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The understanding of the term ‘Total War’ is critical to understanding how wars are fought and how they affect society. By using a combination of primary and secondary sources in books and journals and also Internet articles, this essay will argue that the term is not applicable to all forms of warfare. The essay will begin by defining the term, using academic definitions, and will show how Total War differs from other wars, for example guerilla and terrorist wars. Other terms, which are associated with Total War, such as air power and mass bombing, will also be explained, and how these methods have been used to widen the theatre of war away from the battlefield and into civilian life. Furthermore the essay will show how governments intervene to control a war on the home front, using powers to control civilian and industrial life. Finally the essay will conclude with my own personal definition, taken from the sum of the material represented.

The definitions of Total War are numerous and varied, beginning with Philip Taylor’s view of Total War; “The entire resources of the nation had to be mobilised against the entire resources of the enemy before victory could be secured”1. Roger Chickering gives a much better definition; “Total war is distinguished by its intensity and extent. Theatres of operation span the globe; the scale of battle is practically limitless….Total war requires the mobilization not only of armed forces but also of whole populations.”2. Gordon Wright discusses total war in a similar way, in that the battlefield is no longer limited to soldiers, but also includes civilians3. Hobsbawm shares this view; stating that modern warfare involves all citizens and mobilises most of them.

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Additionally, it is possible to speculate that the compulsory inclusion of civilians into the armed forces or industries via conscription means that there are no longer ‘civilian’ targets within a nation mobilised for war. For example male conscription during World War Two sent soldiers to the front lines or down the mines as a Bevin Boy5; similarly, in 1917, during World War One the merchant navy was ‘requisitioned’ by the State for the purposes of the Allied forces6. Thus ‘Total War’ would appear to blur the lines of distinction between the conscript and the professional soldier as well as collapsing boundaries between military and industrial contributions to a war effort. . If people lose their ability to choose whether or not to take part and conscientious objecting can lead to participation in an alternative field of operations such as medic, or be punished by imprisonment, conscription, i.e. compulsory participation in a war effort by a civilian population, could be seen as a defining aspect of ‘Total War’. Thusly, Carl von Clausewitz did not use the term Total War preferring Absolute War, and this as a philosophical concept, distinct from Total War7; that in militaristic terms “was a struggle fought with all available means until one side was unable to offer further resistance”.

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