World war

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A world war is a war affecting the majority of the world's most powerful and populous nations. World wars span multiple countries on multiple continents, with battles fought in multiple theaters, and last for multiple years. The term has usually been applied to two conflicts of unprecedented scale that occurred during the 20th century, World War I (1914–1918) and World War II (1939–1945), although in retrospect a number of earlier conflicts may be regarded as "world wars". The other most common usage of the term is in the context of World War III, a phrase usually used to describe any hypothetical future global conflict.


Origins of the term

The term World War was coined speculatively in the early 20th century, some years before the first World War broke out, probably as a literal translation of the German word Weltkrieg[1] German writer August Wilhelm Otto Niemann had used the word in the title of his anti-British novel Der Weltkrieg: Deutsche Träume ("The World War: German Dreams") as early as 1904, published in English as The coming conquest of England. The Oxford English Dictionary cites the first known usage in the English language as being in April 1909, in the pages of the Westminster Gazette.

It was recognized that the complex system of opposing alliances—the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire vs. the French Third Republic, the Russian Empire, and the British Empire was likely to lead to a global conflict in the event of war breaking out. The fact that the powers involved had large overseas empires virtually guaranteed that a conflict would be global, as the colonies' resources would be a crucial strategic factor. The same strategic considerations also ensured that the combatants would strike at each others' colonies, thus spreading the fighting far more widely than in the pre-colonial era.

Other languages have also adopted the "World War" terminology; for instance, in French, the two World Wars are the Guerres Mondiales; in German, the Erste und Zweite Weltkrieg (World War I was only known or commonly recognized in public as der Weltkrieg in Germany when it was over, while prior the word was rather used in the more abstract meaning of "a global conflict"); in Russian the мировые войны (miroviye voyni); in Spanish the Guerra Mundial and so on.

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