Total War: The Use and Abuse of a Concept

TitleTotal War: The Use and Abuse of a Concept
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication1999
AuthorsChickering, Roger
EditorBoemeke, Manfred E., Stig Förster, and Roger Chickering
Book TitleAnticipating Total War: The German and American Experiences, 1871–1914
PublisherCambridge University Press
CityCambridge, UK

The narrative of total war raises as many problems as it resolves. It encourages an undiscriminating view of warfare in the early modern era while it reduces the ambiguities and varieties of military experience in the modern period to schematic patterns of development that are driven somehow by their own logic. Yet it is impossible to abandon the idea of total war, if only because the historiography devoted to it has become so formidable. The concept also speaks to massive and dramatic changes in the conduct and social impact of warfare in the modern era. Despite a host of antecedents and countervailing developments, the analysis of these changes cries out for the sort of structuring principle that the narrative of total war has historically provided. The remarks that conclude this chapter accordingly pose no radical alternative; they represent instead a plea for more critical employment of this evidently indispensable tool. [Author]

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