So I was listening to a documentary about the My Lai massacre this evening. It was fascinating because they included now declassified audio from the suppressed military investigation into the event. I hadn't realized the scale of the killing and rape (including child rape) and I'm feeling nauseated now.
But, apart from that it started me thinking about the term conventional warfare. It's used these days to mean a war between two strong well equipped armies using heavy artillery, tanks, ground troops, fighter and bomber planes, etc. World War Two, basically. Looking at the history of warfare that model didn't actually exist for very long.
From the Renaissance to the First World War warfare consisted of cavalry and infantry. Initially the weapons were human powered like arrows, lances and swords, and then they were powered by gunpowder - rifles, muskets, cannons. Over the 19th and early 20th century trench warfare evolved, but it basically came to an end at the end of the First World War as high tech weaponry took over. The Second World War was fought with planes, tanks, boats and missiles. There were still infantry battles but technology was advancing to separate the people doing the killing from the actual killing. Think of the V2 rocket or Hiroshima. The Korean war was fought on similar technology.
I don't think we've seen wars like that since then. The wars of colonial independence that followed WW2 were largely guerrilla wars. The Vietnam War and the Soviet engagement in Afghanistan were guerrilla wars. The wars in central and southern America were basically all guerrilla wars. The wars as Yugoslavia broke apart were guerrilla wars (or at least wars fought by civilians). Now the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are guerrilla wars. Can't we just call that conventional warfare and refer to the wars that we spend billions of dollars a year arming ourselves for mid twentieth century wars?