“Total War”

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The war had repercussions for its authors. When the military catastrophe of Stalingrad could no longer be glossed over, Goebbels called for “Total War” on February 18, 1943 at the Sportpalast in Berlin. A summary compiled by the SD documented the response to his proclamation:

A topic vigorously discussed in large segments of the populace time and again is the issue of Total War. Voices have been growing since the military crises of recent months until now, which ascribe blame for the tense situation in the East and for many vacationers’ complaints about a lack of weapons and ammunition to supposedly poor execution of Total War.

The Volksgenossen often appear vexed by measures, which in their opinion have been “only half implemented” and see these half measures as fundamentally significant wrongdoing, which greatly diminishes their hope for a positive outcome of the war. …

Public opinion holds that deploying for Total War must entail:

1. Maximizing the capacity to produce arms,

2. Continually bringing active troops up to strength and reinforcing them with able-bodied men,

3. Protecting the homeland against air raids,

4. Assuring the populace’s food and supply with essential staples.

There ought to be no other labor and jobs apart from these because they would only weaken the potential of forces prepared for Total War. This is how Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels’s remarks at the Sportpalast at the start of the year have been understood and welcomed (Boberach, Meldungen aus dem Reich 15, p. 6131).

Minister of Armaments Albert Speer attempted to mobilize all forces, raw materials, materiel, equipment and people for the purpose of “Total War”, for a war that was no longer winnable. The leaders in power nevertheless sought to maintain at least the appearance of normality. The intermittent sale of goods in short supply such as white bread, sausage and meat was advertised to great effect. The garment industry still produced fashionable attractions.

Popular films from those years reveal the obsessiveness of the efforts to maintain normality. Cinematographers from Goebbels’s dream factory had to punctiliously ensure that burning houses never entered a shot.

In addition, there were vainglorious promises for the period after the “final victory”. The automobile for the “people”, the Volkswagen, had been firmly promised. Robert Ley, also “Reich Commissar for Social Housing” as of 1940, propagated an extensive housing construction program for the postwar period.

The longer the war lasted, the more helplessly the Germans saw themselves subjected to Allied bombing raids on their cities, the more depressed the mood became, the more criticism, especially of the so-called “Total War” with all of its consequences, also intensified. The aim of “moral bombing” to so demoralize the German populace that it would turn on National Socialism was however not achieved.

Criticism was accompanied by the question posed with impatience bordering on despair: When will retaliation finally come? (Ibid., p. 6093). Yet, the hope for wonder weapons and retaliation and later even for the Allied invasion as a “turn of fortune” was never fulfilled.

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