The American Revolution – Global or World War?

In the dictionary, the words ‘global war’ and ‘world war’ have similar but different definitions. A ‘world war’ is a “war involving many large nations in different parts of the world.” The same dictionary says a ‘global war’ “involves the major nations of the world.”

Why the comparison? Most Americans think of our battle for independence was an isolated conflict. It wasn’t.

In 1775, the major nations of Europe were France, Spain, the Netherlands, the Holy Roman Emperor and Russia. Sweden was no longer a major power after losing a war against a coalition of Denmark, Norway and Russia that cost her territories on the Baltic’s southern coast (modern Lithuania, Lativia, Estonia, parts of Germany and Poland). Germany and Italy were a collection of duchies and small nation-states that wouldn’t be united until the 1870s. In North and South America, what are now countries were just colonies.

Seven German states loosely unified by the Holy Roman Empire provided troops to the British. Thousands of Swedish volunteers came to the colonies to fight against the British.

Battles were fought in China and India because they were the source of most of the tea drunk in Europe and the Thirteen Colonies. Immediately after the French declared war on Britain, England seized French enclaves in southeastern India.  The Kingdom of Mysore joined the fight against the British.

The American Revolution set off land battles in South America (what we now call Dutch Guyana) and Central America (Guatemala). In the Caribbean, combat occurred on almost every island except Cuba and Jamaica. In North America, fighting took place in Florida (a British possession at the time) and in Canada.

So, can the American Revolution be classified as a ‘world war?’ Yes because the large nations of the time were involved in the conflict all over the world.

Was our revolution a ‘global war?’ Absolutely. The major powers of Europe, Asia and were involved.

If the American Revolution meets the definition of global and world war, why isn’t it referred to as such? Only the historians can answer that, but one thing is certain. Our war for independence sowed the seeds for a major convulsion in Europe called the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars that kept Europe and the rest of the world embroiled in conflict until Napoleon was defeated in 1815 and exiled to an island in the middle of the South Atlantic called St. Helena.

U.S. citizens, Americans, if you will, tend to look at the American Revolution as a solitary event. It was not. It may have started outside Boston, but it became just one theater in a larger global or world (take your pick) war over which European power controlled what colonial possession.

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