What can Google tell us about World War III?

Google has an interesting service, called Ngram viewer. After cataloging over 5 million books written between 1500 and 2008, anybody can now type in a word or phrase and receive a graph of how frequently that word was used over the selected period.

Playing around with a few different words, I eventually put in “war”, producing some interesting results.

Observe the graph below (or click the above link):

ngram 'war'

Okay, so somewhat unsurprisingly there are two big peaks in the graph, corresponding with World War I and World War II. But the interesting part is that the increase in the usage of the word “war” begins well before the war itself.

The rise prior to WWI begins as early as 1908, and prior to WWII in 1932. That gives us a full 6 and 7 years, respectively, of warning before the beginning of the world wars. Now, unfortunately the database ends in 2008, but a quick check with google trends shows that frequency of use of the word “war” has not increased in the past five years.

Now of course there have been dozens of major wars since the end of WWII, claiming millions of lives, but, perhaps this information may give some comfort to those worrying about World War III occurring in the next few years due to continued U.S. military intervention in the Middle East and Africa.

Personally I do not think it will come to that, as the basic endgame of nuclear powers in direct and open conflict has not changed since the end of the cold war.

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