Earlier tonight as I was facebooking, which can often be a hazardous activity when one has as many odd friends and acquaintances as I do, I saw what may be the worst ever idea for a kickstarter. For those who are not aware, there is a website where people who have ideas who need a bit of funds (namely, a “kickstart”) look for funding from small-time investors who are willing and able to help someone acquire the resources that they need for a bit of a reward. The particular joke link I saw showed a video that was seeking for a few good people to help kickstart World War III by helping our administration in its efforts to intervene in what may charitably be called a quagmire in Syria (which has prompted a few posts already ). Of course, the United States got involved in Afghanistian, Iraq, and Libya and so far the world has not recognized World War III as having begun yet.
Why is this so? In many cases, massive wars are only recognized long after the fact. We might think that something as dramatic as warfare would be noticed and recognized in all of its severity very easily, but that is not the case at all. A few examples ought to suffice. One of the most notable wars of 18th century Europe was the Seven Years War, in which Frederick of Prussia managed to nearly singlehandedly defeat the armies of France, Austria, and Russia, which had all united against him, and which he received only nominal support from England, which was busy grabbing as many French and Spanish colonies as it could take over all around the world. That said, the war actually began in the woodlands of Western Pennsylvania, not far from where I was born, when a colonial militia leader named George Washington tangled with some French troops and was soon forced to surrender a little stockade optimistically known as Fort Necessity, leading to failed British attempts at reprisal which led to the death of that foolish general, General Braddock, in an area within a mile or so of my family’s farm after an ambush in those same gloomy woods of Western Pennsylvania. It was only at that point that the conflict became general, eventually including the British conquest of Canada, French India, and numerous other Spanish and French colonies around the world as far as Manilla (which was returned to Spain in the treaty of Paris that ended the conflict).
The same was true to an even larger degree in World War II. In many ways, World War II was inevitable as soon as World War I ended, given the frustrations of Germany and other nations who were determined that Versailles would not represent a final settlement of the issues that had led to war in 1914. That said, it was not evident for several years after World War II began that those earlier conflicts were indeed part of a world war at all. A single incident in Manchuria in 1931 sparked a war between Japan and China, which led to the many deaths (especially Chinese civilians in incidents such as the horrific rape of Nanking). It was not immediately evident that this meant global war, though. Likewise, colonial escapades like the Italian attempt to expand its empire in Ethiopia (to avenge its defeat at Adowa) and Albania also were viewed in isolation at the time but were later included as campaigns of World War II as well. The same is true of the Spanish Civil War, whose conflict between the Communist supported “Republicans” and the Fascist “Nationalists” presaged the brutal conflict of the Eastern front, only with a different result. These conflicts were fierce enough, but it was only the later conflagration that put these earlier events in a proper context as being earlier parts of that larger conflict, some of which began eight years before the main action of World War II began and ten years before the United States was involved officially.
If World War II began with the aftermath of World War I and its unresolved issues, the same might be said of World War III, whenever it is recognized to have started. There are several different threads that could end up being combined as being key precursors to World War III. Among them is the untangling of the post-Communist world. This could include problem areas of the world such as the Balkans and the Caucasus region, which have already sparked numerous bloody conflicts, besides Korea, as well as the threat of radical Islam to such diverse nations as the United States (see Afghanistan), Egypt, China, and Russia. Numerous flash points exist in the world that could provoke World War III all over the Middle East and East Asia (with a host of disputed islands, some as large and important as Taiwan, and others uninhabited but close to oil wealth). Syria is only one of these potential points, and it may be impossible to determine which spark in which trouble spot will be sufficient to start World War III, if indeed it does start. At any rate, it is not immediately clear what would be sufficient to spark a larger war between larger alliances, which would turn a small campaign in a backwater of the world into one front of a much larger conflict, but we will know it when we see it, or hopefully not see it at all if we are so fortunate.
If history holds true to form, though, world war will not break out because of a conscious desire on the part of anyone to have a general conflict. The Seven Years War began over a small skirmish in the woods of colonial Western Pennsylvania. World War I began because of an assassin’s bullet in Sarajevo. World War II began over a fight on a bridge in northeastern China that was used as a pretext for a predatory war that long remained contained in a few seemingly isolated quarrels (including the Spanish Civil War) and then prompted a general conflict over the shaming of some appeasing Western politicians and some massive blunders on the part of Japanese and German leaders to provoke the entry of the Soviet Union and then the United States into the war. Who knows how World War III will be judged to have begun, and if it happens, it will probably be some obscure and seemingly unimportant area of the world where someone on the ground does something foolish without realizing the repercussions and ends up lighting the fuse that makes the world explode, and we will not know that World War III has begun until it is too late but to try to fight it out to a victorious end. Oh, that we were wise enough and had the restraint not to light that fuse in the first place, but not being a wise man myself, I cannot criticize my peers or rulers for not being wise themselves without condemning myself either.
 See the following:
It never once occurred to me that the violent hostilities we know in hindsight as world wars actually began as the occasional firecracker going off near the powder keg.
I have to admit, my perception of the start of a great war has always been that of all the players getting together over lunch to pencil it in on the calendar. And just like a scheduled sports event, a time clock starts as a referee blows a whistle and throws the puck up in the air.
I know; we often think of it like a scheduled sports conflict, but the vast majority of the time our great wars result from little incidents at the wrong place at the wrong time that cause massive repercussions.
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