War and Conflict

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American soldiers in the First World War
U.S. Army/Public Domain
Anyone who has ever studied history knows that war makes up a large part of the human story. Believe it or not, however, the incidence of war has actually gone down in the last 100 years, in spite of the two world wars of the last century.

War has not always been a part of the human experience. Prior to the Neolithic Revolution--when human beings learned how to farm some 8,000 years ago--there is little evidence of human beings engaging in large-scale fighting.

Then why did human beings ever become war-prone?

The answer lies in property. When humans began settling down into villages to farm, they started to claim land. Economic systems developed which led to the creation of money and, consequently, in the desire of others to accumulate wealth and power. War became a means to that end.

Fighting and warfare has almost always been tied to the acquisition of land and property, in one way or another.

There are several types of war that have been used throughout history:

Conventional War: This is the most common of all war in which state governments formally announce war against another country or government. At one time it was customary for governments to make announcements prior to going to war. This type of warfare usually does not involve nuclear, biological or chemical weapons.

Total War: This is a type of war that affects all aspects of country and is conducted by any means possible, breaking rules of war and often targeting civilians in the process. World War I and II are prime examples.

Civil War: This is a war within a country when members of a society go to war against each other. In the United States, the American Civil War was fought between the North and the South over issues regarding slavery.  Most modern states have experienced civil war in one way or another. Civil Wars are currently raging in South Sudan, Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Guerrilla War: This is a type of war fought by small groups using unconventional tactics, such as sabotage, hit-and-run raids, and use of civilians as soldiers. Usually, guerrilla warfare is used by small groups against larger, more technologically advanced adversaries. The term was first used in the fighting by Spanish insurgents in 1808 against Napoleon's army in Spain. The Vietnam War is also an example of guerrilla warfare.

Cyberwar: This type of warfare involves the use of computers and the internet to attack the computer infrastructure in other countries.  In terms of warfare, this is the one type that has increased int he last decade. The spreading of computer viruses and the hacking of computer networks are the principle activities in cyberwarfare.  In 2016, hackers in Russia broke into various components of the U.S. election system. To see a map of current cyberattacks, click here.

Wars can involve the use of weapons that most modern societies prohibit from war. These weapons include chemical agents, such as mustard gas that was used in World War I and sarin, a toxic nerve agent that was used most recently in Syria.  Biological weapons are those which intentionally spread disease among populations. The Mongols famously catapulted bodies infected with the bubonic plague over city walls, for example.

Nuclear weapons are the newest type of weapon capable of inflicting mass destruction. Developed first by the United States in World War II, two of these weapons were used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. Today, there are 9 counties that have nuclear weapons.

This graph shows the trend of war from 1945 to 2014:

Source: Slate Magazine

Currently, renewed conflicts in Syria, Afghanistan and central Africa has dominated the news. Warfare is a fact of life in many war-torn areas.  Civilians suffer the most as one aspect of modern war remains: civilians are targets. In World War II, more civilians died in war than did soldiers.

Check out the map below for current global conflicts: