16 Reasons We Should Have Another Civil War in the U.S.


Over a year ago, I wrote an essay:Red States versus Blue States: Who Would Win a Civil War in the U.S?” It didn’t get many views. This is a small, personal blog. Sometimes things I write here get shared on social media and are read more, but for the most part that doesn’t happen.

Something interesting happened with this one. It was fairly dormant for a year, then in late May 2020 (coinciding with the George Floyd protests) people started to read it again. As far as I can tell, most of these views have been in the US. And most have been organic, with people finding it individually via search engines, not via social media. I don’t know their motivations for searching for something like this. It could be curiosity, maybe fear. And some people may be enthusiastic for the prospect of a civil war and a chance to kill people they dislike. Some already have killed people. Maybe the people in the pro-war group are on to something, so I started thinking of some reasons that another civil war in the US might be worth considering.  

(Updated graph. The October 2020 stats are projected)

16. You Like Wasting Spending Money

Wars are notoriously expensive and a great way of dumping any excess cash you have. For example, the first (only?) Civil War in the U.S. cost an estimated $23 billion and $68 billion for the Confederacy and Union, respectively, in 2019 dollars. That may sound like a pretty good way to spend a lot of money very quickly, but the news gets better because modern wars are even costlier. The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University calculated that the U.S. federal price-tag for the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Syria was close to $6 trillion. Granted, a civil war in the US has the advantage of not having to travel very far, which would reduce transportation costs (you could have a front-row seat from your own home!). Still, modern weaponry would be much costlier than days of yore.

An added bonus is the opportunity costs of war. Eisenhower knew that money poured into war cannot be spent on frivolous things like education, health, science, food, housing, roads, etc. Who needs those things, anyway?

 

15. You Have an Affinity for Apocalyptic Scenery

If you like the scenery in sci-fi movies like “The Terminator” or “The Book of Eli,” then you can make that fantasy come to life by starting an actual war. Art and reality really can mirror each other.

14. You Don’t Like Thinking Too Much

Adrienne Rich once wrote that “War is an absolute failure of imagination, scientific and political.” If there are people you don’t like because their values seem to be all cockeyed, weird, or deviant, it can be hard to think of solutions to bridging those gaps. So maybe it’s better to not try. Just skip all that mental effort at compromise and go straight to the only logical conclusion – some people need to be wiped out. Maybe a lot of people. History shows that people never change anyway, which is why Samurai warriors, Vikings, and the Spanish Inquisition still exist, most people still believe the earth is the center of the universe, and stone tools are all the rage. And, once people are enemies, they stay that way forever. Reconciliation is a fantasy, which is why most Americans started speaking French after the Revolutionary War, just to spite the British.

13. … But You Do Like Taking Chances

If you’ve ever placed a bet on a Super Bowl or World Series, you probably know there are few guarantees in sports. Predicting the future is not easy. And that’s for sports, where the rules of engagement fall within a confined range, with referees to ensure that everyone is playing fair. The rules in war often go out the window, adding an exciting air of unpredictability. Who knows what will happen?!?! As Clausewitz once wrote: “although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating.” Betting on unpredictable, low-stake sports is one thing. How much more fascinating it would be to bet on our lives and homes? What an adventure!  

12. Environmental Destruction Doesn’t Bother You

We can’t afford to worry about trivial things like the environment during periods of war. Speed is of the essence, and we can’t delay by taking out all chemical and radioactive contamination from weaponry. For example, naval and aerial bombardment of the island of Vieques left marine vegetation high in concentrations of things like lead, copper, nickel, and cobalt (Massol-Deyá et al. 2005). And that wasn’t even during an emergency. That was just target practice.

Sometimes these things can last quite a while. Long after the Battle of Verdun in WW1, the surrounding area (known as Place-à-Gaz) is still contaminated with lead, arsenic, copper, and mercury as a result of massive artillery shelling and later disposal of ordnance (Thouin et al. 2016). Some plant species still have a hard time growing there, a century later. And in Laos, massive aerial bombardment has left parts of the country contaminated with unexploded ordnance (UXO), 47 years after they were dropped. Up to 20,000 people have been injured or killed after the war ended, and 1600 km2 of the country still cannot be farmed. But fear not. Laos is a small country. We can farm in Alaska when the war is over.

11. You Think Food is Overrated

“Scorched earth” campaigns in war have existed for millennia, leading to food insecurity, even famine. Some people got pretty upset when toilet paper and meat were hard to find early in the coronavirus pandemic. That’s nothing. Wait until people run out of chocolate, pasta, and coffee. In the meantime, we can sustain ourselves on rage.

10. You Don’t Mind Murder and Atrocity

The WW1 veteran Harry Patch once said that “war is organised murder, and nothing else.” If your conscience is intact, then you may need to work on that. You could be at risk for some emotional devastation at taking another human being’s life, something known as “moral injuries.” If you’ve somehow convinced yourself that the people you hate are not really fully human, then you may not have much to worry about. But beware. There have been cases of people who at first convinced themselves that their killings were justified. Some of them, like Anwar Congo below, can build up a pretty sturdy mental wall to keep out any thoughts that might contradict the view of themselves as heroic, only to have that entire edifice come crashing down years later when they accidentally dredged up their buried humanity.

In the 2012 documentary, “The Act of Killing,” Anwar Congo re-enacted a scene of people he had killed years earlier in Indonesia. Though he was considered a hero by many for killing enemies of the state (mostly people suspected of being communists), his illusions were later shattered when he became aware of the emotions that his victims likely felt before they were executed.

9. You Think Civilians Are Fair Game in War

Speaking of murder… Many people think of war primarily as a competition between two military forces. History buffs often discuss the tactics and strategies of past wars, and the decisions made by leaders. Sometimes they’ll talk about the fallen soldiers and officers who were killed and maimed. Deaths of combatants are to be expected in war. After all, you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs, or even tens of millions of eggs. However, statistics show that civilians are not just occasional “collateral damage” in war, due to an accidental misfire. Rather, civilians often comprise the majority of casualties, ranging between 40% in the case of Bosnia to 90% in the case of Cambodia and Rwanda (Roberts 2010).

8. You Like Traveling and Moving Around a Lot

People have a tendency to move around a lot during war, and they get to see many new places. In fact, 1% of the world’s population (about 80 million people) was displaced by the end of 2019. Being displaced is sort of like a vacation only without money, food, freedom, or the ability to really do many things that are traditionally considered “fun.” Instead of seeing beautiful scenery or new cities, people tend to end up in camps. Some of these camps are huge tent cities, with the chance to meet new neighbors living right next to you. It’s kind of like a summer camp, only you can’t really leave when you want. So let that be a fair warning: sometimes these camps are final destinations, your ability to travel after that may be severely curtailed with authorities keeping an eye on you, indefinitely in some cases. But, hey, it’s the journey that counts, not the destination. Some lucky Americans will really get to travel by being resettled in other countries (maybe; we haven’t been very open to accepting refugees lately, so it’s not clear how open other nations might be toward us).

7. You’re OK with Trading Mental Health for “Character”

As everyone knows, suffering builds character. For the fortunate people who survive the war, they can expect to have a lot of character-building experiences, and these can last for the rest of their lives. In a review of refugee populations, Bogic et al 2015 found that rates of depression, PTSD, and anxiety were as high as 80 to 88% in some groups, years after resettling in other countries. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” become a little more difficult under conditions of war, but if you’re one of the lucky few people to get there, I bet the payoff would be pretty sweet.

6. You Want Your Children to Be Shorter and Developmentally Delayed

With food shortages, unclean water, increased infection, and psychological stress, kids who grow up under war conditions tend to be malnourished and shorter, sometimes by a huge amount. This is a very consistent pattern, and these effects are usually permanent since you can’t get those years of growth back. That’s fine. Although height seems to be correlated with earning potential in adulthood, shorter kids (and adults) can save money by living in smaller homes and driving smaller cars. See? It all evens out.

Countries where studies show child growth has been negatively affected by war. This is probably an incomplete list, however (studies came from I review I did last year; Clarkin 2019).

5. Sexual Violence Doesn’t Bother You That Much

If the idea of a civil war sounds exciting to you, the prospect of being a victim of sexual violence may not have crossed your mind. Yet, history shows that this is fairly common across wars once social controls have weakened or as a deliberate method of terrorizing a population. In a review, it was found that victims of sexual violence often experience pregnancy, traumatic genital injuries, fistulae, sexual dysfunction, STDs, anxiety, PTSD, depression, social rejection, and spousal abandonment (Ba and Bhopal, 2017). This may not affect you directly, but maybe the people you hate. I’m sure everyone you know and love will be fine. Only other people are victims.

4. You Think Trust Is for Losers

Pierluigi Conzo and Francesco Salustri found that European who were exposed to World War 2 before age 6 had lower levels of trust in adulthood. In their review of background literature, the authors noted that trust is considered almost like a social “lubricant” in helping a society run more efficiently; it is an important factor in economic development, the quality of institutions, and subjective well-being. Once it is lost, it takes a long time to rebuild trust and survivors can view each other with suspicion for decades.

On the other hand, if people had been less trusting before WW2, they would have been better prepared for the coming chaos. Think about it.

3. We Don’t Need No Education

War-affected children often don’t have access to a lot of basic things that we take for granted, including school.  In 2017, 61% of refugee children attended primary school, compared to 92% of children globally. Those numbers dropped to 23% and 84%, respectively, for secondary school. Education is great and all, but no one will really have time for it after the war because the survivors will be too busy doing other important things, like clearing rubble.

2. You’re OK with Chronic Diseases

Wars have a tendency to “get under the skin.” Researchers who study things like the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease (DOHaD) idea have found that early adversity in life, including in war, can lead to long-term increased risks for chronic diseases like diabetes, schizophrenia, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity (Clarkin 2019). They can even affect your genes and possibly be passed down to the next generation. Some of these maladies can cut off years of your life, but they tend to be the years that are considered expendable anyway.

1. You Like Fairness and Sharing Power

Infighting in civil wars tend to leave countries weakened. How could it not? The good news is that in our compromised state, power abhors a vacuum, giving other countries a turn at being global leaders. I’m sure whichever nations step forward, they will be willing to give up the stage after they’ve had their turn.

 

References

Ba I, Bhopal RS. Physical, mental and social consequences in civilians who have experienced war-related sexual violence: a systematic review (1981–2014). Public Health. 2017 Jan 1;142:121-35.

Bogic M, Njoku A, Priebe S. Long-term mental health of war-refugees: a systematic literature review. BMC international health and human rights. 2015 Dec 1;15(1):29.

Clarkin PF. The Embodiment of War: Growth, Development, and Armed Conflict. Annual Review of Anthropology. 2019 Oct 21;48:423-42.

Massol-Deyá A, Pérez D, Pérez E, Berrios M, Diaz E. Trace elements analysis in forage samples from a US Navy bombing range (Vieques, Puerto Rico). Int. J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 2005 2(2):263–66

Roberts A. Lives and Statistics: Are 90% of War Victims Civilians? Surviv. Glob. Polit. Strateg. 2010 52(3):115–36

Thouin H, Le Forestier L, Gautret P, Hube D, Laperche V, et al. Characterization and mobility of arsenic and heavy metals in soils polluted by the destruction of arsenic-containing shells from the Great War. Sci. Total Environ. 2016. 550:658–69

8 thoughts on “16 Reasons We Should Have Another Civil War in the U.S.

  1. While ‘modern’ wars are expensive in economic and social terms for all parties, I think it important to note that this has not always been the case with wars. I say ‘important’ because war is an entrenched part of human psyche and unless we believe war to be divinely inspired, the entrenchment got there through the workings of ‘logic’. That is to say, at times it made economic and social sense for the stronger party to sublimate the weaker.

    To give examples from history or pre-history is difficult as written accounts either do not exist or are written after the event and mostly by the winners as justification, and do not include much accounting. It is required to take a very long term and comprehensive view of known, presumed-correct history, not of any single battle or even of any particular war. I will try given the example I know best because I have studied all sides of it: the making of Laos, Thailand and Cambodia (using current terms for these countries).

    Archeology suggests that when resources were plentiful was were few and short-lived. People identified in separate ethno-linguistic groups but this was for purposes of cooperation rather than competition. Current dividing lines like the Mekong River were at that time economically central to human settlements and ‘identification-groups’ existed on both sides of the river, which provided means of transport within a group and ensured that annual flooding regenerated productive land, removing the need to break-up a ‘culture’ and allowing group identity to grow. The area at that time was ‘prosperous’ and developed a Bronze Age ahead of China and way ahead of the ‘West’. It also planted/broadcast rice as the staple while much of China was still at the stage of shifting cultivation relying on millet (less nutritious, more hard work). Within these comparatively peaceful and prosperous environments what we think of as cultures or civilisations grew. So did populations.

    There were related settlements using dialects of the Lao language in Vietnam (according to myth, the first), southern China, northern Myanmar, northern Cambodia, Chiang Mai, Central Thailand, and Northern Malaya. (None of these place names existed at the time.) There would have been significant differences between groups but most recognised themselves as ‘Thai’ — a Lao word indicating ‘inhabitant’ i.e. Thai-Vientiane, Thai-Pakse etc. Trade existed between groups and with other non-related groups, initially based on exchange, with each location to some extent specialising in what it did best. With trade came increased ability to store wealth and most importantly, differences within and between groups. But generally, so far so good, most people benefited from an increase in cooperation.

    Then a non-Lao group, mostly Mon-Khmer speaking, began to expand until in 12th-13th centuries the ‘Anchor Empire’ had possession of most Lao-Thai groups — generally allowing them to continue but exacting tribute in exchange for ‘protection’. There were rebellions but things were not all nasty. Alliances were formed, often by symbolic marriage of individuals, and people moved between power centres. One of these people was a subject Lao ‘prince’ called Fa Ngum. He grew up in the Angkor court . That court had trouble with ‘Luang Prabang’ (Muang Sewa) (central northern ‘Laos’) and Fa Ngum, by then married to a Khmer princess and clearly trusted by the Khmer as one of their own, was given 10,000 Khmer troops and sent to retake Luang Prabang. He did, but on the way there he allied several smaller Lao principalities — now known as Khorat, Vientiane and Xieng Khouang. No doubt 10,000 soldiers was a threat, but he also offered a carrot — freedom from the need to pay tribute to Angkor. Chao Fa then united just about all of the Lao-Thai entities in a new kingdom that he called ‘Lang Sang’. This was not exactly what Angkor wanted: a new and prosperous kingdom was created that rivaled that of the Khmer.

    The initial ‘investment’ of 10,000 troops was not a great burden for Angkor, which at the time had more soldiers than it knew what to do with. As Fa Ngum marched north, ethnic-Lao communities joined him rather than opposed him and soon there were more Lao than Khmer in the army. All settlements and principalities must have calculated that economic benefits were on the side of allying with other Lao-Thai groups. So in the 14th century we can say that the creation of ‘Laos’ made economic sense, it was logical. This logic did not prevent Fa Ngum’s son taking control and banishing his father to an unknown location (Nan, now in Thailand). Such coups were commonplace and generally did not involve war.

    In the 17th-18th centuries Lane Xang split into three separate kingdoms. Now recognised as a mistake, but at the time there was a certain logic: cooperation within smaller political entities was probably cheaper. There is nothing to suggest that factions involved acted irrationally in economic terms.

    Division of the Lao states was exploited by ‘Siam’ and the 18th-19thcenturies saw several substantive conflicts between Siam and Laos. The costs of such conflicts is not known to any reliable degree but costs to the victor was always less than to the vanquished. When ‘Thailand’ finally sacked the Kingdom of Vientiane in1828 (at that time covering both sides of the Mekong), it employed an army that was probably smaller than that of the combined Lao forces. But it was technologically far superior, having received as a gift from the USA (!) several shiploads of the latest canons on wheels and muskets. The Lao war elephants were cut to pieces and Lao could rarely get close enough to the enemy to use their spears and swords.

    Economically, the invasion of Vientiane Kingdom by Siam made sense. The prosperous city was pillaged of all valuables, burnt, and its inhabitants all marched as slaves to near Bangkok. The slaves were a principal benefit of the war — they worked Thai lands free, allowing Ayudhya to prosper fully as the principal power in the region (a deal was done with the English and, after a small combat, France did not pursue its interests in Siam). Siam did not go to the expense of occupying Laos — it simply lay waste to what it could not pillage and allowed other Lao kingdoms to continue as long as they paid tribute to Ayudya/Siam.

    Conclusion: traditionally war was an economically viable undertaking. Technology changed all that but the myth of economic gain through war is deeply ingrained. To remove it might take centuries.

      • I agree, Patrick, that those who gain from war are not those who loose from it. This, I suppose, is pretty obvious. But I think we are missing something in the historical argument (and re-fighting the American Civil War is essentially an exercise of history). The economic costs of war have been escalating with each major war (undisputed) up to WW2, the most expensive war in history economically (but not in terms of lives lost — second to WW1). Following WW2 and the formation of the UN, it has been generally agreed that war is economically illogical, even for the ‘winners’. Thus the ‘cold war’ in which surrogates were used by contesting big powers. As long as main economic and social costs were not not on home territory, winning and losing returned to something it had been up to, say, the Crimean War: a game of chess with economic prizes for the winner (although even ‘Crimea’ did not really involve ‘home territory’). Civil war falls outside the historical patterns of nation vs nation. All costs, economic and social, are on home territory. Another civil war in America today could not be one between ‘surrogates’ (which would be the puppet masters?). Therefore, optimistically, I think it unlikely.

  2. Interesting. I’ve had some similar bounces to my April 2018 blog-post series on When will the United States Collapse although not nearly the traction you report here.

    My first reaction to the red/blue state civil war idea is that there was no way it would break down by state. However, I’m not so sure anymore–I think in the next few weeks we could see northeastern states start to put severe travel restrictions on any state above a certain percentage of COVID cases, or taking steps toward regional dis-integration.

    However, I still think the civil war is basically going to play out place-by-place. I can’t remember where I read it, but there was an article once on how some civil wars are really only seen in hindsight. In essence, we may actually be in a low-grade civil war in the United States, which historians will eventually be able to describe more accurately. In fact, you could argue that with the possible exception of #8, every one of your 16 reasons is to some degree happening right now. Yikes.

  3. Who wants civil war? There are some people out there still re-fighting the last civil war. They wouldn’t mind a rematch, although it would unlikely fall along the old divides. The US is now a minority-majority citizenry for the younger generation and, in some Southern states, across all generations.

    But that is the nature of fantasies. The law of imagination doesn’t require any correspondence to the conditions of reality or the probability of future events. Besides, the reactionary mind simply finds excitement in fantasies of violence, although not always in the actual outcome when violence hits too close to be comfortable.

    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2018/04/08/violent-fantasy-of-reactionary-intellectuals/
    https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2017/11/20/the-fantasy-of-creative-destruction/
    boogaloo
    inequality

    As for the present possibility of civil war, there are those seeking race war. One example of this are those organizing around the internet meme of ‘Boogaloo’. Some self-professed Boogaloo Boys were arrested at the recent protests for inciting violence and causing property damage. They are internet trolls coming out of their basements to spread their cynicism and mean-spiritedness in the real world.

    To the greater point of your post, there is an interesting outcome to mass conflicts or rather mass conflict is often an outcome and a resolution. In the book The Great Leveler, Walter Scheidel argued that in history when inequality grew too large there was always something to level it out again. If civilization didn’t collapse from its own instability and unsustainability, the very sense of division would provoke mass violence to achieve the same end. After wars and revolutions, there follows a period of greater economic equality.

    So, we either find a way to use democratic reform or other peaceful means to share the wealth or else the inevitable result will happen as predicted. It might not be civil war, but it could be something equally as bad or worse. Such events don’t happen through rational analysis and moral accounting. It’s simply high inequality can’t last, as it undermines the foundations of civilization.

  4. Pingback: Red States versus Blue States: Who Would Win a Civil War in the U.S? – Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

  5. Pingback: Dangerous Speech & a 2nd U.S. Civil War – Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

  6. Pingback: The Chances of Violence & the U.S. Election: Lessons from Emile Bruneau and Reading Intentions – Patrick F. Clarkin, Ph.D.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.