The real question of the justice of Austria Hungaria's war against Serbian basically devolves to the old Watergate question - What did the Austrians know, and when did they know it?  Well, as it turns out, they knew a great deal.

What you see, below, is the Browning Model 1910 semi automatic pistol manufactured by Fabrique Nationale in Belgium.  {Observe, the identifying, fancy FN on the top of the grip of the pistol.}  The murderer, Princip, used an identical pistol, serial number 19074, to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.

This is far much more information than almost any PhD bearing historian, writing on the start of the First World War, could or would provide.  Most of those over-paid, over-lettered, ding dongs call this a revolver. - Do you see anything that revolves on this firearm?  It was, in actual fact, a state of the art,magazine fed, semi-automatic pistol.

OK, so the historians can't correctly identify the pistol used in the assassination.  So what does that matter, in the great scheme of things? PLENTY!

Imagine your a police detective, working at your desk in Sarajevo, late Sunday morning, June 28th, 1914.   Your work is interrupted as two Gendarmes, in full dress uniform, burst into the station house, dragging in the dirty, greasy, slimy little rodent of a man, which you see below.  They shove him into the chair before you, and the senior officer slams down the most modern,  most expensive pistol being made in Europe at the moment - the FN 1910.  The Gendarmerie sergeant tells you that the prisoner just shot the Archduke with it.  Over the next few days, five more conspirators are arrested, three more identical pistols are seized, and your evidence room starts to look like a Fabrique Nationale display table at a Paris firearms exposition. As a detective, you note that the serial numbers were almost sequential, 19074, 19075, 19120, and 19126, pointing the dullest person toward the conclusion of a batch purchase of arms by a single, well-funded source.  One question, one singular contradiction, taunts you as a detective, like nothing else could.

Where in the devil did these dirty, shiftless indigent loafers get their hands on four IDENTICAL, EXPENSIVE, batch purchased, brand spanking new, coveted Browning semi-automatics?

Now, you begin to see the import of the pistols.

Gavrilo Princip - Playboy, Financier, Gun Collector and Man About Town {Sarcasm intended}

Fortunately, our friend, above, is the first successful hybrid of a bird and a mammal, being a cross between a rat and a stool pigeon.  True to his avian nature, he started singing a very pretty little tune for the Austrians. Within four days of their arrest, Princip and the grenade thrower, Cabrinovic, had told the Austrians authorities all about their little friends in the Serbian Government.

Both admitted to getting the pistols and 150 Dinars in cash support, in Belgrade, from Major Tankosic of the Serbian Royal Army.  They both said Tankosic introduced them to a Serbian bureaucrat named Milan Ciganovic, who trained them in shooting and who provided the grenades.   Next, Tankosic, pictured below, sent them to another Serbian Army Major, named Popovic, who provided fake identity papers to permit the assassins to cross the border into Austria-Hungary. Finally, a Serbian border guard captain whose name Princip couldn't quite remember, actually smuggled the assassins across the border.  (Who can blame Princip's faulty memory? This dizzy little affair has more Serbian government officials running around in it than the cast members of a Shakespearean tragedy.)

Major Vojislav Tankosić, Royal Serbian Army ( Dirty deeds done dirt cheap )

Now, we could discuss how Tankosic's boss, Colonel Dragutin Dimitrijevic, was the Chief of Military Intelligence for the Serbian Army, and was the man who actually approved the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.  We could mention how Dimitrijevic was the leader of the Black Hand Terrorist organization, to which, all those nice little Serbian officials, listed above, belonged.  We could also discuss how, in 1913, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace described the Black Hand as an secret organ of the Serbian government, not an independent terrorist organization, committing atrocities for the benefit of the Serbian Army - in essence the black operations group of the Serbian government.  

All this is true, but we are limiting ourselves to what the Austrians actually knew in July 1914.  So far, we have the murderers with Serbian Dinar's in the pockets, Serbian grenades and Serbian provided pistols in their hands, and the names of complicit higher ranking Serbian officials on their lips.  You'd think that would be enough........  But wait, we have more!!!!!

Just days before the  assassination of Franz Ferdinand,  the Serbian ambassador to Austria Hungary, Jovan Jovanovic, met with the Austrian Finance Minister, Count Leon Bilinski, in Vienna.  Almost as an afterthought, Bilinski was also the civil governor of Bosnia.  The Serb recommended that the Archduke not travel to Bosnia, because this might stir up unrest.  Jovanovic suggested, purely as a hypothetical example, that a young Serb  might try to shoot the archduke.  If something like that occurred, the ambassador concluded, Serbia could not be held responsible for any resulting complications.  Count Bilinski thanked the fussy Jovanovic for the honor of his visit, all the while secretly regretting the loss of his own time away from the imperial account books.  Surely, the count must have reasoned, if the Serbians knew anything concrete, they would contact the the Austrian Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister,  or even the Kaiser instead of throwing out a vague, misdirected hypotheticals.  Naturally, after the assassination,  this interview was viewed with a great deal of suspicion in Vienna.

Further, we now know that the highest officials in the Serbian government, including Prime Minister Pasic, knew of the assassination plan, and the involvement of Serbian officials,  before it occurred.  Now, you might very well suggest that the Austrians couldn't possibly have known what was being discussed in high government offices in Belgrade.  That would be true, except for one problem. Leaving aside the apparently psychic Ambassador Jovanovic, and the reasonable Austrian skepticism thereof, you have big mouthed Serbian officials to deal with.

Yes, that's right.  Serbian ambassadors in Russia and France were regaling St. Petersburg and gay Paree with the story of how their country had warned the Austrians of the impending assassination.  Those heroic narratives raised valid questions, such as how can you warn someone of an attack, if you have no knowledge of it?  And if the Serbian government had such knowledge, why didn't they communicate a clear warning to the appropriate officials in Vienna?  -Hmmmm. The point of these embarrassing questions was not lost on Belgrade, and within days of the assassination, Prime Minister Pasic flatly denied of the existence of any warning or pre-knowledge of the crime - nice try, but just a bit too late for the critical thinker.

This point was not lost on Vienna.  With evidence mounting and Serbian tongues wagging in foreign capitals, the Austrian Ambassador to Serbia, Baron Giesl, asked the Serbian Foreign Minister Slavko Gruic, for an investigation into the obvious Serbian origins of the crime.  The Serbian reply was an official, abrupt and abject refusal to do so.  The Austrians would repeatedly ask the Serbs to conduct an investigation into the Serbian origins of the assassination over the next ten days.  All these requests were met with refusal and contempt.

So, here is a summary of what the Austrians knew, a week after the assassination.

1. Serb ambassadors in three capitals, {Vienna, Paris and St. Petersburg}, tacitly admitted pre-knowledge of the attack.

2. All of the weapons came from Serbia, and most were manufactured in Serbia, for the exclusive use of the Serbian Government.

3. The assassins implicated, by name, higher Serbian officials in the assassination plot.

4. The Serbian Government absolutely refused to investigate the crime.

Why is this significant? Because all this was known within one week after the assassination, July 5th, 1914.  That is the daywhen the Germans gave the Austrians the now famous, aledgedly "blank check".  I don't know about you, but that little old check looks very well filled in to me, completed, as it was, with Serbian acts of war and flagrant violations of international law.  This will be detailed below.

A contemporary illustration of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand by the Serbian agent Princip

If you have ever read, or, if, in future, you ever read, any "scholarly" book on the subject of Franz Ferdinand's assassination and the July 1914 crisis,  you may absolutely rely upon a certain uniformity in these writings, at least in the English language.  One, the Vasic hand grenades will be called bombs. Two, the Serbian Government provided pistols, courtesy of Major Tankosic, will be inaccurately described, most likely as revolvers.   Three, the standards of international law will never be mentioned, at all, vis a vis Austria Hungary, the assassination, and Serbia.   While I do not necessarily wish to impugn any individual's motives in the last omission, I cannot help but observe that It is much easier to justify cheating if no one is allowed to see the rule book.

Which brings us to the standards of international law in 1914, and to the late, great professor Lawrence Oppenheim. Doctor of Jurisprudence, the Whewell Professor of International Law at Cambridge University, and, by naturalization, a subject of the British Realm.  The second edition of his masterpiece, “International Law, A Treatise”, was published in 1912, and was the latest word in this field of study. (it still is highly regarded, and may be downloaded as a pdf from )

Professor Oppenheim divided his work into small sections, each being a few paragraphs in length. So, I refer the reader to Sections 149 through 164, which is intensely applicable to the Austrian - Serbian Conflict.  To begin with,  in § 151, he provided the reader with a definition of an international delinquency, which is a grave injury committed by the government of one country, against another, through violation of an international legal duty.

Oppenheim, in § 155, stated that is impossible to list all the different intentional delinquencies, and then he provided a few examples, just to prove his point.  A State, in this case, Austria Hungary, may be injured— by an unjustified intervention {in its internal affairs}, a violation of its frontier; or the disrespectful treatment of its leaders.   Well, killing leaders of a neighboring nation would generally qualify as interfering in that country's internal affairs.  Sneaking assassins across a boarder is undeniably a violation of the frontier.  Allowing that shooting a man dead is disrespectful treatment, I think we have a trifecta of intentional delinquencies in the Sarajevo assassination.

Oppenheim then breaks down the responsibility that a nation state bears when an international delinquency occurs.  This is based primarily upon the intent of the government of the country from whence the delinquency eminated.  An original responsibility arises from the intentional action of a government and its agents, and is more serious.   A vicarious responsibility comes from unauthorized injurious acts of a country's citizens or resident aliens.

To repair a vicarious responsibility, a country only has to fix the wrong done, as best as it can, and punish the wrongdoers.   If a country does that, then the matter is generally  considered resolved.  However, if a country, like Serbia, refuses to find and punish the wrong doers, it commits an international delinquency, and its responsibility is upgraded from vicarious to original responsibility.  In simpler terms, if a government refuses to investigate a crime, which originates in its territory and injures another state, it becomes a willful party to that crime, such as, oh, I don't know, maybe – THE ASSASSINATION OF ANOTHER COUNTRY'S LEADERS!

Finally, as if Professor Oppenheim was looking at Serbia, in 1914, through a crystal ball, in § 164 he wrote, “International Law imposes the duty upon every State to prevent as far as possible its own subjects, and such foreign subjects as live within its territory, from committing injurious acts against other States.  A State which either intentionally and maliciously or through culpable negligence does not comply with this duty commits an international delinquency for which it has to bear original responsibility.”  Simply put, Serbia willfully and intentionally violated its duties under international law, and, in the most generous description possible, became an accessory after the fact to the the assassination. 

Professor Oppenheim, as you would expect, provided us with the consequences of the Serbian criminality, obstruction of justice and international delinquency in § 156 of his book.  "The only rule which is unanimously recognized by theory and practice is that out of an international delinquency arises a right for the wronged State to request from the delinquent State the performance of such expiatory acts as are necessary for a reparation of the wrong done.  What kind of acts these are depends upon the special case and the DISCRETION OF THE WRONGED STATE. When the delinquent State refuses reparation of the wrong done, the wronged State can exercise such means as are necessary to enforce an adequate reparation.  In case of international delinquencies committed in time of peace, such means are reprisals (including embargo and pacific blockade) AND WAR as the case may require."   (as you may well guess, the bold facing, italicizing and capitalizing of words are added for effect and are not from Oppenheim's original text.)

For an entire century, Allied apologists have sniveled that the  Austrian terms, which brought the two countries to war, were unreasonable.  This was the Allies flimsy excuse for intervention, in the Austrian Serbian war, which the allies escalated into World War One.   I could spend three days explaining how all this is balderdash, and how  mild the Austrian terms really were.  But, as you have just read, the Austrians, as the injured party, did not have to meet other nations' definitions of reasonable terms.  The terms were up to Austria Hungary's discretion - "the discretion of the wronged state".  They had the right to name such terms, which would expiate the demonstrable, multitudinous wrongs committed by Serbia.  When Serbia rejected its last opportunity to remedy the international delinquencies it had committed, on July 25, 1914, Austria had the absolute, sovereign right to seek remedy by force of arms.

On the next page I will deal with the reasons why the Allies interfered with the Austrian Serbian war.  The take-away from this page, however, is that the Allies had no legal right, whatsoever, to interfere in that war.  Austria Hungary's war against Serbia was legal, justified and nobody else's business.

Please click on one of the two links below to continue. You can go back to the home page or forward to the Allies role in starting World War One.   I only wish to thank you, again, for taking the time to read this webpage.  Please consider liking us, below, as well.

Austrian-Hungarian reservists defending their country - late1914