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Austin Flatt
History 121
Beyond Total War
As history has proven, time of war is not a prosperous period for any side. During war,
each side attempts to obliterate their enemy by shifting its entire economy to focus on war needs,
which is also known as total war. As in the case of the Holocaust, the soldiers who carried out
this horrific part of history completely dehumanized their enemy, going beyond any limit that has
been set previously. Proven by using the works Ordinary Men by Christopher Browning and
Night by Elie Wiesel, the German soldiers who carried out the acts of the holocaust went far
beyond the limits of what a total war entails. Although the concept of total war involves
defeating the enemy in a vicious way, the methods carried out against the Jews were far beyond
the limits of total war because of the innocence, the dehumanization, and the execution of the
The reason as to why the methods used against the Jews in the Holocaust are far beyond
the limits of total war are illustrated from the actions of the Jews. As exhibited in both Night and
Ordinary Men, the German soldiers did not face any resistance from the Jews. As found in page
19 of his memoir, Wiesel explains, We stood. We were counted. We sat down. We got up again.
Over and over. We waited impatiently to be taken awayThey ordered us to run. We began to
run, (Wiesel, 19). This is significant because it shows the cooperation and lack of resistance
from the Jews, yet they were still tortured and killed. This is a limit that goes beyond those of a
total war because the Germans knew they were not combatants but normal citizens, therefore
there was no confusing distinction between citizen and soldier. Furthermore, in total war, a large

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number of deaths occur because of the confusion between who is a soldier or citizen, and
because of this, accidental murders of non-intended targets do happen. However, in the case of
the Jews in the Holocaust, no deaths were accidental. Looking into the work of Christopher
Browning in Ordinary Men, page 73 states, and it was possible for me, to shoot only children
my neighbor then shot the mother and I shot the child that belonged to her (Browning, 73).
This excerpt shows the absolute brutality acted against all Jews, not just the men. Not one aspect
of total war exhibits the justification of murdering ONLY innocent people of a society. In
addition, it is significant to realize the Jews were not battling the Germans in any way during this
period. Because of the awareness and acceptance of murdering innocent people as young as
infants, the German actions against the Jews does not fit in the practice of total war, as it
completely defeats the concepts of a total war.
In almost every major war, POW camps are a key aspect to defeating the enemy. While in
these camps however, the prisoners are treated humanely backed by basic civil rights. In the case
of the Jews in concentration camps, a POW camp would have been a major relief compared to
what the Jews endured. The soldiers who made the Holocaust a part of history did not treat the
Jews like POWs. Instead, as shown in the case of Elie Wiesels memoir, the Jews were
completely and utterly dehumanized by the German perpetrators. As stated, I happened to
cross his path. He threw himself on me like a wild beast, beating me in the chest, on my head,
throwing me to the ground and picking me up again, crushing me with ever more violent blows,
until I was covered in blood (Wiesel, 53). This is one of Elie Wiesels many reflections from
his time in concentration camps, where the soldiers had no issue with beating innocent children,
such as Elie at the time. This example illustrates how the German soldiers adopted an even more
extreme policy than total war. The dehumanization of the Jews is also found on page 14, Each

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of us will be allowed to bring his personal belongings. A backpack, some food, a few items of
clothing. Nothing else, (Wiesel, 14). By taking away all possessions and leaving the Jews with
hardly anything, this was one of the first forms of dehumanization the Germans used.
Furthermore, according to Professor Popkins lecture, a total war must involve the engagement
of all members of society in support of the military, proving again that the actions towards the
Jews were beyond the limitations of a total war as the mass genocide of the Jews was kept
private from the citizens of Germany and the rest of the world. To add, even soldiers of the
German military could not complete their duty of dehumanizing the Jews, as illustrated in
Brownings work on page 65 which states, I simply could not shoot at people anymore, which
became apparent to my sergeantfor this reason he relieved me. Other comrades were also
relieved sooner or later, because they simply could no longer continue, (Browning, 65). This
quote is significant because even the German soldiers themselves had a difficult time with their
orders to kill and dehumanize their enemy, making this a new irrational policy that even the
creators struggled to follow through with. The way in which the Germans acted against the Jews
undoubtedly surpasses the limitations of what contributes to a total war, as total war does not
involve purposely dehumanizing the innocent.
Finally, the treatment inflicted on the Jews by the Germans was completely unjustified
and by no means a logical extension of total war because of the methods used to execute the
Jews. In the context of a total war such as World War I, the large majority of casualties were
soldiers on the battlefield. The reasoning behind why the deaths of Jews during the Holocaust are
not like those in World War I is because there was no second party fighting back. Furthermore,
the deaths of the Holocaust were not necessarily quick, there was no field medic to ease the pain.
The methods used to exterminate the Jews - such as gas chambers, the crematorium, or slowly

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deteriorating in concentration camps from starvation, dehydration, and fatigue were not
humane nor were they methods that contributed to any other period in history, making the
execution of the Jews part of a new irrational policy. As reflected upon in Night, A truck drew
close and unloaded its hold: small children. Babies! Yes, I did see this, with my own eyes
children thrown into the flames, (Wiesel, 32). The treatment of all Jews by the Germans is not
justified nor can it be applied to the limits of total war because of the inhumane methods used to
exterminate a group of people who are not at war. It is clear that these methods were set up for a
mass genocide, which is not part of a total war. This point further illustrates the obvious answer
that the Germans indeed created an irrational policy that exceeded the limits of a total war.
To conclude, there is no evidence to back the claim that the Jews were treated under the
limits of a total war. Instead, the German perpetrators adopted a new and even more horrifying
policy for the Jews of the Holocaust. The limits of this new policy completely surpass those of a
total war, as millions of innocent people, including infants, were inhumanely tortured and
murdered. The innocence of this group of people is one of the reasons the treatment of the Jews
is not classified under the guidelines of a total war. Furthermore, the Germans dehumanized the
Jews, as they forced them to leave all possessions, treat them as less than men, and beat them
nearly to death in the concentration camps. Also, the methods that were used to execute the Jews
were not of those one would find in a total war, but rather for a clear purpose: genocide.
Finally, the treatment of the Jews was NOT a logical extension of the practice of a total war and
must not be seen in such a way as the treatment of Jews was prioritized for genocide, not war.