Total war refers to a situation in which the participating nation mobilise all their
resources for the war effort. In such a war, civilians are regarded as legitimate targets
of attack, since they are contributing to the war effort.
Some aspects of total war in WWI are listed below.
1. The war was fought in multiple theatres: on land, at sea and in the air.
2. Imperial troops were extensively used, particularly by the Allies:
 France recruited 600,000 Africans.
 Britain recruited 1.8 million Indians, 330,000 Australians, 418,000 Canadians,
103,000 New Zealanders and 73,000 South Africans.
 Germany had few colonies, and no capacity to bring troops from those she
had. This put her at a significant disadvantage.
3. War was waged against civilians, as well as soldiers:
 Unrestricted submarine warfare by the Germans (commencing in 1917) had a
devastating effect on Allied shipping. It was one of the factors that brought the
United States into the war.
 The Allied Blockade of Germany resulted in widespread hunger in Germany
and Austria-Hungary. By 1918, Germany was unable to adequately feed itself.
 Bombardment of cities (by German Zeppelins and by Big Bertha) brought the
war to the home front.
 The modern world witnessed the first case of genocide (the extermination of
the Armenians by the Turks).
4. Economic changes on the home front:
 There was greater government control over the economies of the major
combatants, in order to direct resources to the war effort.
 There were shortages of almost everything. In Germany’s case, substitutes had
to be found for many key resources (such as rubber and nitrates).
 Women were recruited into the workforce to replace the men who went to the
5. Political changes on the home front:
 Civil liberties were curtailed, particularly in Germany. By 1917, Germany was
effectively a dictatorship (with Ludendorff in control).
 Conscription was introduced in Britain in 1916, and broadened in Germany.
 There was widespread use of propaganda, particularly in Britain.
 Censorship was introduced.
6. Social changes:
 There was a gradual reduction in social stratification, as luxury goods became
harder to get. The servant class all but disappeared.
 The war had a significant impact on women in Britain and Germany. They
became more independent of men and gained new political rights..
 The attitudes of soldiers and civilians changed as the war progressed. A
significant peace movement emerged in both Britain and Germany.