Total War Concept in the Context of World Wars and Modernity


A total war concept describes the situation when war is seen as the usual deal: everyone, including people and countries, is in the state of war for their own reasons. While it seems barbaric and is certainly not the best solution to the conflict, it heavily influenced people’s lives, and its impact can still be seen today. Modern ideas of states and nationalities are remnants of the post-war world, while now governments and people try not to repeat those mistakes which led to bloodshed in the past. The total welfare systems are those remnants, too, despite sounding strange that the war improves the people’s well-being.

The Concept and Its Realizations

The concept of total war was developed with European colonialism when each country strived to conquer the larger and the richer territory, but its culmination was the First World War. It was the Great War, which engaged the whole world and almost all developed nations and continents. Expeditionary forces were widely used during the war to reach the most remote parts of the world and conquer enemies even there (Beyerchen & Sencer 5–6). The industry was rebuilt to serve the war needs and solve soldiers’ problems. All states’ systems and structures, from governments to civil societies, became the elements of the warfare machine.

The total war as the “usual war” was described by a German soldier and writer Ernst Junger. He developed it as the will to defeat enemies, the victory and connected it with German nationalism (Beyerchen & Sencer 245). While civilized people often consider war an amoral and devastating action, which leads to suffering, the total war concept sees it as the heroic act of willpower. It is not only total but also permanent, and it is considered good because the strongest, the most willed, should win and rule. During the First and, especially, Second World War, there was active propaganda, influencing those views and stimulating people to fight even more (Barber & Miller 457). Thus, the World Wars were not only large-scale warfare but also highly fierce and pervasive, when people were willing to combat and die for specific ideals.

Second World War was an even more large-scale and cruel war; it was started by authoritarian and totalitarian militaristic states based on the idea of domination of particular nations and ideologies over others. Nazi Germany, led by Hitler, conquered most of Europe in less than two years and almost without resistance. They could complete this due to the heavy propaganda and ideology that forced them to act deliberately and willfully (Barber & Miller 458–459). Such active, intense propaganda was also active during the First World War, but it was mainly aimed at demonizing and vulgarizing the enemy. For example, enemy soldiers, peasants, and women were described as comic, grotesque, and obscure compared with the mother country’s (Beyerchen & Sencer 185). This was present during the Second World War too, but in addition, it was extensive propaganda of militant and aggressive ideologies. Such a great activity and stimulation led to a high persuasiveness of those wars and their heavy influence on human civilization.

Total War and Modern World

Two World Wars have shown the principle of total war in the most literal sense, but it is also present in modern politics. While the current world is primarily peaceful, it is heavily influenced by the total war concept and its realization in the First and Second World Wars. The welfare elements, such as pension systems, were firstly implemented in the war context in most European countries (Obinger & Schmitt 10). For example, in a post-war Austria in 1918, certain benefits were implemented for war veterans who could not reintegrate into society easily. At the same time, according to Obinger & Schmitt (9), not all welfare elements are directly connected with the war situation. However, the unemployment benefits, which are now common in Europe, mainly were developed from the post-war benefits in times of economic recovery.

Another essential element developed in the context of total war is the variety of tools for psychological influence on people. As described by Barber & Miller (460–461), propaganda is still the powerful tool of politicians, governments, and various organizations, not only in the context of war. This psychological instrument may influence people and manipulate their minds, but it can also be used to induce courage and willpower. For example, there is the comparison of the Nazi forces with the U.S. Army soldiers in Iraq, who showed much less commitment to war when facing ISIS there (Barber & Miller 457). The modern advertising industry is similar to propaganda in many ways. For example, many charity organizations use propaganda methods to induce compassion and eagerness to help and, thus, to pay them. It is also often used by corporations to create commitment of someone toward the particular brand. A prominent example is Apple, Inc.: their marketing companies talk about the great idea behind their electronics, which make people unique and different. Thus, propaganda methods continue to develop in the modern world and manifest in their more peaceful form.


As one can conclude, the total war concept is comprehensive and influencing; it is probably the intrinsic quality of humanity that may express itself in the grim form of war. Its definition, such as those of Ernst Junger, shows that people have a will to fight and die; that is why those wars were worldwide and total. Their impact was extremely profound: the modern welfare system is partly influenced by post-war unemployment benefits and veteran support systems, and the propaganda is still an essential part of the world.

Works Cited

Barber, Benjamin, and Charles Miller. “Propaganda and Combat Motivation: Radio Broadcasts and German Soldiers’ Performance in World War II.” World Politics, vol. 71, no. 3, 2019, pp. 457–502. Crossref, Web.

Beyerchen, Alan, and Emre Sencer. Expeditionary Forces in the First World War. 1st ed. 2019, Palgrave Macmillan, 2020.

Obinger, Herbert, and Carina Schmitt. “Total War and the Emergence of Unemployment Insurance in Western Countries.” Journal of European Public Policy, vol. 27, no. 12, 2019, pp. 1879–901. Crossref, Web.

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DemoEssays. "Total War Concept in the Context of World Wars and Modernity." October 30, 2022.