Total war

The mushroom cloud produced by the atomic bombing of the city of Hiroshima during World War II. The bombing was an act of total war.

Total war is warfare that includes any and all civilian-associated resources and infrastructure as legitimate military targets, mobilizes all of the resources of society to fight the war, and gives priority to warfare over non-combatant needs. The American-English Dictionary defines total war as "war that is unrestricted in terms of the weapons used, the territory or combatants involved, or the objectives pursued, especially one in which the laws of war are disregarded."

In the mid-19th century, scholars identified "total war" as a separate class of warfare. In a total war, to an extent inapplicable in less total conflicts, the differentiation between combatants and non-combatants diminishes and sometimes it even vanishes entirely because opposing sides can consider nearly every human resource, even that of non-combatants, to be a part of the war effort.[1]

Actions that may characterize the post-19th century concept of total war include:


The phrase can be traced back to the 1935 publication of the World War I memoir of German General Erich Ludendorff, Der totale Krieg ("The total war").[citation needed] Some authors extend the concept back as far as classic work of Carl von Clausewitz, On War, as "absoluter Krieg" (absolute war); however, different authors interpret the relevant passages in diverging ways.[3] Total war also describes the French "guerre à outrance" during the Franco-Prussian War.[4][5][6]

In his letter to his Chief of Staff, Union General Henry Halleck on 24 December 1864 described that the Union was "not only fighting hostile armies, but a hostile people, and must make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war, as well as their organized armies," defending Sherman's March to the Sea, the operation that inflicted widespread destruction of infrastructure in Georgia.[7]

United States Air Force General Curtis LeMay updated the concept for the nuclear age.[citation needed] In 1949, he first proposed that a total war in the nuclear age would consist of delivering the entire nuclear arsenal in a single overwhelming blow, going as far as "killing a nation".[8]