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Why People Want to Believe in Gavrilo Princip’s Sandwich

Recently, I posted a link on Google Plus, about a widely-held belief that Gavrilo Princip was eating a sandwich when he killed Archduke Franz Ferdinand. This, of course, was the trigger that set off the First World War, and all the suffering that brought about. The blog post that I linked to debunked the myth, and the author has attempted to find the original source, which appears to be a novel by a Brazilian TV host. The post is very interesting, and well worth a read.

I wasn’t at all sure how I felt about this. It seemed to trivialise a truly earth-shattering event, and I couldn’t understand why people felt the need to focus on the coincidence of the Archduke’s car happening to stop where Princip was having his lunch.

Last night, I mentioned this to my wife, and she came up with what seems like a very plausible theory. People have difficulty relating to the event, because they have nothing in common with Princip. People find it hard to empathise with a murderer, and the fact that the act had such incredible consequences makes it even harder to relate. Everyone, however, can relate to eating a sandwich. It’s something we all do, so it gives people something in common with Princip, some tiny little thing that they can relate to, and that makes the whole story easier to take in.

The sandwich is a minor detail, and perhaps it doesn’t matter if such minor wrong details are taught. If the sandwich was just an interesting aside, maybe it wouldn’t matter. The problem is that it takes on a great deal of importance when the story is told in such a way that suggests that Princip’s mythical sandwich led to him being in the right place at the right time to fire the fateful shot. If the wider context which meant that a war was likely sooner or later is ignored, and the assassination is held to be the sole event that led to the First World War, then the problem is confounded. Suddenly a major war (and all the events that can be said to have happened as a result of that war) happens just because one man ate a sandwich. If that were true, all well and good, but it isn’t, and so many people get a completely wrong understanding of the events that led to a major war where millions died.

Published inFirst World WarHistoryMyth