What Does the Term "total War" Mean?

According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, the term “total war” refers to any military conflict in which the contenders of the war are willing to sacrifice any amount of lives or resources to achieve victory. This differs from traditional war, in which limitations are placed on the military conflict based on social and economic restrictions.

Most of the deadliest total war conflicts in history have been fought purely on ideological principles. This includes wars that are based around civil and religious conflicts. Historians suggest that the concept of total war was first conceived in the 19th century by Prussian war strategist Carl von Clausewitz. It was his belief that wars had to be fought with manpower and not laws. In one of his writings, “Vom Kriege,” Clausewitz suggested that warfare in the 18th century was limited due to the fact that strategists believed the key to victory was winning small military victories to use as bargaining chips during diplomatic talks.

During World War I, many countries entered into total war. This included Britain, which entered into total war in May 1915. Its state of total war lasted until November 1918. During this time the entire country was put on mandatory war alert, which was completely controlled by the government.