World war

A world war is "a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world".[1] The term is usually reserved to two major international conflicts that occurred during the 20th century: World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945). However, a variety of global conflicts have been subjectively deemed "world wars", such as the Cold War and the War on Terror.



The Oxford English Dictionary cited the first known usage in the English language to a Scottish newspaper, The People's Journal, in 1848: "A war among the great powers is now necessarily a world-war." The term "world war" is used by Karl Marx and his associate, Friedrich Engels,[2] in a series of articles published around 1850 called The Class Struggles in France. Rasmus B. Anderson in 1889 described an episode in Teutonic mythology as a "world war" (Swedish: världskrig), justifying this description by a line in an Old Norse epic poem, "Völuspá: folcvig fyrst I heimi" ("The first great war in the world".)[3] German writer August Wilhelm Otto Niemann had used the term "world war" in the title of his anti-British novel, Der Weltkrieg: Deutsche Träume (The World War: German Dreams) in 1904, published in English as The Coming Conquest of England.

The term "first world war" was first used in September 1914 by German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel, who claimed that "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",[4] citing a wire service report in The Indianapolis Star on 20 September 1914. In English, the term "First World War" had been used by Charles à Court Repington, as a title for his memoirs (published in 1920); he had noted his discussion on the matter with a Major Johnstone of Harvard University in his diary entry of September 10, 1918.[5]

The term "World War I" was coined by Time magazine on page 28b of its June 12, 1939 issue. In the same article, on page 32, the term "World War II" was first used speculatively to describe the upcoming war. The first use for the actual war came in its issue of September 11, 1939.[6] One week earlier, on September 4, the day after France and the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, the Danish newspaper Kristeligt Dagblad used the term on its front page, saying "The Second World War broke out yesterday at 11 a.m."[7]

Speculative fiction authors had been noting the concept of a Second World War in 1919 and 1920, when Milo Hastings wrote his dystopian novel, City of Endless Night.

Other languages have also adopted the "world war" terminology, for example; in French: "world war" is translated as guerre mondiale, in German: Weltkrieg (which, prior to the war, had been used in the more abstract meaning of a global conflict), in Italian: guerra mondiale, in Spanish and Portuguese: guerra mundial, in Danish and Norwegian: verdenskrig, and in Russian: мировая война (mirovaya voyna.)

First World War

World War I occurred from 1914 to 1918. In terms of human technological history, the scale of World War I was enabled by the technological advances of the second industrial revolution and the resulting globalization that allowed global power projection and mass production of military hardware. It had been recognized that the complex system of opposing military alliances (the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires against the British, Russian, and French Empires) was likely, if war broke out, to lead to a worldwide conflict. That caused a very minute conflict between two countries to have the potential to set off a domino effect of alliances, triggering a world war. The fact that the powers involved had large overseas empires virtually guaranteed that such a war would be worldwide, as the colonies' resources would be a crucial strategic factor. The same strategic considerations also ensured that the combatants would strike at each other's colonies, thus spreading the wars far more widely than those of pre-Columbian times.

War crimes were perpetrated in World War I. Chemical weapons were used in the war despite the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 having outlawed the use of such weapons in warfare. The Ottoman Empire was responsible for the Armenian genocide, the murder of more than 1,000,000 Armenians during the First World War, as well as the other late Ottoman genocides.

Second World War

The Second World War occurred from 1939 to 1945 and is the only conflict in which nuclear weapons have been used; both Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in the Japanese Empire, were devastated by atomic bombs dropped by the United States. Nazi Germany, led by Adolf Hitler, was responsible for genocides, most notably the Holocaust, the killing of about 6,000,000 Jews and 11,000,000 others persecuted by the Nazis, including Romani people and homosexuals.[8] The United States, the Soviet Union, and Canada deported and interned minority groups within their own borders and, largely because of the conflict, many ethnic Germans were later expelled from Eastern Europe. Japan was responsible for attacking neutral nations without a declaration of war, such as the attack on Pearl Harbor. It is also known for its brutal treatment and killing of Allied prisoners of war and the inhabitants of Asia. It also used Asians as forced laborers and was responsible for the Nanking massacre in which 250,000 civilians were brutally murdered by Japanese troops. Noncombatants suffered at least as badly as or worse than combatants, and the distinction between combatants and noncombatants was often blurred by the belligerents of total war in both conflicts.[9]

The outcome of the war 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, their fall was caused by the defeat of imperial powers. The United States became firmly established as the dominant global superpower, along with its ideological foe, the Soviet Union, in close competition. The two superpowers exerted political influence over most of the world's nation-states for decades after the end of the Second World War. The modern international security, economic, and diplomatic system was created in the aftermath of the wars.[10]

Institutions such as the United Nations were established to collectivize international affairs, with the explicit goal of preventing another outbreak of general war. The wars had also greatly changed the course of daily life. Technologies developed during wartime had a profound effect on peacetime life as well, such as by advances in jet aircraft, penicillin, nuclear energy, and electronic computers.[11]

Third World War

Since the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki during the Second World War, there has been a widespread and prolonged fear of a potential Third World War between nuclear-armed powers. The Third World War is generally considered a successor to the Second World War[12] and it is often suggested to become a nuclear war at some point during the said Third World War, devastating in its nature and likely much more violent than both the First and Second World Wars; in 1947, Albert Einstein commented that "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."[13][14] It has been anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities and it has also been explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts have ranged from purely-conventional scenarios to the limited use of nuclear weapons, to the destruction of the planet's surface.

Other global conflicts

Various former government officials, politicians, authors, and military leaders (including James Woolsey,[15] Alexandre de Marenches,[16] Eliot Cohen,[17] and Subcomandante Marcos[18]) have attempted to apply the labels of the "Third World War" and the "Fourth World War" to various past and present global wars since the end of the Second World War, such as the Cold War and the War on Terror respectively. Among these are former American, French, and Mexican government officials, military leaders, politicians, and authors. Despite their efforts, none of the wars have commonly been deemed world wars.

Wars which have been described as "World War Zero" by some historians include the Seven Years' War[19] and the onset of the Late Bronze Age collapse.[20]

The Second Congo War (1998–2003) involved nine nations and led to ongoing low-intensity warfare despite an official peace and the first democratic elections in 2006. It has often been referred to as "Africa's World War".[21] During the early-21st century the Syrian Civil War and the Iraqi Civil War and their worldwide spillovers are sometimes described as proxy wars waged between the United States and Russia,[22][23][24][25] which led some commentators to characterize the situation as a "proto-world war" with nearly a dozen countries embroiled in two overlapping conflicts.[26]

Wars spanning multiple continents

There have been numerous wars spanning two or more continents throughout history, including:

Estimated death tolls
Event Lowest
Location From To Duration (years)
Late Bronze Age collapse Egypt, Anatolia, Syria, Canaan, Cyprus, Greece, Mesopotamia 1200s BCE 1150s BCE 40–50
Greco-Persian Wars Greece, Thrace, Aegean Islands, Asia Minor, Cyprus, Egypt 499 BCE 449 BCE 50
Peloponnesian War Greece, Asia Minor, Sicily 431 BCE 404 BCE 27
Wars of Alexander the Great Thrace, Illyria, Greece, Asia Minor, Syria, Babylonia, Persia, Afghanistan, Sogdiana, India 335 BCE 323 BCE 12
Wars of the Diadochi Macedon, Greece, Thrace, Anatolia, Levant, Egypt, Babylonia, Persia 322 BCE 275 BCE 47
First Punic War 285,000
[citation needed]
400,000[27] Mediterranean Sea, Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa 264 BCE 241 BCE 23
Second Punic War 616,000
[citation needed]
770,000[27] Italy, Sicily, Hispania, Cisalpine Gaul, Transalpine Gaul, North Africa, Greece 218 BCE 201 BCE 17
Roman–Seleucid War Greece, Asia Minor 192 BCE 188 BCE 4
Roman–Persian Wars Mesopotamia, Syria, Levant, Egypt, Transcaucasus, Atropatene, Asia Minor, Balkans 92 BCE 628 CE 721
First Mithridatic War Asia Minor, Achaea, Aegean Sea 89 BCE 85 BCE 4
Great Roman Civil War Hispania, Italy, Greece, Illyria, Egypt, Africa 49 BCE 45 BCE 4
Byzantine–Sassanid wars Caucasus, Asia Minor, Egypt, Levant, Mesopotamia 502 CE 628 CE 126
Muslim conquests Mesopotamia, Caucasus, Persia, Levant, The Maghreb, Anatolia, Iberia, Gaul, Khorasan, Sindh, Transoxania 622 1258 636
Arab–Byzantine wars Levant, Syria, Egypt, North Africa, Anatolia, Crete, Sicily, Italy 629 1050 421
Crusades 1,000,000[28] 3,000,000[29] Iberian peninsula, Near East, Anatolia, the Levant, Egypt. 1095 1291 197
Mongol conquests 30,000,000[30] 40,000,000[27] Eurasia 1206 1324 118
Byzantine–Ottoman Wars Asia Minor, Balkans 1265 1479 214
European colonization of the Americas 2,000,000[31] 100,000,000[32] Americas 1492 1900 408
Ottoman–Habsburg wars Hungary, Mediterranean, Balkans, North Africa, Malta 1526 1791 265
First Anglo-Spanish War Atlantic Ocean, English Channel, Low Countries, Spain, Spanish Main, Portugal, Cornwall, Ireland, Americas, Azores, Canary islands 1585 1604 19
Dutch–Portuguese War Atlantic Ocean, Brazil, West Africa, Southern Africa, Indian Ocean, India, East Indies, Indochina, China 1602 1663 61
Thirty Years' War 3,000,000 11,500,000 Europe, mainly present-day Germany 1618 1648 30
Second Anglo-Spanish War Caribbean, Spain, Canary Islands, Spanish Netherlands 1654 1660 6
Nine Years' War Europe, Ireland, Scotland, North America, South America, Asia 1688 1697 9
War of the Spanish Succession
Europe, North America, South America 1701 1714 13
War of the Quadruple Alliance Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, North America 1718 1720 2
Third Anglo-Spanish War Spain, Panama 1727 1729 2
War of the Austrian Succession
Europe, North America, India 1740 1748 8
Seven Years' War
1,500,000[27] Europe, North America, South America, Africa, Asia 1754 1763 9
American Revolutionary War North America, Gibraltar, Balearic Islands, India, Africa, Caribbean Sea, Atlantic Ocean, Indian Ocean 1775 1784 8
French Revolutionary Wars
Europe, Egypt, Middle East, Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, Indian Ocean 1792 1802 9
Napoleonic Wars
[citation needed]
7,000,000[33] Europe, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea, North Sea, Río de la Plata, French Guiana, West Indies, Indian Ocean, North America, South Caucasus 1803 1815 13
Crimean War 255,000[34] 1,000,000[35] Sicily, Sardinia, Spain, Southeastern Europe, Black Sea 1853 1856 3
World War I
15,000,000[36] 65,000,000[37] Global 1914 1918 4
World War II
40,000,000[38] 85,000,000[39] Global 1939 1945 6
Cold War
10,800,000 25,000,000 Global 1947 1991 44
War on Terror
272,000[40] 1,260,000
Global 2001 present 20

See also


  1. ^ Webster, Merriam-. "World War" . Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  2. ^ Engels, Frederick. "Introduction to Borkheim" .
  3. ^ Rasmus Björn Anderson (translator: Viktor Rydberg), Teutonic Mythology, vol. 1, p. 139 , London: S. Sonnenschein & Co., 1889 OCLC 626839 .
  4. ^ Shapiro & Epstein 2006, p. 329. sfn error: no target: CITEREFShapiroEpstein2006 (help)
  5. ^ The First World War Quite Interesting Ltd. Encyclopedia. Downloaded Feb. 11, 2017
  6. ^ "Grey Friday: TIME Reports on World War II Beginning" . TIME. September 11, 1939. Retrieved 20 October 2014. World War II began last week at 5:20 a. m. (Polish time) Friday, September 1, when a German bombing plane dropped a projectile on Puck, fishing village and airbase in the armpit of the Hel Peninsula.
  7. ^ "Den anden Verdenskrig udbrød i Gaar Middags Kl. 11", Kristeligt Dagblad, September 4, 1939, Extra edition.
  8. ^ "Documenting Numbers of Victims of the Holocaust and Nazi Persecution" . Retrieved 2020-09-05.
  9. ^ "World War" . Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  10. ^ "World War" . Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  11. ^ "World War" . Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  12. ^ "The Today Network - 3/11/17( The November Issue)" . Retrieved 11 November 2019.
  13. ^ Calaprice, Alice (2005). The new quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press. p. 173. ISBN 978-0-691-12075-1.
  14. ^ "The culture of Einstein" . NBC News. 2005-04-19. Retrieved 2012-08-24.
  15. ^ "World War IV" . 2002. Retrieved 2010-02-04.Woolsey claims victory in WWIII, start of WWIV
  16. ^ Andelman, Professor David; Marenches, Comte Alexandre de; Marenches, Count De; Andelman, David (1992). The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage ... ISBN 0688092187.Book regarding alleged WWIV
  17. ^ "World War IV: Let's call this conflict what it is" . 2001. Retrieved 2010-02-04.Why war on terrorism should be called WWIV
  18. ^ Subcomandante Marcos (2001). "The Fourth World War Has Begun" . Nepantla: Views from South. 2 (3): 559–572. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  19. ^ "Why the first world war wasn't really" . The Economist. 2014-07-01.
  20. ^ "World War Zero brought down mystery civilisation of 'sea people'" . New Scientist.
  21. ^ Prunier, Gerard (2014). Africa's World War: Congo, the Rwandan Genocide, and the Making of a Continental Catastrophe . Barnes & Noble. ISBN 9780195374209. Retrieved 20 October 2014.
  22. ^ Anne Barnard and Karen Shoumali (12 October 2015). "U.S. Weaponry Is Turning Syria Into Proxy War With Russia" . The New York Times. Retrieved 14 October 2015.
  23. ^ Martin Pengelly (4 October 2015). "John McCain says US is engaged in proxy war with Russia in Syria" . The Guardian. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  24. ^ Holly Yan and Mark Morgenstein (13 October 2015). "U.S., Russia escalate involvement in Syria" . CNN. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  25. ^ Taub, Amanda (1 October 2015). ""The Russians have made a serious mistake": how Putin's Syria gambit will backfire" . Vox. Retrieved 17 October 2015.
  26. ^ "Untangling the Overlapping Conflicts in the Syrian War" . The New York Times. 18 October 2015. Retrieved 19 October 2015.
  27. ^ a b c d White, Matthew (2012). The Great Big Book of Horrible Things: The Definitive Chronicle of History's 100 Worst Atrocities. W. W. Norton. pp. 529–530. ISBN 978-0-393-08192-3.
  28. ^ John Shertzer Hittell, "A Brief History of Culture" (1874) p.137: "In the two centuries of this warfare one million persons had been slain..." cited by White
  29. ^ Robertson, John M., "A Short History of Christianity" (1902) p.278. Cited by White
  30. ^ The Cambridge History of China: Alien regimes and border states, 907–1368, 1994, p.622, cited by White
  31. ^ Rummel, R.J. Death by Government, Chapter 3: Pre-Twentieth Century Democide
  32. ^ Stannard, David E. (1993). American Holocaust: The Conquest of the New World. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 11 . ISBN 978-0-19-508557-0. In the 1940s and 1950s conventional wisdom held that the population of the entire hemisphere in 1492 was little more than 8,000,000—with fewer than 1,000,000 people living in the region north of present-day Mexico. Today, few serious students of the subject would put the hemispheric figure at less than 75,000,000 to 100,000,000 (with approximately 8,000,000 to 12,000,000 north of Mexico).
  33. ^ Charles Esdaile "Napoleon's Wars: An International History".
  34. ^ Bodart, Gaston (1916). Westergaard, Harald (ed.). Losses of Life in Modern Wars: Austria-Hungary; France . Clarendon Press. p. 142 .
  35. ^ Edgerton, Robert (1999). Death or Glory: The Legacy of the Crimean War . Boulder, CO: Westview Press. p. 5 . ISBN 978-0-8133-3789-0.
  36. ^ Willmott 2003, p. 307 harvnb error: no target: CITEREFWillmott2003 (help)
  37. ^ "Emerging Infectious Diseases journal - CDC" .
  38. ^ Wallechinsky, David (1996-09-01). David Wallechinskys 20th Century: History With the Boring Parts Left Out. Little Brown. ISBN 978-0-316-92056-8.
  39. ^ Fink, George: Stress of War, Conflict and Disaster
  40. ^ a b "Human costs of war: Direct war death in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan October 2001 – February 2013" (PDF). Costs of War. February 2013. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 April 2013. Retrieved 14 June 2013.
  41. ^ "Update on Iraqi Casualty Data" Archived 2008-02-01 at the Wayback Machine by Opinion Research Business. January 2008.
  42. ^ "Revised Casualty Analysis. New Analysis 'Confirms' 1 Million+ Iraq Casualties" Archived 2009-02-19 at the Wayback Machine. January 28, 2008. Opinion Research Business. Word Viewer for.doc files .

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