World War Three Isn’t Coming. We’ve Been Living it All Our Lives.

Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender, officially ending the Second World War.
Mamoru Shigemitsu signs the Instrument of Surrender, officially ending the Second World War.

If I mention the date February 24, 2022 to you,  you’ll likely note it as the day on which Russian forces invaded Ukraine. Whether that date will remain carved in stone in your memory probably depends on where things go from here, nearly a year later, with the war in what looks like stalemate but all sides continually threatening escalation and promising resolution.

Humans tend to latch onto this or that “date which will live in infamy,” as FDR dubbed December 7, 1941 — the day of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought the US fully into World War Two.

Most Americans who were alive and aware can tell you where they were on November 22, 1963 when they heard that JFK had been assassinated, or on September 11, 2001 when the World Trade Center went down.

Those dates feel like “turning points” in history, but they really aren’t. They’re just convenient, explosive markers that we use to organize our understanding of the continuum of history.

Pearl Harbor followed years of US sanctions on, and confrontations with, Japan, as well as two years of material support for the war against Hitler in Europe.

The bullets that killed JFK, under almost any theory of who fired them and why, were part and parcel of the US national security state’s ongoing war with “world communism.”

The 9/11 attacks followed a decade of US military intervention in the Middle East, multiple warnings to cease that intervention, and several prior attacks to drive the warning home (a previous attack on the World Trade Center, the bombing of the Khobar Towers barracks in Saudi Arabia,  and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, to name three).

The Russian invasion of Ukraine followed eight years of “frozen conflict” in seceded provinces from that country’s eastern edge, after a US-sponsored coup in 2014 to install an “anti-Russian” regime.

And, like Korea, Vietnam, the 1979-89 war in Afghanistan, and numerous smaller conflicts, the Russo-Ukrainian war  is really just one more “proxy war” of the kind the US and Russia have conducted against each other since the US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — two more “days which will live in infamy” — brought World War Two to a formal close.

With all the nuclear saber-rattling lately, many fear that we’re on the cusp of World War Three.

In actuality, that war has raged for 78 years now, if such markers make any sense at all (we could just as reasonably posit a single war starting between some primordial Cain and Abel).

For 78 years, two big questions have loomed over us: Will the US-Russia confrontation become direct, and will the nukes come out again?

The survival of humanity likely hangs on those questions.

And the only answer that can save us is finding a way to end war. Not this war — war itself.

I’d like to believe that can be done, but the evidence says otherwise. Humans seem to have conflict engraved in our cultural DNA. It’s central to our history, our religion, and our politics.

But we should keep trying.

Thomas L. Knapp (Twitter: @thomaslknapp) is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism ( He lives and works in north central Florida.