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Imagining World War III and World War IV
by Dr. Emanuel Paparella
2014-09-16 12:09:04
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“World War III will be fought with nuclear weapons; World War IV with stones and arrows.”
                                                             --Albert Einstein


The Untold Story: The Third World War by John Hackett (1982)

Some have called the above likely scenario by Albert Einstein a bit too optimistic. They surmise that the more probable outcome of a World War III will be the elimination of humankind. Others have surmised that the third world war has already been fought: it was called the Cold War; that moreover, the fourth will be a war against terrorism, and it is being fought as we speak beginning with 9/11/2001 which was the equivalent of the Pearl Harbor of World War II, and that the fifth will be between China and its allies (possibly Russia) and the US and its allies (possibly its NATO allies and Japan) in the future, in the mid-thirties.


Be that as it may, it cannot be denied that the world is presently in turmoil and utter confusion in the midst of international conflicts which are proving to be intractable and are not being resolved by peaceful or diplomatic means but by invasions, bully tactics and intimidations galore. On the world stage we see Russia vs. Ukraine, Israel vs. Hamas, the US vs. Isis, just to mention the most prominent conflicts. It is so bad that Pope Francis, who is horrified by it all, a few days ago, while visiting Italy’s World War I biggest cemetery in Redipuglia, Slovenia, where some 100,000 Italian soldiers from World War I are buried, was moved to declare that World War III has already started on a piecemeal. At the same time he condemned war as a solution to conflicts as a sign of madness. Among other things he said that  "Humanity needs to weep, and this is the time to weep ... Even today, after the second failure of another world war, perhaps one can speak of a third war, one fought piecemeal, with brutal crimes, massacres, destruction."


Pope Francis visiting the cemetery in Redipuglia where 100,000 Italian soldiers are buried

So the question arises: is World War III something already in the past fought by proxy on a global scale between the US, NATO and the Soviet Union, albeit without the movement of multi-million-man armies or conventional front lines, or is it in the present, as the Pope seems to intimate, or is it instead still to arrive in the future?

Carl Jung in his writings pointed out that future events are often identifiable in what he called the “collective unconscious” of humankind, that is to say in the archetypes expressed in dreams and quite often in world literature and art. Undoubtedly World War III is a common theme in fiction and art. That being the case, let’s take a quick look at the most notable literary renditions of World War III.


The Last Ship by William Brinkley (2014)

Some fiction imagines World War III as a nuclear exchange resulting in the wiping out entire continents as in The Last Ship, or, at the extreme, the annihilation of the human race, as On the Beach. But there are other works such as The Third World War: the Untold Story, and Red Storm Rising which portray a conventional war wherein the pressure and the temptation by commanders on the losing side to employ tactical nuclear weapon grows as the story unfolds. We need to remember that those books (and movies too) were imagined during the Cold War when the most likely scenario seemed to be a military conflict between the US and the Soviet Union. But the genre continues to grow despite the end of the Cold War. There are video games such as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, which are set in the midst of a World War between the US and Russia after Russia frames a terrorist attack on the US. There are other games, such as Fallout, and books such as Invasion that speculate on a future war between the US and China, after it has become a world superpower. There is also Arc Light which portrays an unstable post-Cold War Russian Federation which is the subject of a military coup during which a series of accidents and misunderstandings trigger a nuclear strike by the Russians, with the US retaliating, both nations locked into a war that neither wanted.


On the Beach by Nevil Shute (1957)

There are now stories that have been re-imagined for a post-Cold War age. There is The Last Ship by William Brinkley which was adapted for a TV series, with the plot changed to a global pandemic (ibola?) rather than a nuclear exchange. All of the above books are part of the collective unconscious of humankind a kind of premonition of things to come, that is to say the coming World War III.

But there is another sense by which Pope Francis may be on target: World War III has already come and it began right after World War II, not only as a Cold War but piecemeal as a hot war on the environment in which we live. Consider this: From 1948, right after World War II, until 1963, over five hundred nuclear bombs were exploded above ground, spreading massive amounts of nuclear radiation underwater and into the atmosphere. For anyone watching from space it must have looked like World War III, just that these bombs weren’t dropped on the population centers of “enemies.” Instead, each nation exploded bombs in their own territories, spreading toxic clouds of radioactive fallout out onto the farmlands, cities, towns and fishing regions of their own citizens and friends.


 Red Storm Rising Tom Clancy (1986)

The political-strategic rationale for such a policy is that nations with nuclear weapons will remain peaceful only if convinced that the use of nuclear weapons would result in their own destruction as well as that of the enemy. The acronym for this theory is MAD (standing for Mutual Assured Destruction). It sounds brilliant, until one reflects that there is actually a better, smarter, more peaceful and cheaper alternative to MAD and it is the abolition of all nuclear weapons as symbols of a barbaric world gone mad with its own weapons of mass destruction. As mentioned somewhere else: Cassandra’s prophecy was simply a warning of what needed not have happened. That it did happen was due not to the warning in itself, but to the fact that the warning was not heeded. History will eventually tell if the warning was heeded, if indeed there is a history after a World War III.

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