Reflecting on Total War

Anna Blumenscheid University of Westminster, England


November 3, 2015

On Halloween weekend, I went to Edinburgh, Scotland. It was beautiful countryside, and the city of Edinburgh was beautiful, too, although very hilly. We arrived Friday evening, and after 5 hours on the train, I just wanted food, then sleep.

Early Saturday morning we were up for breakfast, then we explored Edinburgh castle. Near the royal apartments and the Scottish crown jewels, there was a building that looked like a chapel. Upon entering, it became immediately clear that it wasn’t a chapel, but a memorial for all the Scots who died during World War One and World War Two. Every surface was covered in binders filled with lists of names of people who had died.

In the United States, when we talk about the world wars, we paint it in black and white terms. We talk about them coldly, a simple list of pros and cons, whether to dive in or bow out, with no consequence of lives lived or lives lost. Each page was filled with names, some of the thickest were the artillery divisions. During the first World War, over 100,000 men served in battalions of The Royal Scots, there were 11,162 casualties, and 40,000 injured. In World War Two there were fewer casualties from Scotland.

But that’s just it. All of these people died were solely from Scotland, a country that isn’t considered very involved in either of the world wars.

When we first learned about the World Wars in high school, we learned a new term, “total war,” meaning that 1- every part of society was impacted and 2- killing became indiscriminate between military and civilians. This meant that for the first time in all of human history, civilians were just as likely to be targeted as the military. People, whom were completely uninvolved with the military, became targets as well, just because they happen to live in a place that is dictated as an “enemy” state.

However, even when talking about what this actually means, we remain distant, cold, unmoved. We talk in statistics, and numerical figures. We find comfort there, because in talking about large overarching trends, based on statistics, we don’t have to confront our own distantness, our coldness, and question how it could instead be interpreted as cruelness not to get involved. Not once did we talk about the actual reality of what a “total war” is, not in terms of what it did to people, to families, living in those areas that weren’t war zones, but were ritualistically bombed. Everyday was a chance to live, but also a chance to die. Each day. Everyday.

Every one of those names had a grieving family attached to them, a first love, friends, a life, a job, people who they mattered to.

No one wins a total war. There are no winners, only people who have lost a little less. The human cost of a total war is unbelievably high, of lives lost and lives destroyed, minds ravaged by war. With 11,162 lives lost, 40,000 injured, and more than 100,000 people serving there is no way to not be touched by a war like this.