World War III
|It never changes|
|A view to kill|
“”I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.
|—Attributed to Albert Einstein|
World War III (or similar) denotes another hypothetical world war, typically imagined as a way more devastating, nuclear one than any war ever fought previously. The numbering naturally follows from World War II, though any WW3 clearly hasn't happened just yet. The idea crops up in a number of books - for example: General John Hackett's The Third World War: August 1985 (1978), or Richard Nixon's The Real War (1980) - mostly written during the Cold War period.
In fiction and speculation
The common theme in speculation about a Third World War often involved "the West" fighting the Soviet Union, with the Soviets often having the initial upper hand (taking their presentation of military capacity at face value), at least until the nukes started falling. In post-Cold War examples, which evoke a "Clash of Civilizations" approach, the Western world is often threatened by Islamic terrorism or by China or perhaps India as the emerging superpowers of the early twenty-first century.
Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, none of the authors of predictive WWIII books issued a retraction/an explanation of why their predictions were wrong.
Nuclear weaponry is often most associated with the concept of WWIII. This has led to a lot of post-apocalyptic science fiction. The sheer scale of a nuclear world war has led numerous authors (as well as Albert Einstein) to quip that the fourth world war would be fought with sticks and stones, in reference to the devastation WWIII would bring about.
There are some schools of thought that say that World War III isn't hypothetical but is very, very real. Some speculate that the Cold War was in fact WWIII, while others describe the War on Terror as WWIII - as both are essentially global, although feature less attrition than the previous two world wars. In cases where people think both count, that makes the War on Terror actually World War IV. Defining what would constitute a "World War" is actually difficult, as the term was only in use from the Second World War onwards - the "First" World War was often referred to even as late as the 1930s as "The European War" or "The Great War," a phrasing that can still be found on many war memorials. The Napoleonic Wars that preceded both (and the earlier Seven Years' War, among others) could also be included as "world" wars given their scale and duration.
Recently, paranoia and speculation over the likelihood of nuclear war and World War III reignited, in response to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 disaster and the 2022 invasion of Ukraine by Russia. The Russian intervention in Syria since 2016, and the US missile strikes in April 2017, created more paranoia and speculation to an extent that British tabloid newspapers, who gave voice to doomsday predictions (such as Nostradamus), unsurprisingly covered it.
- For example: "WW3: 'Get ready for Russian invasion' Americans in Alaska told to prep for IMMINENT ATTACK". Northern & Shell Media. 16 October 2016. Retrieved 17 October 2016.