World War One and "Total War"

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Past Questions:
  • Define “total war” and examine to what extent either the First World War or the Second World War was a “total war”. (Nov 2008)
  • “Even in the twentieth century the term ‘total war’ could not be applied to any war.” To what extent do you agree with this judgment? (May 2008)


**MARKSCHEME NOTES**

Defining 'total war'?

In short, a total war is a war in which the entire nation is involved in. However, there are many ways in which an entire nation can be involved in a war. The following social, economical, military and political characteristics of a society/conflict signify a total war/society that wages a total war.

Social characteristics:
-A total war does not only involve soldiers but civilians as well both in the areas of fighting and on the home front.
-Recruitment of women into male-dominated work places (such as industry during the WW1) in order to keep up with the needs of the soldiers.
Economical characteristics:
-The "civilian" economy of the nation is reconstructed to a war economy. This could involve rationing of various goods for civilians in order to supply the soldiers fighting the war.
-Focus of industry is shifted from consumer goods to war goods.

Military characteristics:
-Conscription enforced to raise and mobilize a massive army

-Relentless intensity and vast scale of war
-Massive destruction and high casualty rates
-Belligerent use all weapons at their disposal in order to fight the enemy, biochemical weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction

-Belligerents aim to destroyed other opponents

Political characteristics:
-Power is centralized.
The state becomes more interventionist and passes decrees in order to control economy/society and gear them for war.
-Use of propaganda to encourage involvement in the war on the home front and reinforce nationalistic feelings by demonizing the enemy.

Question to consider in a conclusion?
Is a war "total" if only one of the fighting sides are fully involved in it and the other side's involvement limited?

Why is WW1 considered to be a 'total war'?

Argument 1 that WW1 was a 'total war': AIMS

World War 1 is considered to be the first total war for several reasons:

- Both sides fought the war, not for limited aims but for total victory
- Governments used all weaponry that they had at their disposal in order to win the war. They also developed new technologies and weaponry as the war progressed
- It involved all people of the major countries - not only soldiers but also civilans. Civilians were deliberately targeted during the military conflict and they suffered from the economic warfare carried out by both sides. Women also played a major role in the war effort at home
- In order to fight the kind of battles waged in World War 1. and to weld the state into a united, efficient war-making machine, nations developed new ways of controlling the economy and their populations.
- The aims of tge powers involved in the fighting were 'total' and made any negotiated peace very difficult to achieve.
- All the Great powers developed ambitious war aims that they were reluctant to give up. France was determined to regain Alsace-Lorraine and both France and Britain had committed themselves to crushing Prussian militarism.

Argument 2 that WW1 was a 'total war': Role of CIVILIANS

In a total war, the entire society plays a part in mobilizing and getting the country ready for its war effort as well as keep up the work at home whilst the soldiers fight the war. Civilians plays an important role in the war in the following ways:
  • The First World War saw a rapid growth in industry as the countries tried to keep up with the demands that a total war put upon the society and its resources.
  • In Britain, France and Germany this meant women joining the workforce to fill the empty space left by the men leaving to fight the war.
  • By 1917, one of four of the workers were women and Joseph Joffre claimed that "if the women in the war factories stopped for 20 minutes, we would lose the war".

The impact of the fighting on civilians:
  • There were an increasing number of civilian casualties as new technology became availible on both sides of the fighting.
  • Paris was shelled from a distance of 126km by the massive German gun "Long Max" and later planes made raids on Britain.
  • British planes also inflicted severe damage on German factories and towns in the last years of the war, moving some of the fighting and casualties from the battlefield and towards the cities.
  • On the Eastern front, civilians were caught up in the battles as great advances and retreats that took place on this front meants that civilians were involved in the violence, sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately.
  • For example Jews were actively attacked by advancing Russians and other minorities such as Germans, Gypsies, Hungarians and Turks also suffered as they were all deported from Russia's western provinces during the war.
  • Ethnic violence also took place in the Balkans as Niall Ferguson writes, in the East "there were death throes of the Old Central and east European empires had dissolved the old boundaries between combat and civilian. This kind of war proved much easier to start than to stop".

Argument 3 that WW1 was a 'total war': increased GOVERNMENT control

In short, a total war is a war in which the entire nation is involved in. However, there are many ways in which an entire nation can be involved in a war. The following political characteristics of a society/conflict signify a total war/society that wages a total war.

Political characteristics:
-Power is centralized.
The state becomes more interventionist and passes decrees in order to control economy/society and gear them for war.

So, to what extent was government control increased during WW1?

In Britain in 1914, the DORA (Defence of the Realm Act) decree passed, which allowed government to interefere in people's everyday lives in order to satisfy the war demands. For examples, newspapers were censored, letters home from soldiers were censored to give a "cheerful" impression of life at the front and the opening hours of pubs were restricted to ensure that people would go to work the next day.
The British government also centralized the control over the country by setting up new ministeries that ran the munitions production, coal mines, railways etc.
British also nationalized key industries such as coal mining to meet the demands of the war.


In France, 33 new departments were set up to centralize and control the economy as well as society. In Russia, Nicholas II centralized the control of the state by reasserting autocratic rule without the involvement of the Duma.

Conclusions: how far do we think the First World War should be seen as a 'total war'?

Women:
  • Even though the female workforce increased, in all countries there was resistance to employing women and it was not until 1915 that serious recruitment for women into industries began.
  • Even then, there was little enthusiasm from employers and trade unions for women entering the workforce and in Britain there had to be negotations to reach agreements on women entering "men's jobs" in munition and engineering as this would only be temporary and women would not be trained to "fully skilled tradesmen".
  • Women were supposed to recieve equal wages as men for similar jobs but this rarely happened as wages remained low.
  • The impact of the war upon civilians was also limited as on the western front there was relatively little movement and civilians were able to keep away frmo the actual fighting. Casualties here only resulted due to inaccurate artillery fire.
  • However, the lives of civilians in all countries were affected by the war in the sense of the huge losses of soldiers; all families and villages across Europe faced the consequences of the "lost generation" (this also led to military conscription in 1915 for France and 1916 for Britain)
  • Conclusions: how far do we think the First World War should be seen as a 'total war'?
  • However,The First World War should be seen as a 'total war' for two reasons. First of all, the major powers involved fought the war not for limited aims but for total victory. This interrelates with the second reason which is that the governments used all weaponry at their disposal in order to win the war. In other words, they went all in to achieve total victory.