Last week, while holding mass at an Italian World War I military cemetery, Pope Francis observed that World War III may already have started. ″Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with crimes, massacres, destruction.″ The head of the Catholic Church has also recently come out supporting military action against the Islamic State following the beheadings of Western hostages and the wholesale slaughter of Christians in Iraq and Syria. Chinese military professor Han Xudong was also stated that World War 3 may have begun as we are in, ″an era of new forms of global war.″ Territorial conflicts and control of major sea lanes in the western Pacific have increased tensions. Then we have the ongoing conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Strife abounds across Africa. Whether one, or more of these regional conflicts ignites a global war seems problematic as, in total, the potential for massive bloodshed is high even without grand alliances. In fact, one could argue that this is actually World War 4!
During the ′Cold War′, the struggle between Communism and Democracy was indeed global in scope with grand alliances. At least some 20 million people died in the numerous conflicts the plagued our planet between 1945 through 1989, when the Berlin Wall was finally taken down. Even after that we had another surge of conflicts as former Communist nations broke up. The decade of the 1990s was a bloody one in Europe and Africa as the grip of ′strong-man′ regimes were cut. Of course, there was still much fighting in the Middle East, not only between Israel and its enemies, but also the Gulf War when Saddam Hussein invade Kuwait and was booted out by the United States and its coalition of allies.
Some historians might say that ′The Great War′, World War I, never really ended. Many of the conflicts we have today are rooted in the aftermath of the fall of Germany and the Austrio-Hungarian empire. The Russian Civil War, the war between Russia and Poland, the Italian wars in Africa, even the Japanese wars in Asia, all stem from the First World War. Well before the official start of the so-called Second World War on September 1, 1939.
So is Pope Francis right? Has World War 3 already begun? Is this WW III or WW IV? Or are we still fighting World War I, which started a century ago? The 20th Century was a bloody one. Will the 21st Century be any better, or will it prove to be even more gruesome?