World War I

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What were the consequences of total war in World War I?

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Total war targets both civilians and the military. Total war changed European attitudes towards WWI, and at the peace table at Versailles the British and French looked for revenge for what they called barbarism. Germany's unrestricted submarine warfare can be considered total warfare, as it was a promise to attack all ships in coastal waters of the Allies. The Lusitania was one of the most famous examples of this kind of warfare, as 128 American civilians perished when the ship was attacked in 1915. While Americans cried foul, German officials claimed the ship carried rifle rounds. During total war, food can also be considered contraband and kept from the enemy. This led to Britain putting a minefield around the North Sea, which by 1918 caused starvation in Germany and led to the revolution there that ultimately ended the war. Germany also executed Belgian partisans during the war, and the Allies claimed that many innocent Belgians were killed when they were rounded up along with the guerrillas. Both sides also used terror weapons such as airplanes and zeppelins to bomb civilian centers in the hopes of hitting military barracks or factories. Strategic bombing was still at least twenty years in the future, so more civilians died in these attacks than military personnel. Germany even developed what they called a "Paris gun" which was a massive piece of artillery which could lob shells into Paris from over ten miles away. It was nearly impossible to aim it precisely, so this could also be a weapon of total warfare. At the end of the war, Germany was forced to pay for waging this type of warfare and to assume responsibility for causing the conflict. Total warfare waged by both sides was the main reason why the belligerents hoped this would be the last war, but these tactics only proved it was as important to hurt the will of civilians as it was to defeat armies on the battlefield.

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