Talk:Total war

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Ancient Sumeria[edit]

Given the close interconnection of the three definitions here, and the fact that some historians refer to ancient Sumeria as the origins of the idea of total war, scorched earth, genocide, etc., as the normal mode of warfare, this article should be written as one piece, explaining the whole history of the concept, the technological escalation to include all aspects of production and development of new weapons, such as the Technology during World War I which many say was the first such total war.

Nuclear bombing of Hiroshima[edit]

Possibly the most famous use of total war, was the nuclear bombing of Hiroshima by Harry Truman in order to extort Japan into surrendering or face the annihilation of their civilization.

I have removed this because it is a personal interpretation. Rewording can be done to mention this in NPOV manner. -- Taku 19:15, Feb 16, 2004 (UTC)
This would work better. "Possible the most famous display of total war tactics was the use of the nuclear bomb, against Japan during World War II, in order to force Japan to surrender." However, this is not an intrepretation I agree with. The strategy of total war should be applied to more conventional attacks (note the plural). The attack on Hiroshima was really more of a tactic to end the war, not a strategy. And indeed, more conventional attacks were more destructive, such as the firebombing of Toyko or Dresden. Instead of the citing atomic bomb, the night bombings of population centers by the British and Germans would be more appropriate example. It would even combine both definitions of total war. Stargoat 22:10, 3 Mar 2004 (UTC)

Term "Total War" by Nazi propaganda minister[edit]

I put "The term has also been invoqued to shore up support during wartime, most famously by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels at a time when Germany had just lost the Battle of Stalingrad." back in the introduction. The reason is that "total war" is not exclusively a military term (as one might think reading the article before my edits), it is also important in propaganda.pir 09:19, 3 Aug 2004 (UTC)

I took it out. You misunderstand Goebbels' use of the word, and the context of the situation. Nazi Germany was not at that point in the war, committed to a total war. Goebbels was trying to drum up support for committing the entire economy to war; something that Germany had not yet done at that point in the war. His use of the word matches the scope of the article perfectly. Stargoat 14:55, 3 Aug 2004 (UTC)

Neutrality dispute because of selection of quotes[edit]

The selection of the quotes is not neutral as it gives the impression as if the Nazis were the only ones who deliberately targeted civilians and as if the bombing of Dresden that killed tens of thousands of civilians was a strike primarily on military targets. Get-back-world-respect 18:56, 4 Nov 2004 (UTC)

There should be no neutrality dispute in this article. This is not an article about Dresden. Nor is this an article about Strategic Bombing. Furthermore, there is a quote in reference to Dresden. Additionally, there are two quotes from German leaders and two from British leaders. Stargoat 20:06, 4 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Two are from criminal Nazi leaders. Two are from a British commander who killed tens of thousands of civilians, which is seen as a crime against humanity by many. That is not neutral. Get-back-world-respect 20:54, 4 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I fail to see your point. Make it, or remove the NPOV objection. Stargoat 03:21, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Because you cannot see it it must be invalid? I fail to see why you cannot see my point. Get-back-world-respect 12:45, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)
You've not made one. You have not said why the article should be NPOV disputed. Now either do something constructive, or go away. Stargoat 12:59, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I argued that the selection of the quotes is not neutral. If you do not agree, you do not have to, but you are not entitled to decide whether there are disputes of your view. Get-back-world-respect 13:31, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Let's see. WWII quotes:
1. Churchill points out WWII is total war, including civilians
2. Goebbels uses the threat of total war (context unclear)
Bombing quotes:
1. Hitler points out civilians are targets for terror bombing
2. von Stum says "target civilian buildings"
3. Harris is smug about Britain retaliating
4. Harris defends the bombing of Dresden
5. Churchill admits bombing for terror purposes, admits doubt over Dresden
On the whole pretty fair: both sides admit to bombing for terror purposes. The article body is also NPOV, so I agree with Stargoat, this is a waste of time. --Air 15:13, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I regard it as not as unbalanced as before after I added the Churchill quote. Stargoat had disputed the neutrality dispute before that quote was added. Get-back-world-respect 22:44, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Carl von Clausewitz[edit]

If you're going to talk about total war, shouldn't you go to the man who coined the phrase "total war", Carl von Clausewitz in his book describing Napoleonic strategy and tactics, Vom Kriege (1832) and discuss the strategy itself instead of listing every battle that loosely meets the definition? ExplorerCDT 22:50, 5 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Clausewitz coined the term "Absolute War" (see wiki which is quite different from "Total War". However he never mentions nor discusses the concept of Total War anywhere in his book Vom Kriege. This is a common misconception. The concept of Total War was first envisaged by General Erich von Ludendorff prior to World War II.

We do. Read the first half of the article. Stargoat 00:13, 6 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Really? That's funny, because I don't see von Clausewitz's name on there at all? Perhaps this is simply because (knowing that I'm not blind) IT ISN'T THERE. Not only do I yearn to see any von Clausewitz reference, I do not even see a mention of Machiavelli and his Art of War. Nor do I see Genghis Khan, whose ravaging the Central Asian and European countryside inspired the Western doctrine that became "Total War" [especially in folks like Gustavus Adolphus, Frederick the Great, and later Napoleon Bonaparte, William Jenkins Worth, and Ulysses S. Grant (who admired GK as can be seen in their writings).] As someone well versed in military history, this article is terribly insufficient and barely scratches the surface of the philosophical and historical roots of "total war." Right now, it is military history written by novices. After this weekend, if I don't see much improvement, I will come back and do a massive edit. --ExplorerCDT 02:54, 6 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Great. I look forward to seeing it. Stargoat 03:20, 6 Nov 2004 (UTC)

This is total war[edit]


"This is total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. All this talk about first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq... this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. If we just let our vision of the world go forth, and we embrace it entirely and we don't try to piece together clever diplomacy, but just wage a total war... our children will sing great songs about us years from now. -- (Richard Perle in an interview on the War on Terror) [1]


"Second thing is—and this concerns me a lot—no stages. This is a total war. We are fighting a variety of enemies. There are lots of them out there. And all this talk about, well, first we are going to do Afghanistan, then we will do Iraq, then we will take a look around and see how thing stand, that is entirely the wrong way to go about it. Because these guys all talk to each other and are all working with one another." – Michael Ledden October 29, at a meeting of the American Enterprise Institute: The Battle for Ideas in the U.S. War on Terrorism

Because Anon said "I don't know what the hell I'm doing here. Anyway, this quote is misattributed. John Pilger said it was Perle, everyone else links to him, but it was actually Michael Ledeen, on October 29, at a meeting of the American Enterprise Institute. Perle was there.' Link to the original URL

obsessive with WWII[edit]

I'm actually thinking along the same lines. The article has (particularly at the bottom) become so obsessive with WWII and, to a less extend nuclear weapons, that it does not seem to serve its purpose, which is the generic interpretation of Total War. I'm thinking of gutting it and redoing most of it. That there is already a Total War (or strategic bombing in World War II) article moves me even further in this direction. Any comments from the community? Stargoat 04:25, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)

I would be against this. World War II and to a lesser extent World war I are the only total wars in the meaning of a clash between two industrial societies. The Spartans and the Zulus both had militaristic societies but when they went to war one would not normally say that it was a "total war". Similarly many societies have been utterly destroyed by war, eg many of those on the receiving end of the Roman legions, but it is not considered to be an example of total war.

It is only with examples that one can fully appreciate what total war means. Personally I do not think that the USA has ever fought a total war. For example they did not suspend elections, which if they had been fighting a total war would not have been practical and would have been seen as a distraction from the effort of wining the war, as was the case in Britain. Philip Baird Shearer 12:51, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Careless Deletion[edit]

The following lines were somewhat carelessly deleted. [2]

Instead of wars fought directly between world powers, during the cold war, wars between industrialized nations were fought by proxy over national prestige, tactical strategic advantage or colonial and neocolonial resources. Examples include the US war in Vietnam, the Six Day War, and the Soviet War in Afghanistan.
The War in Iraq however has shown that it is possible, by first using political means to ensure that an opponent has no access to nuclear weapons, for war to continue between two industrial nations, albeit not yet a total war between reasonably equally matched opponents. Further developments in weapons technology such as the Star Wars Initiative, which make possible a hope of survival of nuclear war, make it possible for a gradual entry into total war to be envisioned caused by a war with limited initial aims spiralling out of control.
Another development which may lead to the resumption of total war is the development and deployment of low-yield nuclear weapons. These requre greater targeting accuracy and so have to be deployed in a more decentralised manner. This makes accidental, mistaken or malicious use more likely and is liable to lead to full scale retaliation, leading once again to total war[3][4].

I'm planning to revert the edit but I'd like to put this up to discuss first and perhaps see if there was some clarity missing.

The point here is that people have honestly claimed that we were living in a "post history" society; beyond the possibility of total warfare. The claim was that "industrial" societies can't have wars any more and that since only an industrial society can have total war, there will never be total war again.

The Iraq war does not represent total warfare; that is clear (maybe we should say The War in Iraq however, whilst not near to total war... ; would that help?) however it was a war between two industrial societies (Iraq, prior to sactions had quite a large industrial base) and as such it is a clear counter-example which breaks the simple statement of the theory that total war will never occur again.

The second point is that the premise behind MAD is the premise that there is a clear line crossing which leads to total war and total anhiliation. The deployment of smaller battlefield weapons which are expected to be used blurs that line. Once again, it breaks the theories upon which the impossibility of total warfare were based by providing a path for a minor local conflict to escalate through to total warfare by misunderstandings about the meaning of nuclear weapon use. E.g. Pakistan has said it will use battlefield nuclear weapons to deal with superior Indian forces and is considering deploying them to the front line. India has said it will react to any nuclear weapon use with a nuclear attack "unacceptable" to Pakistan. All it would take for an outbreak of total war is a misunderstanding of the size of an attack by a Pakistani commander or a misunderstanding of an accidental deployment by India.

Finally, a section

These small wars do not fall into the category of total war, but instead are a form of third or fourth generational warfare.

was added. This section doesn't define third generational warfare (1G - sticks and small family groups 2G - stones and tribes 3G - metal weapons and multiple tribes 4G - metal projectiles and societies 5G - chariots & mobile cavalry ???, ... Sun Tzu was designing for 10G warfare :-) and doesn't really fit fully to a section which is already discussing types of warfare during a break in total warfare (such wars, obviously are not total war, there's no need to restate it).

Mozzerati 07:02, 2005 Jan 10 (UTC)

I do not think that third or fourth generational warfare should be mentioned. It is a very US concentric view of the world and quite controversial. William S. Lind doesn't seem to recognise colonial warfare ever took place (Northwest frontier and all that), and doesn't seem to know that the guerrilla originates in the Napoleonic wars, or that there were ever any troubles in Ireland, his definition of a start with the Peace of Westphalia is right in the middle of the English Civil war! But this is for discussion for the Fourth Generation War page...
The Iraq wars hardly warrant a sentence. As a rough rule of thumb I think that a more than 50% of the GNP of both antagonists would have to be spent on a war for it to be a total war. The USA is only spending a fraction of this amount on its total military budget at the moment.
The point of Neutron bombs or other tactical weapons is not their use but the complications the give a potential aggressor. It is widely assumed that to win a conventional war on the ground it is necessary to concentrate armour to make a break through. The concentration of armour is a very good target for a tactical nuke. So how the problem for the planners of a blitzkrieg type attack, is how does one plan for a victory over an enemy without being able to concentrate armour? Neutron bombs were only a political tool, because understandably the Germans could not see the difference between being ploughed under by dirty tactical weapons instead of strategic weapons. Warsaw Pact planners had to assume that NATO would be more likely to use neutron bombs earlier than a dirty tactical weapon (for political reasons), so it made their planning more complicated. Whether one's enemy would be willing to sacrifice their capital by retaliating to a tactical strike with a strategic strike (and receiving a strategic strike in return) was judged by NATO to be unlikely as early as the 1950s. etc, etc (MAD). Philip Baird Shearer 12:51, 10 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Your Country Needs You[edit]

I do not think that this poster is appropriate because it was aimed at volunteers. It was only after the slaughter of the men who responded to this poster at the Battle of the Somme that as men became less interested in volunteering that conscription was brought in. There had been a lot of similar propaganda in both the Napoleonic wars and Boer War (which was only 10 years earlier and involved a British army of nearly half a million men). Perhaps a poster asking for war bond donations or the WWII poster of "wall have ears" might be better. Philip Baird Shearer 10:16, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)

Notwithstanding technical issues, I think that culturally, Kitchener's image is recognized as iconic of the demands made during the First World War. Anyway, no big deal, see:

119 14:42, 16 Jan 2005 (UTC)


Mention the Punic wars![edit]

There is no mention of the punic wars at all in the article, and yet most historians consider them the first real example of full on total war in human history. These were the first wars in human history that included millions of combatants, do they not deserve a mention?!