Here's What Another Civil War Looks Like
ADMIN NOTE: For this week’s post, I’m reprising an article from May 2019. It’s a good primer on Low Intensity Conflict. A “civil war” may well remain below the threshold of conventional confict, which makes LIC an important topic. You can read the original piece from 2019 here.
For a couple years now, I've described "low intensity conflict" as the model of conflict that best represents post-Obama America.
I believe very few things said about the current "civil war" but here's what I know to be true of our current domestic conflict:
1. It's "low intensity." Low intensity conflict (LIC) is the doctrine of war below the threshold of conventional war (tanks, troops, planes) but above routine, peaceful competition. Anything over 1,000 deaths a year from political violence would be classified as a civil war. That's certainly a much higher intensity than what we're seeing now. LIC is characterized by political, economic, diplomatic, and information warfare, along with low-level politically- or ideologically-driven violence. See here for additional examples.
Another characteristic of low intensity conflict, as we've seen throughout history, is a relatively small percentage of the population engaged in violence. It may only be one percent of an entire country 'at war' while another 5-15% support the violence, and 75%+ of citizens are just trying to live their lives.
Those who disagree sometimes reply, "Go to your grocery store. Go to the bank. No one is at war with each other. Everything is fine. You're making too much of this."
This is not 1861 where up to 10 percent of the country is fighting each other on battlefields, and the effects of conventional war are widespread and devastating.
In LIC, historically, it's only a small fraction of a country doing the fighting, and most people live among the disruption to go on about their business. Plenty of civil wars and domestic conflicts have looked like that, and that's exactly what we’re seeing shape up in the United States. History proves that it's entirely possible to have two or more competing groups at war with each other without dragging every last man, woman, and child into the conflict.
2. We're in a "hot peace." I certainly would not characterize America in 2016-2019 as being at "peace," other than the absence of open armed warfare. The cultural cold war has turned hot; albeit at a very low level. If you ignore this, then you ignore reality.
The latest example is yesterday's shooting in Denver, in which a transgender male opened fire on his classmates, reportedly in "revenge and anger." That's an extension of the ongoing culture war, and another indicator that the decades-long cold culture war is going hot.
Attacks against Trump supporters, antifascist violence, white identitarian violence, black identitarian violence, police-involved shootings and reprisals, the assassination attempt on Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA) and other House Republicans during softball practice, the demonization/dehumanization of others based on race and class, which lowers the barrier to violence -- ALL are examples of our multi-sided culture war going hot.
3. It's very likely to worsen. The tectonic shifts in American culture have caused periods of political violence before. The Civil Rights movement, the race riots and unrest between 1968 and the 1970s, and abortion clinic bombings are a few key examples, but even those 'conflicts' eventually died down. Oftentimes, conflict is generational. One generation goes away, and future generations develop their own problems.
For current generations, I believe conditions are more likely to worsen before they get better because the culture war now includes more fronts that foment the anger and resentment that cause political violence.
The areas of every day life that have been heavily politicized, and the ways in which Americans can express identitarian anger and resentment (race, gender, class, politics, ideology; there's plenty of overlap there), have grown over the past decade, thus leading to a higher potential for violence.
Not only has the number of cultural 'battlefields' grown, but identitarian anger and resentment -- the desire to "get even" or exact punishment against others based on race and class -- has become more acceptable. As political violence becomes more acceptable among the extremes, you'll see more of it.
Gray Zone Warlord provides informed perspective on low intensity conflict and irregular warfare. Join this Substack for free right here:
4. We could have just two to three years before we see routine, sustained political violence. For as long as I've been writing about LIC, I've warned of the effects of the next recession and financial crisis on the political and cultural climate. (I now believe that the next recession and financial crisis have an above average chance of happening simultaneously.) Class and race warfare, I believe, will worsen as we move through this period of economic and financial uncertainty.
High youth unemployment is a universal indicator of civil unrest and violence. What I'm seeing in America's future are social bases charged by race, class, and/or politics, who also lack economic opportunity and the hope of a better life that comes with it. That may be because artificial intelligence has taken their jobs (or their parents' jobs), or because they can't afford higher levels of schooling (or because they lack an education altogether), or because unemployment is so high that there are just not enough jobs to go around. Maybe it will be all three.
What concerns me -- and, again, I don't see any of this as imminent, but I do believe it's coming over the next few years -- is what I see as a convergence of a 'perfect storm' scenario with radicalized social bases, a dim economic outlook and loss of hope, political leaders who give a green light or at least tacit approval to political violence, and a belief that violence is the preferable solution. These prerequisites for organized political violence are developing.
What a time to be alive.
Always Out Front,