In short, a total war is a war in which the entire nation is involved in. However, there are many ways in which an entire nation can be involved in a war. The following social, economic, military and political characteristics of a society/conflict signify a total war/society that wages a total war.
Social characteristics: -A total war does not only involve soldiers but civilians as well both in the areas of fighting and on the home front.
-Recruitment of women into male-dominated work places (such as industry during the WW1) in order to keep up with the needs of the soldiers.
Economic characteristics: -The "civilian" economy of the nation is reconstructed to a war economy. This could involve rationing of various goods for civilians in order to supply the soldiers fighting the war.
-Focus of industry is shifted from consumer goods to war goods.
Military characteristics: -Conscription enforced to raise and mobilize a massive army
-Relentless intensity and vast scale of war
-Massive destruction and high casualty rates
-Belligerent use all weapons at their disposal in order to fight the enemy, biochemical weapons as well as weapons of mass destruction
-Belligerents aim to destroyed other opponents
Political characteristics: -Power is centralized.
The state becomes more interfering and passes rulings in order to control economy/society and gear them for war.
-Use of propaganda to encourage involvement in the war on the home front and reinforce nationalistic feelings by demonizing the enemy.
Question to consider in a conclusion? Is a war "total" if only one of the fighting sides are fully involved in it and the other side's involvement limited?
World War 1 is considered to be the first total war for several reasons:
Both sides fought the war, not for limited aims but for total victory
- Governments used all weaponry that they had at their disposal in order to win the war. They also developed new technologies and weaponry as the war progressed
- It involved all people of the major countries - not only soldiers but also civilians. Civilians were deliberately targeted during the military conflict and they suffered from the economic warfare carried out by both sides.
In a total war, the entire society plays a part in mobilizing and getting the country ready for its war effort as well as keep up the work at home whilst the soldiers fight the war. Civilians plays an important role in the war in the following ways:
The First World War saw a rapid growth in industry as the countries tried to keep up with the demands that a total war put upon the society and its resources.
In Britain, France and Germany this meant women joining the workforce to fill the empty space left by the men leaving to fight the war.
Joseph Joffre (French general who served as Commander-in-Chief of French forces on the Western) claimed that "if the women in the war factories stopped for 20 minutes, we would lose the war".
Women braved dangerous working conditions. Munitions work was relatively well paid - especially for women previously employed in domestic service. But it was often unpleasant, dangerous and involved working long hours.
Transport industry: One of the areas of employment where new opportunities opened up for women was in transport. Women began working as bus conductresses, ticket collectors, porters, carriage cleaners and bus drivers.
The first women police officers served during the First World War.
Women wanted to join up…
See more at: http://www.iwm.org.uk/history/12-things-you-didnt-know-about-women-in-the-first-world-war#entry2
The impact of the fighting on civilians:
There were an increasing number of civilian casualties as new technology became available on both sides of the fighting.
Paris was shelled from a distance of 126km by the massive German gun "Long Max" and later planes made raids on Britain.
British planes also inflicted severe damage on German factories and towns in the last years of the war, moving some of the fighting and casualties from the battlefield and towards the cities.
On the Eastern front, civilians were caught up in the battles as great advances and retreats that took place on this front meant that civilians were involved in the violence, sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately.
For example Jews were actively attacked by advancing Russians and other minorities such as Germans, Gypsies, Hungarians and Turks also suffered as they were all deported from Russia's western provinces during the war.
Ethnic violence also took place in the Balkans as Niall Ferguson writes, in the East "there were death throes of the Old Central and east European empires had dissolved the old boundaries between combat and civilian. This kind of war proved much easier to start than to stop".
In short, a total war is a war in which the entire nation is involved in. However, there are many ways in which an entire nation can be involved in a war. The following political characteristics of a society/conflict signify a total war/society that wages a total war.
Political characteristics: -Power is centralized.
The state becomes more interventionist and passes decrees in order to control economy/society and gear them for war.
Wartime governments also acted to protect national security, by implementing press censorship, curfews and strict punishments for breaches and violations.
The British had new wide-ranging powers, including censorship, the authority to imprison without trial and the power to court martial and execute civilians
Economic In France, 33 new departments were set up to centralize and control the economy as well as society. In Russia, Nicholas II centralized the control of the state by reasserting autocratic rule without the involvement of the Duma.
Conscription was introduced to bolster military forces and resources like ships, trains or vehicles were commandeered for military purposes.
The British government seized control of unused land for farming, including parks, commons and disused blocks. Rationing was introduced and food queues became the norm. Food became so valuable that it was a criminal offence to feed bread to animals or to throw rice at weddings.
World War one was not a total War “A real total war was and is impossible. Elements of total war – total war aims, total methods of warfare, total mobilization and total control – can, however, be identified and can serve as a useful tool for further transnational research on war.”
The US perspective was one of assistance, not of total war, and the war ended with an armistice, not the unconditional surrender that total war might have been expected to produce.
The war, in the most part, consisted of actions confined to a few hundred square miles of (mostly French) soil. There was no large scale involvement of cities such as was seen in WWII, the war did not range all over the globe (although there was some naval action in the North Atlantic, there was action in the Middle East). It just didn't reach the level of total war that WWII did. It was 'Just' a few million men playing in the mud.