Back in the twentieth century, when they were first recognized, world wars were thought to be a novelty. The war of 1914-1918 was at first called the "Great War" and "The War To End War" in the naive belief that it was a unique, unrepeatable event. Twenty-five years later it was renamed "World War I," to distinguish it from the 1939-1945 war, which became "World War II."
[quoteright'/>After the third and fourth world wars, scholars began to realize that civilization is in the grip of a cyclical pattern of history. Historians searched their archives and identified world wars prior to 1914, giving them new names and numbers. Thus the former Napoleonic Wars became "World War 0," the former Seven Years' War was dubbed "World War -I," and so on.
But it was not until the last century that historians gained enough perspective to start enunciating a General Theory of World Wars. Professor Black's Law of Alternation was the first great breakthrough. In its simplest form it states that even-numbered world wars arise from appeasement policies; odd-numbered world wars arise from arms build-ups. After this simple truth had been established, the general study of world wars became a flourishing scholarly discipline.
Although recently modified in some of its details, the Law of Alternation has remained the cornerstone of World War studies. To show the similarity between the origins of World Wars I and III, for example, modern textbooks display elaborate parallel tables that compare the massing of troops along borders in 1914 with the climactic deployment of "smart missiles" in 1988. World Wars II and 0 are compared by printing side-by-side depictions of Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938 and Czar Alexander at Tilsit in 1807, noting even such details as the fact that Alexander's sword was exactly the same length as Chamberlain's umbrella.
The next breakthrough was Grimsby's Principle of Retrospective Weaponry. By applying the law of Alternation to the old maxim that "generals are always prepared to fight the last war," Grimsby realized that the weapons developed at before each World War are designed to overcome the problems that started the last one. Thus the great cannons of 1914 were created with a view to destroying Napoleon's cavalry. The bomber aircraft of 1939 were intended to fly over the cannons of 1914. The missiles of 1988 were designed to outrace the bombers of 1939. And so on. As a corollary, the designers of such weapons always expressed confidence in a "clean, quick victory." Of course we now know that such a result is inherently unattainable.
The more recent world wars will be too familiar to the reader to warrant review. But it is instructive to recall some of the earlier ones. World War III was important mainly because it resulted in the Nuclear Ban. Although large areas of Siberia and North Dakota were made uninhabitable, it was otherwise short and uninteresting. World War IV provided a classic example of an even-numbered conflict obeying the Law of Alternation; it started when North Europia caved in under the demands of New Moslemistan and agreed to the partition of London. It featured the first use of genetic weaponry and ended with the development of the famous "victory virus," which was vectored to the brains of Arabic speakers.
The build-up of psychokinetic weapons before World War V led to the inevitable trial of strength, in which Tibet played such a pivotal role. Afterwards, the overflowing mental hospitals provided a grim reminder of the evils of armed conflict. This is why the Calmex Confederation lacked the courage to stand up to Greater Japania, and so World War VI was launched...
But all this is merely ancient history. What does it teach us today? An early philosopher said that those who cannot remember history are forced to repeat it. We have, by the grace of Zork, survived World War XXXVIII. Let us not forget that it started when we cravenly allowed the Mediterranea Bloc to violate their treaties with impugnity. Now, I regret to say, another arms build-up has begun. The godless Stralians are stockpiling spears and arrows. We hear reports of infernal wind-up machines designed to hurl great stones down upon our unprotected tents. All we can do is reply in kind. Our Leader has exhorted us to double our axe production by the end of the year. We will respond with enthusiasm, for it is clearly our duty and destiny to save mankind from the horrors of Stralian rule. But I greatly fear that the seeds of World War XXXIX are already sprouting within our scarred and weary earth.
George Towner was born in Reno and grew up near Berkeley. As a teenager he began making gangster movies using an old 8mm camera, one of which featured a car being pushed over a cliff off State Highway 1. He has started and sold two successful technology firms, and currently works for Apple Computer, where he is the most senior in age. He lives with his wife in Sunnyvale. They have two daughters and a son.
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