Total war

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Berlin, mass rally in the Sportpalast, Goebbels, February 18, 1943

As Total War a kind which is warfare referred to, wherein the social resources are comprehensively taken for the war in claim, in particular for an industrialized warfare. The expression became widespread during the Second World War when it was used by Joseph Goebbels on February 18, 1943 during the Sportpalast speech in the Berlin Sportpalast (“Do you want total war?”). It is rather unlikely that Goebbels referred to Franklin D. Roosevelt because he had called for the unconditional surrender of the German Reich on February 12, six days earlier, at the Casablanca Conference in January .

Concept development

Hitler's decree on total war effort of July 25, 1944

The first mention of the term "total war" is in the 1770s (probably 1778) with Georg Christoph Lichtenberg . When looking through his collection of material on an intended Orbis Pictus (a description of everyday customs and objects), he noticed that the waiters often used the word “total” in the wrong context. As an example he names u. a. "total war". The expression may come from the everyday language of the common people in the 18th century.

The Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz coined the term "absolute war". Clausewitz refers to the war between armed forces and stressed that the war by itself does not know of moderation. The dynamic of military violence is only restricted by political and social factors.

The US General William Tecumseh Sherman is due to its innovative and creative strategy of warfare in the American Civil War as the inventor of all-out war called.

The French journalist Léon Daudet wrote of the 'total war' on February 9, 1916, after 26 people died in Paris when a zeppelin was bombed. After this attack, shelters were built in metro stations . Daudet later published the book La guerre totale and thus contributed to the coining of the term. In 1924 Paul Levi referred to the latest developments in Germany and France. After the French General Charles Nollet had not succeeded in “disarming Germany” in accordance with the provisions of the Versailles Treaty, he saw “the small German army that was permitted to be transformed into a frame army. There was nothing he could do about it. He saw young Germans doing their physical training under various pretexts ... He saw all scientific and industrial forces come to an understanding with a view to a coming war. There was nothing he could do about it. He began to think about how to arm against such disarmament. ”Levi wrote that the French side had drawn the following conclusions:

“The French have given their conception of the coming war to be recognized: no longer the world war that covers the world geographically, but the war that usurps all branches of human and state existence: the military organizations, industry, finances, the chemical, bacteriological, medical science, the church, domestic politics, agricultural production - all of them come under the one god of war. The French have already found the new word for this new form of war: 'la guerre totale' "

The term total war was also used by Erich Ludendorff after the First World War , in which he describes the priority of war over politics . In his book The Total War, Ludendorff draws the conclusion that the “spiritual unity” of the people is a decisive factor in the war. For this reason everything must be done so that this unity can be achieved and maintained. This includes educating the people about the meaning and purpose of the war. Measures such as protective custody may be necessary against war opponents who may question unity and unity . Ludendorff named Judaism , the Catholic Church and the Socialists as opponents of the war . The book was also translated into Japanese and into Chinese by Zhang Junmai in 1935.

Wilhelm Emil Mühlmann wrote in 1940 that "the extreme form of war (was) not characterized by particular bloodyness, but by particularly planned, total use of all intellectual, economic and technical means of power ..." After the Second World War, Mühlmann became a pacifist.


Total war contains the following defining elements:

  • Total mobilization : release of additional forces for the front (women take over the men's work, for example), reinforcement of armaments efforts
  • total control : harmonization of the popular will, propaganda
  • Total methods : linking different weapon technologies and systems, disregarding international conventions
  • total war aims : total military subjugation of the enemy, total political disempowerment of the enemy. In this respect, total war is similar to war of extermination . Both terms are often used synonymously in historical studies .

National Socialism

American counter-propaganda

In the meaning used by the National Socialists , “total war” is a warfare in the course of which all available resources are used. In a paper from 1937, the later Field Marshal Ernst Busch describes the war of the future as total war . Here the distinction between home and front is abolished ( home front ). The entire means of production and the entire labor force of the civilian population become part of the war apparatus. These efforts should serve the actual goal, namely the destruction of the enemy.

For example, a service obligation for “tasks of the Reich Defense” was introduced, which included men from 16 to 65 years of age and women from 17 to 45 years of age and extended working hours to up to 14 hours.

The term "total war" also became part of psychological warfare . In general, in the military and warfare, methods and measures are used to influence the behavior and attitudes of opposing armed forces and foreign civil populations in the context of or in advance of military operations .

Web links

Wiktionary: total war  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg : Writings and letters. Volume II. Carl Hanser Verlag, 1971, p. 569.
  2. Albert A. Stahel : Classic of Strategy. vdf, 2004, ISBN 3-7281-2920-8 , p. 205.
  3. Berthold Seewald: US civil war: The general who invented total war . In: The world . December 27, 2017 ( ).
  4. ^ Léon Daudet: La guerre totale . Nouvelle librairie nationale, Paris 1918 ( ).
  5. ^ Paul Levi: About Realistic Pacifism. In: Socialist Politics and Economy. Vol. 2, No. 67, November 13, 1924.
  6. Erich Ludendorff: The total war. Munich 1935.
  7. ^ Wilhelm Deist : Military, State and Society. Studies on the Prussian-German military history. Oldenbourg, ISBN 3-486-55920-6 , p. 393.
  8. ^ Fung, Edmund SK: The intellectual foundations of Chinese modernity cultural and political thought in the Republican era . New York 2016, ISBN 978-0-521-19511-9 , pp. 110 .
  9. ^ Wilhelm E. Mühlmann (1940), War and Peace . OO 1940, p. 9.
  10. Peter Imbusch : Modernity and Violence: Theoretical Civilization Perspectives on the 20th Century. VS Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-8100-3753-2 , p. 526 ff.
  11. ^ Evangelos Chrysos, War of Extermination in the 6th Century. In: Hans-Henning Kortüm, War in the Middle Ages. Akademie-Verlag, Berlin 2001, p. 45. Note 2.
  12. Ernst Busch: role of the infantry. Pp. 11-26.
  13. Bernd Kleinhans: Total War on
  14. Ordinance on the registration of men and women for tasks in the defense of the Reich. Reichsgesetzblatt , Part 1, No. 10, January 29, 1943, accessed on April 10, 2018 (In the ordinance of January 27, the introductory sentence reads: “In the total war that we are fighting, all forces must work towards one goal, The fastest possible achievement of the final victory . ”The official use of the term“ total war ”was therefore already common before the Sportpalast speech .).