[Cross-posted at Cliopatria.]
A couple of interesting posts at The Russian Front suggest that the Russo-Japanese war of 1904-5 should be thought of as a World War Zero, or alternatively that the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-8 should be. It's often useful to play around with the names we give to historical events and phenomena, because it reminds us that they are just names. And this is an old game for historians (as Dave Stone notes) -- the Seven Years' War is sometimes considered to be the first world war (if not the First World War). But I'm not sure in what sense the Russo-Japanese and Russo-Turkish wars qualify as world wars. Shouldn't the primary determinant of this be that they were fought on a world scale? Even the epic, doomed voyage of the Baltic fleet to Tsushima isn't enough to make the Russo-Japanese War a world war, as all the actual fighting was localised to a relatively small region in Manchuria (if you set aside a few potshots at British trawlers).
But in his post, John Steinberg does give a list of reasons for his argument regarding the Russo-Japanese War (which comes out of research for a two-volume work he co-edited entitled The Russo-Japanese War in Global Perspective: World War Zero). It seems to me that most of them are not actually about geographical extent but rather other sorts of scale -- of battles, of casualties, of finance, and so on. That is, in Steinberg's formulation the Russo-Japanese War sounds something like an approach towards total war, not a world war. If that's the case then I find this statement surprising:
As for the concept of World War Zero, most western military historians continue to view the Russo-Japanese War as a regional conflict rooted in the age of imperialism. Historians in Asia, appear much more respective.
I thought the Russo-Japanese War was well-known among western military historians (if not among contemporary western military staffs) for its bloodiness. Hew Strachan, for example, refers to it quite often (well, on 30 pages out of 1139) in volume I of The First World War. It's also a common element in diplomatic histories of the war's origins, for Russia's defeat had a tremendous impact on the strategic calculations of all the other Great Powers. So it seems to me that western historians are quite comfortable in seeing the Russo-Japanese War as a step along the road to total war and/or to the First World War in several respects. I think I must be missing something here.