Over the holidays, this was a topic on one of the e-mail lists I read. Oddly, it is a list about statistics, but the topic got a lot of replies. Apparently, lots of people worry that America is headed toward a civil war of some sort. Perhaps people with an interest in statistical methods worry about civil wars, in addition to methodological wars. It could also be that people fond of math know that society is fragile and it would not take much to topple it over. The distance between us and Somalia is not a big as we like to pretend.
Anyway, it is a good brain teaser. What would a civil war in America be like this time around? The country is a vastly different place than the last time. The north is still richer than the south, but there’s a Midwest, Southwest, West and Northwest now. More important, nothing is made in the Northeast anymore, other than trouble. The North is also the oldest part of the country, lacking a robust male population. By the standards of the last civil war, the North would be at a demographic, cultural and material disadvantage.
But that was then and this is now. Civil wars tend to be territorial and the regionalism of America is not what it once was. Lots of people from New England have moved south to the Carolinas, for example. Florida is full New Yorkers and is the retirement home to much of the Northeast. Northern Virginia is a region full of strangers, brought together by high paying government work. In event of war, people could move back to their home turf, but it would mean millions of people moving from one part of the country to another.
There’s also the fact that civil wars are almost always between the elites of the host society. The people are dragged into it by the warring factions at the top. In modern America, the elites have never been more unified. In fact, they are so united we now have one political party, the Bipartisan Globalists Fusion Party. In all seriousness, the reason that you can’t tell the difference between the political opinions of Jonah Goldberg and Ezra Klein is that ideologically they are the same guy, with the same paymasters.
If there was to be a civil war in America, it would first have to start as a revolt and gain enough steam to be a genuine threat to the status quo. If a revolt grew into a serious threat to the interests of the ruling classes, then you might see some elements decide to throw in with the rebels. In all likelihood, it would be the younger, lower level members of the elites, looking for an opportunity to leapfrog their superiors. Alternatively, the revolt could quickly grow an elite of its own, like the Marxists did, to challenge the elites of the status quo.
Of course, there is the racial angle. It’s funny in a way, but the two groups convinced of the coming race war are blacks and white nationalists. The trouble with this idea is the time for a race war was fifty years ago in the Civil Rights Movement. There were plenty of young black males thinking they had nothing to lose and plenty of young white males thinking they had everything to lose, Today, the only people thinking race war are mentally unstable black guys and white nationalists. Hispanics have little interest in racial politics.
There’s also the technological issue. The lesson of the two great industrial wars on the early 20th century was that conventional warfare was no longer a plausible option for settling disputes. Putting aside nukes, conventional weapons had simply become too lethal and too destructive. Prior to the great war, winning a war meant gaining useful territory or shaking down the loser for money. Modern warfare means destroyed cities and fractured economies for both sides. Nukes make conventional war even less appealing.
That reality would be even more salient in a civil war. New Englanders would love to re-enact Sherman’s march to the sea, but they would end up killing more allies than enemies and the economic cost to the North would be devastating. The degree of integration in a modern society would work against the instinct to destroy the other guy’s stuff. Throw in the regionalism issue above and conventional warfare with set piece battles and troop formations is not going to serve the interests of anyone in the next American civil war.
There’s also another problem. The US military is about 1.3 million people, but about 80% are in administrative and support roles. We have more people in uniform pushing buttons at a keyboard than carrying a pack in the field. Of that fighting force, about two-thirds are deployed at any one time. It is not an accident that our political class is not a fan of keeping large numbers of combat ready troops on US soil. In a civil war, the US military would probably disintegrate early and be reduced to guerrilla units for all sides.
Now, America has been waging non-lethal war on the world for a long time in the form of financial war and now information war. Economic sanctions are a form of warfare intended to create unrest in the target society. A big motivation for North Korea’s quest for nukes is the economic war we have been waging against them for two decades. The Bush people took steps to cut them off from the banking system and thus starve the regime of hard currency. That’s made the elites of the regime much poorer and weaker as a result.
In a civil war, the tools of finance would come to bear. Assuming the civil war began as a revolt, the ruling class would first attempt to squeeze the rebels financially, by cutting them off from the financial system, making it hard to raise money. In this age, that means shutting down their PayPal accounts and booting them from crowdfunding systems. Credit card processors would be pressured to discontinue service. When that failed, banks would be forced to close accounts and the seize assets of trouble makers.
This would also discourage members of the elite from getting any ideas about supporting the rebels against the senior elements of the elite. This would be augmented by the use of information war to undermine the moral authority of the rebels, thus starving them of ability to gain popular support. Humans are social animals and they instinctively seek to distance themselves from those the culture has declared taboo. That would mean using mass media organs to evangelize against the rebels, while cutting them off from media access.
If all of this sounds familiar, it should. America, and the West, is teetering on the verge of civil war, but a modern, technological civil war. On the one side is the globalist elite, who have purged their ranks of anyone skeptical of the project. The brewing revolt is mostly the people willing to question the prevailing orthodoxy. The panic we saw last summer by the tech giants was motivated by a fear that the internet revolt was becoming a revolt in the streets. The financial war on dissidents is a part of this effort to suppress dissent.