On Wikipedia, I ran into an article talking about World War I to World War II and some of the adjacent wars before WWI as being a "European Civil War" or a "Second Thirty Years War". What is the scholarly basis of this? I saw a few names but it wasn't expecially concrete. There are listed citations from various authors but how rigorous is historicity of such a claim?

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    The Wikipedia article on that topic is weak to say the least. While one can view WWII in Europe as a consequence of WWI and argue that both were actually one war, a "civil war" would require some kind of common government - and that didn't exist at this point. Oct 19, 2011 at 6:23
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    I really fail to see how comparing WW1 and WW2 to the Thirty Years Wars make any sense whatsoever. Sure, there were similarities but they are all superficial. Did you mean to say the Seven Years war which has been described as the first true world war -- by Churchill I believe. Oct 19, 2011 at 10:25
  • No, I was curious if there was in fact any scholarly backing for the idea in question. It would appear there isn't.
    – user88
    Oct 19, 2011 at 16:10
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    One problem with asserting continuity between WWI and WWII was the changes in the players. Of the major powers, Britain and France were recognizably the same, but Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire had disappeared, the Russian autocracy had been replaced by Soviet communism, Germany went from a federal constitutional monarchy to a dictatorship, Italy got a dictator and changed sides, and Poland, newly created after WWI, tried to be a Great Power and did not do well at it. Oct 22, 2011 at 17:17
  • Well that's something new. I agree with Wladimir Palant that the concept is unhelpful. I would prefer that the term 'World War' and 'Civil war' be kept separate. I always thought that the very definition of a World War was one where the majority of countries were involved which makes the Civil War concept overwhelming. As a counter example, the American Civil War could be conceived as a world war given the number of different nationalities that served in the various armies. Oct 24, 2011 at 16:20

2 Answers 2


Clive Ponting, in his excellent "World History: A New Perspective" argued that WWI and the European part of WWII are, as the earlier big European wars, wars to determine who gets's to build a European Empire, and that they, as the earlier attempts, were inconclusive. (Or rather, WWII was conclusive in as much as the allies won, but a split between the Soviet Union and the democratic states meant that Europe instead was split in two "empires".

Although there is a case for seeing WWI and the European part of WWII as the same, as Germany was not conclusively defeated at the end of WWI and the treaties was used as an excuse to start WWII, if you do that extension you will have to more or less extend that to all wars in Europe from the middle ages, which makes little sense.


It makes sense to look for a pattern of world civil wars in the 1850s-60s as the Industrial Revolution began to change wars. Guns were being mass-produced, railways being put in war use, and better communications. Antagonists soon tried out these new methods.

China had an extremely bloody civil war over this period, its a good candidate for a foreign equivalent of the American Civil War certainly to the Chinese.

The Franco-Prussian War cannot be squeezed into the template of a European Civil War and the respective leaders and states had nothing in common except a border.

Ongoing European geo-political conflict can be expressed in many ways and needs a wider range of concepts than simply 'civil war'.

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