Guerrilla comes from the Spanish word for war, guerra. The suffix -illa denotes a diminutive of sorts: “little war.” But there’s really nothing little about it – guerrilla fighting is a particularly vicious, dehumanizing type of war.

In guerrilla warfare, a smaller, weaker group is fighting against a much larger and more powerful force, usually an invader. Guerrilla tactics include surprise attacks, shooting from ambush, and otherwise attempting to terrify the other side, keeping them always on edge. In short, guerrillas will do whatever it takes to gain an advantage, because they know they’d have no chance of succeeding if they used conventional methods.

     Guerrilla warfare is often effective because guerrillas are fighting on their own turf. They know the byways and the backwoods, and they have friends and family nearby to support and hide them. Perhaps more important, they’re extremely determined, because their stake in the fight is highly personal. When the war is over, the invading force can go home and forget about it. But guerrillas will have to live with the outcome.

     Guerrilla Season shows how this type of warfare also draws civilians into the fight, seriously disrupting the local community and erasing the lines between battlefield and homefront.

     No army likes to fight against guerrillas, whose tactics are often perceived as cowardly and unfair. But depending on which side you support, you may or may not feel guerrilla warfare is justified.

     For instance, we Americans often conveniently forget that the Patriots used guerrilla warfare extensively against the British and their Loyalist allies during the American Revolution – for the same reasons guerrilla warfare has been used in countless other wars: The Patriots were fighting in and for their homeland, against a larger and much more powerful force. They would do whatever it took to win.       

Illustration: “The Lawrence Massacre” by Ethel Megafan (1936).


What is guerrilla warfare?