9-12 Summit Learning

Total War

This inquiry leads students through an investigation of the nature of warfare in the 21st century. Focusing on the concept of total war, students explore how different elements of warfare from World Wars I and II compare to the way war is waged today.

Students are introduced to a definition of total war that identifies four key elements: mass mobilization, the blurring of lines between civilians and soldiers, complete destruction of the enemy, and total control of society. The inquiry begins by presenting information about World War I, organized by the same four components in the definition. Next, students explore World War II, making key comparisons with World War I. This task provides the historical context for students to then make comparisons with what war looks like today. In the third supporting question, students examine modern war examples, centering on wars fought after the Cold War Era using modern technology such as drones. These examples provide an opportunity for students to make key comparisons between historical wars and contemporary ones, using the same framework provided from the original definition of total war.


Compelling Question:

Should we still fight total wars?

Staging the Question:

In a whole class discussion, brainstorm the meaning of “total war.”

Supporting Question What made World War I a total war?

Formative Task Write a paragraph that synthesizes evidence from across different sources to identify what makes World War I a total war.

Sources Source A: Amy Elizabeth Robinson, “World War I: A Total War?”
Source B: “Casualties of World War I”, Facing History And Ourselves
Source C: Jia-Rui Cook, “The Posters That Sold World War I to the American Public”


Supporting Question What made World War II a total war?

Formative Task Create a list, then write a paragraph, that compares World Wars I and II to answer the supporting question.

Sources Source A: Maria Abi-Habib, “BEYOND THE WORLD WAR II WE KNOW: The Forgotten Colonial Forces of World War II”
Source B: John Louis Recchiuti,“The Manhattan Project and the atomic bomb”
Source C: Whitney Howarth, “Economics in the Second World War”
Source D: “Communication: Propaganda”, Washington, D.C. and American Lives II Film Project


Supporting Question What are the characteristics of modern war?

Formative Task Construct a claim with evidence about the characteristics of modern war.

Sources Source A: Chris Woods, C. (19 May 2012). “Analysis: Obama embraced redefinition of ‘civilian’ in drone wars”
Source B: Nathan K. Finney, “A high-tech call to arms: mobilizing the masses in the twenty-first century”
Source C: Dr. Shima D. Keene, “Lethal and Legal? The Ethics of Drone Strikes”
Source D: ICRC, “Global trends of war and their humanitarian impacts”
Source E: History.com Editors, “Military-Industrial Complex”

Summative Performance Task

Argument: Should we still fight total wars? Construct an argument (e.g., detailed outline, poster, essay) in response to the compelling question consisting of claims with evidence that presents comparisons between historical wars and modern warfare.

Taking Informed Action

Understand: To understand the problem, identify a war in the world today that is unresolved
Assess: In assessing the problem, students think about how the war identified affects different groups of people.
Act: Create an op-ed article that about whether the war under consideration should be expanded or limited. newspaper.