World War III

World War III
A nuclear holocaust is often associated with World War III.

World War III (WWIII or Third World War) denotes a successor to World War II (1939–1945) that would be on a global scale, with common speculation that it would be likely nuclear and devastating in nature.

In the wake of World War I, World War II, the commencement of the Cold War and the development, testing and use of nuclear weapons, there was early widespread speculation as to the next global war. This war was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from limited use of atomic weapons, to destruction of the planet.


Historic conflicts as World War III

Some such as Norman Podhoretz in his World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism and historians have suggested that the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought, although by proxy, on a global scale, with the main combatants, the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries providing political, military and economic support while not engaging in direct combat. Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared in the Wall Street Journal, a little more than a month after the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon, that the struggle against terrorism was more than a law-enforcement operation, and would require military conflict beyond the invasion of Afghanistan. Cohen, like Marenches, considered World War III to be history. "A less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV," he wrote. "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map." [1] In a 2006 interview, US President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terror as "World War III" also.[2]

On the July 10 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and said "some are calling the global war on terror something else, something more like World War III." But Ledeen responded that "it's more like World War IV because there was a Cold War, which was certainly a world war." Ledeen added that "probably the start of it [World War IV] was the Iranian revolution of 1979." Similarly, on the May 24 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, host Lawrence Kudlow, discussing a book by former deputy Under-secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, said "World War IV is the terror war, and war with China would be World War V."[3]

Historical close calls

Before the end of the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. In April-May 1945, British Armed Forces developed the Operation Unthinkable, the Third World War plan; its primary goal was "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire."[4] The plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.

With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered possible. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. The Doomsday Clock, which has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947, has also indicated historic World War III close calls. Other potential triggers have included the following:

  • 1948: Berlin Blockade. Soviet military forces stopped all commerce into West Berlin which caused a humanitarian and political crisis. In response, Western allies sent in air lifts to supply West Berlin.
  • 1950 – 1953: Korean War. General MacArthur planned to invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in eastern Asia. He even went as far to state that he would use atomic weapons if needed. For this, President Harry S. Truman fired him.
  • July 26, 1956 – March, 1957: Suez Crisis: The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel. When the USSR threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, the Canadian Ambassador to the UN Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and urged the British and French to withdraw. The Eisenhower administration, also fearing a wider war, applied pressure to the United Kingdom to withdraw, including a threat to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt. Lester B. Pearson later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
  • June 4 – November 9, 1961: Berlin Crisis of 1961
  • October 15 – October 28, 1962: Cuban Missile Crisis: The conflict pitted the United States against an alliance between the USSR and Cuba. The USSR was attempting to place several launch sites in Cuba in response to the United States installation of missiles in Turkey. The United States response included dispersal of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers to civilian airfields around the United States and war games in which the United States Marine Corps landed against a dictator named "ORTSAC" (Castro spelt backwards). For a brief while, the U.S. military went to DEFCON 3, while SAC went to DEFCON 2. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 (piloted by Rudolph Anderson) was shot down over Cuba and another U-2 over the USSR was almost intercepted when it strayed over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights. See also: Vasiliy Arkhipov.
  • October 24, 1973: Yom Kippur War: As the Yom Kippur War was winding down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt's behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.[citation needed]
  • November 9, 1979: False "Soviet First Strike" Alarm: The US made emergency retaliation preparations after NORAD saw on-screen indications that a full-scale Soviet attack had been launched.[5] No attempt was made to use the "red telephone" hotline to clarify the situation with the USSR and it was not until early-warning radar systems confirmed no such launch had taken place that NORAD realized that a computer system test had caused the display errors. A senator inside the NORAD facility at the time described an atmosphere of absolute panic. A GAO investigation led to the construction of an off-site test facility, to prevent similar mistakes.
  • September 26 1983: The Nuclear Early Warning System of the Soviet Union twice reported the launch of American Minuteman ICBMs from bases in the United States. These missile attack warnings were correctly identified as a false alarm by Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov, an officer of the Soviet Air Defence Forces. This decision may have prevented an erroneous retaliatory nuclear attack on the United States and its Western allies.[citation needed] Investigation of the satellite warning system later confirmed that the system had malfunctioned.
  • November 1983: Exercise Able Archer: The USSR mistook a test of NATO's nuclear-release procedures for a NATO attack and subsequently raised its nuclear alert level. It was not until afterwards that the US realized how close it had come to nuclear war. At the time of the exercise the Soviet Politburo was without a healthy functioning head due to the failing health of then leader Yuri Andropov.
  • June 12 – June 26, 1999: Pristina airport standoff: Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo. In response, Gen. Wesley Clark demanded that British General Sir Mike Jackson storm the airport with paratroopers. Jackson refused, saying "I'm not going to start the Third World War for you".[6]

Difficulty in determining a "World War"

The English term "World War" has only seen widespread use during one conflict — World War I. A German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of the war:

There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war the full sense of the word.

Indianapolis Star September 20, 1914[7]

This is the first known instance of the term First World War, which previously had been dated to 1931 for the earliest usage. The term was used again near the end of the war. English journalist Charles A. Repington (1858–1925) wrote:

[Diary entry, September 10, 1918]: We discussed the right name of the war. I said the we called it now The War, but that this could not last. The Napoleonic War was The Great War. To call it The German War was too much flattery for the Boche. I suggested The World War as a shade better title, and finally we mutually agreed to call it The First World War in order to prevent the millennium folk from forgetting that the history of the world was the history of war.

The First World War, 1914–1918 (1920)[7]

This ignored such examples as the Seven Years' War although this was also a war fought by a collection of coalition over the whole world.

It may take years before another major conflict could be arguably recognized as a World War III. It should also be noted that serious wars before and after the first two world wars, even those closely associated with them, are not now treated as part of the larger conflict. These include the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1913 and the Polish-Soviet War from 1919 to 1921, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later China and the Spanish Civil War. Therefore, the specific event where a future World War III begins may only be determined retrospectively.

Popular culture

World War III is also a common theme in popular culture. Who might start World War III and how it might start are perennial topics of discussion in press. A vast apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the postulated execution and aftermath of World War III, several notable movies have been made based on World War III, and it is the topic of various comics, video games, songs, magazines, radio programs, newspapers and billboards.

I do not know with what weapons World War III will be fought with, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.

Albert Einstein[8]

See also


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Bush likens 'war on terror' to WWIII. 06/05/2006. ABC News Online
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff, Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 002 (1945-08-11). "Operation Unthinkable: 'Russia: Threat to Western Civilization'" (online photocopy). Department of History, Northeastern University. Retrieved 2008-06-28. 
  5. ^ CBC Digital Archives (news recording)
  6. ^ "Third World War". BBC News (BBC). Thursday, 9 March, 2000. Retrieved 5 October 2011. 
  7. ^ a b The Yale Book of Quotations (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro
  8. ^ Calaprice, Alice (2005), The new quotable Einstein, Princeton University Press, p. 173, ISBN 0-691-12075-7 

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