A Brief History
On July 28, 1914, the Austro-Hungarian Empire declared war on Serbia, starting World War I. When a Serbian nationalist assassinated the Archduke (heir to the throne) of the Austrian empire to protest Austro-Hungarian occupation of Serbian territory, he never could have seen the incredible consequences of the worst war in human history (until World War II). Sometimes assassinations or attempted assassinations result in events unfolding differently than those anticipated by the assassin. Here we list 10 such incidents, in no particular order.
10. Franz Ferdinand, 1914.
As described above, all that was accomplished was the anger Austria-Hungary felt at the murder resulted in ruination of millions of lives, including incredible hardships for plotters’ own people.
9. Reinhard Heydrich, 1942.
One of the most despicable of the Nazi elite, Heydrich was the founder of the SD and was instrumental in orchestrating the Holocaust. The Czech government in exile used British trained partisans to murder Heydrich, something that was hotly debated for the possible consequences (reprisals). Sure enough, the Nazis retaliated, razing the Czech city of Lidice to the ground and killing every man and boy over 16 (184). The women and children (272) were sent to concentration camps, and no let up in the murder of Jews and others was accomplished. During the search for conspirators, another 157 people were murdered and thousands of houses were torn apart when searched for evidence. The little village of Lezaky was also razed to the ground, and all 33 adults (men and women) were killed, the children removed for “aryanization.”
8. Benigno Aquino, Jr, 1983.
Leading the opposition against Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos was a dangerous thing, landing Aquino in jail and exile. Upon his return to the Philippines, Marcos had him killed. This backfired on Marcos, causing Aquino’s widow to get elected president and the exile of Marcos and his wife’s shoe collection.
7. Mohandas K. Ghandi, 1948.
“Mahatma” Ghandi was the champion of non-violent demands for the independence of India, which finally saw success after World War II. A Hindu/Indian assassin thought Ghandi was too accommodating to Muslims and shot Ghandi. Instead of establishing cordial relations between the new nations of India and Pakistan, there has been animosity and even fighting between the 2 nations ever since. In fact, both nations have developed nuclear weapons for the main purpose of using them against each other. Meanwhile, Hindu India lost its greatest hero.
6. Bobby Kennedy, 1968.
Killed by a Palestinian reportedly upset about RFK’s support of Israel, the killing did nothing to curb US support of Israel and resulted in the election of Richard Nixon who provided massive support for Israel during the 1973 Arab-Israeli War. Cracked Historical fact: The assassin, Sirhan Sirhan, is a Christian, not a Muslim.
5. John F. Kennedy, 1963.
This one is a bit tricky since so much controversy exists over the speculated intentions of the assassin or assassins. If the intent was to undermine Kennedy’s anti-communist and anti-Castro policies, that certainly did not work. Lyndon Johnson greatly expanded the war in Viet Nam and no easing of relations with Cuba was forthcoming. If any racial motives were at work, Johnson was an even better friend of civil rights reform than Kennedy.
4. Julius Caesar, 44 BCE.
When Brutus and the other conspirators killed Caesar in order to restore the democracy of the Roman Republic, they got instead civil war, their own deaths, and an Imperial Rome that was led by a succession of dictators instead of a democracy.
3. Adolf Hitler, 1944.
The plot to kill Hitler by German army officers was an attempted coup de etat by German patriots who could clearly see Hitler was bringing Germany toward defeat. The coup would put people in charge of Germany that would more efficiently run the war and perhaps squeeze out some sort of acceptable outcome for Germany. What ended up happening was the attempt failed, the conspirators were executed, Germany losing the services of Erwin Rommel, one of their finest officers. Hitler became even goofier, and led Germany to a faster and more thorough defeat than was likely without the attempt.
2. Harvey Milk & George Moscone, 1978.
Former San Francisco Supervisor Dan White killed Supervisor Milk and Mayor Moscone in a bid to get his job back, and in anger against Milk, an openly gay man. The killings did nothing to help White regain his job, and Diane Feinstein was elevated to Mayor, launching her career into the US Senate where she has been a strident voice for gay rights. The killing of a gay city official has made a martyr of Milk to the cause of gay rights as well.
1. Abraham Lincoln, 1865.
The death of Lincoln at the hand of southern extremist JW Boothe was intended to be a disruption in the US government resulting in a coup. What really happened was that instead of a benevolent Lincoln treating the South with dignity and respect, making every attempt to heal the nation, the nation got a weaker President Johnson that was unable to prevent northern extremists from inflicting a harsh reconstruction upon the South. When Lincoln died, the South lost a friend, not an enemy.
Question for students (and subscribers): What assassinations or attempts would you include? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please read…
King, Greg and Sue Woolmans. The Assassination of the Archduke: Sarajevo 1914 and the Romance That Changed the World. St. Martin’s Press, 2013.