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The term total war was first coined in the aftermath of the First World War by the German military commander Erich Ludendorff in an effort to describe that war’s unprecedented scale, the apparently unlimited lengths to which combatant nations were willing to go to secure victory, and the way in which the war had blurred the distinction between soldier and civilian. Although the term was new, the conceptual distinction between more or less limited military commitments had been a subject of discussion for some time. In the early 19th century, Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz had criticized earlier strategic thinking for failing to account for the autonomous momentum that a state of war created once unleashed, arguing that limited war aims could quickly become ...

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