two slugs into him and a couple into Sophie. He kills them both. Austria-Hungary declares war on Serbia. Germany comes to the aid of Austria-Hungary. Russia, England and France come to the aid of Serbia. The four-year tragedy known as World War I is on. Thousands die. The map of Europe is redrawn. The Treaty of Versailles makes the defeated Germany a bitter nation. All this, courtesy of Mr. Princip.

But that's not all. Out of the smoke and ashes of World War I rises a corporal in the German army who uses his country's defeat to whip up the nationalism that leads to the rise of the Nazis, the Third Reich and the extermination of 6 million Jews, 400,000 Gypsies and hundreds of thousands of others. Russia's involvement in World War I is one of the factors that leads to the fall of Czar Nicholas II (another idiot) and the rise of Josef Stalin -- who slaughtered millions -- and communism.

Communism spreads to China and Southeast Asia. The persecution of Jews leads to the creation of the state of Israel, which soon finds itself at war with surrounding Arab countries. The Cold War pitting the West against communism leads to the Korean and Vietnam wars and comes close to engulfing the planet in a third world war. So does Israel's struggle for survival in the Middle East. The 1990s close with yet another ethnic war in the Slavic regions. The person of the 20th century is Gavrilo Princip, who messed it up for all of us.

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