Was the Seven Years' War the actual First World War?

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According to Wikipedia, 'the term "World War I" was coined by Time magazine on page 28b of its June 12, 1939 issue. In the same article, on page 32, the term "World War II" was first used speculatively to describe the upcoming war. The first use for the actual war came in its issue of September 11, 1939.'

The reason why the Great War of 1914-18 and the ensuing war of 1939-45 were labelled 'world wars' was because they really did involve nations from every continent, including soldiers drafted from European colonies in Africa and Asia and contingents from former British colonies like Australia and New Zealand.

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763), fought by the great European powers of the time on five continents, is often referred to by modern historians as "World War Zero". It caused over a million deaths and was fought in many parts of Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean isles, the Philippines, and coastal Africa. This map shows the scale of the conflict, with the blue team representing Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with their allies and the green team France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden and their allies (including the Mughal Empire, the Bengal Sultanate and the Abenaki Confederacy, although the Mughal Empire isn't shown on the map).

SevenYearsWar.png


In its geographic scope, the Seven Years' War was more global than the war of 1914-18, in which most of the fighting took place in small parts of Europe (northern France/Flanders, Northeast Italy, parts of the Balkans, Marmara Sea, western Russia).

The terms First and Second World Wars were not coined by historians but by journalists. I believe that this should be rectified and that the term World War I should be applied to the Seven Years' War, World War II to the Great War, World War III to the 1939-1945 War. I would even go further and say that the Cold War (1947–1991) was really World War IV as that conflict was on a truly global scale and was not as passive as its name suggests. The Cold War included brutal bloodsheds like the Korean War (1950–53) and the Vietnam War (1955–75).

It could be argued that the current War on Terror (since 2001) is in fact World War V. This war encompasses the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, which altogether have cost the lives of between 1.3 and 2 million people based on present estimates.

It's time that historians stand up to journalists and redefine the meaning of world war and consider which historical conflicts fit that definition. If, as I believe, it means a major conflict fought on a global scale, then there should be 5 world wars to date. Not all major wars can be called world wars. I excluded the Napoleonic Wars as they were fought almost exclusively in Europe, although one side effect was the independence of Spanish colonies in the Americas.
 
In these five global wars, Britain, France, Germany (incl. Holy Roman Empire, Prussia, other German states), Austria, Russia and the USA (or 13 colonies in the Seven Years' War) were always major protagonists. India and Belgium (Spanish Netherlands) were minor players in all five wars too.

Italy, Turkey (Ottoman Empire), China, Japan and Australia participated in all wars except the Seven Years' War, while Mexico was engaged in all but the 1914-18 war and Portugal and Brazil in all but 1939-45.

Great Britain was the only country that was always on the winning side (+ the USA if we include the 13 colonies that weren't independent yet during the Seven Years' War).

The Seven Years' War was a major victory for Great Britain and helped established the British Empire by gaining hegemony over most of Canada and India.
 
According to Wikipedia, 'the term "World War I" was coined by Time magazine on page 28b of its June 12, 1939 issue. In the same article, on page 32, the term "World War II" was first used speculatively to describe the upcoming war. The first use for the actual war came in its issue of September 11, 1939.'

The reason why the Great War of 1914-18 and the ensuing war of 1939-45 were labelled 'world wars' was because they really did involve nations from every continent, including soldiers drafted from European colonies in Africa and Asia and contingents from former British colonies like Australia and New Zealand.

The Seven Years' War (1756-1763), fought by the great European powers of the time on five continents, is often referred to by modern historians as "World War Zero". It caused over a million deaths and was fought in many parts of Europe, India, North America, the Caribbean isles, the Philippines, and coastal Africa. This map shows the scale of the conflict, with the blue team representing Great Britain, Prussia, Portugal, with their allies and the green team France, Spain, Austria, Russia, Sweden and their allies (including the Mughal Empire, the Bengal Sultanate and the Abenaki Confederacy, although the Mughal Empire isn't shown on the map).

SevenYearsWar.png


In its geographic scope, the Seven Years' War was more global than the war of 1914-18, in which most of the fighting took place in small parts of Europe (northern France/Flanders, Northeast Italy, parts of the Balkans, Marmara Sea, western Russia).

The terms First and Second World Wars were not coined by historians but by journalists. I believe that this should be rectified and that the term World War I should be applied to the Seven Years' War, World War II to the Great War, World War III to the 1939-1945 War. I would even go further and say that the Cold War (1947–1991) was really World War IV as that conflict was on a truly global scale and was not as passive as its name suggests. The Cold War included brutal bloodsheds like the Korean War (1950–53) and the Vietnam War (1955–75).

It could be argued that the current War on Terror (since 2001) is in fact World War V. This war encompasses the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, which altogether have cost the lives of between 1.3 and 2 million people based on present estimates.

It's time that historians stand up to journalists and redefine the meaning of world war and consider which historical conflicts fit that definition. If, as I believe, it means a major conflict fought on a global scale, then there should be 5 world wars to date. Not all major wars can be called world wars. I excluded the Napoleonic Wars as they were fought almost exclusively in Europe, although one side effect was the independence of Spanish colonies in the Americas.


A very much appreciated post and a long needed historical clarification. Couldn't agree more with you. Three major consequences of this WWI:
1) England emerging as a global superpower
2) English set the basis to become the predominant language in north america
3) The burden of military expenditures and debts of the British government triggered the process that led to the raise of taxes in the 13 colonies and so paved the way for the American Revolution
 
I agree that the Seven Years' War should be considered the first "World War".

Interesting fact:

On this day in 1754, a 22-year-old lieutenant colonel of the Virginia militia named George Washington successfully defeats a party of French and Indian scouts in southwest Pennsylvania as Virginia attempts to lay claim to the territory for its own settlers. The action snowballed into a world war and began the military career of the first American commander in chief.

https://www.history.com/this-day-in...-george-washington-begins-the-seven-years-war
 
I agree that the Seven Years' War should be considered the first "World War".

Interesting fact:

Indeed. It also opened the way to a westward expansion that ultimately reached the Pacific.
 
Italy, Turkey (Ottoman Empire), China, Japan and Australia participated in all wars except the Seven Years' War, while Mexico was engaged in all but the 1914-18 war and Portugal and Brazil in all but 1939-45.

Incorrect about Brazil. Brazil participated in 1939-45 World War II, though it got into the war only late (1944) after a lot of hesitation (the Brazilian dictator Getúlio Vargas had an ideology with a lot of fascist affinities). But Brazil had Brazilian ships bombed by German and Italian U-boats, and soon later after increasing US pressure (and by the Brazilian citizenry too) they decided to participate in the war and took part in some war campaigns in Italy. In total 1,400 Brazilian people died in sunken ships and around 500 people in land battlefields. It was a minor participation, but certainly more decisive (and deadly) than the participation of Brazil in the World War I, where Brazil only helped logistically after having some ships sunken (with a few deaths) by German U-boats in 1917.
 
Incorrect about Brazil. Brazil participated in 1939-45 World War II, though it got into the war only late (1944) after a lot of hesitation (the Brazilian dictator Getúlio Vargas had an ideology with a lot of fascist affinities). But Brazil had Brazilian ships bombed by German and Italian U-boats, and soon later after increasing US pressure (and by the Brazilian citizenry too) they decided to participate in the war and took part in some war campaigns in Italy. In total 1,400 Brazilian people died in sunken ships and around 500 people in land battlefields. It was a minor participation, but certainly more decisive (and deadly) than the participation of Brazil in the World War I, where Brazil only helped logistically after having some ships sunken (with a few deaths) by German U-boats in 1917.

Thanks for the clarification.
 
The disadvantage of calling the conflicts of 1914-1918/1939-1945 the first and second world war is that it suggests that previously no other wars had been fought on a global scale, which is of course not true. But I think calling the Seven Years War WW I suggests too much of a difference between the Seven Years War and earlier conflicts, and too much of a similarity between this war and the wars of 1914-1945. Europeans have fought wars on a global theater since the 16th century. What is the fundamental difference between the Seven Years War and the wars of Philip II, III & IV or Louis XIV? These wars and the Seven Years War have important things in common: they take place in a time when European influence in the world is expanding, and are fought in part to decide which European country will be the main beneficiary of that development; these wars led to the rise of the protestant seafaring nations, in particular England, and laid the foundations of the British Empire. On the other hand, there are some important differences between the wars of 1914-1945 and the Seven Years War: some of the most important actors are not European, we see power shift away from Europe, we see the transformation of Britain of a global power into a US vassal. Besides that, these wars are connected with revolutions, mass murder and a decline of civilization that one generally does not associate with the Seven Years War.
 
The disadvantage of calling the conflicts of 1914-1918/1939-1945 the first and second world war is that it suggests that previously no other wars had been fought on a global scale, which is of course not true. But I think calling the Seven Years War WW I suggests too much of a difference between the Seven Years War and earlier conflicts, and too much of a similarity between this war and the wars of 1914-1945. Europeans have fought wars on a global theater since the 16th century. What is the fundamental difference between the Seven Years War and the wars of Philip II, III & IV or Louis XIV? These wars and the Seven Years War have important things in common: they take place in a time when European influence in the world is expanding, and are fought in part to decide which European country will be the main beneficiary of that development; these wars led to the rise of the protestant seafaring nations, in particular England, and laid the foundations of the British Empire. On the other hand, there are some important differences between the wars of 1914-1945 and the Seven Years War: some of the most important actors are not European, we see power shift away from Europe, we see the transformation of Britain of a global power into a US vassal. Besides that, these wars are connected with revolutions, mass murder and a decline of civilization that one generally does not associate with the Seven Years War.

and what about the Napoleon wars?
they were not global, that is true, because they were restricted to Europe and Northern Africa
but it's not a war to be lightly forgotten somewhere between WWI and WWII either
these were the first wars being fought on such large scale
 
Here is yet another candidate:

"The first World War: Dutch Empire X Portuguese Empire
Date: 1602?1663
Location: Atlantic Ocean, Brazil, West Africa, Southern Africa, Indian Ocean, East Africa, India, Ceylon, Burma, East Indies, Straits of Malacca, Indochina, East Asia, China, Macau, Formosa- Taiwan.
Result: Stalemate, Treaty of Hague

Formation of the Dutch Empire
Portuguese Restoration War
- Portuguese victory in Brazil, Angola, East Africa, Goa, Hormuz and Macau
- Dutch victory in West Africa, Malabar, Malacca, Ceylon, Formosa, and Indonesia
I think Brazil was the biggest prize and the Brazilian Portuguese won the war here.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dutch–Portuguese_War"

=====

And this was the Second World War (1701-1715):


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/War_of_the_Spanish_Succession


Location:

Europe: Low Countries, Italy, Hungary, Spain and Portugal
North America: Spanish Florida, West Indies, Thirteen Colonies and St. John's, Newfoundland
Asia: India, East Indies
Africa: West Africa


Result: Treaties of Utrecht, Rastatt, and Baden
 
So, I think that we can say that there were eight world wars:

World War I - years 1602?1663 - also known as the Dutch?Portuguese War
World War II - years 1701-1715 - also known as War of the Spanish Succession
World War III - years 1740-1748 - also known as War of the Austrian Succession
World War IV - years 1756-1763 - also known as Seven Years' War
World War V - years 1798-1815 - also known as Napoleonic Wars
World War VI - years 1914-1918 - also known as the Great War
World War VII - years 1939-1945 - obsolete name: World War II
World War VIII - years 1947-1991 - also known as the Cold War
 
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Thank you for your feedback, Groninger, bicicleur and Tomenable. I appreciate it.

I should have explained in the OP that I did consider most of these other wars.

I am well acquainted with the Napoleonic Wars, having read Napoleon's four volume biography by French historian Max Gallo. But this was a series of separate wars between France and other countries, not one grand unified war. There were nine distinct coalitions against France in addition to the continuous war between Britain and France. But more importantly these wars were almost exclusively European (+ Ottoman Empire). The campaign of Egypt and Syria (1798–1801) is not officially part of the Napoleonic Wars. In conclusion, the Napoleonic Wars were surely some of the most important in scope in European history, but they are essentially European Wars, not World Wars. Even the French colonies hardly played any role in the wars. Napoleon didn't care much about colonies and sold Louisiana to the US in order to finance his European wars.

I also considered the War of Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, but these were also primarily pan-European wars fighting for territories within Europe and resulting in territorial changes almost exclusively in Europe. There were minor conflicts in the colonies, but these were skirmishes of no consequence to the main theatre of war in Europe. In contrast, the Seven Years War was actively fought on all five continents, involved non-European powers in battles, and resulted major territorial changes outside Europe.

Wikipedia lists the major battles of the Seven Years' War. I counted 26 in Europe and 20 outside Europe (13 in the Americas and 7 in India). The Mughal Empire had to cede Bengal, one of the world's most densely populated regions, to Britain as a result of the war.

One war that I failed to consider however and that I believe can very well be considered a World War is the Dutch–Portuguese War of 1602–1663. This war was fought on all continents except Oceania, which had barely started being explored by Europeans (actually starting with the Dutch in 1606, in part due to their involvement in this war against Portugal in Indonesia). The war also involved many non-European nations and had major consequences for them in terms of territorial changes. So you are right, Tomenable, this could be considered the First World War.
 
The disadvantage of calling the conflicts of 1914-1918/1939-1945 the first and second world war is that it suggests that previously no other wars had been fought on a global scale, which is of course not true. But I think calling the Seven Years War WW I suggests too much of a difference between the Seven Years War and earlier conflicts, and too much of a similarity between this war and the wars of 1914-1945. Europeans have fought wars on a global theater since the 16th century. What is the fundamental difference between the Seven Years War and the wars of Philip II, III & IV or Louis XIV? These wars and the Seven Years War have important things in common: they take place in a time when European influence in the world is expanding, and are fought in part to decide which European country will be the main beneficiary of that development; these wars led to the rise of the protestant seafaring nations, in particular England, and laid the foundations of the British Empire.

The Seven Years' War, and I must now add also the Dutch-Portuguese War, were very different from earlier European conflicts as it was fought on all continents and major battles didn't all take place in Europe.

The War of 1914-18 was also very much a colonial war. Many battles took place in Africa between the Germans of Togo, Cameroon, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia, and the British, French and Belgians in surrounding regions. The war resulted in Germany losing all its colonies. Germany also lost its colonies in New Guinea and Samoa because of the war. Troops were brought from the British and French colonies in Africa and South Asia to fight in Europe. So yes, the Great War was still a colonial war. It can even be seen as the culmination of centuries of European colonialism and empire building.

On the other hand, there are some important differences between the wars of 1914-1945 and the Seven Years War: some of the most important actors are not European, we see power shift away from Europe, we see the transformation of Britain of a global power into a US vassal. Besides that, these wars are connected with revolutions, mass murder and a decline of civilization that one generally does not associate with the Seven Years War.

You are right in saying that the wars of 1914-18 and 1939-45 were special in that they involved mass murder on an unprecedented scale, be it with the trench warfare and poison gas in the Great War, or the Holocaust committed by the Nazi. But I don't see how that defines a World War. When you think of it, Stalin exterminated between 6 and 9 millions of his own people, which is as bad as the Jewish Holocaust, and he did it mostly outside of the war of 1939-45. Mao Zedong did even worse, causing the death of up to 55 million Chinese people because of his Great Leap Forward policy and persecuted tens of millions more for being opposed to the Communist doctrine. What we can conclude from this is that mass atrocities were a defining feature of the 20th century, and more particularly of extremist Nazi and Communist regimes.

The only major revolution linked to the war of 1914-18 is the Bolchevik revolution of 1917, which was an opportunistic coup when the country was weakened by war. Once again, I don't see how it can be a relevant criterion for a World War.

As for the decline of civilisation, it could be argued that all major wars leave a trail of devastation behind them which can take decades or generations to recover from. The US did not really suffer any decline from either 1914-18 or 1939-1945. In fact it grew stronger after each war, in part because the war wasn't fought on its soil (even Pearl Harbour affected military ships, not civilian homes or industrial sites), in part because war stimulated industrial production and scientific research, but also because as a winner of each war it expanded its economic and political influence around the world. Germany and Japan both quickly recovered after each country suffered tremendous devastation in 1944-45. It could be argued that the economic miracle of Japan of th 1960's to 1980's would not have happened had the country not been forced to adopt political and economic reforms by the US. Both West Germany and Japan benefited from US aid in reconstruction and development to counter the spread of communism. Ironically it may have been the UK and France, two winners of each war, that suffered most the after-effects of these two wars by the loss of most of their colonies from the 1950's onward as they didn't have the strength to fight for them any more.
 
Perhaps it would be better to divide the wars discussed here in two categories: the World Wars and the Pan-European Wars. The main difference being of course that the former needs to have major battles on several continents, involve non-European powers and result in territorial changes on several continents.

World Wars

  1. Dutch-Portuguese War (1602-1663) : fought on 4 continents by belligerents from 4 continents and with territorial changes on 4 continents.
  2. Seven Years' War (1756–1763) : fought on 4 continents by belligerents from 3 continents and with territorial changes on 4 continents.
  3. Great War (1914-1918) : fought on 5 continents by belligerents from 5 continents and with territorial changes on 5 continents.
  4. War of 1939-45 : fought on 5 continents by belligerents from 5 continents and with territorial changes on 5 continents.
  5. Cold War (1947-1991): fought on 5 continents by belligerents from 5 continents and with territorial changes on 4 continents.
  6. War on Terror (2001-present) : battles on 2 continents, terrorist attacks on 5 continents, belligerents from 5 continents.

Pan-European Wars (from the Renaissance onward)

  1. Thirty Years' War (1618-1648) : fought by 15 belligerents ; 4.5 to 8 millions dead
  2. Franco-Dutch War (1672-1678) : fought by 10 belligerents ; about 350,000 dead
  3. War of the Spanish Succession (1701–1715) : fought by over 10 belligerents ; about 1 million dead
  4. War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) : fought by 15 belligerents ; about half a million dead
  5. Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) : fought by over 25 belligerents ; about 6 millions dead
 
Maciamo,

War of the Spanish Succession and War of the Austrian Succession were world wars. They were not fought just in Europe.

War of the Spanish Succesion was fought in:

Europe - Low Countries, Italy, Hungary, Spain and Portugal
North America - Spanish Florida, West Indies, Thirteen Colonies and Newfoundland
Asia - India, East Indies
Africa - West Africa

^^^
The North American Theatre of that war is known as Queen Anne's War - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Queen_Anne's_War

War of the Austrian Succession was fought in:

Europe
North America
South America
South Asia

^^^
The North American Theatre of that war is known as King George's War - ​https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_George's_War
 
But one thing in which the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were special, is that in both Australia was involved.

While all of previous "world wars" did not include Australia - so not all of the inhabited continents were involved.

Perhaps it would be better to call those previous wars - global wars (instead of world wars).
 
I also considered the War of Spanish Succession and the War of the Austrian Succession, but these were also primarily pan-European wars fighting for territories within Europe and resulting in territorial changes almost exclusively in Europe. There were minor conflicts in the colonies, but these were skirmishes of no consequence to the main theatre of war in Europe.

Maybe they were "skirmishes" by European standards, but not by standards of the colonies at that time. At the start of the War of Spanish Succession there were only ca. 300,000 white and black people living in European colonies in North America* (the majority in English colonies). Native American tribes were also not exactly very numerous, for example the Iroquois Confederation numbered 70,000 people in 1690:


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Popul..._peoples_of_the_Americas#Estimations_by_tribe


So even a "skirmish" involving a few thousand men on each side was large by North American standards of the 1700s.

*Only counting those in colonies to the north of Rio Grande (excluding Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean).
 
But one thing in which the wars of 1914-1918 and 1939-1945 were special, is that in both Australia was involved.

While all of previous "world wars" did not include Australia - so not all of the inhabited continents were involved.

Perhaps it would be better to call those previous wars - global wars (instead of world wars).

I really don't think that the involvement of Australia is necessary for a war to be called a world war. After all, it is only one country and its population in 1945 was only 7 million, less than London or Paris. Before 1788 the aboriginal population of Australia was estimated to have been between 300,000 to one million people.
 

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