Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Australians started World War II

Denied an outlet for its criminals in the Americas, Britain sent an unsavoury bunch of people around the world, who landed in Australia in 1788. They grew, thrived, and prospered as only European colonies can do, until in 1901 they became a Commonwealth in 1901. Then, on September 3, 1939, Australia declared war against Germany. So began World War II. Simple, isn't it?

Of course, it isn't. At Revise and Dissent, Brett Holman has been pondering when WWII began. He gives three possible dates: first, 1937, when hostilities began between China and Japan; second, good ole' 1939; third, 1940, when Italy declared war against France because of the real possibility of warfare in Africa among the European powers. Which does he chose? The conservative date of September 3, 1939, which, by his own admission, affirms his British perspective.

I'll give Brett his subjective judgment, but it still raises the question for the non-Britons, when did World War II begin? Was there something magical about 9-3-39? The more I ponder this, the more I feel that it is a question of the prestige of the powers that came into the conflict: Britain and France, two nations who prided themselves in their global stretch. Colonies and submarine warfare aside, their declaration of war against Germany, along with those of Australia and New Zealand, did nothing to expand the theater of battle outside the European region. Germany was in no position to fight in Africa or Asia, at least not until the falls of Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and France, all nations that possessed overseas colonies nominally under German control. Australia or New Zealand sending troops to Europe would not have made for multi-regional theaters.

The larger question: every time a nation with colonies/an empire goes to war, is it a world war (or potentially one)? When the United States fought Mexican revolutionaries in the 1910s, was there potential for expansion to Hawai'i? For that matter, was the American Revolution a world war (or just a continuation of the Seven Years War)? Is fighting in eastern Congo an African World War, as some have claimed? Is Iraq a front in World War III (ok, perhaps this question should be left alone)? Finally, when was the first "world war"? Alexander in India, perhaps?

Of course, I want to make light of this. Many conflicts take place in the midst of international, worldwide processes. Even if Britain, France and Germany never fought anywhere but Europe, we would still have cause to zoom out to see larger issues at play. The same could be said of almost every conflict since the 16th century.


At 9:21 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Wasn't the Seven Years War a world war? Your question implies that the American Revolution would not have been a world war if it was just a continuation of the Seven Years War.

At 12:08 AM, Blogger Nathanael said...

Of course, it was. I just like the idea that the American Revolution, like WWII, is a continuation of an unresolved conflict rather than a conflict of its own.

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