The Irish Troubles is one of six models I’ve identified that could have (loosely) an American equivalent.
Of course, I’m not talking about Catholics versus Protestants, but a sectarian conflict featuring sporadic armed political violence where the government’s primary mission is peacekeeping followed by counterterrorism.
The Irish Troubles resulted in over 50,000 casualties and 3,500 deaths over a 30-year span (1969-1998). Armed violence was widespread across Northern Ireland, but this map illustrating the deaths of civilians and British Security Forces gives us a good glimpse of where casualty-producing attacks occurred.
One of my key assumptions for this model remains that armed political volence would be geographically limited. I wouldn’t expect much from, say, central Nebraska or northern Alabama, for instance, just like many areas of Northern Ireland had very few instances of armed violence over a 30-year span. I expect most places to remain… well, pretty quiet as far as fighting is concerned. (Criminality is another matter!)
A few things… First, civilian deaths are roughly equal to deaths of all belligerents. High civilian casualties are the norm for domestic conflicts, going all the way back to at least the 1500s. As French Renaissance philosopher Michel de Montaigne (1532-1592) observed, “In truth a forraine warre is nothing so dangerous a disease as a civill.”
Second, while the 1970s were by far the most violent, war-related deaths continued to stack up over the following decades. The total death toll of 3,483 works out to an average of 116 deaths per year, or roughly one death every three days. For 30 years. Low intensity conflicts, especially insurgencies and guerrilla wars, are often protracted. Nothing happening in the United States today signals that our own domestic conflict would be short lived.
Third, I’m still compiling the numbers of fighters as a percentage of the overall populace. The end result will show that a small percentage was actively engaged in the fighting at any given time. As we see in most low intensity conflicts, a small percentage actually takes part in the fighting, followed by maybe 5-15% of the total population involved in active support at some level, and everyone else is just trying to live their lives. I suspect that the American Troubles would be similar.
The real problem for most Americans will be the economic, financial, and monetary destruction that results from armed conflict. While you’d think that high unemployment would enable the mobilization of millions of military-aged males, the disruption to transportation, shipping, and production likely means that many Americans will be focused on week to week survival, as opposed to actively fighting.
The greater the operational tempo and mass of fighters, the greater logistics you need. This likely means that the number of fighters remains relatively small compared to the efforts required to support them. Again, less than 5%, maybe even less than 1%, is likely to be engaged at any time. (That’s still a lot of people.)
On that note, the United States population today is some 200 times larger than Northern Ireland was from 1969-1998. So could we see 200 times the death toll? Certainly.
Although I still maintain that there is simply no possible way to accurately predict where this is headed or how it’s all going to end up, Culper’s comparison with The Thrubbles (hey, I’m Irish all to hell and gone on my mom’s side, so I can say it that way if I want to, dammit) seems entirely apt to me, and just as likely to yield some useful indications as any. At the end of the day, though, the one and only sure thing is that it’s going to positively SUCK.