Only a handful of total wars have been fought in the past, the most notable among them being the World War I, World War II, the Civil War in America, the conflict between Iran and the United States, among others since the cost, both for the loser and the victor, is too high. Not only is there a considerable loss of resources, even complete depletion, but the well-being and security of the citizens also come under question. Most of the total wars have been fought before the Great War, but recent events on the global arena have increased the possibility of total war between international countries in the near future. The most likely candidates for total war include Japan and China and Ukraine and Russia in the near future. All of these nations are highly volatile and the slightest spark may ignite the flames of battle among them, leading to all-out conflict.
The term “total war” is used to describe a military conflict where the contenders are willing to make any sort of sacrifice with no regard for lives and resources in order to gain a complete victory. In the course of history, the deadliest conflicts have always been fought on ideological grounds in civil and religious wars and revolutions. The Civil War in America between 1861-1865 is one of the best examples of total war .
America has never shied away from battle and has engaged in conflicts with various countries around the world like Russia, Iraq, Europe, Japan throughout history. When I consider the most recent wars, whether it is the Iraq war or, Afghanistan war, or the constant threat of war against Iran, America has been directly involved in these wars. Hence, it would seem likely that it would be a part of future total wars. Even the Civil War can be considered to be the first modern war in America since the technology available during the 1860s had contributed significantly to the enhancement of what was available at the time of the Mexican-American War of 1846-48. However, modernity itself is not a sufficient cause to earn the American Civil War the label of total war .
The phrase “total war” was initially used during World War I within France and Germany to define not just a war of mass destruction, but even the further view of the potential for aggravated violence by nations against security threats in the future. However, the historians of post-World War I limit the application of the term to conflicts that occurred before the Great War . In this case, the definition of total war applies accurately to the Civil War in America. The working definition of the phrase “total war” also appears to be accurate if other factors in the American Civil War are considered such as the exploration of the scope and range, the strategies and goals, and the level of involvement of civilians of both the Confederate States and the United States of America . I find it to be intriguing that a war fought within a country could be considered to be a total war but the American Civil War is a great example of this.
Both the Confederate and the Union government fought a total war. The situation was heightened due to the overt involvement of the civilians. However, at the outset of the conflict, neither side had anticipated the necessity of anything more than a limited war, which would be fought with a limited number of resources and would refrain from involving and jeopardizing the lives of the ordinary people of the land. As the conflict continued to progress, untamed and unmitigated, the North responded fast to the evolving tone of the war and introduced a more aggressive form of battle which resorted to any means necessary to ensure a definite win. When the degree of mobilization, the extent of civilian involvement, the employment of various strategies, and the length and breadth of the conflict are taken into account along with the ultimate goals of both the Confederate and Union Governments, it is evident that the Civil War in America was nothing less than a total war. In fact, the Civil War served as a precursor to the total wars that America would wage in the coming century . I believe that, although the Civil War was fought within the nation, what makes it closer to total war is the fact that it was a war that with grant the winning side absolute power over the country. The ruthless aggression that became a part of the war is only a necessary means of achieving this ultimate aim.
It would not be surprising to think that the United States of America might become involved in a total war with a rival country at some point in the future, especially considering the fact that the country has taken a severe blow due to the global recession of 2008 which affected not just the economy of the States but rather the lives of the people and the prime position of the nation in the international arena. In recent years, America has found itself slipping in terms of the power it enjoyed and has been threatened by other fast-developing powers such as China and Mexico. The Barack Obama government is actively on the lookout for a chance to prove its worth since it has not made any worthwhile contributions on the global scale and a war is a great way for a country to showcase its military might, solidarity and resources. I believe that it is only a matter of time before these countries enter the fray to prove their superiority. Given that America needs only the slightest of reasons to engage another region in conflict e.g. Iraq, under the assumption that the nation was developing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs), it seems likely that America will make the first move .
America is a possible candidate to engage China in total war in the future but the latter’s resentment against Japan may ensure that the two battle it out first. Communications between Tokyo and Beijing have broken down almost completely in the past few weeks due to the rising territorial disputes which threaten to push the second and third largest economies in the world ever-close to an all-out military battle. At the root of the conflict lies deep historical grievances from several decades past which are now rising to the surface in the form of an extensive war of words regarding territory within the South China Sea. Moreover, a recent trip by the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, to the controversial Yasukuni Shrine was slammed harshly by China as the glorification of “war criminals” from Japan who were responsible for committing atrocities against much of East Asia during the initial half of the 20th century. In fact, most of the military actions committed by Japan in the past were horrific and included the massacre of millions of people. China, however, is no saint since it is one of the worst offenders in history of mass democide . I believe that a history of war and existing discontent will play a major role pushing these countries to war.
Japan right now is issuing warnings against China to the world, especially its intentions of pursuing military aggression in the land. Tensions have increased to such an extent that the ruling party in Japan has recently dropped their vow to “never wage war again”. In my opinion, this is a very significant development as it more or less signifies that Japan is ready and willing to take up arms if forced. All the signs are currently pointing to the fact that a total war is on the cards between Japan and China in the future and all of East Asia will get caught up in the conflict. Moreover, the United States is treaty bound to Japan and so America will gladly lend its military might to the confrontation when the time comes, especially if it means that it can take China at a disadvantage. China, however, is quite aware of the involvement of the United States in any conflict in the future and so, the nation is heavily invested in the development of new hypersonic missile vehicles which are designed specifically to target aircraft carriers belonging to the United States. In addition, the nation has managed to finance the development of another aircraft carrier along with a whole new fleet of long-range stealth bombers as well as the largest marine surveillance ship in the world .
However, I believe that, before a major war breaks out between Japan and China – with the US probably joining in later – there will be other total battles, particularly in Europe that will further aggravate the global political arena. The situation between Russia and Ukraine is somewhat similar since the two nations have edged closer to military confrontation after the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, asked the upper house of the Russian Parliament to approve the deployment of the nation’s armed forces in Ukraine. Apparently, the request resulted from the “extraordinary situation developing in Ukraine and the danger to the lives of the citizens of the Russian Federation and our compatriots and military personnel located within the territory”. On the other hand, military units throughout Ukraine are on high alert and have been advised to open fire in case they come under attack. The situation had cooled down somewhat after the Ukranian and Russian military commanders informally agreed amongst themselves to prevent provocations and confrontations last week, but it became worse after various military units in Ukraine came under attack from unidentified men who are widely held to belong to the Russian forces .
Even though Russia might feel the need to engage in limited war, Ukraine has no option but to resort to total war since the nation and its armed forces are much less well-equipped in comparison to the army in Russia. The combined number of Ukranian military personnel in Crimea is said to be almost around 14,000 but only about a few thousands of them are actually suited for combat purposes. The forces can blame their predicament on a precise chain of command ever since Viktor Yanukovych, the President of Ukraine, was overthrown. Ukraine appointed a new minister of defence very shortly. Russia tried to use this opportunity to move into Crimea since it thought that Ukraine was facing its greatest moment of crisis. They tried to exploit the weakness of Ukraine but definitely underestimated the willingness of the opponent to secure its resources at any cost, even if it meant entering into a total war against a much powerful opponent, at the cost of the nation’s limited resources and the security of its citizens . This, I believe, could be another war that the US could eventually be involved in, considering its history of conflict with Russia and previously the USSR.
It can only be hoped that sense and practicality will prevail among these nations in the future since the cost of total war is extremely high and begs the question whether a difference in ideology and past mistakes are well-worth sacrificing everything for. However, there is no doubt that a conflict is slowly brewing in the two region and as the days pass by, the situation continues to escalate.
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Honig, Jan Willem. "The idea of total war: From Clausewitz to Ludendorff." August 2011. The National Institute for Defense Studies. 10 April 2014 <http://www.nids.go.jp/english/event/forum/pdf/2011/08.pdf>.
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