I was disturbed to hear from Steve Turley a couple of days ago that “American exurbs are preparing for civil war.” And he wasn’t the only person foreseeing civil war. So were Michael Savage and Alex Jones, and no doubt plenty of other people as well. All in the wake of riots and looting in multiple American cities, and a surge in gun sales.
But I bet there isn’t going to be a civil war.
Of course I’m not an American, and my perspective is from the other side of the Atlantic ocean, but I simply don’t see that America has become sufficiently polarised into two rival camps for there to be a civil war.
In the civil war of 1861-65 America had become divided into two camps – the Federal Unionist states and the Confederate southern states – each with their own president (Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis). There was a distinct geographical divide between the two camps.
The same is not true today. The United States of America has not recently divided into two geographically separate camps. Nor is it showing any signs of doing so any time soon.
Nor is there any distinct reason why it should divide, unlike in 1861 when there was a clear difference between Southern states which supported slavery, and Northern states which opposed it.
It’s true that there are strong differences in opinion between Progressives who seek all sorts of social changes, and Conservatives who resist such change. But are any of these differences in opinion of sufficient intensity to warrant civil war? The same differences in opinion also exist in Europe and elsewhere in the world without civil war looming. Is anyone going to fight a civil war to prevent Climate Change? Is anyone going to fight a civil war to get rid of Donald Trump? Is anyone going to fight a civil war to ensure that Black Lives Matter?
The answer to these and similar questions is: No, they’re not. They’re not sufficiently pressing problems, urgently requiring solutions. Climate change is something that takes place over decades or centuries. Donald Trump can be ousted by voting against him. Black Lives already Matter far more than they did in 1861, even if not enough. There’s no need for a civil war to resolve these matters. So there won’t be a civil war.
In addition, unlike in 1861, the US Army is the most powerful army in the world, and would be able suppress a civil war in days or weeks, in the unlikely event of one breaking out.
Furthermore, in the internet era, unlike in 1861, it is becoming increasingly difficult for public opinion to be shaped by broadcast media (newspapers, radio, TV). There is instead a growing plurality of opinion rather than an emerging singularity. This means that people are less likely to unite rather than more likely.
And there’s more. In 1861 Americans were shocked at the scale of the casualties caused by accurate rifles and machine guns. And the world was shocked by the scale of the casualties in WW1 and WW2. We now live in the era of Mutual Assured Destruction. Advances in weapons technology are increasingly making war unthinkable. So that’s a reason why we won’t be seeing a WW3 any time soon. No doubt there’ll be plenty of small wars and riots and looting, but overall we’re living in a peaceful golden age.
Of course it may all change. But that’s how it is right now, and it’s hard to see how it can change.
An historian’s related question: Why Is There War?