Could World War I Have Been Avoided?

World War I was one of the most catastrophic events in human history. What is also tragic is the notion that if one man had been wearing an extra piece of clothing, millions of lives might have been saved.

If Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had survived, the devastation of World War I might have been avoided.
If Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria had survived, the devastation of World War I might have been avoided.

The war began in the wake of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, on June 28, 1914. Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, were riding in a motorcade in Sarajevo when Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb nationalist, fatally shot the couple in their open-top car. The assassination set in motion a series of declarations of war, leading to the worldwide conflict then known as the Great War.

Recently, though, it has been suggested that a bulletproof silk vest might have saved the Archduke's life. According to researchers at the Royal Armouries in the United Kingdom, Franz Ferdinand was among the many high-ranking figures who owned one of the vests, the brainchild of Polish inventor Casimir Zeglen.

The researchers had replicas of the vests made and fired at them with weapons much like the gun Princip used. According to researcher Lisa Traynor, the results strongly suggest that the Archduke could have survived the shooting.

"I can report that silk does have bullet-stopping capabilities," she said. We may never know why Franz Ferdinand wasn't wearing his vest that day, especially considering that he had been warned that his visit might stir unrest.

Some little-known World War I facts:

  • Hugh Lofting created Doctor Dolittle so that he could write home to his children about something other than the horrors of war.

  • World War I introduced tanks to the battlefield; they were grouped by gender: "male" tanks had cannons, while "female" tanks carried machine guns.

  • Although an armistice was reached on November 11, 1918, fighting continued in some areas of Africa for another two weeks.

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