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Was WW1 really the First World War?

Updated on October 29, 2012
The British capturing the third-rate French ships Alcide and Lys off Cape Race.
The British capturing the third-rate French ships Alcide and Lys off Cape Race. | Source

The 7 Years War... (French and Indian War)

From 1756 to 1763 a war raged between the great European powers. Britain, Prussia and a number of small states including Portugal on the one side and the larger powers of France, Austria, Russia, Spain and a few other small states on the other.

It was a war that was to shape the world to come, in the end it bankrupted the French leading to the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. Spain and Portugal, once great powers in their own right were already reduced by the time the war started but were forced to watch their once large empire recede. The Prussians were the rising Central European power and Britain, though a major player was not yet the dominant Naval and Colonial Superpower it would become by the end of the war; a status it would hold well into the 20th Century

Royal Scots Fusiliers, WW1 (Winston Churchill centre)
Royal Scots Fusiliers, WW1 (Winston Churchill centre) | Source

Defining a World War

Defining what is a World War as opposed to a regular or regional war is not as some might expect; judged by the death count or a particularly large amount of destruction. It is defined by a simple Geographic Question... Was it fought in every part of the globe? Or more precisely; did it affect every continent?

Theatre's of War


  • Before the official outbreak of war in Europe the French and British were raiding and killing each other for at least 2 years!
  • George Washington set up the first ambush of the conflict in 1754 after the French attacked a British civilian population who were the French felt encroaching upon their sovereignty.
  • Hostilities continued right up until 1762 and the French surrendering much of their colonial territory.


  • Buoyed by the reported skirmishes in the colonies and British Support the Prussians began the war in Europe in 1756 in a move designed to cut off their various enemies from each other.
  • The Battle of Minorca began the major sea campaigns of the long war and though it was a French Victory it led to perhaps one of the most far reaching court martial's in modern European History with the trial and execution of Admiral John Byng.


  • Long running British and French competition in India arguable came to a head from 1757 in several sieges resulting in the British effectively ending any chance of French dominance in India permanently.
  • This was a commercial war as much as a war between states. The respective 'East India companie' of each nation playing their own part at sea and on land.


  • The British famously captured Senegal with little resistance leading to further embarrassing losses for the French in the area.


  • Although no actual fighting went on in the region during this time it arguable led to the British being in the strongest position, financially, and militarily to establish a strong colony after the war.

Land Battles in Europe raged for almost 7 whole years with no true victor!
Land Battles in Europe raged for almost 7 whole years with no true victor! | Source

Other particularly famous incidents including Quiberon Bay, The Siege of Quebec and the subsequent battles fought on modern day Canadian territory.

Territorial changes in South America between the Spanish and Portuguese and eventually a British intervention in modern Cuba played their part in the final peace negotiations.

On the European continent victory led to defeat for both sides, the decisive point here though was the British managing to establish effective blockades on France and Spain as well as being able to focus her land armies in the colonies effectively won the war. Without the Prussians holding their ground with little British intervention the war would have dragged on and fortunes may have changed.


  • The Treaty of Paris in 1763 ended the war which resulted in a decisive British Victory who gained far more out of the fighting than their Prussian Allies.
  • Up to 1.5 million people were killed during the war as a result of fighting, sieges and arson by the respective sides. An extremely high number in comparison to other wars up until that point and through to WW1.
  • Each continent bears the marks of this war today.
  • The formation, language and culture of all of the American States as well as arguable the Australasian.
  • The future formation and wars of India and Asia as a whole including British dominance that would last until the 20th Century.
  • The spread of African colonies including language and future wars were affected up until WW2 in which the ex European colonies held by the same powers managed to expel the Nazi's.
  • Borders were drawn, Islands changed hands and the economical, geographical and ideological conditions were created for the French Revolutionary Wars which would once again sweep most of the globe.
  • Throughout the worlds Oceans a Naval force that in scale would arguably become the most dominant in history had seized control. It would not be out fought, out traded or truly rivaled for another 250 years. The British Navy would secure what had now become the largest Empire in history.
  • The Colonies and commanders who considering themselves British had helped win the war had also learned many lessons from their victories and defeats. Soon those very same loyal subjects would rebel, and spurred on by their embarrassing losses during the Seven Years War would receive vital help from The French and Spanish. Without the Seven Years War there would be no USA.

Respective opposing factions at the start of the war
Respective opposing factions at the start of the war | Source


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    • Matthew Kirk profile imageAUTHOR

      Matthew Kirk 

      5 years ago from Liverpool

      I think if there was a world war on the scale of anything above in modern times then I doubt there would be much left afterwards!

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      This really made me think. I guess from the US perspective, a World War is when it affects us. There were other wars, as you highlighted, that would also fit the description. I sincerely hope that we do not have another World War, regardless of who is involved. Great post.

    • Matthew Kirk profile imageAUTHOR

      Matthew Kirk 

      5 years ago from Liverpool


      You may be right, however everywhere was effected in some way by both wars.

      I think WW1 was only called so post 1945 surely?

      There are other candidates for being WW1 dating back to the 1650's! So the only thing special about what we call WW1 is the unbelievable death toll which I don't even think WW2 matched? Or certainly didn't in the West.

    • JKenny profile image

      James Kenny 

      5 years ago from Birmingham, England

      Interesting hub Matthew. Defining a world war can be a lot harder than you think, and don't forget that WW1 was actually originally known as The Great War. I remember my Granddad having an old book about WW2, written just after it had finished, except that the book called it 'The Second Great War'. By the definition you give here, then WW1 isn't a world war at all, because Australasia and South America saw no combat whatsoever.

    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      5 years ago from Southern Illinois

      This is a very interesting hub. I learned a lot. Do you think we will ever stop having wars? I hope so..Thank you..


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