HST 101 12:00 Tue,Thurs
A mobilized war
The First World War from 1914 to 1918, also known as the Great war was considered to
be the first total war in history. What began as a dispute over the equality of power between the
alliance of France, Britain and Russia and on the other side the central powers of Germany and
Austria-Hungary. It soon became a global conflict in Europe as well as their own individual
colonies established contributed to the war effort. A total war can be defined as a conflict that
fully mobilizes a nation for their resources such as, people, industrial tools, agriculture and
military for a global war effort. This in turn led to the idea that common civilians could
potentially be subject to warfare at home risking a new danger that no other war has been
through before, as well as the continuous propaganda and more governmental control leading
nations into mobilizing the war effort as far as their colonies abroad, and technological warfare
are new ideas introduced in this total war of the world.
Aerial bombardment was a new fear of the First World War. It was the first conflict in which the
aircrafts were involved other than just surveillance and played a significant role in combat.
However, it blurred the lines between homefront lines and the frontlines of battle. Strategic
bombing is a definite aspect of a total war. It was an attempt to destroy the ability to utilize
combat by possibly killing civilians and obliterating the infrastructure of the enemy. “And in the
air, are no streets, no channels, no point where one can say of an antagonist, “if he wants to reach
my capital he must come by here”. In the air all directions lead everywhere” (Wells 1908, 49).
Although the planes’ first use were for surveillance, they took a violent turn in 1915 and as this
quote says, directions in the air lead everywhere. This means that anyone or anything that was in
the other side’s way must be bombed in order to advance in the war. This was by all means a
total war tactic and was controversial in that even civilians could potentially be a target with no
The use of propaganda was prominent during the total war. Propaganda was utilized on a
global scale and is a tactic for war effort. Unlike previous wars fought, this was the first time in
which whole nations were locked in complete combat and they weren’t completely professional.
The fighting nation’s main reason for propaganda was war mobilization but the underlying
reason was to mobilize hatred towards the enemy, to convince the civilians that the horrors that
they caused were for the greater good. “Posters advertising bonds were a key part of the
propaganda that sought to link civilians and combatants experiencing this total war” ( Grayzel
2013, 13). The sole use of governmental propaganda was to create a sense of nationalism for all
of the countries utilizing this total war tactic.
Governmental control was a large part of the total war effort. Great Britain in 1914
shifted their government to complete war effort, “One clear example of this can be found in
Britain’s Defence of the Realm Act (1914), which gave the state power to imprison people for
spreading information likely to harm His Majesty’s forces or the war effort and to restrict the
movement of the population” (Grayzel 2013, 22). Life on the home front was a massive change
especially for Britain. The role of women had completely changed from being a caregiver for the
home to male dominant work force jobs. However, the fight for equal pay among women was a
challenge facing the war time, “It is reasonable that if a man and a woman are working side by
side at the same class of work, both should be paid alike” (Westminster Gazette 1919, 144). The
rationing of food was a total war strategy as well. Governments would control food production in
various countries to save their currency for more weaponry and artillery. Mainly, the censoring
of the horrors that happened away from the homefront was ideal for the countries so that there
was still a sense of proud mobilization for war.
The impact on the European colonies was mainly total war mobilization as well. African
colonies and other colonies became a source for raw materials, soldiers and bases of operation.
France had colonial holdings in North Africa at the time. Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia were all
controlled by France. They provide manpower for the war effort of France. “While the war may
have started in Europe, it quickly spread to European colonies. More than two million Africans
participated in the war, some as soldiers and others in the labor force; more than 200,000 died in
action” (Grayzel 2013, 22). Britain had a total of one million Indian soldiers who served in their
army. On the colonial homefront, women and children of their colonial villages lost their fathers,
brothers and husbands to the war. The colonies even if some were not in battle were fully
mobilized for the war effort.
The technology of the time was advancing for the First World War. The usage of tanks in
this war was a major advancement to the total war effort. Even if the tanks could only advance at
approximately 3.7 miles per hour, they still can make massive damage. Trench warfare was a
new look on combat. Although at times it was treacherous with at times no gains into “no man’s
land”, it was a different strategy inspired by the American Civil War instead of the traditional
way of face to face warfare. Chemical warfare is a complete attribute to total war. Fritz Haber,
who won the Nobel Peace Prize for Chemistry developed a chemical gas that was used in the war
to kill a large scale of soldiers. But like others, he was involved with the total war effort in
Germany. German U- boats were also another major technological advancement of the time.
Germany was the first country to deploy these submarines to substitute for on land combat. This
however lead to unrestricted submarine warfare against merchant ships, however yet again this is
all for the total war effort. “German U-boats or submarines became acts of infamy on the Allied
side” Grayzel 2013, 19). Total war was a complete attribute to the advancement of these
technologies and they progressed the world into better combat items for years to come.
In conclusion, when one evaluates the Great War, they notice a unique factor that no
other wars had done before, full mobilization. It was a total war that affected even regular
civilians and colonial villages lives through propaganda, rations, workforce, and war bonds.
There was a deep sense of nationalism between all of the nations. The technological advances of
this time were a major step towards the modernity of war. This war utilized every single resource
it could possibly attain and it was not fought by armies, but rather fought by entire societies.
H.G Wells ed. , The War in the Air (New York: Macmillian, 1908), 249-53
Susan R. Grayzel ed., The First World War. A Brief History with Documents (Boston:
Bedford/St. Martin’s 2013),.
Westminster Gazette ed., “Women and Wages: ‘Equal pay for Equal Work-An
Employer’s View,” ( London: Imperial War Museum, 1919)