For many years in my late teens and early 20’s I used to joke I was a California Nationalist. This was amusing when I met people from other states, as we are all proud of the state from which we came. I was part of the California State Society, would quote the Economist when saying California is the most democratic country in the world second to Switzerland, and would laugh at the idea of the world’s 7th largest economy going it’s own way. I am no longer making that joke. I am not a California Nationalist. Nor would I ever want to see the United States break apart. I am an American first.
An ancient Chinese novel speaking of a period of political instability begins with the words “Empires wax and wane; states cleave asunder and coalesce” (Romance of The Three Kingdoms). The United States is an empire, and has been since the beginning of The 20th Century’s War, which started with the Spanish-American War. Are we seeing our country cleave asunder? My argument is no, but there are many in our country who seem to be advocating just that, at the same time they are hugging the flag and claiming to be The true patriots.
Court records from the Special Council Investigation into Russian Influence in the 2016 Election reveal a relatively inexpensive, yet very successful, foreign influence campaign operating in The United States. For less than $50 million Russian operators were able to incite nascent animosities among Americans, instilling a sense of “Us against Them” on both sides of the political aisle in an effort to sow discord and diminish the vote. Components of this campaign were advocacy of state nationalism. One example was pushing for California to declare independence from the United States. The Russian agents who ran this campaign first came to the U.S., talked with Americans, learned what divides us, then drove wedges into those divides in an attempt to cleave the country. Their success is reflected in pictures from some political rallies where supporters of one political party wear T-shirts claiming they’d rather be Russian than of the other political party.
This division is increased when elected office holders share social media speaking of (and sometimes supporting the idea of) violence against those who disagree, or a second U.S. Civil War. With so much talk in this direction, particularly by those on the extreme, it’s easy to dismiss such verbiage as letting off steam, the rants of lunatics, or the last gasps of a lost philosophy. My career has been focused on preventing the avoidable catastrophe, preparing for the unavoidable, and planning the response for those we experience. I am writing this piece to achieve the first - prevent the avoidable catastrophe. I am not claiming the United States will have a second Civil War, but I want to do everything in my power to ensure it never does. I will start by preparing Americans for what a second Civil War could look like. This is not a prediction, just my understanding of the political, economic, social, and military dynamic in the country. If you love The United States then please read on. This could save our country, our way of living, and perhaps your life.
Snapshot of a Second Civil War
Many who call for a second Civil War in the United States use images such as this showing Red States vs. Blue States. This completely misses how the divisions in our country break out. In every state which tends to vote for one political party over the other there exist pockets of people who disagree with that direction. In the states where things are relatively even (Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Michigan, Arizona, etc.) both political parties are well represented.
A second Civil War would not be state on state, it would be urban versus rural, with the suburbs caught in the middle. Such a distribution of disagreement and armed struggle would not provide neat lines of battle, fronts on which troops could deploy, or most importantly, safe areas away from the conflict. Instead, such a war would look more like what we witnessed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, with sieges of urban areas, rural enclaves cut off from each other and the outside world, and no way out for civilians trapped within either. This type of warfare would be prevalent across the country, from the East Coast to the West, with enclaves of potential temporary stability in-between. Refugees would have little option of where to go, whether North to Canada, South to Mexico, or hunker down and hope for the best where they are, assuming Canada and Mexico keep their borders open to dis-U.S. refugees.
I won’t speak of the horror for the individual in this kind of conflict. Anyone interested can simply read up on recent civil wars in Syria, Yemen, the Former Yugoslavia, and other regions of the world. What I will say is, the American way of life would be destroyed for a long-time. Many would die. Almost all would suffer catastrophe in some form. It’s likely no family in the country would be untouched in a negative way by such a conflict.
Preventing A Civil War
Therefore, it’s in the interest of every American, no matter political party, view of the current political environment, economic status, or any other division among us, to prevent such a catastrophe. Dismissal of the idea of such an event is living in denial, and only brings its likelihood forward. Instead, we all need to face the reality that talk of a Civil War is the first step toward having one. So, the first step toward stopping one is to talk back. Share the experience of civil wars in other places, and ask the speaker, “Do you want that here?” Push back against those advocating this, joking about it, or simply hinting at it. It’s never too early to say “No, not in America!”
Beyond talking back, push for The Center in political situations. Rather than electing extreme candidates on either end of the spectrum, support central figures who want to bring people together, build up the community, rather than tear anyone down. Look for those who develop collaborative groups, work together to solve community problems, and run in to help when any one of us is suffering. Avoid those who attack. Take power away from those who divide. Encourage friends, family, relatives, those at work, those in your community, and those you don’t even know, to do the same.
Please consider what a Civil War would mean to you, your community, and our country. Then, act accordingly.
One Final Note
Throughout The 20th Century’s War, and even in the United States Civil War, those who start wars are usually the ones who lose. Anyone considering starting something, please keep that in mind. Is it worth it? What is gained? Hopefully, on a rational level, you can see there are other ways to solve the problems you wish to solve. Let’s work that out in a non-violent way. It will require us to negotiate, to give a little, and to find resolution. That’s hard, but it’s a lot better than the alternative. My e-mail box is always open for a conversation. I welcome the opportunity to work with anyone to keep a potential catastrophe from becoming a reality.