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  • A World at Total War: Global Conflict and the Politics of Destruction, 1937–1945
  • Jeremy Black
A World at Total War: Global Conflict and the Politics of Destruction, 1937–1945. Edited by Roger Chickering, Stig Förster, and Bernd Greiner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005. 404 pp. $70.00 (cloth).

The far greater role of Japan and, to a lesser extent, China in World War II than in World War I in causes, course, and consequences helped ensure that the later struggle was more truly global in character. This is signified by the choice of 1937 rather than 1939 as the starting point for the study. Nevertheless, as Gerhard Weinberg makes clear in "Total War: The Global Dimensions of Conflict," the chapter that is most relevant from the perspective of this journal, it was the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939 that really started the global character of World [End Page 350] War II. He points out that the participation of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa guaranteed this, and that the wide-ranging nature of German commerce raiding underlined this global character. On the other hand, the beginning of large-scale hostilities in the Pacific was due to the Japanese attack on the United States. Furthermore, in terms of new entrants into hostilities, Hitler's unnecessary decision to declare war on the United States was important. The United States, in response, declared war on Germany on 11 December 1941, as did Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Haiti; Honduras and El Salvador followed the next day, and Panama, Mexico, and Brazil in 1942. Other states delayed—Bolivia and Colombia until 1943 and Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela until 1945. Other late entrants were Liberia in 1944 and Saudi Arabia and Turkey in 1945.

Of these states, Brazil played the biggest combat role, sending twenty-five thousand troops to Italy, but other states still played an important role by providing raw materials, such as oil from Venezuela, as well as air and naval bases and by allowing use of their air space. New air bases were developed by and for the Americans in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Panama. These bases were used to oppose the destructive U-boat campaign in the Caribbean as well as U-boat operations in the Atlantic. The war was important to Latin America for economic development.

The subject of the book, however, is total war, not global war, and that is presented in a series of chapters, grouped respectively as "The Dimensions of War," "Combat," "Mobilizing Economies," "Mobilizing Societies," "The War against Noncombatants," and "Criminal War," that are essentially studies of the major participants rather than broad-ranging considerations of aspects of the war. Thus, John Barber's chapter on women in the Soviet war effort, while impressive, does not glance at the situation in other states, including, for example, Finland, which fought only the Soviet Union. Even among the major participants, there is an overconcentration on the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain, and Germany. Japan receives relatively little attention, although Louise Young's "Ideologies of Difference and the Turn to Atrocity: Japan's War on China" is valuable, while China itself is largely ignored. This is unfortunate, although recent work by Hans van de Ven helps fill the gap.

As studies in particular aspects of total war, however, the volume is very useful. It represents the culmination of a series of conference volumes and offers high-grade discussion both of aspects of World War II and of the vexed issue of total war. There are some important qualifications [End Page 351] of the latter, not least the determination of wartime populations to return to peacetime "normality"; despite the claims of some commentators, there was scant sense among the public that peace and war were simply aspects of conflict or different operational forms of a common strategy. Dennis Showalter, in a masterful study of the United States, also brings out the extent to which the United States waged a global war but one that was not really total. As he points out, mobilizing hostility had a limited effect at best. In particular, to most...


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