Are we already in a civil war?
So many people are asking if we’re already in a civil war (or trying to provide an answer), so let’s look at this question and figure it out.
Back in 2018, I discussed why I dislike using the term “civil war.”
In short, it’s vague. The term carries a wide array of connotations, and it’s difficult to have a conversation without a common definition. As I cover in my upcoming book, a civil war could describe a war of secession (American Civil War), a war over control of the country (Spanish Civil War), a religious sectarian conflict (Iraqi Civil War), ethnic and independence conflicts (Yugoslav Civil War), a state-sponsored “dirty war” (Argentina’s civil war), or lots of other domestic conflicts.
Further, there are varying definitions of exactly what a civil war is.
Some say it’s as simple as “a war between citizens of the same country.”
Under this definition, wars between rival gangs would meet the threshold. We probably need other metrics.
The definition I prefer includes:
domestic military action (i.e., not just police)
government involvement as a belligerent (i.e., not just a war between citizens)
capable fighting on both sides of the conflict (i.e., not genocide)
at least 1,000 combat-related deaths in a 12-month period (i.e., sustained fighting)
We’re not yet in a civil war, despite claims to the contrary.
The term “civil war” is less precise than saying a regional insurgency, popular revolution, war over an independence movement , or straight up ethnic cleansing, so why don’t we be more specific? What are we actually looking at?
In short, here are three possible answers.
State-sponsored “dirty war.” From 1976 to 1983, Argentina’s right wing government carried out state-sponsored eradication of socialist/communist groups and other left wing radicals. We’re already starting to see a sense of urgency built around a Domestic War on Terrorism, which we’re likely to see here in the United States.
Regional low intensity conflicts. Worsening protests as political leaders urge mostly peaceful protests and non-violent activism, marked by sporadic political violence and terrorism against state government(s) and/or the federal government — something along the lines of the Irish Troubles which resulted in 50,000 casualties and 3,500 dead over its roughly 30 year span.
Organized political violence. Like the Spanish Civil War, we could eventually see armed combatants lining up behind political coalitions. This would be a traditional civil war, where two sides fight for control over large swathes of the country.
Of course, there are a lot more possibilities, which I cover in the book. Join this free Substack for future posts and details.
In closing, I really do enjoy reading others’ takes on civil war and domestic conflict. It would be nice if we could agree on a common terminology and get on the same page with exactly what we mean by the term “civil war.” - M.S.