chapter  16
From Volkskrieg to Vernichtungskrieg
German concepts of warfare, 1871–1935
Pages 12

Seventeen years after the German defeat in the First World War, Erich Ludendorff published a work of theory mapping out how Germany must fight the next war entitled Der totale Krieg [Total War].1 In his book, a summation of the lessons of the First World War, Ludendorff rejected the teachings of Carl von Clausewitz, asserting that Clausewitz’ magnum opus, On War ‘belongs to a past development of history which has now been entirely superseded’. While he admitted that Clausewitz’ teachings had served as a useful theoretical tool in the past, the ageing warrior believed that the nature of warfare had altered fundamentally during the First World War:

The First World War was of a completely different character from the wars of the past 150 years. In this war, not only the armed forces of the participating states . . . but the peoples themselves were enlisted in the service of the war. The war was directed against the populations themselves, who thus became deeply involved . . . the struggle was carried out against the spirit [Psyche] and vital force of the enemy populations with the goal of dissolving and paralysing them. Thus, total war was born; war which is not only the concern of the armed forces but also directly touches upon the life and soul of every single member of the belligerent populations.2