Guest Post: The Butterfly Effect and A Killing that Changed The World

Hello everyone. it is nice to have you on the blog again this nice Thursday morning. Today We have a guest post on the blog and it is from Olufola Ige. who contributed this piece on society and religion to the blog back in 2015 . Today he is sharing a short research piece on the butterfly effect and an event that changed the world. read enjoy and learn from it.

The Butterfly Effect is a term used in Chaos theory to describe how small changes to a seemingly unrelated thing or condition can affect large, complex systems. The term comes from the suggestion that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in South America could affect the weather in Europe, meaning that the tiniest influence on one part of a system can have a huge effect on another part.

The concept of the butterfly effect is attributed to Edward Norton Lorenz, a mathematician and meteorologist, who was one of the first proponents of Chaos theory.

This write-up tries to examine an example of  butterfly effect on the world war and current world politics. Let us begin with the major players.

Franz Ferdinand’s life is a story of fortuitous coincidences right till fortune deserted him at the very end. He was born in Austria to the younger brother of the then emperor Franz Joseph and was thus not in the direct line of succession. However, in 1889, his cousin and the Crown Prince, Rudolf, committed suicide leaving the emperor’s younger brother (Franz Ferdinand’s father) next in line to the throne. When his father died of typhoid fever in 1896, Franz Ferdinand became the prince and heir to the throne.

Sophie Chotek. Duchess of Hohenberg. You probably have not heard much about her.

She was the woman that the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the Austro-Hungarian empire, fell in love with She wasn’t royalty. She was a “mere Duchess”.

As a young man, Franz Ferdinand had met her at a ball in Prague but was forbidden to marry her as she was not a member of one of the reigning dynasties of Europe. Sophie and Prince Franz stayed in touch through letters and their relationship blossomed, away from the eyes of the court. Deeply in love, Franz Ferdinand refused to marry anyone else and after numerous appeals from him and his royal friends (Tsar Nicholas II of Russia, German emperor Wilhelm II and Pope Leo XIII all appealed his case), Emperor Franz Joseph finally permitted the prince to marry Sophie. He however imposed a condition that the marriage would be morganatic and that their children would have no succession rights to the throne. Sophie was further forbidden from sharing her husband’s rank, title, precedence or privileges and could normally not appear in public with him. Despite these brutal restrictions, the two married in 1900 and stayed together for the rest of their lives- even though it was not as long as they had hoped.

Gavrilo Princip was a Serb born in a family of serfs at a time when Serbia was in a state of tumultuous transition. In 1878, under the Treaty of Berlin, Austria-Hungary received the mandate to occupy and administer Bosnia while the Ottoman Empire retained official sovereignty. As part of the same treaty, Serbia was accorded the status of a sovereign state which soon transformed into a kingdom under Prince Obrenovic who ruled within the borders set by the treaty. However, this peaceful state of existence changed when as part of a military coup, the king and the queen of Serbia were violently murdered and Peter I was installed as the new king. This new dynasty was friendlier to Russia than to Austria-Hungary and over the next decade, disputes erupted as Serbia made strategic military moves to reclaim its former fourteenth century empire. Serbia’s military successes in these campaigns emboldened its nationalistic elements and the Serbs in Austria-Hungary who were irked by the Austro-Hungarian rule.

After the Balkan wars in 1912-1913 the Austro-Hungarian administration in Bosnia and Herzegovina became extremely Serbophobic and declared a state of emergency as the governor closed many schools and Serb societies and inflamed the historic anti-Serb rhetoric. These hostilities further fueled the young Princip as he left Sarajevo and arrived in Belgrade. He then volunteered to join Serbian Guerrilla bands fighting under the leadership of Major Vojin Tankosic, who was a member of a leading Serbian terrorist organisation of the times: The Black Hand. Three rebellious young men, including Gavrilo Princip at the age of 19, were thus trained, armed and tasked with the assassination of Prince Archduke Ferdinand of Austria-Hungary by Major Tankosic


The Main Event

In 1913, in the midst of the rising crisis in Serbia, Emperor Franz Joseph commanded the Archduke to observe military manoeuvres that were scheduled for June 1914 in Bosnia. June was also a time of great unrest in Serbia as it commemorated the fateful 1389 Battle of Kosovo against the Ottomans when the Sultan was assassinated by a Serb. This was a time for Serbian patriotism and military observances. Duchess Sophie could never share the Archduke’s rank and splendours, but she would not let him travel alone (there are several opinions why). On the fateful morning of June 28, 1914, fourteen years to the day since their wedding, the Archduke and his wife arrived in Sarajevo by train and the entire motorcade including the governor of Sarajevo began its journey as per a pre-announced program.

Six armed assassins including Princip were positioned along the route with a single target in mind: Austria’s heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand. When the first two assassins along the route failed to act, the third assassin, Nedeljko Cabrinovic, who was armed with a bomb decided to take immediate action. He threw his bomb but unfortunately the bomb bounced off the Archduke’s convertible and exploded under the next car in the motorcade causing a major furore as 16-20 people were wounded. Cabrinovic then swallowed his cyanide pill and jumped into the nearby river to evade the police. Unfortunately for him, the river was running dry and only six inches deep, and the cyanide did not quite work (no one is sure why). He was thus captured and severely beaten. At that point, a massive disaster seemed to have been averted – or so they thought. The motorcade sped away to arrive at the town hall for the scheduled reception where the Archduke understandably complained about the reception accorded to him.”

After the commotion of the explosion and the rally, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie gave up their planned program and decided to visit the wounded from the bombing at the nearby hospital. The remaining assassins had all dispersed to avoid capture as the plot was indeed didn’t work. The Archduke and the Duchess boarded the motorcade which had been given general orders that the royal car be taken to the hospital through a route that avoids the city centre. However, the driver of this motorcade, Leopold Lojka did not get the revised order and took a wrong turn into the now eponymously named Franz Josef Street.

Coincidentally enough, after the failed assassination attempt, Gavrilo Princip had wandered into a nearby food shop – Schiller’s Delicatessen, which happened to be on the exact same street. The driver, upon being told about the changed route was trying to reverse the car when the engine stalled and the gears locked giving the young Princip a completely unexpected opportunity. He took it to the fullest. 

Princip stepped forward and fired two shots from a distance of about five feet and killed both the Archduke and the Duchess.

Princip and the other assassins were caught and imprisoned for high treason. He received the sentence of twenty years in prison where he contracted tuberculosis and died on 28 April 1918 (when the First World War that was triggered by his actions was finally coming to a close).

World War and Balance of Power

Austria demanded an unconditional apology from Serbia and was determined to humiliate her.

Serbia considered the assassination to be awful but had no real official hand in it. So she refused to apologize.

Austria then declared war on Serbia.

Russia as Serbia’s biggest ally, then declared war on Austria.

Germany then as Austria’s ally declared war on Russia.

France and England then as Russia’s allies declared war on Germany.

It is imperative to note here that except for Austria declaring war on tiny Serbia (which she never imagined would spiral completely out of hand in such spectacular fashion!)…

I must be clear here that all of these other declarations of war between these nations weren’t “choices” — they were bound by security treaties to come to the rescue of each other in the event of an aggression against their allies.

England, France and Russia on the one hand as the Triple Entente, Germany and Austria-Hungary on the other as the Central Powers.

That chain reaction that led to the First World War.

The First World War led to the bloodier Second World War.

And the rest, as they say is history.

This singular day and the events surrounding it is arguably one of the greatest instances of the “butterfly effect” in all of history.


Boeing, G. (2016). “Visual Analysis of Nonlinear Dynamical Systems: Chaos, Fractals, Self-Similarity and the Limits of Prediction”. Systems. 4 (4): 37

Brook-Shepherd, Gordon (1987). Royal Sunset: The European Dynasties and the Great War. Doubleday.

 Marshall, S.L.A. (2001). World War I. Mariner Books.

 Keegan, John (2000). The First World War. Vintage.

Olufola Ige, is a pharmacist and Public Analyst based in Nigeria, he is also a Youth Program Director at Rotary International. You can reach him via email at  also follow him on twitter @folamanboy


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