Total War During The World Wars The term total war came into realization during the first and second World War. President Franklin Roosevelt (2004) stated, “When our enemies challenged our country to stand up and fight, they challenged each and everyone of us. And each and every one of us has accepted the challenge” (pg. 86). Total war involved the commitment of an entire nation and to the extent of all the participating nations, almost the entire world.
The World Wars were much greater than just the amount of casualties and the extend of the countries involved. Rather, it changed the entire attitudes toward the economy, society, technology and psychology that encompassed all aspects of daily life. Once a country entered the war, it was essential to mobilize and prioritize all resources, which included money, raw materials, food, and civilians, for an all-out effort toward victory. Lots of money needed to be devoted toward the war effort. In Franklin D.
Roosevelt’s Annual Message to Congress in 1942, he stated 15% of the pre-war national income was devoted to national defense and more than half of the national income was required to fund the war (Wiesner, Ruff, Wheeler, Doeringer, and Curtis. 2004). Consequently, higher taxes and bonds were issued. There also had to be cooperation between the government and manufacturers so that the factories that produced non-essential goods would be transformed into factories designated toward war resources, which lead to the limitation of luxury items and mobilization of entire populations.
As a result, millions of people and occupations were relocated onto the war production line. Additionally, food and raw materials needed to be prioritized and diverted toward war efforts. This was emphasized by Reichsmarschal Hermann Goering’s radio broadcast in 1942. He stated though raw materials such as coal and iron were in surplus, anyone that used any unnecessary electrical appliance or lights would be committing a sin (Wiesner ect. 2004). Population mobilization and resource prioritization were important steps toward victory and total war.
The World Wars brought an abundance of social change. The mentality, roles and human rights had to be adjusted which was directly influenced by mass media, propaganda and government control. All of which demonstrated the full impact of war; total war. Goering’s radio broadcast proclaimed that personal freedom and human rights had to be limited and the citizens must maintain a efficient mentality. At the same time, Roosevelt emphasized the necessity of commitment by stating “Let no man say it cannot be done”(Wiesner ect. 004, pg. 85). As the wars lengthened, conditions worsened and disparity grew, citizens needed a morale boost which was aided by modern mass media and propaganda. Furthermore, women’s new war roles encouraged social change. In order to compensate for the numerous men drafted into the military, women entered the labour force. The Poster of “Rosie the Riveter” during WWII demonstrated the new roles and personalities of women as a hardworking, committed individuals who worked long and demanding hours.
Technological improvements in rifles, grenades, machine guns, explosive artillery shells and mines, and barbed wire (Wiesner ect. 2004) during WWI lead to mass casualties along the front line. Transportation and roads allowed a continuous replenishment of soldiers on both sides, which lead to a cycle of attack and counterattack with little progress and high casualties. Governments realized the importance of new weapons and machines that would strategically attack the enemies. Thus, the governments enlisted engineers and scientists in order to gain an advantage.
WWII saw the emergence sophisticated airplanes, submarines, boats, tanks, long-ranged weapons, communication and the atomic bomb. General Eric von Leudendorf noted “warfare could no longer be confined to battlefields” (pg. 68). Instead, the war was more dispersed and cities were more involved in warfare. Therefore, the war evolved to a point where almost all civilians were in the cross-hairs,which exemplified total war. Technology during WWII reached its peak with the creation of the atomic bomb due to the collaboration of some of the greatest scientific minds, including Albert Einstein.
The United States Strategic Bomb Survey in 1946 determined that the two atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki killed 100,000 people and destroyed over half the buildings (Wiesner ect. 2004), which again illustrated the idea of total war because all civilians were legitimate military targets. After the millions of casualties, episodes of air raids, starvation, uncertainty and other factors, the World Wars left imminent psychological damages. The World Wars created an everlasting effect that was felt by all. Lloyd George on the Battle of the Somme recollected the immense and irreplaceable losses at Somme.
He mentioned that the battle was fought by volunteer armies and it contained the “choicest and best of our young manhood”and “the officers came mainly from our public schools and universities” (pg. 76). His memoir showed a saddened individual who had lost hope in warfare. In The Crisis of the Spirit, Paul Valery described the feelings after WWI as “our fears are infinitely more precise than our hopes; we admit that the best of life is behind us, that fullness is behind us, but disarray and doubt are in us and with us” (pg. 1). Iwao Nakamura explained in horrific detail the effects instances after atomic bomb in Hiroshima. He described “burned faces twitching and bloated like balloons” (pg. 93) “sea of flames” (pg. 94) and stepping over dead bodies. These images were certainly traumatizing. The psychological damages broadened the scope of total war. It is not enough to say that an entire population lived during a wartime like when our generation watches the the war in Iraq on television, instead during the World Wars, life was war.
It involved sacrifice, determination and full commitment from the participating nations and its citizens. Not to forget, the psychological damages that ensued. The extent of the World Wars lead to millions of casualties, both soldiers and civilians, from most of the nations of the world and gave rise to the term total war. Reference: Wiesner, M. Ruff, J. Wheeler, W. Doeringer, F. Curtis, K. (2004). Discovering the Twentieth-Century World: A Look at the Evidence. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.