Throughout the history of human beings, there have been countless wars among on, two or multiple countries, but only two of these have been dubbed "world" wars. Which leads me to my question, is there a specific set of demands that a war has to meet in order to be called a world war or is it decided conventionally?

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    I've heard it argued convincingly that the 30 Years' War has more claim to be called World War I than World War I does, so that's something to think about. It's not like there's an academic committee or government bureaucracy that got together and decided on appropriate naming and labels for the public to use in referring to these two wars. – HopelessN00b Apr 12 '17 at 16:40
  • From wikipdia/world_war talk "World War - A war involving many important nations - Oxford English Dictionary Online A world war never meant a majority of the world's nations, a war fought over the world, etc. It was always a war with the major nations involve. A war between the USA, GB, China, Russia and India fought on a tennis court would still be a world war. A war between Poland, New Zealand, Argentina and Singapore fought all over the world would not be a world war. This wikipedia article is wrong." – user22111 Apr 12 '17 at 17:25
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    Churchill famously characterized the Seven Years' War as the "real" First World War - it started in Pennsylvania and wrapped up in India. – Spencer Apr 15 '17 at 0:00

A war involving many large nations in all different parts of the world. The name is commonly given to the wars of 1914–18 and 1939–45, although only the second of these was truly global.

Is the definition according to the dictionary, however there are no specific criteria involved. The reason that WW1 and WW2 are considered "World Wars" is because the main countries involved in the wars e.g. Britain, France, Germany also pitted their empires into the war.

The British Empire alone in 1920 (shortly after the end of WW1) covered roughly 1/4 of the Earths surface and population and during both WW1 and WW2 fought in theaters across multiple continents, thus making it a truly global war.

  • I think you mean 1/4th of the landmass, since majority of Earth's surface is covered by water. :) – taninamdar Apr 12 '17 at 17:45
  • @taninamdar but the British ruled by sea. :P – Adwaenyth Apr 13 '17 at 6:52
  • Adwaenyth - but the sea was not legally part of their empire. By that era the sea was considered free to all and impossible for one country to rule. The song "Britannia rule the waves" was legally misleading. – MAGolding Apr 15 '17 at 6:05

World War I was originally called Great War, only after Second World War the denomination was changed. Hence is quite probable than in the future the names will still be subject of change.

Some authors talk about European Civil War instead of World War to cover the period from 1870 to 1945 or 1914 to 1945, including here Russian and Spanish civil wars. Others say that this period was actually a religious war between communism and nationalism.

Summary: Names of events and periods are constantly changing according to new theories, sources of information or events.


They are decided conventionally. For example Americans called "European War" instead of WW1 at the time. There is no specific criterion for it. However, for a war to be world war it should include most powerful and populous countries, multiple continents. And they generally include multiple conflicts between those countries.

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