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Topic: The Phenomenon of Total War?  (Read 6289 times)
StGeorge
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« on: November 03, 2006, 10:09:38 PM »

I have been doing some reading and I found some schools of thought on Total War phenomenon. Seneca, I am sure that you can provide a historical perspective on this phenomenon.

The idea, or definition of Total War, is an interesting concept in itself. However, it seems to me that the characterization of total war is a product of its own generation. If a historian could ask a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, the French Revolution, a Mexican soldier engaged in war with the United states from 1846-1848, or either of the World Wars in the twentieth century, I would expect them all to answer that they had been engaged in a war where “The entire resources , human and material, of the combatants are committed to a conflict admitting neither rules or restraints in military operations” as defined in the opening of the lecture. As anything, it is in the definition that we will define a countries dedication to total warfare with respect solely to numbers. An important note is that it appears the lethality of the conflict has no bearing on the totality of war according to the definition.
According to the reading, the roots of total war are from the French Revolution. However the phrase ‘total war’ originated from World War I. Judging by the definition of total war from both the lecture and the essay, although they are not exact (but close enough in their point), there has yet to be a war fought which can be concluded as a total war. The fact that this term came about when it did I believe is owed to the destruction that the world saw in the aftermath of the Great War. The revolution in weapons that brought about death on a scale not familiar to soldiers, and the amount of territory engaged in the struggle on both sides was obviously overwhelming and needed to be defined. However, despite the destructive power of the war it still lacks the criteria to be defined by term that originated in its era. Moving on to WWII, where on the Eastern front over 19,000 Russians were killed every day, it does not meet the criteria in one respect or another of total war.

A World At War I feel does a tremendous job of outlining the specifics regarding the source of Total War and the different aspects that make up its content. An important distinction to make is between wars that take tens of millions of lives, create an overwhelming burden on all nations involved economically and that which define total war. There is a difference between a very costly war and a total war. A question that comes to mind is: Can there be a one-sided total war? If one nation is completely engaged with its human and material resources, unrestricted in its prosecution of warfare (with respect to the rules of war), and seeking nothing less than unconditional surrender – yet is fighting an adversary which is not required to make such sacrifices – is that a total war? What about civil wars? It is addressed with regards to the American Civil War and is denied the ‘distinction’ of a total war. This is obvious simply from numbers, but I don’t think it is necessarily intuitive. When one nation is engaged in fighting itself in the manner which the North and South were at the time, it is hard to imagine that is does not constitute a total war.

However, I agree with the reading that it was not a total war in more than one respect. World War II brought in a new era of killing that the world had yet to imagine. The author explains the killing of civilians to have its roots in the fact that they were a part of the war machine, and they were as credible and valuable (if not more) of a target than soldiers engaged in battle. I disagree with the assessment that killing of non-combatants was something new to this war. Air power certainly helped in the mass killing of civilians with the inability to technologically discriminate between the civilian and military targets that we see today. However, it is not new to the battlefield. What I found interesting was the motivation that was used to justify killing of non-combatants, which certainly was a new idea. The reading describes civilians as becoming more important to the winning of the war than the soldiers. I disagree with this for obvious reasons, first and foremost that they are not doing the fighting. However, this fed into the idea that allowed the unrestricted targeting of civilians throughout the war as though they were equal to the military targets. It’s the distinction of total war engaging civilians because of their contribution to the war effort that struck me as the biggest change from previous wars.
Describing the evolution of total war the paper seems to contradict itself. First, it is explained that nothing inevitable or foreordained drove the progression to the monster war of the mid-twentieth century. Yet, four pages later it is stated that total war was born of one twentieth century European war in anticipation of another. The Second World War was supposed to be the fulfillment of the trends distinguished in the First World War. While I’m not convinced that the origins of the total war rests with World War One (as stated above I think it’s a response to the overwhelming losses suffered), I do agree with the final analysis of the idea of total war culminating in Hiroshima and Aushwitz. The greatest defeat suffered by any nation without being invaded; and the systematic killing of a race of people resulting in one of the greatest tragedies in human history. Both in the same war, both a result of nations totally committed to being the victor.
One final note, which is hard to imagine, is the idea of a total war being fought today on the scale that it was engaged in sixty years ago. Although the world lacks the super-power rivals that we all became accustomed too during the Cold War, the use of nuclear weapons in mass warfare would lead to the defeat of all humanity. The author does mention nuclear power resting outside the conventional means of total warfare, however, it certainly fits within the definition laid out in the reading, and is unfathomable to consider its use within that context.
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« Reply #1 on: November 03, 2006, 10:10:31 PM »

You are the first here to post an article (whatever you call this 750+ word assignment) in which the concept of Total War is actually spelled out (explicitly) when you typed: "“The entire resources, human and material, of the combatants are committed to a conflict admitting neither rules or restraints in military operations” as defined in the opening of the lecture."

The article by Neely certainly suffers from the classical lack of depth of Historical feeling (only raw causality seems to matter to these heads, if they cannot connect the dots in timeless space vacuum - then it makes no sense to them, lol), so typical of modern, MBA-degree-colleges-trained minds, and you pointed it out quite clearly when you said how the author contradicted himself in the point of destined continuity of historical progression towards total warfare of the 20th century.

You do not seem to realize however that another Total War is absolutely unavoidable (perhaps it brings up fearful scenarios in your head), and all that we see today are desperate attempts (chiefly by the West) to avoid it at all costs - which as an attitude - chiefly attracts the "2nd" and 3rd" world (is Japan then a "1st world nation"?) to plot the grand alliance of countries which will some day militarily engage the USA at the same time, because the relatively lopsided, but sizeable and ubiquitous US military is the chief object of opposition to the US political power (even if silent - it is palpable in many different ways across the globe - even among the so-called "US allies"). Do not think that the nuclear weapons will deter a new and more devastating Total War from happening.

For that very reason there is a desperate feverishness across the globe to develop and deploy the militarized nuclear power so as to deter USA and its Western satellites from politically or militarily intimidating foreign nations when suitable.

When one remembers how easily and how readily the USA crushes and guts smaller powers across the globe (e.g. Vietnam, Panama, Serbia, Iraq) one cannot blame them for trying to obtain nuclear weapons at least as a deterrent of some kind.

All you need is a little more temperamental US administration and another Saddam somewhere to initiate a chain reaction that would strain all the current great power relations to the maximum.

I do not think that one can consider the USA a complete superpower in today's world because a country that borrows money from its enemies to cover-up its annual operations, including the payment of its military expenditures - does not deserve to be called a true superpower. Just because some Americans make fortunes by business deals with China, India, Mexico, Russia and other lesser but ultimately hostile nations - where the American jobs are speedily being siphoned-off overseas (in a manner similar to the overflow of slaves into the Roman Empire after the fall of Carthage in 146 BC resulting in deep internal disruptions) - does not make America an "Economic superpower".

However, if anything today is "100% American" then it is the (successful practice) habit of "thinking in money" - and this gives America its edge in relations with the world. However, as the failed Iraqi adventure shows, making democracy a vehicle for profits for (American) businesses, may not work as well overseas as it does back home in the Western trading zones. This brings us to the typical imperial paradox (the one that even Rome had to deal with all the time) which is that, for example, even though the military lost a war in Vietnam - the American business back home won that war hands down (or do you think that Johnson's "Great Society" only happened to coincide with the Vietnam war in dead heat?), and that when it no longer needed it - the war ended.

Given how much US debt is owned by Arabs, Chinese, Russians (treasury bonds) - the continued American superpower status becomes quite questionable.

This is another weak point of all these readings on military history - for they neither delve into the profit nor into the war-propaganda arm of warfare.

Almost every war of the West after 1763 (certainly after 1861) cannot be fully understood without the economic and propaganda side.
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« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2006, 09:00:44 AM »

I feel that the definition of Total War is being overused and taken out of context here. Although I am not a military historian by training, I have always considered the term to be an expression of the depth of commitment, experience and sacrifice taken by the nation/society engaged in that level of military struggle.
Certainly the meaning of Total War has changed over time and is indeed re-defined as human history moves on.
I had always been taught that the origins of Total War lay with the American Civil War (The War Between the States) principally the experience of the Confederacy rather than Unionist North.
The First World War as experienced by Germany, France and Britain was close to being Total War for those nations in terms of sacrifice and involvement of their societies at every level in the Military Struggle.
However Total War seems to have re-defined itself in World War two - principally the USSR and Germany experienced total war.
Great Britain did not, even though Britain saw tremendous sacrifice, militarily, economically, socially and politically, the British did not have civililian militia fighting the enemy on the streets. Witness the barely teenage conscripts in the Red Army, some scarecly tall enough to hold a rifle defending Stalingrad. Or the boys of the Hitler Youth and pensioners of the Volkssturm manning the barricades of Konigsberg, Breslau and Berlin in the face of Red Army tanks.
Incredibly it was not until the autumn of 1944 that Dr. Goebbels demanded of the German people, "Do you want Total War?"
Up to that point the regime did not consider that Germany was engaged in Total War - this was despite the defeats at Stalingrad, Kursk, the loss of North Africa and the Allied invasions of Italy and Normandy.
That level of Total War has not been seen since, with the possible exception of the North Vietnamese in the 1960's.
Total War is surely the commitment of all manufacturing capacity in the struggle; all productive industry geared to supporting the military, mobilisation of every civilian to war production or civil defence; the total mobilisation of a nation's entire capability, economic, military, media, and political to the prosecution of the war.

What do others think?
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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2006, 04:01:40 PM »

You are INCORRECT in your dating of the event of that ex-Bolshevik journalist-turned Nazi rabble-rouser Goebbels' declaration of "Totalen Krieg". In fact - he made that claim at one of the two last Nazi mass rallies soon after the news from the Eastern Front arrived about the incredible German defeat at Stalingrad. And indeed - by mid-1943 Germany was mobilizing finally its every last asset and tenet for this purpose - which is what Albert Speer was given the task to do not long before this announcement (As Dr. Todt the head of his important organization died in a plane crash above Russia - which was done on orders from the degenerate drug-addict Goering who could not stand being deprived of a position that Dr. Todt occupied.

Instead Hitler named Speer for it.

My friend, if Germany did not mobilize for total war in 1943 - I believe the war would have ended in May of 1944 not a year later.

I beg to disagree aboput the following as well:

Total War started in Napoleonic France (indeed the entire French nation with its resources was ,mobilized for war - which allowed it such a high advantage over other nations, including the novel tactics of mass attack (which Napoleon later modified into a mass of small mobile and separate units attacking in coordinated fashion front and flanks, and supported by the case-shot attack). Civil War in fact was so ugly and bizarre in terms of casualties because it employed so many (partly antiquated) methods of mass warfare of the Napoleonic wars. In any case - the idea of the Total War was borne in France and put to use there for the first time. The other nations needed time to catch up. But nothing could be more revolutionary than having all the people lumped together as one shapeless mass of "citizens" and then hurled into the ranks regardless of their rank, station in life or value and told to walk the line under machine guns (to get equally wasted in death). No wonder that another revolution was borne out of another Total War (Russian). Likewise, World War Two gave the Colored World Revolution a momentum and encouragement unlike any event prior.

Morphologically - the point is that things do not suddenly become something - but that they evolve over Time - and certainly the evolution of the Western Total War must be traced to the French Revolution.

What the French never understood is that even though the ideals of this revolution were almost exclusively imported from England - it was never intended to be applied to England in practice (nor perhaps to any other nation) - but the French revolutionaries lacked the finesse that distinguished the British upper classes who were quite apt in training the rising bourgeoisie class into accepting the old forms and norms of life.


« Last Edit: November 05, 2006, 04:21:00 PM by TheCuriousOne » Report to moderator   Logged

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« Reply #4 on: November 07, 2006, 05:29:51 PM »

Northlander's point was subtle and mainly centered around the idea that to have a Total War one must expect to endure every possible kind of suffering there is. Personally, I believe that Total War is to be viewed as a type of event that characterizes THE WHOLE PERIOD not just everything down to the last detail (Which may or may not be missing). The basic point I would make is that to have a TW one must have the intention and the mass mobilization of all possible resources (regardless of whether the actual shooting takes place in your cities or not) for the purpose of knocking-out the ENEMY NATION lock, stock and barrell.

From that perspective the one who is knocked out cold in every way loses - and this is what happened to the German and Japanese nations. NOt that most other participants did not get very bruised!

It is time to view events morphologically and not materialisticallly so as to avoid getting confused in details. (THis is NOT to say that you Northlander are a materialist - far from it - but we all suffer from the prejudices of this decayed age without even realizing it).

Is it anylonger even possible for the Western man to live to see ANYTHING truly and deeply inspirational in the realm of public life ?
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« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2006, 12:51:39 PM »

Correction.

Yes Curious One you are quite right - my mistake - the Totalen Krieg speech by Dr Goebbels was made in 1943 post-Stalingrad.
However I would dispute the idea that Germany moved to total war in 1943, and certainly the war would have been unlikley to end in 1944.
Total mobilisation in Germany did not take place until the autumn of 1944, when the Volkssturm was created; the Hitler Youth were mass mobilised for war including the conscription of 16 and 15 year olds. German women were only mass`recruited into war production and military service (Flak hilferinnen etc) in 1944. Germany was able to rebuild its reserves after the collapse in Northern France in summer 1944 and consequently was able to fortify its western defences and launch the Ardennes Offensive in winter 1944. That was Total War - the involvement of virtually the entire population in war service. Even the disabled and war wounded were 'recycled' into working in war production or serving in local defence and security units.
(Your comments on the death of Dr Fritz Todt were interesting - I have never heard this suggestion before that Goering was responsible for Todt's plane crash - what evidence was there for this?)
Total War indeed.
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« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2006, 08:13:36 AM »

Northlander,

Dr. Albert Speer in his seminal work "Inside the 3rd Reich" makes a deeply felt and quite revealing conclusion about the mystery surrounding the death of  the crucially important head of the essential Ministry of Armaments (in fact THE MOST IMPORTANT POSITION IN THE REICH from a practical standpoint) Dr. Fritz Todt.

His position was coveted by the sick and degenerate addict Goering who was merely a Commissioner of the 4-Yr Plan but could not feign responsibility for the entire war economy. Todt in fact made preparations for his death (after Goering berated him at a meeting he talked of quitting even - but HItler would not accept it.) Hitler in fact told Speer he feels foul play was involved in the unusual plane explosion-crash (right after takeoff) and wanted a deeper probe but then gave up on it. The parvenu barrell Goering could not wait to become a successor to Todt and had a nervous overnight vigil trying to press upon the staff and NItler that he must be the successor. He was mad at the choice of Speer (which he was stunned by - and Speer too - as he knew he had ZERO resume qualifications for the job!) and wouldn't even attend the funeral of Todt (but belatedly did show up in order not to upset HItler too much).

Speer in fact loved Todt and admired him greatly, but felt a threat from Goering, and only Hitler's protetion as well as the speedy downfall of Germany ensured that the matter stopped at Todt (Although Goering continued to make problems for Speer).

The finger of destiny saved Speer as he was to fly with Todt to Ukraine but had to excuse himself because he was too exhausted thanks to HItler's psychotic late-night session with Speer in which he babbled on and on about his grandiose projects for Nurenberg (Speer was his chief architect after the death of Troost). Thus only Dr. Todt died and not both of them.

An evolving storm of poignant circumstantial facts (too long to mention here now) listed by Speer justify a direct link between Todft's death and Goering's ambitions.

This was Speer's comment on his appointment by HItler to succeed Todt:

"To be sure, it was in keeping with HItler's dilettantism that he preferred to choose nonspecialists as his associates."

-page 197 "Inside the Third Reich"

Todt was de facto the only true professional in HItler's cabinet or top circle of government.
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