Introduction To The 20th Century Wars



Vera Lynn – When the Lights Go On Again

The 20th Century was the time of Industrial warfare. A period in the history of warfare ranging roughly from the start of the Industrial Revolution to the beginning of the Information Age, which saw the rise of nation-states, capable of creating and equipping large armies and navies through the process of industrialization.

It featured mass-conscripted armies, rapid transportation (first on railroads, then by sea and air), telegraph and wireless communications, and the concept of total war.

In terms of technology, this era saw the rise of rifled breech-loading infantry weapons capable of massive amounts of fire, high-velocity breech-loading artillery, metal warships, submarines, aircraft, rockets and missiles, armoured warfare, and nuclear weapons.

One of the main features of Industrial warfare is the concept of “total war.” The term was coined during World War I by Erich Ludendorff (and again in his 1935 book “Total War”), which called for the complete mobilization and subordination of all resources, including policy and social systems, to the German war effort. It has also come to mean waging warfare with absolute ruthlessness, and its most identifiable legacy today has been the reintroduction of civilians and civilian infrastructure as targets in destroying a country’s ability to engage in war.

There are several reasons for the rise of total warfare in the 20th century. The main one is industrialization. As countries’ capital and natural resources grew, it became clear that some forms of warfare demanded more resources than others. Consequently, the greater cost of warfare became evident. An industrialized nation could distinguish and then choose the intensity of warfare that it wished to engage in.
Additionally, warfare was becoming more mechanized and required greater infrastructure. Soldiers could no longer live off the land, but required an extensive support network of people behind the lines to keep them fed and armed. This required the mobilization of the home front. Modern concepts like Propaganda were first used in order to boost production and maintain morale, while rationing took place to provide more war material.

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