Many Civil War buffs know better than I do how much suffering, death and destruction that internecine conflict brought to the U.S. in the period 1860-65. Is there now (God forbid) a new one looming on our horizons?
It’s fair to say – and I’m far from alone here – that we’ve already endured a kind of “cold civil war” of rival ideologies bitterly at odds during the Trump era. As if based on two different banks of a wide river, indeed. Is that in itself dangerous? Absolutely.
Two historical examples show this well: first, the virulent divide between Left and Right (mainly a farther Right than today’s American one) in Germany’s republic of the ‘20s. Which induced such discord and weakness there that once the Depression hit, it was an easy matter for Hitler to take over with a dictatorship in 1933. And everyone knows what that regime brought to Germany and to the world.
Second example: a ruinous ideological split in France of the ‘30s, which helped create a lethal lack of unity in that country. Whereby Leftists didn’t want to put hides on the line for Rightists and vice-versa. So that when the Nazis poured over the border in May 1940 with panzers, Stukas and such, the French with a putatively strong army fell rapidly to these invading Germans, and again, with dire consequences under a subsequent occupation, not least in the great city of Paris.
So ideological civil wars of the type we’ve also experienced from the 2016 election are a problem in and of themselves. But a real one, which all this rioting, looting and such could ultimately induce (cum backlash sentiments many keep smoldering inside)? That would be an unmitigated disaster.
Because real civil wars always are. And never mind just America’s ruinous one a century and a half ago. Many others have been awful, too.
Just in the period following ours, i.e., post-1865, there have been quite a number. One could mention the Russian Civil War that wrecked the country after the Bolshevik takeover of 1917. By the early ‘20s that internecine conflict confirmed the Communist victory, but at a terrible cost (including via crucifixions and many other atrocities); and even moreso in a Stalinist future that would kill and starve millions more in the Soviet Union.
We could also mention the Spanish Civil War of the ‘30s, taking many lives there, too, and following the same kind of ideological fissure we’ve been experiencing here. Neither side was holy in this one, including the Left of various anarchist, socialist and Communist stripes often fighting each other (see Orwell’s great memoir, “Homage to Catalonia,” on that); and the Right led by Franco and the military, which ultimately won out.
Closer to us came a Cambodian civil war (1970-75) between a pro-American military side and a Communist insurgency backed by powerhouses like China. That side eventually won, but only after so many deaths in this small, once peaceful country that people there were just happy for it to end. In fact, their troubles were about to devolve from bad to far worse, as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge thugs created a dictatorship replete with ghastly torture and expropriation, and bringing a complete economic/societal collapse. Till the Vietnamese finally invaded in late 1978.
I’ve only been baldly sketching here, which to me feels almost scandalous. Because such brevity truly elides the protracted sufferings that civil wars bring to so many, both in the military and among numerous civilians. Sitting on the proverbial fence? It sounds fine in theory, but in practice, it can’t be done in such incendiary circumstances. So if we get a second civil war, no one will be above and beyond the battle, including even high-minded progressives who’ve already excused too much senseless violence and destruction, and who somehow think their own property and lives will remain sacrosanct and inviolate. As if magically protected...
But that’s never the way with authentic civil wars, and won’t be if a new one breaks out in this America already treading carefully on potential minefields and powder kegs! And which may one day blow sky high...
B.B. Singer has taught at several area colleges including Niagara University.