What Makes A Total War? Essay

1594 words - 7 pages

World War I was a total war because it involved many nations, and was fought on multiple fronts where battles engulfed the European landscape and the population. Because of the scale of World War I, nations had to rally all of their resources and began to target civilian populations in order to successfully defeat enemy nations. The scale of the war and rallying of national resources led to a blurring of private and political spaces. Civilians were no longer indirect victims and passive sufferers, the war had made them active participants and targeted war aims. Many governments recognized the value and necessity of civilians as resources and military objectives. The success of the war was not determined just on the battlefield by the soldiers rather it was determined by the entire population and all participants, including civilians. The civilian population became a driving force in the success of the war effort as well as strategic military targets. It is this use of the civilian population as propaganda tools, contributors to the war effort, through support and industry, and as targeted victims that makes World War I a total war.
At the start of the war the civilians were used as propaganda tools. The British government’s war propaganda used Belgian civilian victims to justify retaliation against Germany and rally support from the general population. The Bryce Report, released in May 1915, produced in over 30 languages, published reports of German atrocities against the unarmed Belgian civilians. The report was widely published and the British public devoured reports of Germans “burning villages...and the wholesale slaughter of civilians.”1 Although the Bryce Report accounts for atrocities of the general civilian population, men, women and children, it is the use of atrocities against women that was the most powerful propaganda tool. Whether true, or not, and many eye witness accounts in the report were unsubstantiated, did not matter. Accounts that women “were publicly raped. . . [with] five young German officers assisting” and that a “German soldier cut off a woman’s breast after he murdered her. . .” were used to provoke British men’s sense of manliness, honor, and duty to protect women. British women, also, encouraged men to fight on behalf of women after reading about the German atrocities.2 This report was a powerful recruitment tool to mobilize the nation for war with Germany. Robert Graves, wrote in his memoir, Good-bye to All That, he was motivated to enlist because he “was outraged to read of the Germans’ cynical violation of Belgian neutrality. Though he “discounted twenty per cent of the atrocity details as wartime exaggeration.” 3With the Bryce Report the government had put its official stamp on what were previously unsubstantiated, and in many cases even fabricated rumors and marketed these horrific accounts as absolute truth in which Belgian civilians had to be protected. Now the British government had a powerful...

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