World war

World war

A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars have spanned several continents, and lasted for many years. History has shown that as a world war progresses, involved nations devote more and more of their resources to the conflict, resulting in ever-escalating destruction. World wars have resulted in unparalleled devastation. Almost every nation involved has suffered deeply, and the loss of life can only be estimated.

The term has usually been applied to two conflicts of unprecedented scale that occurred during the 20th century: World War I (1914–1918), and World War II (1939–1945).

Origins of the term

The term "World War" was coined speculatively in the early 20th century, some years before the first World War broke out, probably as a literal translation of the German word 'Weltkrieg' [ [ Online Etymology Dictionary entry for World War] ] German writer August Wilhelm Otto Niemann (see German entry) had used the word in the title of his anti-British novel "Der Weltkrieg: Deutsche Träume" ("The World War: A German dream") as early as 1904, published in English as "The coming conquest of England". The "Oxford English Dictionary" cites the first known usage in the English language as being in April 1909, in the pages of the "Westminster Gazette".

It was recognized that the complex system of opposing alliances — the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and Italy "vs." the French Third Republic, the Russian Empire, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland was likely to lead to a global conflict in the event of war breaking out. The fact that the powers involved had large overseas empires virtually guaranteed that a conflict would be global, as the colonies' resources would be a crucial strategic factor. The same strategic considerations also ensured that the combatants would strike at each others' colonies, thus spreading the fighting far more widely than in the pre-colonial era.

Before 1939, the European war of 1914–1918 was usually called either the World War or the Great War. Only after the start of hostilities in 1939 did the World War become commonly known as the First World War (or, initially, 'The First Great War'). This is easily observed today when visiting the numerous First World War monuments and memorials to be found throughout the world. Such memorials, most of which were constructed in the 1920s plainly refer to the "World War" or "Great War". Occasionally, a contemporary marker will indicate 1919 as the year the war ended (e.g., "The World War, 1914–1919") which refers to the date of the Treaty of Versailles as the official end of the war rather than the Armistice in 1918 which in effect ended the actual hostilities.

The specific term "First World War" was actually coined "during" the war. German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of the war:

cquote|There is no doubt that the course and character of the feared "European War"...will become the first world war in the full sense of the word."Indianapolis Star" September 20, 1914 ["The Yale Book of Quotations" (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro ]

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 wrote:

cquote| ["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)" [ "The Yale Book of Quotations" (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro ]

In 1933, Simon & Schuster published a photographic history of the war, edited by playwright and war veteran Laurence Stallings, with the title "The First World War". A feature-length documentary film, also written by Stallings and titled "The First World War", was released in November 1934.

Three months before World War II began in Europe, "Time" magazine first used the term "World War I" in its issue of June 12, 1939, when comparing the last war with the upcoming war. ["War Machines", "Time", June 12, 1939.]

The term "Second World War" was coined in the 1920s. In 1928, US Secretary of State Frank B. Kellogg advocated his treaty "for the renunciation of war" (known as the Kellogg-Briand Pact) as being a "practical guarantee against a second world war". The term came into widespread use as soon as the war began in 1939. "Time" magazine introduced the term "World War II" in the same article of June 12, 1939, in which it introduced "World War I," three months before the start of the second war.

Other languages have also adopted the "World War" terminology; for instance, in French, the two World Wars are the "Guerres Mondiales"; in German, the "Erste und Zweite Weltkrieg" (World War I was only known or commonly recognized in public as "der Weltkrieg" in Germany when it was over, while priorly the word was rather used in the more abstract meaning of "a global conflict"); in Russian the "мировые войны" ("miroviye voyni"); in Spanish the "Guerra Mundial" and so on.

Earlier worldwide conflicts

Other examples suitable to be classified as world wars in terms of their intercontinental and intercultural scope were the Mongol Invasions leading to the Mongol Empire, which spanned Eurasia from China, Japan, and Korea to Persia, Mesopotamia, the Balkans, Hungary and Russia, and the Dutch-Portuguese War from the 1580s to the 1650s, which was fought throughout the Atlantic, Brazil, West Africa, Southern Africa, the Indian Ocean, Malaysia, India and Indonesia.Other wars in earlier periods that saw conflict across the world have been considered world wars by some:
*the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1713)
*Seven Years' War (1756–1763); Winston Churchill called it "the first world war" in "A History of the English-Speaking Peoples"
*the French Revolutionary Wars (1792–1802) and the Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815).

These, however, were confined to the European powers and their colonial empires and offshoots. The Asian powers were not involved (counting in this instance the Ottoman Empire as a European power).

Prior to the late 19th century, the concept of a world war would not have had much meaning. The Asian powers of India, China and Japan did not act outside their own territory. India was an early target of the creation of trade colonies due to its strategic importance on the maritime equivalent of the Silk Road to the East Indies and China while both China and Japan were able to remain mostly isolationist until the 19th century. The European conflicts of earlier centuries were essentially quarrels between powers which took place in fairly limited, though sometimes far-flung, theaters of conflict.

Where native inhabitants of other continents were involved, they generally participated as local auxiliaries rather than as allies of equal status, fighting in multiple theaters. For instance, in Britain's wars against France, Native Americans assisted both European powers on their own ground rather than being shipped to continental Europe to serve as allied troops there. By contrast, during the World Wars, millions of troops from Africa, Asia, North America and Australasia served alongside the colonial powers in Europe and other theatres of war.

Characteristics of the World Wars

The two World Wars of the 20th century took place on every populated continent on Earth. Many of the nations who fought in the First World War also fought in the Second, although not always on the same sides. Some historians have characterized the World Wars as a single "European civil war" spanning the period 1914–1945Fact|date=April 2008, though this is arguably an oversimplification. It also overlooks the war in the Far East caused by Japan's programme of territorial expansion, which started independently of events in Europe.

The World Wars were made possible, above all else, by a combination of fast communications (such as the telegraph and radio) and fast transportation (the steam ship and railroad). This enabled military action to be coordinated rapidly over a very wide area and permitted troops to be transported quickly in large numbers on a global scale.

Effects of the World Wars

The two World Wars of the 20th century caused unprecedented casualties and destruction across the theaters of conflict. The numbers killed in the wars are estimated at between 60 and 100 million people. Unlike in most previous conflicts, civilians suffered as badly as or worse than soldiers, and the distinction between combatants and civilians was often erased.The outcome of the World Wars had a profound effect on the course of world history. The old European empires collapsed or were dismantled as a direct result of the wars' crushing costs and in some cases the defeats of imperial powers. The modern international security, economic and diplomatic system was created in the aftermath of the wars. Institutions such as NATO, the United Nations and the European Union were established to "collectivise" international affairs, with the explicit aim of preventing another outbreak of general war. The wars also greatly changed the course of daily life. Technologies developed during wartime had a profound effect on peacetime life as well—for instance, jet aircraft, penicillin, nuclear energy, and electronic computers.

Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, there has been a widespread and prolonged fear of a Third World War between nuclear-armed superpowers. The fact that this has not come to pass has been attributed by many to the devastating and essentially unwinnable nature of nuclear warfare, with the end result being the extermination of human life or, at the very least, the collapse of civilization.

When asked what kind of weapons would be used to fight World War III, the physicist Albert Einstein replied: [cite web|url=|title=How Einstein changed culture|date=2005-04-18|publisher=MSNBC]

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

Subsequent world wars

Some groups define "world war" to include other far-reaching multi-national conflicts, such as the Cold War or current War on Terrorism. The Project for the New American Century holds both views, calling the Cold War "World War III" and the War on Terrorism "World War IV" ; this was also agreed by Jean Baudrillard and Andrew J. Bacevich. However, these characterizations have attracted little support and have not been agreed upon by the majority of historians.

War on Terrorism as a world war

The term "World War IV" is occasionally used in the United States political and policy debates that continue in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks. As long ago as 1992, Count de Marenches, the former head of French intelligence, wrote a book [ISBN 978-0688092184] alleging that a "fourth world war", of terrorism versus civilization, was taking place. As a designation for the post-9/11 war on terrorism, its use was first proposed by Eliot A. Cohen in his opinion piece written for the "Wall Street Journal" opinion page on November 20, 2001 titled, "World War IV: Let's call this conflict what it is." A core quotation from his thesis is

:The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multimillion-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map. The analogy with the Cold War does, however, suggest some key features of that conflict: that it is, in fact, global; that it will involve a mixture of violent and nonviolent efforts; that it will require mobilization of skill, expertise and resources, if not of vast numbers of soldiers; that it may go on for a long time; and that it has ideological roots.

On November 16, 2002, James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, gave a speech at Restoration Weekend, sponsored by the [ Center for the Study of Popular Culture] , titled "World War IV",R. James Woolsey. [ "World War IV"] ., 2002-11-22. Accessed 2008-05-01.] in which he outlines the entire rationale for fighting World War IV. In the most provocative portion of his speech, he says

:But, I would say this. Both to the terrorists and to the pathological predators such as Saddam Hussein and to the autocrats as well, the barbarics, the Saudi royal family. They have to realize that now for the fourth time in 100 years, we've been awakened and this country is on the march. We didn't choose this fight, but we're in it. And being on the march, there's only one way we're going to be able to win it. It's the way we won World War I fighting for Wilson's 14 points. The way we won World War II fighting for Churchill's and Roosevelt's Atlantic Charter and the way we won World War III fighting for the noble ideas I think best expressed by President Reagan, but also very importantly at the beginning by President Truman, that this was not a war of us against them. It was not a war of countries. It was a war of freedom against tyranny. We have to convince the people of the Middle East that we are on their side, as we convinced Lech Wałęsa and Václav Havel and Andrei Sakharov that we were on their side.

Cohen was one of the first publicly to single out Iraq as the second battlefield after Afghanistan in his version of World War IV. On December 23, 2001 he then wrote in the "Wall Street Journal," "War with Iraq will have its perils. Some are likely to be illusory: the Arab 'street,' for example, which never quite rises as promised. Others may be quite real, to include the use of chemical and biological weapons. Should the U.S. fail to take the challenge, sooner or later it is sure to find Iraqi terror on its doorstep. It may have already. Should the U.S. rise to the occasion, however, it may begin a transformation of the Middle East that could provide many benefits to the populations of an unfree region. That will, in the end, make us infinitely more secure at home." [Eliot A. Cohen. [ "Iraq Can't Resist Us"] ., December 23, 2001. Accessed May 1, 2008.]

Following Cohen's lead, Norman Podhoretz wrote an article for "Commentary" magazine titled, "How to win World War IV" (Norman Podhoretz) in February, 2002. Podhoretz was not as certain as Cohen about specific tactics: "Yet whether or not Iraq becomes the second front in the war against terrorism, one thing is certain: there can be no victory in this war if it ends with Saddam Hussein still in power." He agrees fully with Cohen's overall thesis, though: "In my opinion, by raising the possibility of a transformation of the Middle East, Cohen cuts to the heart of the matter. The real enemy in this war, Cohen argues -- as Daniel Pipes has also so persistently and authoritatively done at greater length -- is not the generalized abstraction 'terrorism,' but rather 'militant Islam.'"

A documentary film titled "World War IV: A Letter! to the President" was released in 2007 by former Governor George Bush's Governor's Circle member, Don A. Craven Jr. The film is a conservative critique of the strategic wisdom of the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, and suggests that the war could escalate, and historically be viewed as the opening salvo of "World War IV", rather than stabilizing the region--a principal casus belli justifying the invasion.

Another faction of conservatives, led by Newt Gingrich, do not consider the Cold War a world war, preferring to call the War on Terrorism the third world war rather than the fourth.

Competition between financial powers as a world war

Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation asserts that the Fourth World War is being conducted "between major financial centres" over the world's resources. Like Cohen, he sees the Cold War as World War III. [ [ "The fourth world war has begun", Le Monde diplomatique, september 1997] ]


ee also

*World War I
*World War II
*World War III
*Total war

External links

* [ Transcript of PNAC members James Woolsey, William Bennet, and Paul Bremer discussing fellow PNAC-member Elliot Cohen's WWII and WWIV terminology as used by PNAC and people in positions of influence and power in the USA]
* [ The Project for the New American Century, many of whose members are in positions of power and influence in the USA]
* [ This is the Fourth World War] , an interview with philosopher Jean Baudrillard
* [ “World War IV: How It Started, What It Means, and Why We Have to Win” by Norman Podhoretz in "Commentary" magazine, September 2004]
* [ Understanding World War 4 and the War of Terror]
* [ The Fourth World War] (movie)
* [ World War 4 Report] (website)
* [ "World War IV: A Letter to the President"] (movie)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • World War II —    World War II, often known as the Second World War, began on 1 September 1939 when Nazi Germany invaded Poland. However, it had its roots in the situation in Europe after Germany’s defeat in 1918 and the Versailles peace settlement. The desire… …   Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era

  • World War Z — World War Z: Une histoire orale de la guerre des zombies (abrégé WWZ) est un roman de Max Brooks publié en 2006 (2009 en France). Bien qu étant dans la lignée de son précédent livre, Guide de survie en territoire zombie, World War Z est plus… …   Wikipédia en Français

  • world war — attested by 1898 as a speculation. If through fear of entangling alliances the United States should return the Philippines to Spain, Mr. Page asserted that the predatory nations would swoop down upon them and a world war would result. [ New York… …   Etymology dictionary

  • world war — n a war involving many of the countries of the world ▪ fears of another world war ▪ Churchill was prime minister during the Second World War. ▪ the years after World War I …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • world war — ♦♦♦ world wars N VAR A world war is a war that involves countries all over the world. Many senior citizens have been though two world wars... At the end of the second world war he was working as a docker... There is a risk of world war …   English dictionary

  • World War — Éditeur Storm8 Date de sortie iPhone : 20 mai 2009 Genre Stratégie temps réel Mode de jeu Massivement multijoueur Plate forme iOS, Android Langue …   Wikipédia en Français

  • World War II — also the Second World War (1939 45) a war involving almost every major country in the world. On one side were the Allies (including the UK, France, and Poland, and after 1941 the US and the Soviet Union) and on the other side the Axis (including… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • World War I — also the First World War (1914 1918) a war in Europe fought between France, the UK and its ↑empire, Russia, and the US on one side ( the Allies ), and Germany, Austria Hungary, and Turkey on the other side. The war started as a result of the… …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • world war — noun count a war that is fought between many countries from different parts of the world …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • world war — world′ war′ n. a war that involves most of the principal nations of the world • Etymology: 1910–15 …   From formal English to slang

  • world war — ► NOUN ▪ a war involving many large nations in all different parts of the world, especially the wars of 1914 18 and 1939 45 …   English terms dictionary

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”