Total Wars

Examining the term “total war” as it relates to the great wars of the twentieth century.

This paper explains how the concept of war changed over the past century due to industrialization and nationalism. It shows that historical wars were fought with the soldiers as the enemy and compares the new phenomenon of “total war” to mean that recent wars are fought on all fronts – politically, socially, economically and militarily. With the onset industrialization, a country’s population has been able to support its military in ways not previously known. This paper looks at specific wars as examples – the First World War, the Second World War, the Cold War and Vietnam War.
The great wars of the twentieth century can be classified as total wars not because of their far-reaching effects, although many of them have been global wars. Rather, the term total war refers more to the all-encompassing effect of war on the cultures involved. Total wars alter civilian mentality and ideology in a way traditional wars do not. Patriotism and nationalism are by no means new concepts; nor is taking civilian casualties a new practice. But since World War One, total wars have taken on new meanings and transformed political ideologies.