World War III

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A nuclear holocaust is often associated with World War III.

World War III (also WWIII, or Third World War) denotes a successor to World War II (1939–1945) that would be on a global scale, with common speculation that it would likely be nuclear and devastating in nature.[1]

This war was anticipated and planned for by military and civil authorities, and explored in fiction in many countries. Concepts ranged from limited use of atomic weapons, to destruction of the planet.

In a 2006 interview, then US President George W. Bush labeled the ongoing War on Terror as "World War III".[2]


Cold War

Some analysts[3] and historians[4] have suggested that the Cold War can be identified as World War III because it was fought on a global scale by proxy combatants of the United States and later NATO, and the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact countries.[5]

Historical close calls

Before the end of the Second World War, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill expressed concern that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. In April-May 1945, British Armed Forces developed Operation Unthinkable; its primary goal was "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire."[6] However, the plan was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.

With the development of the arms race, before the collapse of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War, an apocalyptic war between the United States and the Soviet Union was considered plausible. The Doomsday Clock has served as a symbol of historic World War III close calls since the Truman Doctrine went into effect in 1947. The Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 is generally thought to be the historical point at which the risk of World War III was closest. Other potential starts have included the following:

Berlin Blockade. Soviet military forces stopped all commerce into West Berlin which caused a humanitarian and political crisis. In response, Western allies sent in air lifts to supply West Berlin.
August 29, 1949 
Soviet Union successfully conducted tests with nation's first atomic bomb, RDS-1.
Korean War. General MacArthur planned to invade and bomb China to eliminate the threat of communism in eastern Asia.
August 12, 1953 
Soviet Union successfully conducts tests of nation's first hydrogen bomb, Joe-4.
July 26, 1956 – March, 1957 
Suez Crisis: The conflict pitted Egypt against an alliance between France, the United Kingdom and Israel. When the USSR threatened to intervene on behalf of Egypt, the Canadian Ambassador to the UN Lester B. Pearson feared a larger war and urged the British and French to withdraw. The Eisenhower administration, also fearing a wider war, applied pressure to the United Kingdom to withdraw, including a threat to create a currency crisis by dumping US holdings of British debt. Pearson later received a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.
June 4 – November 9, 1961 
Berlin Crisis of 1961.
October 15 – October 28, 1962 
Cuban Missile Crisis: The conflict pitted the United States against an alliance between the USSR and Cuba. The USSR was attempting to place several launch sites in Cuba in response to the United States installation of missiles in Turkey. The United States response included dispersal of Strategic Air Command (SAC) bombers to civilian airfields around the United States and war games in which the United States Marine Corps landed against a dictator named "ORTSAC" (Castro spelt backwards). For a brief while, the U.S. military went to DEFCON 3, while SAC went to DEFCON 2. The crisis peaked on October 27, when a U-2 (piloted by Rudolph Anderson) was shot down over Cuba and another U-2 over the USSR was almost intercepted when it strayed over Siberia, after Curtis LeMay (U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff) had neglected to enforce Presidential orders to suspend all overflights. See also: Vasiliy Arkhipov.
October 24, 1973 
Yom Kippur War: As the Yom Kippur War was winding down, a Soviet threat to intervene on Egypt's behalf caused the United States to go to DEFCON 3.
November, 1979 
A false alarm at the NORAD complex at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado indicating a massive ICBM attack against the United States was underway turned out to be the result of a technician plugging in a training tape to the main computer. The attack turned out to be false when it was discovered that there were no ICBM launches from the Soviet Union. A US senator who was in the complex at the time the false alarm occurred described the scene on the control center as mass commotion.
September 26, 1983 
False "US First Strike" Alarm: Soviet early warning systems showed that a US ICBM attack had been launched. Colonel Stanislav Petrov, in command of the monitoring facility, correctly interpreted the warnings as a computer error, even though this was against standing orders.
November 1983 
Exercise Able Archer: The USSR mistook a test of NATO's nuclear-release procedures as a fake cover for a NATO attack and subsequently raised its nuclear alert level. It was not until afterwards that the US realized how close it had come to nuclear war. At the time of the exercise the Soviet Politburo was without a healthy functioning head due to the failing health of then leader Yuri Andropov.
January 25, 1995 
Norwegian rocket incident: A Norwegian missile launch for scientific research was detected from Andøya Rocket Range and thought to be an attack on Russia, launched from a submarine five minutes away from Moscow. Norway had notified the world that it would be making the launch, but the Russian Defense Ministry had neglected to notify those monitoring Russia's nuclear defense systems.
June 12 – June 26, 1999 
Pristina airport standoff: Russian and NATO forces had a standoff over the Pristina Airport in Kosovo.[7]

Difficulty in determining a "World War"

The English term "World War" has only seen widespread use during one conflict—World War II. The German biologist and philosopher Ernst Haeckel wrote this shortly after the start of World War I:

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[8]

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 (1858–1925) wrote:

[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)[8]

Known as The Great War in the 1920s, it ignored the Napoleonic wars as having the dubious honour of being the first to be called the "Great War" although it, like the Cold War, was a collection of coalition conflicts, and not a single continuous conflict as was the Second World War.

It may take years before another major conflict could be arguably recognized as a World War III. Serious wars before and after the first two world wars, even those closely associated with them, are not now treated as part of the larger conflict. These include the Balkan Wars from 1912 to 1913 and the Polish-Soviet War from 1919 to 1921, the Japanese invasion of Manchuria and later China, the Spanish Civil War, the Italian invasions of Ethiopia and Albania, the 1938 German annexation of Austria (Anschluss), and the subsequent occupation of Czechoslovakia. Therefore, the specific event where a future World War III begins may only be determined retrospectively.

Popular culture

World War III is also a common theme in popular culture. A vast apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic science fiction literature exists describing the postulated execution and aftermath of World War III, several notable movies have been made based on World War III, and it is the topic of various comics, video games, songs, magazines, radio programs, newspapers and billboards.


If the Third World War is fought with nuclear weapons, the fourth will be fought with bows and arrows.

Lord Louis Mountbatten[9][10]

I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth - rocks!

Albert Einstein[11][12][13][14]

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Bush likens 'war on terror' to WWIII. 06/05/2006. ABC News Online
  3. ^ Norman Podhoretz in his World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism
  4. ^ On the July 10 edition of Fox News' The Big Story, host John Gibson interviewed Michael Ledeen, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and said "some are calling the global war on terror something else, something more like World War III." But Ledeen responded that "it's more like World War IV because there was a Cold War, which was certainly a world war." Ledeen added that "probably the start of it [World War IV] was the Iranian revolution of 1979." Similarly, on the May 24 edition of CNBC's Kudlow and Company, host Lawrence Kudlow, discussing a book by former deputy Under-secretary of Defense Jed Babbin, said "World War IV is the terror war, and war with China would be World War V."[1]
  5. ^ Eliot Cohen, the director of strategic studies at the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, declared in the Wall Street Journal, a little more than a month after the attacks on the twin towers and the Pentagon, that the struggle against terrorism was more than a law-enforcement operation, and would require military conflict beyond the invasion of Afghanistan. Cohen, like Marenches, considered World War III to be history. "A less palatable but more accurate name is World War IV," he wrote. "The Cold War was World War III, which reminds us that not all global conflicts entail the movement of multi-million-man armies, or conventional front lines on a map." [2]
  6. ^ British War Cabinet, Joint Planning Staff, Public Record Office, CAB 120/691/109040 / 002 (1945-08-11). ""Operation Unthinkable: 'Russia: Threat to Western Civilization'"" (online photocopy). Department of History, Northeastern University. Retrieved on 2008-06-28. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ a b The Yale Book of Quotations (2006) Yale University Press, edited by Fred R. Shapiro
  9. ^ Knowles, Elizabeth, ed. (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase, Saying, and Quotation, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-198-66229-7 
  10. ^ Andrews, Robert; Biggs, Mary; Seidel, Michael, eds (1996). The Columbia World of Quotations.. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-10518-5. 
  11. ^ Calaprice, Alice (2005). The new quotable Einstein. Princeton University Press. p. 173. ISBN 0-691-12075-7. 
  12. ^ Calaprice, Alice; Lipscombe, Trevor (2005). Albert Einstein: a biography. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 124. ISBN ISBN 0-313-33080-8. 
  13. ^ Shapiro, Fred; Epstein, Joseph (2006), The Yale book of quotations, Yale University Press, p. 229, ISBN 0-300-10798-6 
  14. ^ Another version of the quote has "sticks and stones" instead of rocks.
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