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Different Wars Have Different Sounds

Changing weapons and technologies bring new sounds to the battlefield



The sound of Israel’s ‘Iron Dome’ missile defense system.

From the Gaza strip to Pakistan, to Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia, a new tone has joined the fevered din of battle—the whining drone of an unmanned aerial vehicle. The sound of battle, a cacophony once dominated by hooves and horns, then howitzers, Hueys, and Humvees is an ever-shifting tune. Each conflict brings with it its own sounds, a product of the technologies and weaponry of the day. For the BBC News Magazine, Vanessa Barford explores the evolving sounds of war:

“Every period has its own sound, all the way back to the Roman period, when you would hear the clash of shields in battle,” argues Maj Charles Heyman, editor of Armed Forces of the United Kingdom.

There are well-known sounds, she says, known from movies or TV, or because the tools that produced them were so widespread:

For many Britons, WWII brings back memories of wailing air raid sirens and the dull rattle of V1 flying bombs, otherwise known as doodlebugs.

…Helped by Hollywood films such as Apocalypse Now and Platoon, the Vietnam war is associated with the distinctive “whomp-whomp” of hovering Huey helicopters.

But silence, writes Barford, is the most pervasive sound of all.

Thompson says although war is full of noise, there is also another notable sound that shouldn’t be forgotten – silence. ”They are whole days where nothing happens. There is a saying, war is boredom interspersed with sheer terror,” he says.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Faces of War
People Wear Pants Because Cavalry Won Wars

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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