Was the Second World War Really the Second World War?


Possibly a point of pedantry I know, but bear with me.

The 7 Year War was fought in the second half of the 18th century. I involved not only basically all the countries in Europe but also spread to 4 other continents. It saw the French being defeated in North America and determined that the New World would be speaking English, not French. Taxes raised by the British government to help pay for the war were a major factor in triggering the American War of Independence. In India, rival French and British trading companies allied themselves with local kingdoms and warlords. In defeating the French and their allies, the British East India Company gained control over vast swathes of territory, setting them on the road to Empire in India. The war also saw Prussia emerge as a great power. By any reasonable definition, this was a world war.

The Napoleonic Wars saw a French army make it to Moscow. They lead to Britain occupying the Cape and Southern Africa and to further territorial gains in India. British troops burnt down Washington and the nascent US navy took on the British in the Atlantic. Fighting in South America saw Spain’s colonies in the region begin to break away from their mother country.

If we accept that both conflicts were world wars then that makes the Second World War really at least the Forth World War.


Maybe the term world war refers not so much to the places on earth where it was fought, but more to the number of nations from all corners of the world who declared war. Interesting point though!


Here’s a bit of a left field idea. Could the Mongol conquests under Genghis Khan and his successors be considered a world war? They invaded Japan and got as far West as modern day Hungary. IIRC some of the Crusades were helped out by the forces of Islam also having to fight the Mongol Hordes at the same time.


The Greco-Persian wars can be considered a World War, or Alexander’s campaigns, the Punic Wars, Roman/Byzantine - Parthian/Persian conflicts…


I think a better term would be modern war than world war to distinguish the difference between WW1 and WW2 from the 7 years and the napoleonic wars. The difference is how the industrial revolution changed warfare.


That’s an interesting point actually. From the point of view of the Greeks, getting to India was pretty much like getting to the end of the world.


Cue Indy. “This is modern war!”


And it’s not just the territorial expansion of ancient warfare, is the multitude of ethnicities that took part into it.


Think scope instead of geography… while many of the wars mentioned can be said to be global conflicts geographically speaking or world conflicts according to what was perceived as the world at the time. WW1 and WW2 were the first and hopefully only wars that affected the majority of ALL mankind in an immediate, everyday way,


Well, I’d argue a significant percentage of the World’s population was effected to the 7 Years War too.

North America is linguistically and culturally English, not French
The colonies in New England rebel, in part as a result of the taxes raised to pay for the war
The East India Company goes from being primarily a trading organisation to controlling large parts of the Indian sub continent
Prussia becomes a great power, ultimately leading to a unified Germany dominated by Prussia
There was fighting in South America between Portugal and Spain, with each making gains at the expense of the other
Britain gained colonies West Africa from the French
Islands changed hands in the Caribbean

Every continent on Earth apart from Australia was involved in the fighting and the geopolitical consequences were arguably more far reaching than the First World War.


It’s not so much about the consequences I think, which tend to devolve into alt-hist anyway. Sure, you say the colonies in New England rebel following the Seven Years War, but how do we know they wouldn’t have done so anyway?

Besides, the point is that both world wars affected the day-to-day life of people not just in Europe - or the battlefields in India for that matter - but in Beijing, Damascus, Lima. Even countries not involved in the war at all were affected: There were rationing in Denmark during World War I. Argentina never joined the second, but the beef raised on their highlands were canned and sold to the troops in numbers never before seen, and higher prices as well, creating a booming economy.


Well… Some consider the 7 years war the WW0.
I think this discussion is irrelevant.
A war needs to be “named”. WWI was named “The Great War”, the WWI…
There were not the first “total wars”… The Punic Wars were for exaple “total” and really “total” as the Romans exterminated the Carthaginians. The Germans were more lucky, they survived the 2 XXth century world wars.
One of the funny aspects of WWI, WWII is that people expect a WWIII, WWIV and so on. Probably, there will be no other world war in the coming decades, but “local” wars.


Perhaps, but the likely thing is that they will be called WWIII and WWIV a few years or decades after their end.


One could argue that the Cold War could be counted as WWIII. It was truly a global conflict and did go “hot” in a few places (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, et al.). While those conflicts were regional in nature, it could also be argued that both world wars were a collection of regional conflicts happening synchronously for related reasons.


I wouldn’t count this as one major world war, because the main powers never declared war on each other. Therefore the term Cold War is fine in my opinion.