a war that threatens the very existence of a nation, and in which every available weapon is used. Also means a war in which all the economic resources of the nation are mobilized as part of the war effort. This concept was developed in the nineteenth century; it applies to both world wars of this century. Total war, in the sense of using all available weapons, has been virtually unthinkable in the nuclear age, as it would result in the destruction of both sides.
a war in which no distinction is made between combatants and non-combatants
in each country during the First World War, a government of national unity which began to plan and control economic and social life in order to make the greatest possible military effort. (p. 900)
A new way of conducting war appeared during the Civil War. Instead of focusing only on military targets, armies conducting total war destroyed homes and crops to demoralize and undermine the civilian base of the enemy's war effort. (Sherman in Georgia or Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, for example.)
Warfare of the 20th century; vast resources and emotional commitments of belligerent nations were marshaled to support military effort; resulted from impact of industrialization on the military effort reflecting technological innovation and organizational capacity. (p. 856)