The Shadows of Total War: Europe, East Asia, and the United States, 1919-1939

By Roger Chickering; Stig Förster | Go to book overview

Introduction

ROGER CHICKERING AND STIG FÖRSTER

At the beginning of the twenty-first century it appears as if the age of total war may be over. Military history, let alone "history" itself, has admittedly not come to an end.1 The so-called new world order, in which a single superpower remains, has failed to provide global peace or stability. Wars continue with unabated frequency. Nonetheless, the character of-international conflict, at least in its organized form, seems to have moved away from the patterns that dominated the first half of the twentieth century.2

During the recent war in Kosovo, NATO officials routinely offered public regrets about the "collateral damage" that the alliance's airplanes had inflicted inadvertently on civilians in the Balkans. The destruction of a single bus by NATO bombs resulted in an international outcry and consternation among Western leaders. By contrast, the same officials proudly announced that one of their pilots had avoided a target after he had determined that it lay close to a church. Fifty-five years earlier, during World War II, political and military leaders would have found this kind of warfare difficult to comprehend. They would not have been troubled by the destruction of a bus in the course of a bombing sortie. The wholesale killing of civilians was a common and essential part of their strategies, for the distinction between soldiers and civilians had ceased to matter much.

Today, however, wars are evidently fought for more restricted aims with more limited, albeit sophisticated, means. Unconditional surrender no longer represents the conventional conclusion to warfare. Mass, conscripted armies are found today primarily in less developed countries, where they

1 Cf. Francis Fukuyama, The End of History and the Last Man (New York, 1992).

2 Martin van Creveld has suggested a different "retreat" from total war. He argues that organized warfare
is being replaced by low-intensity wars waged by terrorists and resistance movements. See Martin van
Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York, 1991); cf. Ulrich Bröckling, "Am Ende der grossen
Kriegserzählungen? Zur Genealogie der 'humanitaren Intervention,'" Arbeitskreis Militärgeschichte,
Newsletter 11 (2000): 7–10.

-1-

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