Have you ever been in a situation where things are just chill and okay, and the next thing you knew, a minor thing was blown way out of proportion, and things escalated quickly from zero to 100 real fast? A minor issue is now a national problem. A single text is now a major security threat. Those kinds of things don’t only happen to individuals, as there were instances in history when things had their dramatical twists and turns too.

The Death of One Man Led to a Big Bloody Mess of a World War

The most well-known example of this was no question when Archduke Franz Ferdinand Carl Ludwig Joseph Maria of Austria was assassinated. He was the heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne after the death of Crown Prince Rudolf in 1889. He was set to inherit a multinational empire at a time when unified Germany disturbed Europe’s old “balance of power.” Other countries’ fear of Germany resulted in an entangled thread of alliances of mutual defense, and their anxious peace was but hanging by a thread.

The assassination of Archduke Ferdinand. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

When Archduke Franz and his wife were assassinated in Sarajevo on June 28, 1914, by a Bosnian Serb nationalist, Gevrilo Princip, it was all it took to spark one of the most cataclysmic conflicts in human history. After what happened, Austria-Hungary immediately declared that it would go to war with Serbia, which pulled other countries and empires into the tangle of conflict. A month after the assassination, World War I broke out, with Germany and Russia failing to find a solution to the threat.

A Peaceful Protest Turned Into a Revolution

On January 22, 1905, a radical priest Georgy Apollonovich Gapon led a group of some 150,000 Russian workers, including women and children. They marched to Czar Nicholas II’s Winter Palace in St. Petersburg. They were there to show him a petition that called for a change in Russia, as they believed that Nicholas was not aware of the sufferings they were going through, and he would surely do something once he understood.

Unfortunately, they had chosen the wrong date as Czar Nicholas was not even in St. Petersburg to receive the petition or hear their grievances. Their peaceful protest was instead “welcomed” by the palace guards. By welcomed, we mean open firing on the demonstrations, killing and injuring hundreds, maybe thousands of them.

On the morning of January 9 (at the Narva Gates). Engraving by an unknown artist. (Unknown author, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

The massacre was called “Bloody Sunday.” It sparked riots throughout the country, which paved the way for the Russian Revolution in 1917. Nicholas tried to resolve this by promising the formation of a series of assemblies called Dumas to come up with reform, a promise that never really came true as the regime would prove to be unwilling to change its repressive ways over the next decade.

Tree Maintenance Almost Led to a War

It was August 1976 when the UN Command in Seoul thought that a poplar tree in the joint security area had grown too tall and was obstructing the view between two vital UN guard posts and making it hard for them to protect themselves from North Korean attacks. The UN Command cleared their planned trimming with its North Korean counterpart and began trimming the tree. They had to stop their work due to the rain and returned on August 18. As they continued with their job, 15 North Korean soldiers approached them, led by Lieutenant Pak. Pak ordered them to stop trimming the tree, as it was The Great leader, Kim Il Sung, who planted that tree himself.

The American ignored the lieutenant, and soon, a truck of 20 Korean People’s Army (KPA) troops arrived, all wielding crowbars and clubs. They all assaulted them with their knives and axes with Pak’s order. Two US troops died, First Lieutenant Mark Barrett and U.S. Army Captain Arthur Bonifas. This incident became known as the Korean Axe Murder Incident.

Trimming of the tree. (대한민국 정부, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Four hours after, Kim Jong-Il addressed the Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka. He made it sound like the US troops instigated the melee. The angered President Ford sent a convoy of 23 American and South Korean trucks unannounced into the joint security area just three days after the attack. Each of the trucks had military engineers equipped with chain saws. Circling above were 27 American helicopters carrying both US and South Korean troops. In addition, there were a number of B-52 bombers launched from Guam, plus several dozen US F-4 Phantom II jets and South Korean F-5 and F-86 fighters. Other detachments also gathered near the DMZ, and 41,000 US troops in Korea were on DEFCON 3, the third to the highest state of military readiness. Clearly, they were sending a message.

On the other hand, several hundred North Korean troops were dispatched and poured into the area, setting up their machine guns in position. Upon their arrival, U.S. Lieutenant Colonel Victor Verra radioed dozens of American and South Korean helicopters and fighter jets, and they all appeared on his cue. The KPA stood down with the display of power right before their eyes, and the tree-cutting team started their work. They began sawing the tree where two of their comrades were killed, and UN Command notified the North Koreans that they entered the area “in order to peacefully finish the work left unfinished,” and so they did.

After forty minutes, the poplar tree that cost the lives of two Americans, and was supposedly planted by Kim Il Sung, was reduced to a stump.

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