Was the Thirty Years War a 'Total War'?

TitleWas the Thirty Years War a 'Total War'?
Publication TypeBook Chapter
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsWilson, Peter H.
EditorCharters, Erica, Eve Rosenhaft, and Hannah Smith
Book TitleCivilians and War in Europe, 1618–1815
PublisherLiverpool University Press

This chapter examines the Thirty Years' War by focusing on three aspects identified in the ‘classic’ definition of ‘total war’: total mobilisation, the complete destruction of the enemy's resistance and way of life, and the erosion of boundaries between soldiers and civilians. It considers how the war was perceived by those involved and later generations. The chapter argues that the concept of total war can be defined through perceptions and not in material or demographic terms, and is therefore relative to each conflict's context rather than its position along any linear progress of destruction. The Thirty Years' War was considered far more destructive than the world wars and remembered as Germany's greatest national catastrophe, although this chapter shows that it does not satisfy the three standard criteria for a total war.

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