In the wake of the Rome and Vienna massacres, it seems only right to mention Gavrilo Princip, who once plunged much of the world into war. He was the youth who, after first having botched an attempt to kill Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Austro- Hungarian empire, later stumbled upon the royal motorcade quite by accident. He fired twice, killing the archduke with a shot to the chest and his plump wife, Sophie, with one to the abdomen. It was June 28, 1914, and World War I had begun.

In the pantheon of terrorist incidents, that one must stand out. Within a month, all of Europe was at war, and by 1917 so, too, was the United States. Nine million combatants died in that war, governments and dynasties toppled (the Russian czar's for one) and both fascism and communism crawled out of the muck of the trenches to grab Europe by the throat. Princip, now the name of a square in the Yugoslavian city of Sarajevo, was some shot.

Of course, the war Princip triggered was waiting to happen. Conditions were right for it. Everyone knows that now; not everyone knew it then. In fact, it was the escalating retaliation for that single terrorist incident that soon got out of hand -- one nation calling the bluff of another, and no one having the wit to back down. We are still dealing with the consequences.

History is too perverse ever to repeat itself exactly. But the situation in the world today, particularly in the Middle East, has some of the same elements that prevailed in 1914. The important nations of the globe are bound to one another by a series of alliances and friendships. They, in turn, are wedded to people and organizations over which they have no control. In the Middle East, the Soviet Union -- obnoxious and unprincipled -- supports anyone with the four-or five- word vocabulary necessary to denounce Israel. It even goes so far as to arm Muammar Qaddafi, the whacko leader of Libya.

The United States, while in better company, is not a lot better off. It now waits to see what its friend-cum-client, Israel, will do in retaliation for the airport massacres. Will it once again attempt to punish Palestinians in Lebanon, even though they might have nothing to do with the terrorist acts? Will that mean taking out the Syrian surface-to-air missiles in the Eastern Bekaa? Will that mean conflict with Syria and, by extension, with its patron, Russia? It is hard to say and harder to know. In 1982 Israel's punishment of the PLO amounted to a war in Lebanon from which it only recently extricated itself.

The game could get out of hand. We wait on the actions of Palestinian crazies (sincere or not, what does it matter?) and, sometimes, Israeli zealots such as Ariel Sharon. More responsible men now guide the Israeli government and its army, but they are men with their own agendas and needs -- their own security concerns. Nevertheless, the United States is hostage to that.

The obligation of all governments is to ensure that terrorists, whatever their cause, do not get their way. The Soviet Union in its support of terrorist groups -- and, until its own diplomats were kidnapped in Lebanon, its refusal to condemn them -- has not helped matters. And the United States, by joining with Israel to exclude the Soviet Union from the Middle East peace process, gives Russia no role in an area where its importance is obvious. As the Israelis are beginning to recognize, if it takes the Soviets to arm the Syrians, it takes the Soviets to restrain them. Put another chair at the table.

The airport massacres are ominous acts. Like the purportedly original plan of the Achille Lauro hijackers (to sail as tourists to an Israeli port and there to kill as many people as possible), they seem to be suicide missions. The zest for martydom, up to now a Shiite phenomenon, seems to have infected some Palestinians, especially youths raised stateless in refugee camps. The threat to world peace, always great, is now greater.

Gavrilo Princip was proof that terrorism matters, that its consquences can be more horrible than the horrible acts themselves. He serves to remind us that retribution, no matter how effective or deserved, can amount to nothing more than an escalation and perpetuation of violence. History laughs at Big Powers and their deluded belief that they can control events. Once again, the sane think they can control the mad. Princip didn't know much, but he knew better.