Ten most "world-changing" wars.

For better or worse, what’s the top most world-changing wars in known history? Wars that changed the world in profound ways. I don’t have any opinions myself, but I’m interested and feel like learning a little. :wink:

Feel free to add your reasons.

The World Wars:

WWI-destroyed Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, indirectly led to USSR, brought USA onto world stage.

WWII-Ended 3rd World colonialism, created bi-lateral world order, introduced notion of “crimes against humanity”, disallowed “just following orders” defense.

I apologize if my list is Western-centric. Also, I have 11.

  1. The campaigns of Alexander the Great - redrew the map, shifted the balance of power west.

  2. The Punic Wars - asserted Roman dominance of the Mediterranean for over 500 years.

  3. The Muslim wars of conquest - destroyed the Persian empire and severely weakened the Byzantines, created the most powerful political entity in the world.

  4. The Crusades - redefined relations between Europe and the Middle East.

  5. The cmapiagns of Genghis Khan - completely redrew the map of Eurasia.

  6. The Turkish conquest of Constantinople - asserted Ottoman dominance of the Middle East and the Balkans for centuries, redefined relations between Europe and the Middle East once more.

  7. The 30-Year War - redefined (and partially depopulated) Europe.

  8. The 7-Year War - the first “world war”, the start of British naval dominance, had serious implications regarding the future of America and Europe.

  9. The Napoleonic Wars - redrew the map of Europe. It reverted back eventually, but things were never the same.

  10. WW1

  11. WW2

I think it would be possible to call all of the 20th Century one war broken up into differant theatres and periods of intensity.I don’t think there was really any significant period during this time when there was one war that was not related to the fallout from other military actions, everything was a direct consequence of what immediately preceded it.

The competition between France and England was not one war, but it was a series of conflicts that completely changed the world through colonialism. but collectively it does have the look of one long drawn out campaign.

No fair. Every major earth-changing war was actually several smaller wars. There were three Punic Wars, two World Wars, and I-don’t-know-how-many Napoleonic Wars.

You have to level the playing field. If you want the one-off wars to have a chance, you have to make each individual war count as one slot. So the WWs have to take up two spaces and the Punic have to take up three.

It’s only fair.

An incomplete list but I think the following deserve to be included:

The Alexandrian conquests (335-323 BC) destroyed the Persian Empire and spread Hellenism

The Muslim conquests (634-750) spread Islam

Cortez’ conquest of Mexico (1519-1521) the first modern colonial war

The Seven Year War (1756-1763) established the British Empire and led to…

The American Revolution (1775-1783) created the United States and was the first countercolonial war

The Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815) destroyed the old monarchal system in several countries, Round I

World War I (1914-1918) destroyed the old monarchal system in several countries, Round II

The Russian Civil War (1917-1923) established the first Communist state

World War II (1937-1945) the biggest war ever with numerous impacts thoughout the world

The question immediately made me think of this passage from the essay “Losing the War”, by Lee Sandlin, which has been featured on This American Life:

Every war has changed the world. Just depends on whose world you’re talking about.

If I had to choose just one, I’d probably go with WWI: The dissolution of Russian czarism and the rise of communism, the notion of a Jewish state in Palestine, the dissolution of the (admittedly weakened) Ottoman Empire, the theretofore unknown and disastrous tactic of trench warfare, resulting in the loss of a generation of England’s (and Germany’s) young men, the emergence of the USA as a major world force and departure from isolationism, the complete mishandling of the Middle East, resulting in nearly all the problems we face today in that part of the world, and the draconian treatment of Germany after the war, setting the stage for Hitler and WWII.

I think that every society sort of has a “rolling wave” of “modernism”, and when you look past it everything before that seems hopelessly antique.

I think that for modern America, that era is World War 1. We would be able to relate to 1919 much better than to 1913, a much bigger difference than any other six year period, even world war II.

The question is, though, is that because the cultural impacts finally reached that “critical mass” beyond which we can’t really relate, or were the cultural impacts really that big, and were they universal? I don’t know, I just know that even the changes between the years 1963-1970, while pretty big (especially in music,) wouldn’t compare to the modern economy and politics and lack of idealism found between those time periods.

And oh yeah, the beginnings of the end of colonialism, the Ottoman empire, the Russian Empire, and the seeds of WW2.

How anyone hasn’t included the Greek-Persian wars mystifies me, as Greek thought shaped the Western world we know today. If Xerxes had overrun the Greek city-states, we would not have anywhere near the current system of living that we do.

By that token, the Assyrian failure to take Jerusalem ought to count - if they had succeeded, Judaism would most likely have been snuffed out, and so no Christianity or Islam as we know it today, either.

Nitpick: WW1 certainly saw the use of trench warfare on an unprecedented scale, but it was far from unknown. The American Civil War saw a fair bit of it - Lee, in particular, was known for placing his forces in trenches whenever possible. The weapons were different from those employed on the Western Front, of course, but I daresay you could take an American from the Petersburg trenches, plunk him down in France, and he’d get the idea soon enough.

Right- it wasn’t trench warfare itself that defined WWI, but the fact that soldiers were forced into trenches (on both sides) by machine guns.

Trench warfare (apart from as people have said not being new) was far from disasterous. It was incredibly successful. That a generation of British youth was lost to it is a mark of its success. Germany’s gains occurred before the trenches were dug. One the line had stabilized, the Allies were faced with the choice of allowing Germany to maintain its gains or engaging in trench warfare to shift them. Churchill’s (and others) plans for second fronts were failures.

One of the most world-changing aspects of the Great War hasn’t been mentioned. It’s effect on British society was huge. British troops were noted as shorter and less healthy than their Commonwealth comrades. On the one hand this led to social reformers, and on the other lead to an upsurge in British labour radicalism against the oppressive nature of British industrial capitalism at the time. Without this radicalization, the upsurge of unionism leading to the General Strike and the first Labour Governments would not have happened; nor would the corporatism of the Second World War which led to the welfare state and the nationalization of the commanding heights. Such radicalism can be seen in the responses to the intervention in the Russian Civil War, with dock workers striking and refusing to load arms for the Whites, as well as the Metropolitan Police striking (or threatening to, I cannot remember) in support of them.

The Great War brutalized the British working class, but also quite literally decimated the old upper classes. The highest casualty rates in the British army were junior officers - second & first lieutenants in particular. The non-conscripted British army had a shortage of experienced NCOs to draw upon, unlike the French & German armies, and so had trench troops led by officers to a greater extent. These officers were drawn, initially, from the upper classes. And the uniforms provided nice targets. The gainers in British society were the middle classes, especially the manufacturers of war materials.

British society was fundamentally altered by the Great War, despite the supposed victory. For Britain, the impact was, I believe, significantly greater than that of the Second World War, as many of the post-World War 2 changes would have occured without that conflict as a result of the impact of 1914-1918.

A battle that had potential world-changing consequences was the first Siege of Vienna in 1529 by Suleiman the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire. This battle was part of the Ottoman–Habsburg wars, itself part of the interminable Ottoman wars in Europe.

Anyway, the first Siege of Vienna was the high-water mark for the Ottoman Empire’s plans to invade central Europe. The battle was the first time that Europe managed to stop the apparently relentless tide of Ottoman invasion.

If Vienna had fallen, the Ottomans would have attempted to establish an Islamic empire across central Europe.

The Ottomans continued their efforts to take Vienna for centuries, culminating in their final attempt in 1683 at the Battle of Vienna.

Posting early should be avoided at all costs.

It was very popular then and even now to blame Churchill for the failed second front at the Dardanelles, when in fact it was his admirals who were cowards and failures. The Turks were on their last legs, nearly out of ammunition for their shore guns, and already reeling from a poorly conceived and executed offensive against the Russians. Constantinople was there for the taking, and Churchill had information about all of these factors from intercepted German messages.

The fleet got token resistance from the Turks, and the admiral lost his nerve. Churchill replaced him, only to have the replacement also turn tail. The refusal by Kitchener (and others) to send ground troops in frustrated him as well. This was seen as an opportunity by Churchill’s enemies, who succeeded in smearing him and ultimately having him ousted from the Admiralty. By the time the decision was finally made to invade on the second front, the Turks had regrouped and held the highlands, and we all know what happened to the ANZACs at Galipoli as a result. The real shame of all of this was that an early offensive would likely have ended the war much earlier than what occurred, and spared hundreds of thousands of lives.

I think you misunderstand what I meant by “disastrous”. The staggering death toll on both sides could not be considered less than a disaster by anyone’s definition.

The point is that had the landings at the Dardenelles succeed, so bloody what? Knocking Turkey out the war? So bloody what?

The war was fought and won in Belgium and France, just like WW2 against Germany was fought and won in Russia. Wars of that era were won by destroying the capacity of the opponent to wage war - and that meant attrition. Haig knew it, Grant knew it, Zhukov knew it. Churchill didn’t know it, and wasted a lot of lives because of it.

This would have been my nomination for most “world-changing” battle.

A dark horse candidate for the list: Qin’s Wars of Unification back in the late 3rd century BC. While the resulting Qin Dynasty didn’t last all that long it permanently created the idea that there was only one China, not several competing nations.

Asia would be a very different place had Chinese history been a series of conflicts between nations like what happened in Europe.

It also saw the complete purge of several schools of philosophy in China, gave authority to Legalism and allowed Confucianism to survive by destroying rival schools. Not to mention who knows how many other books on all sorts of subjects were lost as books were burned and the scholars killed. Can you imagine a China where Confucianism was only a footnote in history?