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Defining the "World wars" after WW2

enfield

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I have to disagree with the notion of the Cold War and the WoT as a "world war" - although we need to define "world war" first.

Merriam Webster gives a general (and largely unhelpful) definition as:
a war engaged in by all or most of the principal nations of the world; especially capitalized both Ws : either of two such wars of the first half of The 20th century (italics added)

The Cold War failed to completely engage the militaries and populations of the world in the scale or manner that WW1 and WW2 did, just as the WoT does not engage the majority of citizens today.

While undoubtedly every conflict between 1945 and 1989 become a Communism/Democracy battleground in the eyes of the Developed West, the causes/roots/outcomes were often outside of our Grand Struggle. The fall of colonialism and the rise of previously colonized peoples and nationalist movements were the largest factor in the post-1945 conflicts, and many had started before the Cold War. Often these struggles, in the end, came to be defined on democracy-communism terms and identifications, but the ideology at the root of these struggles had more to do with race, nationalism, independence, oppression and freedom. To attempt to tie the myriad of wars, and the countless ideologies and causes behind them, into one united war is a stretch.

Were the wars on Southern Africa about communism vs capitalism, or about racism, nationalism, tribalism, and economics? Was the war in Korea tied to a grand communism master plan, or the militaristic expansionism of a small state rooted in regional politics? Were the French in Algeria and Indo China fighting for democracy or for French power and nationalism? Israel and its neighbours were at war in 1948 for reasons completely outside the Cold War, and today the conflict continues after the Cold War is gone.

Even the main 'combatants' were only partially committed to the 'war'. Western Europe and Canada did not maintain itself at a high state of national readiness - certainly not compared to WW1/2 standards, or states like Israel or Rhodesia. The economies and populations of the West, outside the US at least, were not dedicated to a grand struggle against communism. A specialized military, industrial, political and academic group was highly focused on the struggle, and used considerable resources, but nowhere near the standards of mobilization.

There was certainly a massive military, economic and cultural struggle between 1945 and 1989 between major global power blocs that effected the entire world. This conflict did, often, take a direct military turn through proxy wars, and at times the two sides clashed very directly. However, this fails to qualify as world war. It was long-standing competition between two competing powers, such as has occurred many times throughout history.

A World War must imply Total War. The Cold War was not Total War, although it could have very quickoy become one. The War on Terror is certainly not Total War.
To define a "world war" as simply a war that takes place across the world is self-defeating since in our modern world (and probably since Europe began to span the globe) everything is global - industry, migration, recreation, entertainment, and war.

 

paracowboy

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Enfield said:
The Cold War failed to completely engage the militaries and populations of the world in the scale or manner that WW1 and WW2 did, just as the WoT does not engage the majority of citizens today.
yes, it did, actually. The armies of both parties were preparing for the conventional battles, engaging in small scale battles (if you can call a war spanning only one nation 'small'), and supporting proxy forces. And this was over decades. Just as in both previous World Wars thre were periods of little to no combat, but there was agreat deal of moving forces around and training them. How long were troops based in England before they launched into Normandy, again?

While undoubtedly every conflict between 1945 and 1989 become a Communism/Democracy battleground in the eyes of the Developed West, the causes/roots/outcomes were often outside of our Grand Struggle.
but, those causes were quickly embraced/subverted by one side or the other, just as the Arab's hatred of the Jews were subverted by the Nazis, or the Balkan Muslims were absorbed into the SS, or the Communists of South-East Asia were supported by the Allies against the Japanese.

A specialized military, industrial, political and academic group was highly focused on the struggle, and used considerable resources, but nowhere near the standards of mobilization.
but, that select group employed, either openly or covertly, the entire economic/political/military resources of both sides.

However, this fails to qualify as world war. It was long-standing competition between two competing powers, such as has occurred many times throughout history.
all war is nothing more than the competition of two or more powers. That's ALL it is!

A World War must imply Total War. The Cold War was not Total War, although it could have very quickoy become one
. The entire world was affected by the actions of two sides, and their actions spanned the globe for 50 years. Both sides brought their entire socio-economic pressure to bear on the other, and the other's proxies. Millions died. The world lived in fear of instant destruction. Sounds pretty 'total' to me.

The War on Terror is certainly not Total War.
it certainly is. For the same reasons as above.

To define a "world war" as simply a war that takes place across the world is self-defeating since in our modern world (and probably since Europe began to span the globe) everything is global - industry, migration, recreation, entertainment, and war.
which simply goes to illustrate that the Cold War, and the current one are World Wars, since they involve/impact every facet of the lives of the over-whelming majority of the world population. Which shows that there has been no insult in equating the sacrifices of the soldiers who fought/are fighting these wars, to those made by the soldiers who fought in the Great War, and the Deuce.

For those who still doubt, go talk to a WW II veteran. I've yet to meet one who didn't say the same thing.
 

warrickdll

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I am in agreement with those who view the Cold War as the accepted title covering the Communist vs. Non-Communist arms build up and proxy conflicts (occurring over an extended period of time)- I see no value in trying to obtain credibility for changing the title to WW3.

For those who differ, I think you need to view it from the World War templates:

The First World War was preceded by a period of massive standing forces expansion and the occurrence of regional and proxy conflicts (studied as distinct from the actual World War).

The Second World War was preceded by a period of massive standing forces expansion and the occurrence of regional and proxy conflicts (studied as distinct from the actual World War).

If war had broken out between NATO and the USSR it would have been historically noted that WW3 was preceded by an extended period of massive standing forces expansion and the occurrence of regional and proxy conflicts (colloquially referred to as the Cold War and studied as distinct from the actual World War).

The corollary being that if war had not broken out between the Allies and Germany (and later Japan), the preceding buildup of standing forces and the occurrence of regional and proxy conflicts would not later be referred to as WW2.

In short, the Cold War more closely resembles an extended version of what preceded both World Wars, but not the actual World Wars themselves.

As for the War on Terror (outside of the war in Iraq) it more closely resembles much earlier global efforts to end piracy and slavery.




The actual semantics have no precise meaning and there is no real threshold between what is and isn't a World War. Its not like World War is an SI unit of measure: (xWar + yWar = 1WW) or (1WW/1000 = 1mWW).

Even if there were another global conflict between the major powers, it doesn't mean people will feel compelled to refer to it as WW3 (just as people don't feel overly compelled to revise previous global conflicts as World Wars).

 

paracowboy

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Iterator said:
In short, the Cold War more closely resembles an extended version of what preceded both World Wars, but not the actual World Wars themselves.
now, this makes sense!
(I was going to go through point by point and agree/dispute, but the whole damn thing makes a lot of sense, actually. I don't fully agree, but it's too well-thought and worded to nitpick.)
 

calgarytanks

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paracowboy said:
civilan populations were heavily involved in these campaigns. How many civilians died in Vietnam?

U.s. civilians?  few to zero. Have you read much about that war?

In Korea?

canadian or U.S. civilians? Few to zero....again, have you read much about that war?  Not trying to c ut you down, but I really think you are not understanding the entirre argument..

The very nature of the enemy we fought for 5 decades was such that the civilian population was the TARGET.

a potential target. never panned out...I know, I trained to fight them, same as many here.

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.

and your mom and dad in saskatchewan or manitoba were effected how, exactly? What did they give up in order to bring the fight to them?

Like I said, you don't seem to be thinking beyond what armies have done.

The Cold War failed to completely engage the militaries and populations of the world in the scale or manner that WW1 and WW2 did, just as the WoT does not engage the majority of citizens today.

yes, it did, actually. The armies of both parties were preparing for the conventional battles, engaging in small scale battles (if you can call a war spanning only one nation 'small'), and supporting proxy forces. And this was over decades. Just as in both previous World Wars thre were periods of little to no combat, but there was agreat deal of moving forces around and training them. How long were troops based in England before they launched into Normandy, again?

again, you talk about the armies but show no under-standing of what the civie population was doing back home
 

George Wallace

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calgarytanks said:
U.s. civilians?  few to zero. Have you read much about that war?
No change from WW I and WW II.  Your point is?
calgarytanks said:
canadian or U.S. civilians? Few to zero....again, have you read much about that war?  Not trying to c ut you down, but I really think you are not understanding the entirre argument..
Again, is there any major difference here from WW I and WW II ?

Your argument doesn't hold up much.
 

nowhere_man

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I think a good marker would be WW1 about 8 and a half million deaths, World war 2 56 million. Now I'm not really sure how one would go about to even find out the deaths from the Cold war from the major powers or there trickle down effect (USA, Russia and Warsaw and NATO pacts) But in Vietnam the US lost about 58,000 men. In Afghanistan Russia lost 15,000 troops. Now not getting into the other conflicts (like Panama or the Czech Republic)  but i don't think that 73,000 casualties can compare to 8.5 and 56 million that were lost in the World Wars.
 

Michael OLeary

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nowhere_man said:
I think a good marker would be WW1 about 8 and a half million deaths, World war 2 56 million. Now I'm not really sure how one would go about to even find out the deaths from the Cold war from the major powers or there trickle down effect (USA, Russia and Warsaw and NATO pacts) But in Vietnam the US lost about 58,000 men. In Afghanistan Russia lost 15,000 troops. Now not getting into the other conflicts (like Panama or the Czech Republic)  but i don't think that 73,000 casualties can compare to 8.5 and 56 million that were lost in the World Wars.

After reading the 45 preceding posts (you did do that, didn't you?), you can only come up with numbers of deaths an a measure of scale for "World War"?

So, how many, exactly does it take to make a world war?
 

nowhere_man

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Yes i did read the other posts just so you know.
And i dont think think that anyone is going to relly come to an agreement of what defines a world war.
 

Michael OLeary

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Perhaps not, but you seemed pretty sure of that point about numbers of deaths defining the World Wars.  For events since 1945, see:

Deaths in Wars and Conflicts in the 20th Century

http://129.132.36.145/serviceengine/FileContent?serviceID=PublishingHouse&fileid=59374B67-177C-2202-693C-1651BC102753&lng=en

Table 2
Deaths in Wars and Conflicts Since the End of World War II: 1945 to 2000


Total ... approximately 40,968,000, rounded to 41 million


Spend some time reading and researching, you may find that the reason why that definition is difficult to capture is that there are many more variables than just death statistics involved.
 

nowhere_man

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Thank you for that, I see how my idea was flawed beacuse by the way of thinking in terms of casualties the Cold war would be between the two world wars (closer to the Second). But i still dont think that the Cold war and WOT can be defined as a world war. but thats just my view
 

Michael Dorosh

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George Wallace said:
No change from WW I and WW II.  Your point is?Again, is there any major difference here from WW I and WW II ?

Your argument doesn't hold up much.

Not sure where pc and ct are going with this, but it seems tangential.  Michael O'Leary posted thoughts very similar to mine, perhaps all parties concerned might want to review them. At risk of repeating myself, national mobilization is measured in more than just fatalities. If anyone thinks, for example, Vietnam was a US national effort, they would need to explain how that could be while the reserves were never mobilized. (Granted the US did have the draft, but the majority of soldiers to serve in Vietnam were volunteers, none of which is really an accurate measure of national involvement). The actions of the standing, professional armies of the world lumped together do not make a "world war", and Neil McKay et al have posted other good reasons too. It's all laid out in the thread, there shouldn't be a need to go over it again.  Comparing the WoT to a "world effort" is even more fatuous - an imperfect but workable litmus test might be to ask the average Canadian what they are doing to win the war.  If the majority of respondents have to be reminded that they are, in fact, in a country at war, I suspect that test has been failed.
 

paracowboy

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calgarytanks said:
U.s. civilians?  few to zero. Have you read much about that war?

canadian or U.S. civilians? Few to zero....again, have you read much about that war?  Not trying to c ut you down, but I really think you are not understanding the entirre argument..

a potential target. never panned out...I know, I trained to fight them, same as many here.

and your mom and dad in saskatchewan or manitoba were effected how, exactly? What did they give up in order to bring the fight to them?

Like I said, you don't seem to be thinking beyond what armies have done.

again, you talk about the armies but show no under-standing of what the civie population was doing back home
sorry, I guess I'm not so narrow-minded that I only consider North Americans as civilians, or that only their lives are worth anything. WHen I read "civilian" I tend to think of whomever the non-military people aer living in the nation being affected by the war tearing their country apart. Maybe you aren't grasping the full argument.

Read this thread again, with a broader perspective. Hopefully, you'll see it more clearly.
 

Neill McKay

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George Wallace said:
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.

Halifax in 1943, Halifax in 1983 -- the same, or different?
 

Michael Dorosh

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Neill McKay said:
Halifax in 1943, Halifax in 1983 -- the same, or different?

Exactly.  The scale of the national effort in 1943 as opposed to 2006 has nothing to do with casualties. Every Canadian in 1943 was putting money into war bonds, collecting scrap, enduring rationing - rubber, gasoline, sugar - the war touched every single Canadian alive and effected their daily lives.

How many Americans missed a meal during Vietnam, and how many Canadians even realize what the conflict in Afghanistan is about?
 

Michael Dorosh

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paracowboy said:
sorry, I guess I'm not so narrow-minded that I only consider North Americans as civilians, or that only their lives are worth anything. WHen I read "civilian" I tend to think of whomever the non-military people aer living in the nation being affected by the war tearing their country apart. Maybe you aren't grasping the full argument.

Read this thread again, with a broader perspective. Hopefully, you'll see it more clearly.

You're the one not "getting" it paracowboy.  If your populace is not sacrificing anything, indeed, doesn't even realize there is a war on, then it isn't a national effort. I suggest you take your own advice, use some of that broad-thinking you are claiming to have, and go back over Michael O'Leary's comments, or Neill McKay's, or my own.  Sending 3,000 soldiers to Afghanistan does not mean you are fighting a world war.  A nation of 200+ million sending 0.5 million soldiers (only 50,000 of whom were combat arms troops) to Vietnam does not mean you are fighting a world war, especially if your reserves are never mobilized.

No national effort = no "world war".  No one is doubting that war by proxy was carried out on a wide scale, it just didn't involve very many people in most of the 1st world - Europe, USSR, North America, China.  Soldiers from those regions fought in small numbers for limited objectives with few people "back home" really doing anything to assist them.

A comparison to the Second World War and the economic changes it wrought, or the First World War and the gigantic social changes that came about as a direct result, should make the whole notion of the Cold War as "Third World War" a non-starter.
 

54/102 CEF

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Michael Dorosh said:
You're the one not "getting" it paracowboy. 

Michael Dorosh said:
No national effort = no "world war". 

Michael Dorosh said:
A comparison to the Second World War and the economic changes it wrought, or the First World War and the gigantic social changes that came about as a direct result, should make the whole notion of the Cold War as "Third World War" a non-starter.

That`s an excellent 1973 style post - but war is war at any time under any levels.

A few long look observations

In summer 1760 only 6,000 Brit regulars were on the ground at the end of the French Garrison in Montreal. Add 12,000 callouts from the New England States - popular retrospection calls it a war.

As for the Cold War - remember we had 120 plus thousand troops that were progressively whittled down? Big bases and infrastructure? Nukes? I suggest that was on the Cabinet table for the better part of a decade. Look for 1948 - 1978 --------- yes 30 years or were the US license plates in Comox just lots of tourists up when my Old and Bold 11 Svc Bn was on driver trg up there?

As for the 1989 period onwards - did you miss the numbers of reg force troops deployed away?

One of more interesting commentators has drawn the line in the sand - Lew Mackenzie - don`t send non war trained soldiers to a conflict where the other side will use any means.

We were at war in Haiti - see Max Boots "Savage Wars of Peace" He says "It’s a small war, a term used during the twentieth century to describe encounters between small numbers of Western soldiers and irregular forces in what is now called the Third World. When we think of war most of us think of the Civil War or World Wars I and II—conflicts fought by millions of citizen soldiers supported by the total mobilization of the American home front. By contrast, U.S. involvement in places like Kosovo, Bosnia, or Afghanistan barely qualifies as a war in the popular imagination. Yet, as I discovered during the course of researching my book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power, such “small wars”—fought by a small number of professional U.S. soldiers—are much more typical of American history than are the handful of “total” wars that receive most of the public attention." See http://www.hooverdigest.org/023/boot.html

Small War`s persist because most countrys want to right a wrong or slight. Gone for Korean Food lately? Please do - the KimChi is excellent - while you`re there read this http://www.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,2089-2261782,00.html

For US - insert Canada and its the same thing. Conflict on a scale from rock throwing to calling in Apache`s when some dirtbag wounds us all as we are with the recent loss of Cpl Boneca, is war in its purest sense.

The Webster dictionary http://www.webster-dictionary.org/definition/war ----- war - the waging of armed conflict against an enemy

Your thinking other`s comments are less worthy will naturally keep you embroiled in a constant war of words.

Diplomacy which will get you invited to far more interesting barbecues than you attend at present.
 

Red 6

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I have a personal story to add to this thread. It isn't specifically about the World Wars, but it's mine. When I got home from Desert Storm in 91 I got orders to go to recruiting duty in Oceanside, CA. One afternoon, I went to a barber shop in the Carlsbad mall in class B's. I was waiting to get my hair cut and this older woman comes in and sits down to wait for her husband, who was getting his hair cut. She looked at my ribbons and asked if I'd been in DS. I replied that I was there and she scoffed and said, "Well, that wasn't a real war. My husband was in the Marines for 25 years and served in Korea and Vietnam. Those were wars."

I think it makes perfect sense that the Cold War was a separate conflict all its own. The lightbulb went on for me when I read a post where it described us as all waiting for World War III to break out. I thought, "AHA!" that's it. There is absolutely no national effort in this war we're currently involved in. It's seems to be somewhat obscene to be in a shooting war and the people at home, unless they're associated with the military, go about their lives as if nothing is going on. What mystifies me is how we (the US) can be engaged in force reductions and realignments while our service emmbers are dying.

If you were in it and you got shot at, it's probably a war to you whatever the talking heads call it. It only takes one mortar barrage to let you know you're in combat.
 

enfield

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Red 6 said:
It's seems to be somewhat obscene to be in a shooting war and the people at home, unless they're associated with the military, go about their lives as if nothing is going on.

Its hardly new - civilian indifference is probably the rule rather than the exception. Unless its a truly titanic struggle, it can be ignored. The wars of colonialism/imperialism (whether its the US in the Wild West, Britain in Africa, France in SE Asia, or even Canada in South Africa) were fought by professional armies far from home. The people back home had little interest, and even less of a real role, in the wars. The Korean War was arguably the same. Wars that involve the populace - US Civil War, WW1, WW2 are three big examples - are rare. Perhaps the only reason we see the level of popular involvement and concern we do in A'stan or Iraq is due to the modern mass media. At the end of the day, and until something goes wrong, the citizens of Rome don't care what the legionaries are doing at the frontier.

Red 6 said:
If you were in it and you got shot at, it's probably a war to you whatever the talking heads call it. It only takes one mortar barrage to let you know you're in combat.
Absolutely.

To the main topic; we don't need  the title "world war" to vindicate or justify the massive effort put forth in the Cold War or WoT. As time goes on,  and socio-economic-political themes are seen through different lenses, perceptions of each conflict will change. Likely WW1 and 2 will soon be seen as one single struggle, and maybe the Cold War will be re-interpreted as a long low-intensity war. At the end of the day, no matter what historians define it as, a war is a war for those involved - military or civilian.
 
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