How did total war lead to large scale changes in the making of our society?

Total war is a war of unlimited scope in which a belligerent engages in a mobilization of all available resources at their disposal, whether human, industrial, agricultural, military, natural,; technological, or otherwise, in order to entirely destroy or render, beyond use their rival’s capacity to continue resistance.

The practice of total war has been in use for centuries, but it was only in the; middle to late 19th century that total war was identified by scholars as a separate class of warfare.

In a total war, there is less and sometimes no differentiation between combatants and non-combatants (civilians) than in other conflicts, as nearly every human resource, civilians and soldiers alike, can be considered to be part of the belligerent effort.

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Total war is one in which the whole population and all the resources of the combatants are committed to complete victory and thus become legitimate military targets. With few, mostly 20th-century, exceptions, all the other wars in history have been limited, in that they have engaged less than the entire energy of the societies involved and have stopped short of unconditional surrender by one side.

Total war can be unilateral, bilateral, or multilateral and is characterized by an absence of rules or restraint in the conception and execution of military action in pursuit of unlimited political objectives.

It precludes capitulation, so there is no incentive to cease fighting even when defeat is objectively inevitable. Practically by definition, total war is or becomes ideological in nature at an early stage, not least because the ruled need to be reassured that the sacrifices they are called upon to make are for a worthwhile cause and not, as is invariably the case, to increase the power of the rulers.

The Carthaginian Empire was a monarchy and later a republic of Phoenician city-states throughout North Africa and modern Spain which lasted from about 650 BC (independence from its metropolis Tire) until 146 BC.


It was more or less under the control of the city-state of Carthage after the fall of Type to Babylonian forces. At the height of the city’s influence, it held hegemony over most of the Western Mediterranean.

The empire was in a constant state of struggle with the Roman Republic, which led to a series of conflicts known as the Punic Wars. After the third and final Punic War, Carthage was destroyed then occupied by Roman forces. Nearly all of the empire fell into Roman hands from then on.)

It is thus a term to be used sparingly. The annihilation of Carthage at the end of the Punic wars was total in its effect, but the proportion of the overall resources of the Carthaginian Empire committed to prevent this outcome was minor.

The principle of total war was contained in the proclamation of the levee en masse on the eve of the French Revolutionary wars, but the wars were still waged with very much less than the full resources of the state.


The term ‘unconditional surrender’ was coined by Grant, and Lincoln made it his policy but, once again, only a limited proportion of the entire resources, even of the Confederacy, were mobilized during the American civil war.

A notable theorist of the ‘nation in arms’-a theory which envisaged wholesale male mobilization -was the French socialist Jean Jaures. This has encouraged some theorists to draw a distinction between the nation in arms and total war, but the differences are semantic only as to theoretical ends; in practice the means inexorably predominate.

The Great War, in Hobsbawm’s words, ‘brutalized both warfare and politics, if one could be conducted without counting the human or any other costs, why not the other?’ Although vast numbers of survivors became pacifists, there were also those whose experiences of violence and savagery drove them into the ranks of ultra-nationalist right-wing politics.

The German Freikorps were one example of this, and the German workers party of Drexler, which was a precursor of Hitler’s national socialists, another.

The phenomenon of total war was accompanied by the politics of totalitarianism (and we may not forget that authoritarian politics found resonances in the countries of the liberal capitalist west as well).

The Nazis forged an unchallenged control over national resources, and even adapted the Soviet concept of economic planning, with a four year plan of the German war economy during the Great War.

By 1938, German re-armament consumed 52% of government expenditure and 17% of GNP, more than the UK, France and the USA combined. Because on Hitler’s part to resort to war in order to obviate such economic difficulties’. It is significant that Germany’s conquest of Austria in 1938 resulted in the acquisition of $200 million in gold and foreign exchange reserves.

Total war meant that the entire nation was mobilized for war, not merely the active combatants. The outcome of the war reflected the capacity of the economy to produce for it. This was the war effort, and belligerent government took control of economic life on an unprecedented scale, in order to secure regular supplies of munitions, ordnance and manpower.

To fulfill massive financial demands during the First World War, governments increased the public debt, and printed more paper money. Britain resorted to heavy borrowing on American Markets, and high income taxes. Laissez economic doctrine and democratic rights were soon eclipsed as military commanders were given powers over civic administration, including food rationing.

Walther Ruthenium set up special state corporations dealing in certain strategic commodities, and under the so-called Hindenburg Programmed, vital machinery were transferred from less to more important industries.

Certain factories were shut down. Cartels emerged and the co-operation between state and big business in national economic management was solidified this set a precedent for the future, and crystallized authoritarian trends set a precedent for the future, and crystallized authoritarian trends in the polity.

The French economy, which suffered from the loss of significant economic zones to the Germans, was obliged to recuperate its losses with heavy state inputs, leading to a massive development of heavy industry.

Historian James Joll remarks that it was the First World War that ‘really completed the industrial revolution in France’. The numbers of workers in French military arsenals grew from 50,000 to 1.6 million- peasant constituted 41% of conscripted soldiers-women and children were left with major agricultural tasks.

International arms production statistics for the Second World War showed what total war meant in an industrial age. Nearly 70,000 tanks were produced in 1944 alone by the USA, Britain, Germany and the USSR. The Allies produced 167,654 aircraft year.

These figures demonstrate the scale of economic mobilization. Thus, the American economy showed an approximate 50% increase in physical output as well as productive plant. Its annual growth rate was more than 15 per cent, higher than at any stage in its history before or since. Defense related production went from 2% of total output in 1939 to 40% in 1943.

Scientific resources were also mobilized by the belligerents in an unprecedented manner. Constant improvements were made in communications, aeronautical engineering, tank armor and design, rocketry, explosives and machine tools.

The most stark symbol of this destructive imagination at work in the development of the atomic bomb, a weapon that was simultaneously being sought by the militaries of Germany as well as the USA, and whose use signified the advent of massacre and terror as instruments of military policy.

Total war lent impetus to the search for military applications atomic theory; each side feared the possibility of prior achievements by the other. Britain, Canada and finally the USA put together an international team of scientists, supported by the maximum official backing, to develop an atomic weapon before Hitler could do so.

The German effort fell short, not least because of the exodus of brilliant scientists in the-1930 s fleeing from Nazi persecution. They did however succeed in developing the first pilot-less aircraft and rockets, which were used against Britain in 1944.

After the war, some of the most talented German scientists such as Werner von Braun were employed by the American space and military programmers. The capacity to build weapons of mass destruction had over spilled the boundaries of the nation-states system.

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