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Total war

Total war (not: totalitarian war) is a method of warfare where anything connected to one's enemy is attacked. The object of total war is to demoralize the enemy so that he surrenders. This necessarily includes indiscriminate bombing of civilian centers and targets of opportunity with no inherent military value. Strategic bombing is usually a major part of total war. Total war has sometimes been compared to terrorism. The effectiveness of the total war strategy is debatable. Very few nations have ever surrendered before they were soundly defeated militarily. Damage to civilian infrastructure is largely ignored, or counter-productively bolsters morale. Simply having the ability to kill or inconvenience enemy civilians has not been shown to be a reliable path to victory in and of itself.

The concept of total war was put forth in writing in Karl von Clausewitz' posthumously published book On War (1832). It was used in the Spanish Civil War and World War II. In response the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 is intended to protect civilians during time of war.


Total war is also used to describe devoting all of a nation's resources to fighting a war. Production of civilian products and luxuries are minimized to concentrate on the war effort.



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