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"I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

When World War III is not far enough into the future, writers tend to make mention of later World Wars. This is often used to show how mankind is doomed to repeat its past mistakes. Generally, they will be the explanation for a Crapsack World/After the End setting, or just a nasty blot in human history.

A Sub-Trope to In Your Nature to Destroy Yourselves.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Appleseed and Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex have both a World War III and a World War IV in their shared Back Story. WWIV is always said to be "conventional" or "Non-Nuclear" (after WWIII exchanged a number of cities for suspiciously round lakes), and comprised several guerrilla conflicts and minor land wars before the start of either series.
  • In Cross Ange, thanks to World War VII, the entire civilization of Earth is destroyed, prompting Embryo to attempt to make another world; one with no wars, discrimination, and where everyone can get whatever they want. Unfortunately, he opened a new can of problems with that: The mankind he created became overly decadent and slothful. In the meantime, human remnants of the old World War VII ended up having to evolve to be like dragons in order to survive, creating the DRAGON race.
  • Eden: A newspaper that Zero shows from humanity's history reads of a World War VII.
  • In the dub of Yu-Gi-Oh! 5Dā€™s Crow calls "Flying Fortress SKY-FIRE" World War IV.

    Audio Play 
  • Big Finish Doctor Who:
    • In "Frostfire", Vicki Pallister says that St. Paul's Cathedral still stood in the 25th century, having survived four world wars.
    • In "Singularity", the Fifth Doctor mentions that World War V was fought in the 49th century.

    Comic Books 

    Fan Works 
  • A Red Letter Day: At one point, Shepard fears accidentally starting World War Six.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • A Boy and His Dog: World War IV is the apocalyptic conflict. World War III is identified as an alternate name for the Cold War.
  • The Earth of Dark Planet is currently engaged in World War VI, also called the Cleansing War. Due to a bizarre interaction between a couple of WMDs, it's going to be the last one: it set off a plague that is rapidly sweeping across the planet.
  • The Day After has Professor Huxley (John Lithgow) quoting Einstein regarding World War IV (see Real Life below).

  • Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? is set in the aftermath of World War Terminus, an apocalyptic war that left civilization clinging to life in overcrowded pockets.
  • In the Crosstime Traffic novel Gunpowder Empire by Harry Turtledove, there is mention of an Alternate Universe in which nuclear weapons were never invented. The United States and the Soviet Union are fighting World War VI in the 2090s.
  • Ender's Game: One of the sequels references at least one additional World War that ended with Mecca getting nuked.
  • Genocide Online: As we learn from Rena's father Naoshi, the story takes place after World War IV, consequences of which he wants to resolve by his bill to the government. Since that bill relies on long term profits instead of short, it is denied by most of the votes.
  • In The History of the Galaxy, World War IV is briefly mentioned to have been brewing around the time the first extrasolar colony ships began to set off for other stars. On the other hand, the name is an artifact, as the war would involve all the Solar System.
  • In The Kid Who Became President, the eponymous 13-year-old chief executive Judson Moon is challenged to a World War IV video game, in which World War III eliminated all nations except a tiny dictatorship, where the game was made, and its enemy, the USA.
  • The Selection is set many years after World War IV.
  • The short story "The Last Flower" by James Thurber starts with World War XII having brought about the collapse of civilization, which only begins to rebuild when someone expresses concern for the world's last flower. The story ends with the next world war destroying everything in the world except for one man and one woman ā€” and one flower.
  • The Lunar Chronicles: Throughout the series, several characters make offhand references to World War IV, which appears to have been the last global conflict before the Earthen Union was established and world peace was achieved between its six Space-Filling Empires.
  • Robert A. Heinlein's The Star Beast mentions a "tank killer" gun that was a relic of World War IV.
  • In the backstory to the Star Carrier series World War III was set off after Islamic terrorists nuked several major cities around the world. Then there were two Sino-Western Wars against the Chinese Hegemony, which ended with China setting three asteroids on collision courses with Earth. One, dubbed Wormwood, got through and killed half a billion people when it struck the Atlantic. As a result the Islamic states are barely tolerated by the Terran Confederation of States and China is denied representation altogether. World War VI starts in the fourth book of the series between the United States of North America and some of the other Confederation members, but is interrupted when the Sh'daar Masters break their armistice with Earth and attack.
  • World War IV starts in the first book of the Galactic Marines series. World Wars V and VI occur in the background later in the series.
  • The Survivalist series is about a war set in the future. References are made to past wars particularly the Cold War during the 1980s.
  • In World War Z, it's right there in the title, with "World War" being used to demonstrate the wide-reaching nature of the zombie outbreak (as opposed to the "first two" World Wars, which involved multiple nations fighting each other). Alternate in-universe names include "Zombie World War" and "Zombie War I" (the narrator dislikes the latter because it implies more zombie "wars" to come).

    Live-Action TV 
  • Babylon 5:
    • Subverted twice in the backstory: in 2156 the inner tensions between Earth Alliance members were getting dangerously close to cause a new World War when the sudden First Contact with the Centauri scared everyone into wiping all the troubles under the mat to make a show of unity in the face of the Centauri; by 2212 World War IV actually happens... But by this time Earth Alliance is much stronger, politically and militarily, than all its members put together, and it ends very quickly.
    • The two Earth Alliance Civil Wars can be considered this.
  • Doctor Who:
    • The villain of "The Talons of Weng-Chiang", Magnus Greel, is a 51st Century war criminal from World War VI, leader of the Supreme Alliance. He was known as the Butcher of Brisbane, triggered the war by asassinating the leader of the Icelandic Alliance, and was eventually defeated by the Fillipino army when they marched on Reykjavik.
    • "The Unquiet Dead": The Ninth Doctor mentions having seen World War V.

  • Type O Negative frontman Peter Steele's earlier Thrash Metal band, Carnivore, had a song about World War III (and IV), even called "World Wars III and IV".
  • "Roman Holiday" by Nicki Minaj references a World War VI.

    Tabletop Games 
  • The boardgame World War IV: One World, One King has it right in the title.
  • Shadows Over Sol is hard sci-fi horror game where various megacorps are leading human expansion across the solar system in the 23rd century. World War IV was the last major conflict of the setting and resulted in corporations being granted the right to declare their properties sovereign territories, and right to pass their own laws within them.
  • The Looney Labs pyramid game, World War 5, is a worldwide conflict with the continents (except Antarctica) now serving as nation-states. Despite the six continents fighting each other, Andrew Looney recommends two to four players as the main objective is for one continent to fully conquer another while having at least one pyramid on their own continent. Having six players requires someone to be eliminated, and this results in a brutal and lengthy earlygame.

    Video Games 
  • Battlefield 2142 had World War IV (assuming nothing happened between Battlefield 2 and 2142) between a futuristic European Union and the Pan-Asian Collation.
  • eRepublik has World Wars I to V, completely unrelated to historical ones.
  • Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon makes constant referrals to a second Vietnam War (protagonist Rex Power Colt is a veteran of it). Considering it escalated all the way to worldwide nuclear annihilation, it may as well have been a World War.
  • Mount & Blade: Warband: Invoked by the creator of the mod Europe In Flames 1, who refers to the Thirty Years' War (the mod's setting) as "The real first WW".
  • The backstory of the Splatoon series involves not just a third World War, but World War IV and V. It is during World War V that one of two global factions launched a warhead at Antarctica, causing much of the continent to melt, which didn't really help with the whole "rising sea levels from global warming" crisis that was still going on. Cue mass extinction of almost every mammal on Earth, paving the way for various sea-life to evolve and become the new dominant species on the planet. Most of this information comes from supplemental material, with the games themselves having the characters attribute the extinction of our race to global warming alone.

    Web Comics 

    Web Original 
  • Technically predating the Web, but the most popular dialup BBS software in the late 1980s was "World War IV".
  • According to Uncyclopedia, we've had enough World Wars to require a Collector's Boxset. Note that there used to be articles on nearly forty different World Wars.

    Western Animation 
  • Family Guy: In "Stew-Roids", Stewie is beaten up by a girl, an event so terrible to Peter as a father he's afraid it will cause "World War 5", which apparently is so intense it skips right over 3 & 4.
  • World War IV is mentioned in Futurama by Professor Fansworth without giving much context. Also the Second Coming of Jesus apparently was a global conflict, some fans speculate that the two are related or are the same event.
  • Played for Laughs in an episode of Johnny Bravo where Johnny is trapped and preserved in hair gel, allowing him to be freed 500 years in the future. When he comments on how the future looks kind of shabby, Carl's descendant states that they have had six World Wars and a couple of pandemics.
    Johnny: Uh, no offense, Carl, but this place is a dump.
    Future Carl: After six World Wars and two global plagues, I think we've done quite nicely thank you.
  • Lloyd in Space takes place shortly after World War Nine as per marketing, not that said war ever appears, gets mentioned or implied in the show proper. It was likely a justification as to why alien races are constantly at each other's throats in order to teach the show's many lessons on hate.
  • Milo Murphy's Law: Played for Laughs in a discussion between time travelers.
    Brick: Congratulations, you idiots! It took us months to infiltrate that party! Now we'll have to find some other way to stop World War 5!
    Cavendish: ...what about three and four?
    Savannah: You're welcome.

    Real Life 
  • Many historians retrospectively describe the Russo-Japanese War (8 Feb 1904 - 5 Sep 1905) as "World War 0"
  • Some politicians and authors are under the impression that World War III was the Cold War (including the Korean War and The Vietnam War) and World War IV was The War on Terror.
  • There's also the Seven Years' War (the North American theater of which was called the French and Indian War), which shared many similarities to what we now consider World War I. For this reason, many historians consider it to be the actual first world war, so if you consider them all together, we've already had five world wars. Further European Wars that could be considered 'World' warsnote : The Thirty Years' War, The Nine Years War, The War of the Spanish Succession, and The Wars of the The French Revolution and Napoleon. So that basically means that we had nine world wars! So we're pretty much worried of getting a World War X.
  • A popular quote, often attributed to Einstein but possibly originating elsewhere, goes, "I do not know how the Third World War will be fought, but I can tell you what they will use in the Fourth ā€” sticks and stones!" The implication is that something, most likely nuclear weapons, will happen in WWIII that reduces humanity back to more primitive levels of technology. This also gets referenced in Deus Ex.