Battles for morale: An entangled history of total war in Europe, 1939–1945

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By the mid-1930s political and military leaders throughout Europe and the world were preparing for war. They believed that the future war, which some actively sought and others tried to defuse, would be even vaster in scope and destructive power than the recent Great War. That war, German general Erich Ludendorff wrote in 1935, had been the world's first ‘total war’, in that beyond pitting enemy forces against each other it had mobilized entire populations for the war effort and targeted the ‘psyche and the vitality of enemy peoples with the goal of undermining and paralyzing them ’. In view of technological advances after 1918, notably radio broadcasting and aeroplanes capable of carrying bombs and propaganda leaflets deep behind enemy lines, the next war would encompass the entire territory of all belligerents and ‘immediately touch the life and soul of every single member of the belligerent peoples ’. To prevail in this war, Ludendorff implied, state leaders required effective methods of mobilizing all the nation 's psychological and moral resources. Since Ludendorff first popularized the term ‘total war’, numerous scholars have used it to characterize the Second World War as a new type of war – one that had vaster aims, claimed infinitely more lives, and blurred distinctions between front and rear, soldiers and civilians, combatants and non-combatants. A vast literature exists focusing on how respective regimes mobilized their societies and economies in wartime, how war propaganda machines came into being and home fronts were built, and how soldiers of different nations fought. Yet, perhaps because the mandate of total war is assumed to have shaped belligerent regimes and their populations throughout Europe in equal manner, there are virtually no studies that compare different regimes with an eye to different understandings of the meaning of war and different ways of waging it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Cambridge History of the Second World War
Subtitle of host publicationVolume 3: Total War: Economy, Society and Culture
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages34
ISBN (Electronic)9781139626859
ISBN (Print)9781107039957
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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