The Butterfly Effect

If you were to ask a random person who they believed to be the most influential person of the 20th Century, you would probably hear the names: Albert Einstein, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Mahatma Gandhi, or Muhammad Ali, etc. Unless you are a follower of Dan Carlin or you are an avid history junkie, chances are you haven’t heard of Gavrilo Princip. In 1991, Time Magazine compiled a list of the most important people of the 20th Century; a list that includes Adolf Hitler and Bart Simpson, but fails to include Gavrilo Princip. Mike Dash of attributes Gavrilo Princip to, “[setting] off a chain reaction of calamity: two World Wars, 80 million deaths, the Russian Revolution, the rise of Hitler, the atomic bomb…” ( Just how did Princip cause this chain reaction? He shot & killed the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and a month later the First World War began.

If you have heard of Gavrilo Princip, chances are you also have heard that young Gavrilo had just finished eating a sandwich at the local deli on a busy street before he stumbled into the Archduke Ferdinand. The story, as told by Mike Dash, goes (tl:dr below quote)

It is the summer of 1914, and Bosnia has just become part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A handful of young Bosnian-born Serbs decide to strike a blow for the integration of their people into a Greater Serbia by assassinating the heir to the Austrian throne. Their opportunity comes when it is announced that Franz Ferdinand will be making a state visit to the provincial capital, Sarajevo.
Armed with bombs and pistols supplied by Serbian military intelligence, seven conspirators position themselves at intervals along the archduke’s route. The first to strike is Nedeljko Cabrinovic, who lobs a hand grenade toward Franz Ferdinand’s open touring car. But the grenade is an old one, with a 10-second fuse. It bounces off the limo and into the road, where it explodes under the next vehicle in the motorcade. Although several officers in that car are hurt, Franz Ferdinand remains uninjured. To avoid capture, Cabrinovic drains a vial of cyanide and throws himself into a nearby river—but his suicide bid fails. The cyanide is past its sell-by date, and the river is just four inches deep.
The bombing throws the rest of the day’s plans into disarray. The motorcade is abandoned. Franz Ferdinand is hurried off to the town hall, where he is due to meet with state officials. Disconsolate, the remaining assassins disperse, their chance apparently gone. One of them, Gavrilo Princip, heads for Moritz Schiller’s delicatessen, on Franz Joseph Street. It’s one of Sarajevo’s smartest shopping destinations, just a few yards from the bustling through road known as Appel Quay.
As Princip queues to buy a sandwich, Franz Ferdinand is leaving the town hall. When the heir gets back into his limousine, though, he decides on a change of plan—he’ll call at the hospital to visit the men injured in the grenade blast.
There’s just one problem: the archduke’s chauffeur, a stranger to Sarajevo, gets lost. He swings off Appel Quay and into crowded Franz Joseph Street, then drifts to a stop right in front of Schiller’s.
Princip looks up from his lunch to find his target sitting just a few feet away. He pulls his gun. Two shots ring out, and the first kills Franz Ferdinand’s wife, Sophie. The second hits the heir in the neck, severing his jugular vein.
The archduke slumps back, mortally wounded. His security men hustle Princip away. Inside Schiller’s deli, the most important sandwich in the history of the world lies half-eaten on a table

Did you catch that?

(tl:dr) – Gavrilo and his buddies plotted an assassination attempt while the Archduke toured Sarajevo. One of the assassins throws a grenade which blows up the wrong car thus foiling the rest of the plan. The assassins abort the mission and Gavrilo decides to go to the nearest Subway. While Gavrilo is eating his sandwich, the Archduke decides to visit the men injured in the earlier attack. The injured men are at the nearest hospital which just so happens to be located across the street from the Subway that Gavrilo is at. While Gavrilo is brushing the bread crumbs off his hands, who does he see across the street? Lo and behold, there sits the Archduke and his wife waiting to leave the hospital. As destiny would have, Gavrilo takes out his pistol, walks up and shoots both the Archduke and his wife.

A Sandwich started the First World War.

Or did it?

In his article, which you can find a link to it at the bottom, Mike Dash continues to expel that there is in fact no first-hand evidence to corroborate that Gavrilo Princip stopped for a sandwich after the first assassination attempt. Instead, all of the first-hand evidence suggest that he was merely there by coincidence. The earliest source found to contain the sandwich story was from a historical-fiction novel titled, “Twelve Fingers” by Jô Soares published in 2001 (in case you missed it, this novel was fiction, as in made-up). The next time the sandwich detail surfaces is in a historical documentary series produced by the BBC in 2003 titled, “Days that Shook the World”. The producers of this docu-series attest to not being able to produce first-hand evidence that Gavrilo Princip was eating a sandwich before he shot the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. However, nowadays you can find the sandwich version of Gavrilo Princip’s assassination being taught throughout the public education system.

Was it destiny that brought Gavrilo and the Archduke together?

Had Gavrilo not killed the Archduke, would the First World War have ever started? How different would have the past 100 years have looked? Or would it all have been the same? Are there certain events that are inevitable?

This piece is titled “The Butterfly Effect” in reference to the idea that a butterfly could produce a tornado with the flap of its wings. Small acts can have large impacts over time. One sandwich can throw the world powers into an all-out war and over the course of time result in Mankind reaching the Moon. A fictional piece of art can become widely accepted as historical fact.

There are many lessons to be derived here, but I will focus on one for now:

Small acts can have large impacts. Small acts of kindness can bring about change in a person. Small habits today result largely in your success tomorrow.  Knowledge is like compound interest. The information (books, music, TV, etc.) you are putting in your head today will dictate what your life will look like in 5 years.

What kind of information are you putting in your head?

What type of effect do you have on other people around you?



And as always, thank you for reading.




Read more by Mike Dash:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s