I’ve got a copy of a book by a guy named J. L. Hodson, a British writer who toured the US in 1943 and 1944. It was published in London in 1944. I just flipped through it (I must admit not looking real closely) and he uses the term “World War I”. I saw no references to “The Great War” or “The World War” to refer to the war of 1914-18. However, I didn’t see “World War II” either, though it seems logical that if one were to refer to a World War I then there must have been a World War II. Hobson instead uses the terms “the war in Europe” and “the war against Japan”, making me think that a lot of people (at least British people) in those days saw them as two separate wars. I can see the logic. The war in Europe started in 1939, and Britain didn’t get into it against Japan until almost 1942, when the Japanese attacked British and American possessions in the Pacific and Asia. Russia didn’t get into the war against Japan until the very end.
This is the only war-era book that I have and it’s kind of hard for me to find more of them in English since I live in Spain (though will be home for a visit soon). Some of you guys find books published in the 40s and let’s compare evidence. Looks to me, though, on the basis of this one book, that the terms “World War I/II” were in use toward the end of the Second World War.
As for the question of war nomenclature, wars get called whatever people choose to call them. Some people call the Civil War the War between the States, and I’ve also heard The War for Southern Independence from you know what kind of people. I remember reading that the official name is The War of the Rebellion. And, of course, in other countries it’s the “American Civil War”, since in Spain they had their own Civil War, which they call The Civil War and we call the Spanish Civil War. Then, there’s the Spanish-American War, which they call “la guerra de Cuba” over here.
There have been a lot of different candidates for the title of World War, but I’d say it isn’t a World War unless there is fighting in all five continents, excluding Australia (since it was never fought over) and Antarctica as geopolitically insignificant… The first was the one we call the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), in which there was fighting in Europe, the Americas, Africa, and Asia. In Spain this one is just called “The War of the Succession”.
Chuck’s post was excellent, and I completely agree with Rodd Hill about John Keegan. If you can only get hold of two of his books, read “A History of Warfare” and “The Face of Battle”. Papa, this stuff is right up your alley.