What Might Civil War Be Like?

The thought of Civil War has been in the minds of many people lately, on both sides of the political and cultural divide. This is not a thing to be wished for, though no one should kid themselves into believing it’s impossible either. Let us take a sober look at what such a conflict might entail.

To begin with, it would not look like the first American Civil War, which was essentially a war between two regions of the country with different economic interests. The divide created two separate countries, both initially contiguous, intact, and relatively homogeneous. The lines of demarcation now are only somewhat regional, and tend to correspond to differences between urban and rural populations, as well as differences of race and class. A second American Civil War would be much more similar to the Spanish Civil War, with the leftists dominating the cities and conservatives controlling the countryside. Conflicts of this nature, with enemies mixed geographically, are a formula for spontaneous mass bloodletting. India-Pakistan during the 1947 partition comes to mind as another modern example. Given an absence of legitimate government and the friction of proximity, ordinary people can be moved to settle grievances by killing one another without the need for governments to egg them on.

Some dimensions of a future civil war would be, I think, largely unprecedented. When lesser countries have imploded in violence in recent times, they have done so with most of the world around them still intact. There were other nations to offer aid, assistance and intervention, welcome or unwelcome. There were places for refugees to go. The collapse of the world’s remaining superpower would take much of the world down with it. A global economic crisis would be inevitable. The withdrawal of American forces from bases across the world to fight at home would also create a power vacuum that others, even under economic strain, would be tempted to exploit. Whichever side gained control of our nuclear arsenal, our status as a nuclear power would probably persuade other nations not to interfere in our conflict militarily, but the collapse of trade alone would produce crippling effects that would be hard to overestimate. Many components for products our manufacturing sector makes are globally sourced. Add to this the breakdown of our transportation system, dependent on oil and transecting one new front line after another. The internet would fail. It is a frail enough now. Financial systems would fail. What happens if the banks find half their assets suddenly in hostile territory? All Federal government functions, including Social Security, would fail, many of them losing their very legitimacy to one side or the other. Food production, heavily dependent on diesel fuel, chemical fertilizers and pesticides, not to mention a steady supply of genetically engineered seeds, would slump alarmingly. In short, most things we depend on are now held together by a network of delicate and complex connections. Without those connections, would you have a job? If so, in what medium of exchange could your employers manage to pay you? What would there be for you to buy? Does your town, your county, or even your state have the ability to marshal its resources into a viable economy? How many people in those entities could deal with anything worse than a weather disaster, in which they count on the fact that help is coming soon?

From an economic perspective, I think it is fair to say that the left would have a bigger problem than the right. Cities cannot feed themselves under any conditions, and what food could be grown on America’s resource-starved farms would be gobbled up by people nearer and dearer to the farmers. Leftists would have to both secure vast territories around their urban strongholds and relearn from scratch the generations-lost art of food production. Liberal enclaves stranded in the hinterland would simply be untenable. We, on the other hand, would be critically short of new Hollywood movies. Without a steady supply of the works of Meryl Streep and Matt Damon, millions of conservatives would instantly drop dead from boredom – that is, according to Meryl Streep.

Up through the middle of the 20th century, cities were major hubs of industry, but liberal preoccupations with environmentalism have driven much of our surviving industry into rural areas. The domination of the South by the sheer scale of Northern industry that happened in the 1860s would not repeat itself in a future war. Both sides would probably have the means to manufacture basic military essentials, but producing sophisticated items like fighter planes would be simply too complex for the remaining economic base. It would be a war of soldiers, not of million-dollar robots. Were the war to stretch into years, the left would likely destroy their own economy with unfettered socialistic policies. This actually happened to the Spanish Republic in the 1930s. I can image their modern counterparts struggling to make eco-friendly weapons and organize culturally-sensitive, politically-correct collective farms.

Militarily, the left has other problems. They have saddled themselves with a longstanding disdain for military history and thought. A mob of whiney, untrained Antifa or BLM protestors doth not an army make. In recent decades, the left has sought not so much to co-opt the military as to rot it from within. When your idea of a military hero is Bowe Bergdahl or Bradley “call-me-Chelsea” Manning, it is evident that you’ve planned to fight your battles exclusively in the movies. The officer corps, or the part of it that’s worth the name, is ours. Although the left probably has a certain pool of minority ex-soldiers to draw on, I doubt they have a single general officer that still has his original issue genitalia. I’ll take a Texan and a Tar Heel against a metrosexual and a social justice warrior any day — while admitting that the latter might conduct a far more colorful parade. Much would depend on how the military happened to fragment, but even if one side or the other got the lion’s share of it there simply aren’t enough soldiers in the armed forces to garrison the entire country. More troops would have to be raised, equipped, and trained.

The right would probably win a real war, for all the reasons I have sketched above. I suspect it wouldn’t take the three years to decide the issue that it took in Spain, but predicting a short war has usually proven to be a fool’s occupation. Long or short, tens of millions of people would likely starve to death before war and reconstruction were over — far more than would die in actual fighting. Having seen a person starve to death, it is not a fate I’d wish on friends and family members — or even on my enemies. It might be, after all the legal shenanigans are done, the necessary cost of keeping western society alive — but it would no heroic action movie. Utopian ideologies die hard. War is hell.


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