tv Civil War World War I and Total War CSPAN August 17, 2017 1:23pm-2:26pm EDT
and yet, 26 people were killed. one policeman. one fireman. the rest citizens. all by the three police forces that were operating. >> american history tv. all weekend every weekend. only on c-span3. >> our coverage of the gettysburg college's civil war institute continues with michael nighberg. he talks about the concept of total war and uses the civil war and world war i as examples. he also discusses societal changes brought about by the total war. this presentation is about an hour. >> good evening. i am peter car michael. i am a professor of history here. i am also the director of the support institute. it's my pleasure this evening to introduce to you michael nighberg. michael is the newly appointed
inaugural chair of war studies at the u.s. army war college in pennsylvania. and internationally recognized historian of world war i world war ii. his scholarship focuses on the american and french experiences in the two world wars and seeks to make the history of warfare and international relations relevant to policy makers and practitioners. he is the author of numerous scholarly monographs including "dance of the furries, europe and the outbreak of world war ii". a work named one of the top five best books ever written about world war i. pretty impressive. his most recent work, the path to war, how the first world war
created modern america was just published by oxford university press in 2016. with a background in social history, military history, french history, and american history, he has published widely on the theme of war, and tonight he will be broadening our topics well beyond 1865 as he discusses toward the age of people's war, the civil war two world war i. >> thank you for that fantastic introduction. thank you for the invitation to be here, and i also want to thank ian for his role in getting me here. we are both from pittsburgh. i want to thank ian for having the foresight to make sure this was planned on a night where the
stanley cup was not being played. exceptionally played. i'm going to pick up on one of the things that pete said. i am not a civil war historian. anything that i do wrong, anything that i say that is terrible, the real civil war expert, chris is going to wave his hands at me or threaten me in some way. if i do anything wrong, blame chris. everything i know, i know from chris. pete and ian asked me about a hour ago to talk about the total war as it relates to the american civil war and as it relates to the conflict that i study the most, the first world war. this is not a subject i know particularly well, but what the heck. we'll walk on a wire and see if i fall off. total war is a tough concept to pin down. when we use it in the classroom, sometimes we treat it as a bimodal concept, a war is either total or limited. or sometimes we think about war as i prefer to do in the
classroom as a spectrum from some notion of limited war to some notion of total war being aware of the complexities of concept even inside itself. what i mean by that is that wars can go from being limited to doelgt or less often from total to limited, and the two sides fighting in a war can have different concepts of the war they're fighting. it can be limited for one side and total for the other. defining total war has eluded a lot of scholars. it's a difficult concept to come up with a definition. some historians focus on technology. that is they think of total war as something that exists in the modern industrial age only. a concept that i'm not sure i'm comfortable with. there are some that define total war in a more sense as a problem of politics. that is, total war depends upon the goals that a state is fighting for. if a state is fighting for
control of a coal field, that is by its very definition, limiting the kind of war it will fight, as opposed to the first world war, which was described as a war of big ideas. they are not fighting for something limited. they're fighting for a total kind of victory. it can also be a problem of culture. that is cultures can totally reform themselves within a war to make a limited piece unacceptable. and i'll come back to that concept in a bit. where's the first total war is a question that has bedevilled a lot of historians. it's been argued as a napoleonic war with cultural necessity while the late 18th century creating the first kind of industrial system of warfare. i'm sure many folks in this room might argue the american civil war is the first total war.
we start at the army war college, we'll start in a couple of months by teaching accounts of a war which strikes me as having a lot to say about the nature of total war and cultural change within war in and gent greece. in the grand sweep of history it's fair to ask do we move from limited war in an era of the past to something total war as you go forward? in other words, if david bell is right and 1789 marks the beginning of the total war and if we mark the end of the total war in 1945 as many would, then we have to ask the question of whether this is a linear transformation or if there's something that binds the two ends. what caused the stop in 1945 to end this period of total war? it could be the existence of nuclear weapons that creates a
limit to the totality you can go to. but that seems to be an insufficient explanation, and the questions are fundamental if we're going to think of total war as a concept, as a way of organizing our thoughts. now, unless you reject the idea of total war entirely, it seems to me that the american civil war and the first world war would have to count in any definition of total war we might use. that leaves us with a problem of definition and this problem of causization. the first scholar that i know of to try to think about defining total war, though he didn't exactly use the phrase, is carol von klouswits. he contrasted it with answer salute war. real war is the war that a state end up fighting. i think you can translate these ideas into something that would
look like limited and total war. though understanding karl is something worthy of many seminars. a complicated writer with complicated ideas. and as chris and i do every year, trying to get folks to understand the complexity of what he was arguing rather than the bumper stickers is a problem. he argued that absolute war is the direction that war naturally goes if nothing limits it. in other words, in his understanding of war, war naturally goes forward totality. limiting war is the challenge. and, again, remembering the wars that he saw and the wars that he fought in, it's easy to you said t -- understand the background. a war that stretches from russia to spain. although we think about wars between states, there was a lot to say about the guerilla war inside spain. a war that came as close to
totality as anything that the europeans fought. as napoleon fought against the so-called spanish guerillas. in the mind what limits war are the political goals a state sets, the natural fog and friction, the things that naturally go wrong as you begin to fight a war. geography, and the nature of what a state can do, and maybe most importantly, the size of an army that a state can raise. that is, if you can only raise a small army, you can't do too much with it. this is the problem that his home state had. a small state, a relatively poor state in the early 19th century trying to find a way to fight its way through a total war. those familiar know some of the things in the decades before the american civil war that they did to reform their army and make it professional and modern and change the society around it in part by freeing the prugs surfs
as to try to get them to believe the national ideal. the problem for the country was to get them to believe in their state the way the french did, the ways that french soldiers would march from paris all the way to russia. you had to find a way to create that kind of spirit without, at the same time, creating the revolutionary spirit that he and so many conservatives were afraid of. as a result, he argued war tends to go toward its absolutes, but at the same time there is naturally within that system things that limit the nature of war. generals can never fight the kind of total war they want to. they can never get to absolute war, because they're always limited. not even napoleon or the generals of that. i must confess, i am at the very least sympathetic to the arguments of a scholar jamed jenny keezing.
he argued total war was a fetish for historians and practitioners of war. she argues intelligently and thoughtfully that the concept of total war is pointless. that it provides us with no real intellectual incites at all. in her argument, in her conception, it is for practitioners and historians looking to take the complex subject of war and reduce it to an either/or variable, reverse it to a bimodal yes or no. in her mind, this is brought up by policy makers and generals to think about war in it thesis and antithesis. her argument is by identifying periods of total war and limited war, you can simplify history and you can make it a case where total war almost seems to be good. total war is what you do when you win. total war is what you do when you're willing to put effort behind the political impogoal ye
staked out. limited war is like korea and vietnam. it's the kind of war you fight incompetently. jenny is thinking about the way we think about it reer t theically, not war it. total war is a positive, the kind of war you should fight, and this is common in american military thought. you can see it in things like the powell doctrine. figure out what we want, put our effort to it, win, and come home. limited war, becomes the antithesis, the unnatural state of thinking act war. unnatural limits put on generals by politicians. being a code for the kinds of political interference and incompetence in america's wars since the end of the total war period. i'm not asking you to agree. i'm just putting it out there. we can talk about it more later. calling for total war, thus implies using all the tools in
your arsenal. not taking anything off of the table. and importantly, at least in the way that jenny conceives it, total war means leaving the tactical, operational decisions in the hands of war fighters, not politicians. and here i want to make sure that this is never -- this has never been the case. right? this is classically him. the direction of war comes from the political environment. this is true even in ages of total war. now, jenny and i, this is an article that jenny wrote for a book that i edited, but we had a lot of discussions about this, and even jenny will admit something like sherman's march to the see becomes a good example of total war. minimal restraint from politicians. sherman's not calling back to the white house every couple of minutes for direction. he's cutting his lines of communication and i'll see you in savannah. a positive strategic outcome
from comes from the application of total war and the total use of military power at least in type. that is, if sherman wasn't able to bring every new technological advance along with him, he was able to reconceive military power and have a way to use it in order to obtain the political end in united states government wanted him to achieve. skipping forward to the first world war, my war, that's a terrible thing, the first world war which i study. much the same might be said of the 1916 battle for verdone. in this battle at the end of 1915 the german battle wrote an interesting memo to the kaiser in which he argued that the first world war battle field, the western front had completely deadlocked. and the only way to win the war was to use that deadlock to germany's advantage. use it for strategic advantage. some of you may know his design
here. his intention was to attack a place on the western front. he knew france would have to counterattack to get back. and a place where germany's logistical lines would be superior to the lines of the enemy. and the place he picked is a french frontier city of verdone. the idea was to attack a place, capture some of the outer fortifications and major fortifications and then force the french to counterattack, being aware as he was that the defense was stronger than the offense. this plan turns out to be bloody and fu tall failure that costs him his job and costs french and german casualties. and if you get the chance to visit the battle field of verdone, it's one of the creepiest chances you'll ever get the chance to go to. the plan, like sherman's,
reenvisioned the nature of warfare. took political level control off the table. and in the most famous account of the battle of verdone, the general kept his political masters in the dark knowing they would put limits on what he could and could not do. he told his bosses, both the kaiser and the crowned prison, the kaiser's son that the purpose of the battle was to capture the town. he knew if he told him the goal was to kill three frenchmen for every one german, he knew permission would never be granted nature fits the model for totality. this total war concept we've been talking act has lost some of its shine.
in a book "wages of destruction" never uses the term. neither did "planning armageddon" where it's argued that the british war plan devised by the navy pre1914 was to destroy the global economy, crash the entire system. win the war by bankrupting the world knowing that great britain would be in a position to pick up the pieces when it was over. the british government never approved of this plan. the navy never wanted to execute it, but if anything strikes me as total war, it's a plan to destroy the entire global economy at the outset of a war. yet they never use that phrase. even a man who edited five volumes on total war remains unsure. in an essay, titled "are we
there yet" one wrote despite the park of scholars around the world they could not agree on a definition of total war that can command our general assent, end quote. maybe this is a function of the natural contrariness of scholars. we prefer disagreement, hopefully college yal disagreement. we tend not to like general assent. this is one thing where chris and i work, soldiers prefer it, academics do not. or maybe jenny is right. the concept is too vague to be of any use. therefore, maybe the concept lacks any real scholarly utility and i'm wasting any time. it's possible. adding to the confusion, as i noted earlier very few wars begin as total wars. as i hope i'm right in saying, lincoln was willing to fight a limited 90-day war to ensure the survival of the union even if
that meant allowing slavery to remain in place. back to my war, again, bad phrase. back to the first world war, no one, i think, would have gone to war in 1914 had they been able to see where that limited war was going to go even within a few months. rutgers political scientist has done an in depth analysis of the states of 1914 and concluded for all of them, total war was the least desirable outcome, yet that's what they have by october of 1914. frederick ankles was right in 1887 when he wrote the next war in europe would involve 8 to 10 million soldiers will be at each other's throats and trip europe. the 30 years' war will be compressed over three to four years. famine, disease, the armies and
the people in the wake of a dislocation of our artificial system of trade, industry and credit, ending in universal bankruptcy, collapse of the old states. crowns will roll into gutters by the dozens, and no one will be around to pick them up. that's a pretty powerful and pretty prophetic statement of what was to happen by 1918. but the key point to me is nobody thought this is what they were setting loose in 1914. nobody. and again, had they known, my guess is nobody goes to war. the germans as most of you probably know, expected a victory over france in six weeks. there were plenty of meme who kouted it. and the british expected to fight a world war while maintaining what the prime minister called business as usual. now with all those caveats aside and all of those kind of warnings that i've just given you, i'm going to compare the
wars as total wars. keeping in mind two assumptions, both of which i'm fine with challenge. it does apply both to the american civil war and the first world war. they apply in different ways. so just as there was a trinity, i'm going to proceed in three parts. i'm going to look at similarities of the conflicts of the total wars. i'm going to look at differences in the way the two wars can be understood as total wars. here's where i expect chris to wave at me. i'm going to conclude with thoughts about the ways total wars come to an end. it seems to me if the concept of total war has any utility, it should be used to help us think about the ways that total wars have to end in a different way than limited wars end. so first, let me start with similarities.
it seems to me that one indicator of total war is a war that intentionally targets civilians. and not as an ins sent tall part of war that is not in the way 18th centuries could affect civilians but by targeting them as an intentional part of military strategy. surely the targeting of civilians should be a part of any discussion and any notion of what a total war is. both wars had black kads that aimed to deny food to civilians. both wars understood civilians as part of the war-making capability of the enemy. this is a point that david well makes on his paper. this is a key concept that both sides understood that they were fighting not just civilians but they were -- not just soldiers. they were fighting civilians as well. sherman's march to the sea makes the point as does the hard hand of war as union civil war strategy became harsher and
harsher as the war went on. the first world war also had the beginnings of strategic bombing using zeppelins and using airplanes to bombard civilian targets as far away as london. it also involved genocide. and it involved the creation of something called the paris gun, a rail gun so big it could only be moved by rail. and a gun that fired a shell the size of a volkswagen halfway to outer space before it landed. with a gun like this you can only hit a city. that's what the germans used it for. random bombings in paris, unfortunately, one of the shells went through a church on a good friday service. if you read the negotiations over the treaty of ver say, this is one of the things they are accused of. it seems to me another
definition of total war involves changes happening in the society that were not obtainable in peacetime. that is, wars open up total wars open up the possibility for radical social, cultural, and political change. in the american civil war it seems to me the most obvious case is emancipation. in 1861 it would have been almost impossible to envision a scenario in 1861 in which something like the emancipation proclamation comes in effect by 1863. it is almost inevitable by 1865. ly colleague at southern mississippi where i taught before i came to the war college finished a fantastic book look at the texasens in the civil
war. she noted the absence -- it's hard for historians to prove something about an absence. she was curious about an absence of the texas stole jers talking about slavery. they don't talk about it in their letters. her conclusion is the reason they don't talk about it is they cannot imagine it happening. until 1964 when all of a sudden they're forced to think about going back to a texas without the institution of slavery being in place. the first world war has more revolutionary outcomes. in 1914 most of europe east of a river was governed by the german, hungarian, russia, and oaudoman. nobody thought any of them was going away any time soon.
by 1918 all four are in the category of the crowns in the gutter and nobody will pick them up. with the end of one empire came the end of the cal faiiphatecal. the end of religious structures in the middle east. in the middle east the rest of the century has been spent trying to figure out what replaces that political, social, and cultural order in europe and in their empire. first world war historians like myself are thinking of the first and second world wars as one conflict. the first world war opens up a political, social, and cultural space that isn't filled in until at least 1945. some historians argue 1989 when the soviet union, itself a product of the first world war collapses, and i think i'm sympathetic to the argument that what's happening in the middle east is nothing more than the war this succession, trying to figure out what replaces the
organizational system of that war. again, in 1914, nobody thought that any of these empires was going away any time soon. even people like lennon who were four years later, they are all gone. also, as a result, the emergence of two new forms of governance, fascism and bolshevism that is trying to fill in that space, created by the loss of the monarchies. the emergence of the united states as a power in international affairs, these are systems that are political, but they're also social. they're cultural, and they're economic. they are revolutionary changes in ways that would not otherwise be possible. third, total wars lead to a growth in the power of government and they lead in that great political phrase to politicians never wanting to let a good crisis go to waste. total wars open up possibilities for states to do things they
could not otherwise do. both to prosecute the war, and to take advantage of the crisis that they see. in the first world war, one of the key examples of this is the so-called defense of the realm act, passed in great britain within a week of the war beginning with no debate in parliament. severely limiting the rights of free speech, severely limiting the rights of bartenders to keep bars open, all kinds of things that would have been unimaginable in great britain, war time makes them possible. in the united states, both the american civil war and the first world war led to the curtailment of civil rights and the suspension of habeas corpus. it led to the growth of executive power, it led to the growth of government control over legislatures, the courts and the economy. and it also created new political environments and as i was thinking about this course, this lecture, excuse me, i was going back to the one real civil war course i took at the university of michigan with jay mills thorton, this is the big theme i remember from the class. it wasn't so much about the war in his imagination, it was about
what this new political space made possible. with the departure of the southerners from the united states congress, the remnants of that congress could put into action a series of laws, a series of motions that never would have gotten through in the years before. that involves, of course, the homestead act, the moral land grant act which creates the state university systems. this was a big theme of thornton's, opening up that space that you can now fill in. and something similar happens, of course in the first world war here in the united states and i'll just talk about france a lot, but in the united states, with new railroad regulations, new progressive regulations, the war is opening up a space to make the previously impossible possible. and this is one of the great legacies of total wars that i think we as historians need to be thinking about a lot more. these things that last and endure through the decades. long after the wars are over. there were differences as well, of course, let me highlight two. and here is where chris may start waving his arms.
the american civil war, though total, was localized. the one exception may be mexico, where the chaos in the united states allowed france to insert maximilian and try to play international politics inside the mexican state. but the american civil war produced little revolutionary change on a worldwide scale like the first world war did and here some of you disagree, i would welcome your thought s in the question and answer. contrast it to the first world war, the war is governed by the four empires, and their governed by the overseas empires of great britain and france. and let me cite two examples. i've been doing a lot of work on the first world war in the period and one thing beautiful about this is to hear from scholars who work on parts of the world i know very little about. and it has been wonderful. one of those is india. in 1914, of course, india is fully a part of the british empire. in fact, india produced the largest volunteer army of the
20th century that is an army raised with no conscription whatsoever, it is india's army to serve the british in the first world war. the war brought massive fundamental changes to india, personified in no person better than gandhi, who supported the war in 1915, and was a firm advocate that britain had to leave india by 1918. the war made india a net creditor to great britain and created a net trade balance for india, positive trade balance for india, radically realtering the relationship between india and great britain. india also became a manufacturing center as britain moved manufacturing to india to make the logistics of the asian empire easier. britain introduced one rupee notes, paper notes, which you wouldn't think would be a big deal. the previous smallest unit of currency was a five rupee coin. this is bringing paper currency into india, it brought 100
million indians out of the barter economy and into the global cash economy. 100 million people. britain promised it would reconvert the rupees into silver, a promise they never kept and never intended to keep. in part because they counted on the united states giving them that silver, which the united states refused to do. tensions over this issue led in part to the so-called massacre in northern india in 1919. by that point, the india national congress, gandhi and most indians who had been dedicated to the war had been supportive of the war when the war began were now dedicating either to home rule or to independence from india. again, a concept unimaginable in june of 1914. a second example that i would like to give is the issue of a backward, dusty, underpopulated, little known province of the ottoman empire called palestine.
in 1914, it was fully a part of the ottoman empire and the ottomans understood it as one of the most stable, most dependable, easiest to govern of their provinces. by 1918, the ottoman empire is gone entirely, and the british army is running india. the british army is running india. its commander walked through the gate of jerusalem and said, 1,355 years of muslim rule in the city are over. think about that. as a political change brought about by the war. now, that would be complicated enough. if it weren't for the fact that alan came to jerusalem with the british government already having promised that tiny little piece of land with ill-defined borders, to the arabs in the document called the hussein
mcmahon agreement, and to themselves in a document called the saxby coves agreement. isis takes bulldozes and bull dozes over the lines to make the statement that the first world war borders are going away. i could have used china. i could have used latin america. i could have used any of the european neutral countries as well to make the case that even states that did not fight this war are fundamentally altered by it. it is the first world war, the treaty of versailles, the first time canada signs a document on its own as an independent state. no longer willing to work through the british foreign office. a similar story is told on australia, new zealand, all throughout the british empire. fundamental changes in the world as a result of the war. second difference that i'll come back to, a little bit at the end, i want to introduce now, is in the way that these wars end in the concept of conflict termination. the american civil war did come to a process of conflict
termination. the white south may have been unhappy with its defeat, but they did not fight another war. the struggle continued for many in the form of paramilitaries like the ku klux klan, or in struggles that become political struggles rather than military struggles. but within less than a generation, the same people are back in politics in the south, and the struggle after 1877 is largely nonviolent and it is largely political rather than military. the first world war, of course, did not end. and, in fact, this is an exercise i like to do with my students. when did the first world war end? almost no one who does what i do for a living is any longer willing to accept november 11th, 1918, as the date for the end of the first world war. almost nobody. the war continued not just in the form of smaller wars, they continued to rage, but it of course continued in the so-called interwar period, the so-called peace period, from
1919 to 1939, if you wanted to find it that way. as i mentioned earlier, most scholars are thinking of the first world war and second world war as one conflict, another 30 years war. it also, of course, sparked anti-imperial wars. it sparked tensions between china and japan. it created the cold war. and if you believe their own propaganda, it created the islamic state as well. now, let me come back to that concept of conflict termination as my third of three points here. first world war scholars talk about a concept they call total war culture or war culture. the argument is that when you create a total war, a total war begins, it creates an altered state. it creates an increase in hatred and anger and the book that pete was kind enough to mention that i worked on in 1914, i make exactly this argument, that it is not the hatreds of the french and british or the hate against the germans or hatreds of the germans against the russians that creates the first world
war, that's not what happens. you can read any numbers of letters, diaries, anything you want, of europeans, before august 1914, and not one of them will say i really want a war to start because i wanted to kill a german. that's not what europeans are saying. instead, they're saying, we never have known a time that is more peaceful than this. we never have known a time when it looks like everybody is coming together. it is one of the reasons i think the first world war is such a shock to europeans. nobody saw it coming. by the early weeks of the first world war, however, you had germany's war crimes in belgium, russia's war crimes in east prussia, the mobilization of society for war, in the case of france, you had french men joining the colors not because they wanted to kill the german, but for easiest and simplest reason at all, an enemy army crossed their frontier. this creates the war culture, the violence, the need to kick the germans out of occupied
french soil, this creates the hatred and the anger that creates war culture. now, i mention once before, but the anglo-irish historians, john horn, one i think one of the most brilliant historians working on this, argued there were three conditions you had to set for dismantling war culture. john was particularly interested in two cases, the franco german case at the end of the first world war, incomplete dismantling of war culture and the dismantling of the war culture between northern ireland and the republic of ireland, a much more successful one. john argues, three things have to happen in order to get to this point. first, young men, mostly men on the two sides, have to stop being willing to die and kill for their cause. you can still carry a grudge, you can still be angry, but you don't take it to the point of violence. second, the two sides end the dehumanization of one another. they accept the basic humanity of the people on the other side.
and, third, and for historians this one is particularly interesting, and ever since i read john's article and talked to him about it, it has been in my head. they have to develop a shared history of the events, they have to come to some form of agreement about how they got to where they got. this version of history doesn't have to be true. it doesn't have to be accurate. it just has to be agreed upon. it has to be what we call a convenient fiction. now, i think if i'm right, the american civil war has all three of these. however much the ku klux klan and others were willing to execute violence to enforce their view of what the peace of the civil war ought to look like, they were usually unwilling to combat u.s. occupation troops in large numbers. they were willing to kill, they were not willing to die. that is they had their beliefs, they were no longer willing to sacrifice their lives for them. i understand there are exceptions. second, for the most part, both sides at least among whites in
the u.s. civil war accepted the other as american. this begins quickly as the symbolism of appomattox. when i was a kid, my uncle in georgia, macon, georgia, used to take me to a restaurant with a big sign that said beautify georgia, stick a yankee on a bus. but even there it was always done with a sense of difference, never dehumanization. and it was the friendliest place to get a piece of fried chicken and glass of iced tea you can imagine. the logic only holds between whites. it is african-americans and the freed men that suffered as part of this. now, points one and two only become possible because of a version of history that soon became common on both sides. one, both sides were honorably fighting for their cause. states rights, not slavery, was the reason for the war. and african-americans get written out of this narrative, almost entirely until quite recently.
is it a false history? yes, in many ways. but it is enough to allow white americans to move forward together in general agreement about what the war meant until the 1960s. and now i think to me it is fascinating to see how this is coming back. that history is becoming fragmented in ways that are interesting for me to observe. by contrast, none of these three things work at the end of the first world war. germans, russians, italians, many others, were willing to die and kill to reverse the outcome of 1918, 1919. this explains in my mind the development of fascism. it is the one political form that is calling for greater sacrifice, greater violence, on the part of people upset with the outcome. indeed, the entire logic, not just the fascism, but bolshevism is based on the idea that the outcome of the first world war ran counter to the logic of history and had to be reversed
in order to set right the direction of human history. second, first world war did not end the dehumanization that each side demonstrated toward the other. we think, of course, mostly of nazi attempts to dehumanize every one they saw, but examples from george orwell's experience in spain, to the american war against japan that john toland identified in the 1940s will all serve as examples of the point i'm trying to make. third, the first world war produced no single history. american, british, french, german, and russian memories all diverged in critical and important ways, most notably in the desperate search for somebody to blame. the first generation of first world war literature that goes well into the 1970s is a blame game literature. there are still examples of it
today. i could cite several books published even in the last couple of years. only since the end of the cold war has an inaccurate but shared european history come into focus that fits john's criteria. it has at its best expression the best-selling book by christopher clark, sleepwalkers, which blames everybody and nobody for the outbreak of the first world war. not surprisingly, it has taken criticism from academics, but has become a runaway best-seller in, you guessed it, germany. just to give you another example of this, in 2012, i was asked to go to berlin to be part of the project on the -- to determine what the european union would do as its official commemoration of the first world war. the first set of meetings we had were from eu diplomats, who came into the room and said, we want a history of the first world war, that depicts the war as a war created by nationality. too much nationalism. and now that we have the european union, and now that we have checks and breaks on nationalism, the era of the world wars is over.
every historian in the room started laughing. right. to us it made no sense. it made perfect sense politically. and this is becoming the dominant way that young people in france and germany and britain, ireland, are beginning to understand the first world war, that it was, as christopher clark articulated, a war started by nobody and everybody. i have huge problems with it. as a political way to move forward, it allows europeans to go forward without dehumanization and without looking for vengeance. the first world war is easy to do this with because the regimes that created the war are all gone. the monarchies of europe are all gone. now, in conclusion, before i open up to see how much of this you want to challenge me on, today, these two wars, the american civil war and the first world war occupy very, very different places in american culture. we see the civil wars the start
of modern american history, and the spring from which almost everything since has emerged. and i use ed to do this with my comrades when we look at textbooks who argued that wars weren't important to teach. and in every year we would get stacks of textbooks sent to us that they wanted us to adopt, and used to put in piles how many break american at 1861, 1865 or some other year. what do you want to guess was always the smallest pile? there is a reason. modern european history textbooks begin in 1914. there is a reason. there is a reason. wars are important. the first world war, in this country, is by contrast largely forgotten. its role is to show by its absence our ambivalence with our own world role and distinctiveness from the rest of the world for whom this war remains a central touchstone of identity and you can see this very easily in a short walk
through washington, d.c. from that monstrosity, that gargantuan second world war memorial we built to the isolated stuck in the trees washington, d.c. world war memorial, which was literally falling off of its pedestal until they reached an agreement to support it. the agreement was that the government would do it if private funds were raised to fix it. imagine doing that for something like the second world war memorial. total war, therefore, doesn't seem the answer to understand why we think about wars in one way or another. there has to be some other way to understand the way that we memorialize and remember these wars. even in totality it would seem there can be amnesia. so thank you, i'll be happy to take any questions you might have. [ applause ] >> so please come to the mike, pete's telling me, if you want
to ask a question, so we can make sure to get it recorded. yes, sir. i'll go to the front while we're figuring that out. go ahead. >> can you hear me? regarding your comment about sherman being part of total war, i'm a little confused because i read that the grimsley book and it seemed like hard war was a better description of sherman's march. >> yeah. i mean, this is the problem again with --
that concept of total war, right? how exactly do you define it and what words do you use. as far as i know the term total war, i think jenny is right, the term total war nobody using until the middle of the 20th century. it's not a phrase that we have. i suppose you could argue for a rhetorical difference between hard and total but that's clearly what sherman is trying to articulate, that you're moving in that direction. i don't think sherman used the phrase total war that i know of. >> what i'm referring to is that total war usually means wipe out everything, people and property, everything in the way. whereas the hard war was more property in order to avoid -- >> i see the distinction you're making. the kill everything and leave nothing behind, salt of the earth and whatever, that's what he meant by absolute war. what he argued is you cannot get there. no state actually does that. and my colleague told me even the romans didn't do that to carthage. they said they didn't but they didn't actually do it. that's what the penguins did to the predators last night but that's only in theory.
[ applause ] >> never mind. thank you. >> but i take the point that sherman is targeting property, not human life. yes, sir in the back and then back to the front. >> earl from pennsylvania. i'm not sure you've overturned mark's thesis that the civil war was not a total war. however, assuming that it was and looking at your point about civil war not being localized, how would you talk about the growth of egyptian and indian cotton to replace american south cotton during the war. >> right. >> also the fact that the united states navy was able to assist the royal navy in suppressing the slave trade. >> yep. >> and then finally for what i have, the effects of the united states no longer being a slave nation on slavery in other western hemisphere nations. >> i have a cotton thing in the original draft of this talk and i took it out.
i think i would say is, yes, those are all really important transformations but it's not the same as what happens in a small place like delaware. one is clearly having an impact around the world. the other is dramatically revolutionarily changing the way that people understand their relationships to their governing order, or it's destroying their governing order. i would certainly never argue that the american civil war isn't having an impact. i would put that positively. i would argue of course that the american civil war is having an effect around the globe and having an effect in the way that the world is operating. if i didn't argue that, my own colleague would come down and strike me. but i would still stay with the point. it's not doing what the first word war is doing. toppling four regimes that had been in place for centuries, creating entirely new political belief systems. that's what i mean. that's what i mean in the difference of globalization.
jillian. >> hi, doctor. you know me but i'm julia wall from atlanta, georgia. going back to the hard war and total war question, sherman's march to the sea was mainly against civilians. it didn't really have any military opposition since longstreet's corps kind of abandoned georgia. >> right. >> but do you think that hard war is exclusively against civilians rather than total war as civilians are targeted but there are other military targets? >> i guess what i would say to that is it's hard for me to think. any war that i would put on a spectrum close to total war would involve targeting of civilians. it just would have to. that's part of the war culture that john horne talks about. when you see an 18-year-old young woman work in a factory as a legitimate target that you can hit with whatever can reach them with, you've crossed some border. the only problem that i still
have is thinking of total war and limited war as a limited thing. you're either on one side of the line or the other. so that's the part that in my head i'm still not sure i'm entirely content with. and i think i'm still on the side of jenny keesling and these are concepts we've devised of a way of thinking about war rather than war actually is. sherman's march is destroying property, not killing people which makes it an interesting total war. but it's a use of military force that no one envisioned before sherman did it. >> thank you. >> thanks. let's go to the back and back up front. yes, sir. >> coming forward in time and going back to the brief words in the beginning about asymmetry about total war and limited war. maybe coming forward to post-world war ii of the united states and its two limited wars, you might say, korea and
vietnam, to us it was limited. we didn't want it to go total and we didn't. but to them, the vietnamese knot -- north and south, and to the koreans, it's total war. and korea it still is. >> correct. absolutely. and what that shows is it's not just technological. the united states had technologies it could have used in both of those cases and for political culture social reasons it didn't use them. but your important is exactly well taken for one side a war can be limited. for the other side it would only be total. the same is true in iraq in 1991. for one side it can be limited and the other side would be total. and that only makes the concept less useful intellectually. >> yes. >> i would like to take you up on your offer to challenge your conclusions, particularly regarding your definitions of the three conditions that end the war. i would suggest that in fact the
civil war also was not brought to a conclusion or actually ended. if it had been we would not have the problems in society that we have today. i see very much a direct theme between the end of the war. i think it was an incomplete end to the war that has simply stretched over 150 years before the same issues are still starting to bubble up that were never completely resolved. and i think part of it was because the false narrative was so false. and partly because the dehumanization was permitted to continue. so i see it while not of the degree that world war i's ending was in incomplete in that it triggered a war within 20 years but in the same way a defective resolution that leads us to the potential for new civil war.
>> right. the argument that john is making that i have adapted for this talk is not that you get to a conflict termination part and everything is as the british say, strawberries and champagne. that's not the argument. the argument is that the two sides come to an agreement to stop killing each other. so that john's argument would be -- i'm with him. i buy it. that it doesn't -- that the system that is stable in 1914 that europe breaks, they don't stop killing each other until at least 1945 and you could make the case that they keep killing each other long after that. in the american civil war they do stop killing each other in 1965. it doesn't mean there aren't still problems. the false narrative that you're talking about doesn't get challenged i don't think until the 1960s or later. and the issue in new orleans right now is showing that it's still not. it's still an issue. that's not the point. the point isn't that conflict termination means that everybody shakes hands and smiles and
makes up. what it means is that you stop the process of whatever you were willing to kill and die for, you're no longer willing to kill and die for. the battle goes somewhere else. and if it goes in the history books and the monuments, it's not a bad summation of the problem. in john's point in ireland, this is happening in ireland as well. the irish are making a big deal out of a small place in belgium where a catholic unit and a protestant unit fought side by side. historically it's a blip. that's where they're building their memorials. that's where they're taking all the school kids. the election last night may create many more problems for ireland as well as brexit. what it means is you've gotten to a point where they're not killing each other. that's what you've gotten to. >> i would disagree that we have not been killing each other over the last 150 years. it just has not been in the magnitude of the real hot war. >> again it's not military versus military. it's become something else.
>> right. >> no one is arguing that you're creating a perfect ideal type of perpetual peace. you're not in the total war state that you were in. >> i can agree with that. >> okay. >> thank you. >> last question real quick and we can -- you going to the ice cream place tonight? am i keeping you from ice cream? >> no. >> there's no hockey game to worry about. >> you talked about being charge for war crimes for what that they had done. at the end of the world war ii, the commander in the pacific said we lost our relationship. so is total war just a term that we've come up with for what the winning side does in an absolutely brutal war? >> it's an awareness at the end of the second world war that they had to avoid the mistakes that they made at the end of the first. this is an argument that i have made in a book. you can understand the end of the second world war by the decision that the policy makers
made. to do the inverse of what they had done in the end of the first. they were only there because of the way it got screwed up 30 years earlier. and a search for blame doesn't make sense. so what they do in the german case -- i was just talking about this last night. we make a rhetorical distinction between german and nazi. we pick 12 nazis, hang them and we say everything is good now. we got rid of the problem. again, it's a false narrative but it's one that everybody knows is false and yet you're willing to go forward because you understand what the blame game had done. charles degal did the same thing in paris in 1944. look, we understand we were all part of the french resistance in our heart. in one way or another. that was completely ridiculous. but what it means is you're going from a period of total war into a period of peace. you're not going to go from total war into civil war. that's what he was trying to avoid, that's what the americans were trying to avoid.
there's a way in which you do this that everybody sort of knows we're being historically disingenuous, but politically this can work. thank you all for your attention. [ applause ] while congress is on break we're showing american history programs normally seen on c-span 3. today, aspects of the civil war. coming up, harold holzer on current events linked to lincoln and the civil war. mr. holzer is the author or editor of more than 50 books. talks about the gettysburg address. and later, u.s. army war professor michael nieberg on how the civil war fits into the concept of total war, along with
world war i. american history tv is in primetime all week here on c-span3 with recent civil war conferences. tonight, programs from day two of the gettysburg college civil war institute conference include a look at president james buchanan and southern sus session. american history tv primetime begins at 8:00 p.m. eastern. coming up this weekend on american history tv on c-span3, saturday at 10:00 p.m. eastern on reel america, the 1944 u.s. office of war film, "why we fight: the battle of china". >> three facts must never be forgotten. china is history. china is land. china is people. >> on sunday at 11:30 a.m. eastern, political economy professor and author robert wright on alexander hamilton
cease views of the national debt. >> hamilton advised the creation of an energetic efficient government, one that did one thing for as little money as possible. that one thing was to protect americans' lives, liberty and property from violence, foreign and domestic. >> then at 7:00 p.m. eastern, new jersey residents and activists discuss the 1967 newark rebellion. >> there were 268 reports of sniper fire. zero snipers were ever found. >> zero? >> no evidence of any snipers. no gun shells other than the police gun shells. no footprints, no fingerprints, nothing was found. and yet 26 people were killed, one policeman, one fireman, the rest citizens, all by the three police forces that were operating. >> american history tv all
weekend every weekend only on c-span3. >> a conversation now with abraham lincoln scholar harold holzer, author or editor of more than 50 books. he discusses his career as a historian and his research. he also shares his views on current events linked to lincoln and the civil war. peter carmichael, director of the gettysburg college civil war institute conducts the hour-long interview. good evening, i am peter carmichael. professor of history at gettysburg college and the director of the civil war institute. i'm very pleased to welcome good friend harold holzer to cwi. [ applause ] harold is the jonathan f. fanton the director of hunter college's roosevelt