How Comprehensively Are the Characteristics of “Total War” Illustrated by the First World War?

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The First World War was unlike previous conflicts in its scope and scale. While previous wars tended to be limited wars, where war only consisted of direct combat away from society, the Great War was a total war. For the purpose of this essay, total war will be defined as a type of war that involves all aspects of society and comprises of both the destruction of the enemy by direct combat and the disruption of enemy resources and morale. This essay will argue that the characteristics of total war are clearly illustrated by the direct and indirect means of warfare involved in the First World War. This will be argued by examining the political, economic and social aspects of indirect warfare in addition to the direct warfare that characterize World War One as a total war.

The First World War clearly illustrates the characteristics of total war because it was a war that involved political organization. In order to allocate resources and manpower between the armies and the home front, political power was centralized in the governments that took part in war. Gradually into the war, political leaders realized that the rapid and decisive war they had originally hoped for would be not achieved and that the First World War was instead a war of attrition, whereby the sustenance and control of manpower, munition production, morale and the economy was essential for victory. As a result, in order to achieve such control, governments increase state interference and tightened restrictions on civil liberties, while also suppressing any opposition to war. Britain’s implementation of the Dense of Realm Act exemplifies this through the censorship of press and mail, while the increase of taxes on civilians demonstrates how the coalition government used authority to finance its war efforts. Furthermore, Germany’s overwhelming militarists in the government lead Germany to virtually become a military dictatorship under Ludendorff, resulting in strict labour restrictions such as...
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