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Defining the "World wars" after WW2

GAP

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The division seems to be a major event with a different focus.
After WWII the major event that started to define WWIII was the Korean War, the major event that defined WW IV was the Trade Towers.
 

Red 6

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I think the events of the Cold War may someday be summed up as World War III, but the jury will have to remain out on that one. In regard to the current War on Terror being categorized as World War IV, it's too early to make that call. Whether it's a world war or not is debatable.
 

GAP

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Red 6 said:
I think the events of the Cold War may someday be summed up as World War III, but the jury will have to remain out on that one. In regard to the current War on Terror being categorized as World War IV, it's too early to make that call. Whether it's a world war or not is debatable.

It might very well be define as The Religious Wars. The opposing forces are for the main part split along secular lines.
 

Red 6

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I'm not sure I'd agree with that. It seems to me the true split is claoked in religion, but it's more to do with power, or lack thereof.
 

George Wallace

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Red 6 said:
I think the events of the Cold War may someday be summed up as World War III, but the jury will have to remain out on that one. In regard to the current War on Terror being categorized as World War IV, it's too early to make that call. Whether it's a world war or not is debatable.

Well, we are dealing with it on more than four continents and sub-continents.  We are dealing with the WoT here at home, in Europe, in Africa, in Sri Lanka, in Indonesia, in Australia.....It is covering quite a bit of the globe.  How much further must we go, before we do classify it as a World War?

I would characterize it as being more of a "Western" versus "Archaic Middle Eastern" cultural war of philosophies, than outright "Religious".
 

Michael Dorosh

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Red 6 said:
I think the events of the Cold War may someday be summed up as World War III, but the jury will have to remain out on that one. In regard to the current War on Terror being categorized as World War IV, it's too early to make that call. Whether it's a world war or not is debatable.

Summing up the events of the Cold War as "World War III" does not serve historians well; it's only being done by those in the present with a vested interest in obtaining more money for defence spending, soldiers included. In other words, it's political spin - the same spin that would use the term "World War" for the war on terror - which does not seem to be characterized by any kind of international co-ordination on the scale of either of the true world wars. Churchill sending tanks to a Communist murderer like Stalin spells a special kind of co-ordination much different than the POTUS begging impoverished militaries to join a "Coalition of the Willing."

There were plenty of small wars and even wars by proxy (Spanish Civil War, anyone?) in the 1920s and 1930s, lest we forget, and they are not defined as a "world war".

Historians don't need to justify world danger to get money for themselves.
 

Red 6

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All well said, which is why it may have to be left to the future for the exact definitions of the large-scale conflicts of our own era.
 

Michael Dorosh

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Red 6 said:
All well said, which is why it may have to be left to the future for the exact definitions of the large-scale conflicts of our own era.

The point made here about the Great War and the Second World War being defined as one conflict is apt, and some - perhaps many - historians are already transitioning towards that school of thought. I don't like it, but that's purely personal opinion. A soldier who fought in both World Wars might agree; a soldier born after 1919 who joined up to fight Hitler in 1939 might likely interpret it differently.

So who should "matter" more - those who are living it, or those who seek to define it years later? Whose objectives are "truer"?

Perhaps to answer that we have to answer the question: why define it at all?  For a historian, it is to provide common nomenclature, ease of understanding, and indirectly make it more likely to generate interest in specific topics (and even sell more books, from a purely capitalist standpoint).  For those living it, some of the same reasons - common understanding and generating interest for self-serving motives as well.  Which isn't to denigrate those with self-serving motives, as we all have them.  Historians live or die by selling books and soldiers live or die by convincing fat and happy civilians to give up health care, new roads and tax money to buy weaponry and pay wages for not just warfighters but the garrison-bound soldiers who outnumber them.

It comes down to integrating individual matters of opinion into widely held beliefs. I have an easier time believing that a conflict that included massive co-operation via Lend-Lease, Lease-Lend, regular conferences (and co-operation) of the leaders of the three largest powers on Earth (representing satellite nations probably including what - 60% of the world's population?) is fitting of the title "world war" than a series of what are in comparison conflicts of minor importance.  In 1944, every man, woman and child in Britain and Canada was dutifully collecting "saucepans for Spitfires", undergoing (as Farley Mowat put it) "the horrors of sugar rationing" and dedicated to a national program of conservation all intended for a war effort that was part of their daily lives.  Most Canadians today have no idea their nation is fighting a war, much less a world war.

So if it does, as  I've just suggested, come down to integrating individual matters of opinion into widely held beliefs, I suspect the majority of opinion - at least in those countries where civilians really do get to be fat and happy - would be "war? what war?"

In other words - a world war involves more than just armies. A Canada in which a few thousands troops are in harm's way while the rest of the country doesn't even see them on the news is not fighting a world war. War is sacrifice, and from what I can tell, Canadians apart from those few thousands on the front line (and their families) are (knowingly) doing blessed little of that right now.

Edited to include the families of our soldiers.  Also to add: amajoor's definition of World War III and World War IV doesn't hold water, in my opinion, if the component of national participation is added. Even those workers building AVGPs for General Motors or at the Peerless Garment Company making bush caps and combat pants were not "sacrificing", as they feely elected to go into those jobs, and did so I am guessing more for the money and less for the feeling of participation in a national imperative than Rosie the Riveter or Canada's Bren Gun Girls felt.

How many Canadians directly participated in the Cold War? Aside from a tiny Regular Force (who I think are to be respected as much as if not more than wartime vets, as there was little imperative for them to put on what in the 1970s was an unpopular uniform, not just because they were ugly but because of Vietnam and popular opinion) and Reserve Force augmentees (and even Army Cadets going over for REFORGER), how much "national effort" was there behind Canadian participation?

How much national effort went into even Vietnam (didn't the National Guard laugh off the whole war)? All these little wars being fought by the superpowers were done with professional standing armies, and the majority of people back home didn't have to lift a finger. The Soviet population suffered, but that was by design of the entire economy, not their individual desire to help the fighting men at the "front" of the so called WW III.
 

GAP

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George Wallace said:
Well, we are dealing with it on more than four continents and sub-continents.  We are dealing with the WoT here at home, in Europe, in Africa, in Sri Lanka, in Indonesia, in Australia.....It is covering quite a bit of the globe.  How much further must we go, before we do classify it as a World War?
I would characterize it as being more of a "Western" versus "Archaic Middle Eastern" cultural war of philosophies, than outright "Religious".

I would agree with you, if I thought for one minute, the media and the public gobbling the pap, would not condense it down to a headline. The media know quite well the motivations and history behind the Islamic revisionists little war, but that does not sell. It is the headline that sells, and NOTHING sell like sex and religion.
 

Michael OLeary

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Perhaps the defining feature of a “world war” level of conflict is not the degree and intensity of combat, but rather the scope of its cultural effect on the involved nations.

I do not think any would deny that most nations in the world were involved in the First and Second World Wars at a level reaching far deeper than simple provision of military forces.  Effects on national economies, rationing of supplies of food and other basic raw materials widely affecting life style, the focus of media coverage both in intensity and “spin”, and the degree of formative effect on national programs and objectives.  While certainly not the same in each nation in the same ways, it would appear that these Wars had a material and emotional effect on each household.

Similarly, in the “Cold War”, similar effects might be measured.  From the pervasive early fears of “the Bomb”, to schoolchildren learning to hide from the flash and blast, even to the widespread acceptance of MAD (Dr. Strangelove anyone?) and how one might as well ignore the possibility and go on living even as the celebrated Space Age paralleled equally effective refinements in WMD.

Does the WOT meet the same criteria, I believe it could be shown to be so.  But, it is early days; will it have the staying power of the Cold War?  That remains to be seen, and re-examined by historians of later decades.


"First World War"
"Second World War"
"The Cold War"
"War on Terror"

These have become defining terms tying together global events on grand scales.  Do we really need to be labeling the latter as “World Wars”?  Are we arguing semantics or interpretation of events?  What advantage comes with that designation?

 

GAP

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Michael O'Leary said:
These have become defining terms tying together global events on grand scales.  Do we really need to be labeling the latter as “World Wars”?  Are we arguing semantics or interpretation of events?  What advantage comes with that designation?

we arguing semantics
 

Michael Dorosh

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Michael O'Leary said:
Perhaps the defining feature of a “world war” level of conflict is not the degree and intensity of combat, but rather the scope of its cultural effect on the involved nations.

I do not think any would deny that most nations in the world were involved in the First and Second World Wars at a level reaching far deeper than simple provision of military forces.  Effects on national economies, rationing of supplies of food and other basic raw materials widely affecting life style, the focus of media coverage both in intensity and “spin”, and the degree of formative effect on national programs and objectives.  While certainly not the same in each nation in the same ways, it would appear that these Wars had a material and emotional effect on each household.

Similarly, in the “Cold War”, similar effects might be measured.  From the pervasive early fears of “the Bomb”, to schoolchildren learning to hide from the flash and blast, even to the widespread acceptance of MAD (Dr. Strangelove anyone?) and how one might as well ignore the possibility and go on living even as the celebrated Space Age paralleled equally effective refinements in WMD.

I see you agree with me.  As for the "Cold War", traditionally, that term was used because it referred to a conflict in which there was no actual fighting directly between the major players. I think it is useful to use that terminology rather than the deceptive "World War III", which in a_majoor's examples and subsequent conversation appears to refer to those proxy wars by large standing armies that the populations were largely ambivalent towards and had to sacrifice little energy or even thought to if they didn't want to.

Does the WOT meet the same criteria, I believe it could be shown to be so.

Not in Canada, luckily enough - not yet.

These have become defining terms tying together global events on grand scales.  Do we really need to be labeling the latter as “World Wars”?  Are we arguing semantics or interpretation of events?  What advantage comes with that designation?

Advantage? See my post on the last page. For a defence lobbyist or a soldier in need of new kit, there are certainly perceived advantages. It's up to whether or not the people with the money accept those designations, which would be the determining factor in how advantageous those designations actually became.
 

Neill McKay

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Michael Dorosh said:
Summing up the events of the Cold War as "World War III" does not serve historians well; it's only being done by those in the present with a vested interest in obtaining more money for defence spending, soldiers included. In other words, it's political spin - the same spin that would use the term "World War" for the war on terror - which does not seem to be characterized by any kind of international co-ordination on the scale of either of the true world wars.

Fully agreed.

I would also make the point that an awful lot of people spent the Cold War worried that "World War 3" might break out -- and breathed a collective sigh of relief when the Soviet Union collapsed without this having happened.  Had there been a World War 3, the conventional wisdom of the time had it that we would all be glowing in the dark by now.
 

paracowboy

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Neill McKay said:
I would also make the point that an awful lot of people spent the Cold War worried that "World War 3" might break out
only those who weren't following events beyond their own personal interests. Others were fully aware that we were engaged in a war of ideologies, with sporadic campaigns being fought across the globe by the soldiers of the two primary Blocs, as well as by proxies, from 1945 until well into the 1990's. Students of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu could (and did) easily recognize that the world was at war.

Just as most of the campaigns in all the theatres of WW II were composed of weeks and months of waiting, interspersed with days of fierce fighting, while behind the scenes was a flurry of activity in Intelligence gathering, propaganda, economic pressure, political maneuvering, and guerilla warfare, so the decades following WW II were composed of the conventional armies mostly training and waiting, while behind the scenes were Intelligence operatives, SpecOps pers, politicians, and others engaged in Intelligence gathering, propaganda, economic pressure, political maneuvering, and guerilla warfare.

The campaigns were Vietnam, Korea, Angola, Rhodesia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Nicaruagua, the Phillipines, Oman, Yemen, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, the streets of Europe, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, Peru, Cuba, Colombia, Afghanistan, etc. Some we won, some we lost. But the war, the war we won. Which brought us into the next World War, and we'll win it, too.
 

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pradacowboy said:
only those who weren't following events beyond their own personal interests. Others were fully aware that we were engaged in a war of ideologies, with sporadic campaigns being fought across the globe by the soldiers of the two primary Blocs, as well as by proxies, from 1945 until well into the 1990's. Students of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu could (and did) easily recognize that the world was at war.

Just as most of the campaigns in all the theatres of WW II were composed of weeks and months of waiting, interspersed with days of fierce fighting, while behind the scenes was a flurry of activity in Intelligence gathering, propaganda, economic pressure, political maneuvering, and guerilla warfare, so the decades following WW II were composed of the conventional armies mostly training and waiting, while behind the scenes were Intelligence operatives, SpecOps pers, politicians, and others engaged in Intelligence gathering, propaganda, economic pressure, political maneuvering, and guerilla warfare.

The campaigns were Vietnam, Korea, Angola, Rhodesia, Mozambique, El Salvador, Nicaruagua, the Phillipines, Oman, Yemen, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Papua New Guinea, the streets of Europe, Armenia, Czechoslovakia, Peru, Cuba, Colombia, Afghanistan, etc. Some we won, some we lost. But the war, the war we won. Which brought us into the next World War, and we'll win it, too.

you have missed the point entirely - civilian populations were not invilve d in these campaigns to any degree - in the world wars they certanily were.
 

George Wallace

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calgarytanks said:
you have missed the point entirely - civilian populations were not invilve d in these campaigns to any degree - in the world wars they certanily were.

What?

Civilian populations were involved in these campaigns to the same extent that they have been in every conflict.  If you are trying to tell us that these conflicts occurred, and the civilian populations just sat in their homes safe and sound, carrying on normal day to day business, then you have slept through the past half century of conflict.

Masses fled the conflicts in Korea.  Masses fled the conflicts in Indo China.  Masses fled the wars in Angola.  Masses fled the conflict in Rhodesia, Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea......

Where have you been hiding?
 

paracowboy

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civilan populations were heavily involved in these campaigns. How many civilians died in Vietnam? In Rhodesia? In Korea? In Angola? In Mozambique? In El Salvador? In Nicaruagua? In the Phillipines? In Oman? In Yemen? In Thailand? In Laos? In Cambodia? In Papua New Guinea? In the cities of Europe?
In Armenia? In Czechoslovakia? In Peru? In Cuba? In Colombia? In Afghanistan? In Honduras? In Guatemala? In Belize? In the Congo? In South Africa? In Tibet?

The very nature of the enemy we fought for 5 decades was such that the civilian population was the TARGET. The Viet Cong, the ANC, the conventional Soviet Forces, the Sandanistas, the Khmere Rouge, the various terrorist organizations sponsored by the Soviets, these and their ilk deliberately killed and terrorized the civilian populations in order to carry out their agenda.
 
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