Thu, May 03, 2018 - Page 8 News List

What war would mean for Taiwan

By Strobe Driver

What the attack also changed was the type of war that was taking place: The attack shifted the war from a “limited” one to a “total” one.

It is here we can ask: What’s the difference?

A total war overtly involves many more nation-states than the initial belligerents, and while this can involve passive support, such as offering supply lines, through to active and direct involvement, such as supplying assets with crews, ships and aircraft, there is an immediate problem with the definition.

It is impossible to know how many actors need to be involved for a war to become “total,” as the term is subjective.

The surrender of Nazi Germany and Japan at the end of World War II was absolute, because the underlying element of total wars is that they involve a high proportion of the population and are seen by all parties as a fight for survival.

To emphasize the point, countries become completely absorbed by a total war, whether they are the initiators or the responders.

For instance, as World War II progressed and Japan began to lose ground as US and Allied forces began to break the Japanese stranglehold on the Asia-Pacific, their attention turned to the Japanese populace and to punishing them for allowing their emperor to wreak havoc.

The end result was devastating. Sixty of Japan’s 66 cities were bombed, thousands of civilians died, its air force was shot to pieces and most of its navy was at the bottom of the ocean. The punishment was designed to bring about unconditional surrender.

With regard to the second scenario, that of survival in total war, Adolf Hitler planned the Battle of the Ardennes — colloquially referred to as the Battle of the Bulge — in the latter stages of World War II so that he could later attempt to sue for peace on more favorable terms rather than prove the German army still had some fight left in it.

This survival strategy did not work, as the stakes had become too high for the Allied forces and only unconditional surrender would suffice.

Notwithstanding this, what is certain is that a total war involves a shift in the idea of what victory consists of. As total wars involve higher stakes than limited wars, the outcome has to be definitive: The enemy has to unconditionally surrender.

Limited wars, on the other hand, are more moderated and are therefore prone to negotiated endings. The stalemate of the Korean War can be seen as an agreed “settlement,” one in which the annihilation of the enemy was not required.

Nevertheless, there is a nuance that needs to be understood with regard to how a war is limited from one perspective and total from another. The Vietnam War is a good example of this.

The North Vietnamese were fighting a total war, one in which the expulsion of the US and its allies and the reunification of the north and south was the only acceptable outcome.

However, for the US and its allies the war was always considered to be a limited war, in which the defeat of the enemy was the obvious and desirable outcome, with the government of South Vietnam returned to power. There was never any military or political investment beyond this.

Hence, the US and its allies never thought the war to be more than limited in a far-away land. The South Vietnamese military also understood the war to have a limited outcome — stopping the North Vietnamese troops at the north-south border was enough.

This story has been viewed 6083 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top