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When Will World War III Start? Let’s Just Say ‘Tomorrow’.

Ever since the end of WWII, the possibility of a third world war has been a preoccupation of world leaders, conflict watchers and breakfast table analysts the world over. We’ve had some scares in the past, what with the red menace, konfrontasi, the Malay emergency, the Middle East in general and Israel in particular and repeatedly. And that’s not to mention Vietnam, Korea, Iran/Iraq, India/Pakistan and ¬†pretty well everything China says or does. The spectre of another global conflict has loomed on the horizon with a certain grim constancy that speaks volumes about humanity’s general mental outlook. And it’s this that is telling.

I’m often asked, mostly by taxi drivers and people in the pub, when I think the next world war will be. Amateur historians and hysterical commentators like to point out the geopolitical, economic and historical similarities between our times and the fateful years 1913 and 1938. Like campfire ghost-story tellers, they ghoulishly revel in chilling our blood with tales of the ‘eerie’ parallels between the world back then and the world today. But it’s nothing more than cheap thrills. The answer to the question, “When will the next war be?” is, in fact another question: When was the peace?

There has not been a single year since the end of WWII when major military conflict was absent worldwide. And a great many of these conflicts have been direct extensions of the loose ends that the major Western powers started or escalated as part of WWII, but then couldn’t be bothered with when it came to settling accounts and divvying up the post war world. Since our rather Eurocentric declaration of “world peace”, whole swathes of the world have been more or less continuously on fire, from SE Asia to the Middle East and the godawful mess that has been Northern, Central and Western Africa. Basically, we decided that peace had arrived simply because we ourselves had stopped playing.

Repeated emergencies over the years demonstrated to us the short-sightedness of such a view, with multiple interventions having to be authorised by the UN Security Council, as well as a few that weren’t but were pursued anyway. Taken in aggregate, then, the world is still very much at war. We can, if we choose, see this as the same game continued elsewhere, with different players. Or, if we choose to continue thinking of the world primarily in terms of the West, we can say that WWIII has been building up slowly over the past 70 years without us. And now that we’re thinking about joining in again, the same old questions are coming up, tinged excitingly with overtones of Armageddon. People haven’t had this much fun with existential dread since the Cold War.

The fact of the matter is that WWIII has been well underway for some time. The world hasn’t seen this level of mobilisation and conflict since the early forties. We simply haven’t labelled this very similar level of conflict a ‘world war’ because it’s not happening where we live. So let’s stop wasting time and brain power, please. The world is already on fire and we’re all still here. Let’s start thinking instead about how we can help to put it out.

Category: Politics, Violence

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  1. […] however, would recommend remaining calm. As I pointed out in a previous post, fears about the advent of WWIII are basically academic. To all and intents and purposes, that gig’s already on, so the worry […]

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