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The European Civil War is a term that is to characterise both World War I and World War II and the inter-war period as a protracted civil war taking place in Europe. It is used in referring to the repeated confrontations that occurred during the early 20th Century. There is no firm consensus over the details and links, such as the level of international involvement in the Spanish Civil War and, occasionally, the Russian Civil War. The term is often used to explain the rapid decline of Europe's global hegemony and the emergence of the European Union. Dr. Franz-Willing argues that during this period: "By this self-mutilation, Europe lost its position in the world, its hegemony, and caused itself to be divided into two spheres of influence: one American, and one Russian".

"European Civil War" as an academic theory is a minority interest with a growing prominence. The extend of the period is the most conflicting argument. K. M. Panikkar’s original range from 1914 to 1945 is the mostly agreed upon. The events between 1936 to 1945 which began with the conflict in Spain and ended with the European portion of World War II are commonly cited. Spencer M. Di Scala of the University of Massachusetts Bostonmarker accepts 1945 as the end date but begins the conflict in 1917, with the Russian Civil War. However, for the self-mutilation perspective there is a tendency to stretch the beginning as early as the Franco-Prussian War on July 19, 1870 and end as late as the reunification of Germany. The London School of Economics course “European Civil War: 1890 to 1990” agree that 1945 was the end date but the second half of the 20th century was the result of the conflagration’s aftermath. The University of Hong Kongmarker's Department of History divides the content in two sections; one covering 1914-45 and the second 1945 onwards.

The supporting case

Those supporting the idea of a European Civil War contend that the heads of state in many European nations were so closely related as to constitute branches of the same family. European culture is also relatively homogeneous, with most nations tracing the roots of their culture to two principal sources; Christianity and Classical antiquity. Their respective legal systems, while separate, were remarkably similar and evolved to become more so over time.

At the end of the conflict, elites in the different countries of Europe began work to create a community of nations that has since grown into the European Union. The emergence of the EU from World War II is central to the argument, as a civil war typically occurs when competing parties within the same country or empire struggle for national control of state power. Civil wars usually result in the emergence of a new or restrengthened central authority.

Such academics are supported by the current trend to regard the First and Second World Wars as part of the same conflict with a 22-year cease-fire (in much the same way as the 1337–1453 Hundred Years' War and the Napoleonic Wars are treated as single entities by most historians). If one regards the two World Wars as being a single conflagration, including the Spanish and Russian civil wars as intermediate conflicts, tracing the routes of World War I back to the earlier Franco-Prussian conflict and linking all of them becomes an easy step to make. From there, political changes in Italy, Portugal and elsewhere may be examined within a single context.

The central proponents of the European Civil War were originally based at the history department of the London School of Economicsmarker. Paul Preston – in his 1996 work The Republic Besieged: Civil War in Spain 1936–1939 – describes the Spanish Civil War as an "episode in a greater European Civil War that ended in 1945." The department even included the subject as a course in its own right (taught by Dr. Robert Boyce). However, their position has since gained ground with academics elsewhere.

Others who have used the notion of a European Civil War in their work include Franco Ferrarotti – Professor Emeritus of Sociology at the University of Romemarker, Anthony Adamthwaite – Professor at UC Berkeleymarker, and Duke University's J. M. Roberts. In his 1996 work A History of Europe, Roberts stated that the "European Civil War ended the dominance of Europe in the world" - a typical claim of the idea's proponents.

An early reference to this concept occurs during the 1970s television series The World at War, when historian Stephen Ambrose comments that 1945 witnessed an invasion of an exhausted Europe by Russianmarker and Americanmarker armies, "thus ensuring that no European nation actually wins the European Civil War". Earlier still were comments by Indian diplomat K. M. Panikkar in his 1955 book "Asia and Western Dominance 1498-1945".

Patrick J. Buchanan will go on to argue that this European Civil War has led to decline of the West and its world hegemony. His book, "Churchill, Hitler and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World", covers this topic extensively, and will connect much of his prophesies in his book, "The Death of the West". Buchanan sees the world wars as unnecessary conflicts mostly due to British foreign policy mistakes that led not only to the destruction of their own empire but also Western dominance, ideals, culture, and populations.

The opposing case

Civil wars typically occur between groups within a state. It is rare for them to occur across national boundaries, though this can happen when ethnic groups are split across national borders in irredentias or when nations split into separate components who then enter into a war with one another, which is arguably what happened in the American Civil War.

In either case, opponents argue that Europe of the 1890s to 1940s cannot be regarded as a nation or a single state in formation. Each nation had individual governments, separate bodies of law and individual empires. Each was a clearly defined nation in its own right. Therefore all wars were international rather than internal.

Under this scheme, the emergence of a single European state (in the form of the EU) is born from a desire to prevent future wars rather than as a consequence of the victorious side in any European Civil War exerting its influence over the others.

See also


  1. The Journal of Historical Review, Spring 1986 (Vol. 7, No. 1), pages 95-114
  2. University of Hong Kong Course Guide [1]
  3. LSE Course Guide, 2004-2005[2]
  4. Keynote address " The Spanish Civil War- ideological battleground of a European civil war?", international conference "Democratic powers and the Right in interwar Europe", University of Salford UK, June 2006 [3]
  5. K. M. Panikkar, Asia and Western Dominance 1498-1945
  6. Patrick J. Buchanan, Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost its Empire and the West Lost the World
  7. Patrick J. Buchanan, The Death of the West

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