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.
Seems reasonable enough to me. Instead of set-piece clashes between large armies fielded in the old Napoleonic fashion*, Civil War v2.0 is way more likely to be fought with guerilla-style, hit-and-run tactics—quick, small-scale bloodlettings, raids, or sniper attacks followed immediately by a hasty, surreptitious retreat: the very embodiment of what is now referred to in military circles as Fourth Generation Warfare, or 4GW. Such an open-ended conflict could and very probably would drag on for a long time indeed; with resounding, decisive victory a practical near-impossibility almost by definition, such a war would end up a long, bitter, and brutal slog, ended not by victory or conquest but by sheer exhaustion.
The federal government, naturally, would attempt to intervene, but on which side and with what ultimate intent being difficult to predict. In Bracken’s Enemies trilogy, as well as Max Velocity’s excellent Patriot Dawn and many others, federal intervention in a Civil War/rebellion provides the State its justification for instituting true tyrannical oppression, taken to its practical limits, at last…which still winds up being largely ineffective except in the limited geographical areas it controls.
All of which is certainly chilling enough. This, though, might well be the most chilling observation of all:
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?
The odds of civil war here, no matter how low-intensity or limited in terms of scale, inflicting chaos on other parts of the world seem to me to be pretty high. The question is whether such a looming threat, which would come to toxic fruition pretty quickly, would motivate some sort of direct intervention—necessarily involving foreign boots on American ground, of course—on the part of those other nations. Assuming any of them were even capable of any such intervention in the first place, of course, which is by no means a given. It’s safe to assume that the UN would regard the opportunity to take over and administer the US itself as heaven-sent, a dream come true—a chance to demonstrate both its might and its indispensability for all the world to see.
At first they would, anyway. They’d learn different pretty damned quick.
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.
And if there could possibly be a reason to actually wish for another Civil War, right there it is. A pretty powerful one it is too, I must admit.
Read the rest of it. WRSA holds that it’s “More than a bit optimistic,” and recommends perusing Bracken’s several comments too, which begin with this interesting thought:
A civil war will not be intentionally started by left or right. It will be an unavoidable downstream consequence of a disruption of our modern technological infrastructure. The disruption could be triggered by many vectors, but the consequences will all be the same. Once the lights go out in a major U.S. city, even for a week, chaos will ensue, and every supermarket will be looted to bare shelves. The Genie will then be out of the bottle, and it won’t be put back in.
This, too, seems right enough to me. Matt then links to one of his several WRSA posts on the topic, starting off with this preface:
A second civil war in the United States would be an unparalleled disaster. Nobody who is sane and who has studied modern civil wars from Spain to Lebanon to the Balkans and beyond would ever wish to see one occur. But if political, cultural and demographic trends are sweeping us toward that unhappy destiny, it would be wise to at least cast a weather eye over the possible terrain.
Yep. As I keep saying myself, nobody but nobody among decent, well-meaning people ought to be seriously wishing for such a thing, and I very much doubt any significant number are. But the Left, incredibly, seems absolutely determined to force this horror on us, one way or another. Unless they somehow are brought to senses they don’t appear to possess in any measure, sooner or later they will leave Americans desirous of nothing more than their right to be left alone with no choice but to defend themselves. Again I say it: Lefty should be very, very careful what he wishes for…lest he wind up getting it.
The scenario wherein a tech or infrastructure disaster sparks such a conflict is even more alarming, the more so for being the more likely case. As Matt says, once urban grocery store shelves have been stripped, people trapped in the big cities will start to get hungry, with no recourse other than dispersing en masse into the surrounding countryside to forage for food. They won’t be content to just sit back and starve. And the folks they’ll be looking to loot aren’t very likely to just sit passively back and let themselves be looted, either.
Either way, Civil War v2.0 ain’t something anybody ought to be looking forward to with anything other than dread. Then again though, as unavoidable as it’s beginning to appear, maybe Grant had the right of the whole thing after all when he said, “If we have to fight I wish we could do it all at once and then make friends.”
* Ironically, the Civil War—and most especially the new weapons used to fight it—is generally regarded as having rendered Napoleon’s tactics obsolete—or more accurately, to have revealed them as such.