If we define “Total War” as a type of warfare that affects and involves every part of a society, then World War I can be argued to be the first attempt by military and political leaders to engage in such a conflict. Modernity was at Europe’s door thus leading to the inventions and innovations that would allow for war on a scale, and of a scope, that had never before been considered. Yet, it was not the fact that these innovations and technologies existed, or that specific conflicts necessitated war, but rather that the political and military elite, coming out of an age of pompous militarism, made decisions based on previous experiences and not on future possibilities. These decisions had an adverse affect not only on the outcome of the war politically (as far as treaties and borders were concerned), but it affected individuals at a grassroots level creating a subsequent era of distrust, listlessness, and eventual aggressive feelings creating the perfect storm out of which Nazism could rise.
In the aftermath of the devastation, as soldiers and civilians became aware that things were not as they had seemed, there was very little stock left in what individual governments said or did. No one trusted the government, and thus the nations of Europe fell into a riotous interim of attempted reform and subsequent revolt. This eventually gave rise to the fascist movements that became the bane of the democratic west, as well as the socialist east, and would launch Europe into a second and even more wholly devastating “Total War”.
Because the leaders and commanders of WWI forever changed the nature of war, it influenced the later Nazi leaders decisions, and forced the next set of Allies to adapt to an entirely new concept of total war as initiated by Hitler. If knowledge is collected through experience, then those leaders of WWII were capable of taking what the leaders of WWI did and using it to increase their own might. However, this does not mean that the decisions that were influenced by the Great War were an original response. Rather, in many cases, especially where the Battle of Stalingrad was concerned, similar tactics were employed and it was a nearsighted naïveté that was taken from the forefather’s strategies and not a “worst case scenario” strategy that would have accounted for potential mistakes that changed the course of the war to the advantage of some and the detriment of others.
This is exemplified in Horne’s analysis of the Battle of Verdun; as the Germans vamped up for an easy victory, and one that would be the result of a bleeding out of French supplies and men, they disregarded the French penchant for revenge or the chance that they might employ a similar strategy (Horne 36) It was this kind of thinking, and the consequences of their decisions, that would lead to Verdun being a great example of the totality of the war.
Within the context of Verdun, it was the leadership of few and the willingness of many, that led to an almost year...