06/30/2014 06:18 pm ET Updated Aug 30, 2014

When, Ever, Is a Murderer Anything but a Murderer

A hundred years ago last Saturday, World War I was ignited by a murder. Actually, two murders. Today, the murderer is being celebrated in parts of the former Yugoslavia, notably by a seven-foot statue in Lukavica, a suburb of Sarajevo, the scene of the crime: a testimony to the special kind of fanaticism that lurks in the Balkans.

It can be argued that the Austro-Hungarian Empire had no right in 1907 to annex the province of Bosnia-Herzegovina and its capital, Sarajevo. It was bound to provoke resentment, particularly among the Serbian part of the population.

Seven years later, a young Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, a few months short of 20 years old, stepped alongside the motorcar carrying Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, and fired two shots, killing them both. The dying Archduke implored his wife to stay alive and take care of their children. Gallant gesture on the part of the incautious Franz Ferdinand, whose visiting motorcade had been the object of an attack earlier that day.

Princip, under 20 years of age, could not by law be executed but spent the rest of his life in prison until his death in 1918.

Austria-Hungary was not at war with Serbia -- not yet -- and there was no justification for the killings. And no cause for celebration today.