The First Total War Analysis

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Total War from a Naval Prospective During the Napoleonic Wars
As warfare developed in the 20th century, many historians began to view the extreme commitment of resources and strategies to completely defeat an adversary as the beginning of a new type of warfare: total war. The sheer violence and scope of both World War I and World War II make them prime examples of total war. Keith Nielson points to World War I as a prime example of total war for many reasons: “[T]he conflict of 1914-1918 was a total war that involved the belligerents in all phases of their national existence and faced military decision makers with new and complex problems.” While it is difficult for many historians to find a previous war in history comparing in style of warfare …show more content…

He arrives at this position by first arguing that the scope of warfare changed dramatically during the Napoleonic Wars, contrary to what many historians believe: “Some historians persist in thinking of the eighteenth century as a time of uncontrolled conflict that fed directly into the excesses of 1792-1815. In doing so, however, they disregard the astonishing increase in the scope and intensity of warfare in the French Revolution[.]” Bell delivers several arguments as to why the French during the Napoleonic Wars adhere to the definition of total war, but quickly dismisses the British Royal Navy of the same time period in his argument. He notes that while decisive naval battles battles such as The Battle of Trafalgar occurred, the changes in naval warfare were arguably moot in comparison to land warfare by the French. Bell furthers his argument by dismissing naval warfare as total war because Great Britain is the only country which experienced significant changes to its naval branch. His latter view can be easily dismissed as insufficient as he bases the premises of his book on solely France when it comes to land warfare. As for the former argument, this is a research question worth exploring: Did the …show more content…

Broers believes that one cannot argue for the Napoleonic Wars being considerably different than others in the same era as most wars in this time period acknowledged mass slaughter as a normal occurrence, not as a special case. In addition, even though Broers admits a levée occurred during the French Revolution, he saw the levée not in the way Bell argued: “As R. R. Palmer pointed out long ago, however, levée has another, more profound meaning, that of a mass rising, a phenomenon quite the reverse of conscription.” While Broers and other noted historians have found flaws in Bell’s claims, Broers does not immediately refute the notion that total war transpired during the Napoleonic Wars. However, rather than land warfare being the deciding factor, Broers points to naval warfare: “Not surprisingly, the Royal Navy developed ships with hulls far more maneuverable than those of rival fleets. At the battle of Trafalgar these hulls gave the British superior maneuverability over the French and Spanish, and this was arguably what turned the engagement in their favour. Ultimately, Trafalgar was won in large part because of superior technology, but no major land battle was.” In this quotation, Broers implies that Bell too quickly dismisses the Royal Navy as a way to strengthen his argument. Moreover, there are many reasons to use naval warfare as the primary

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