By the author of Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City and The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook
I frequently seek a distanced opinion on something happening in my neck of the woods. Sometimes, being too close to the action (and relying on local media and experts) can prevent us from having a more accurate, unbiased view of things.
Occasionally, I get asked what I think of a particular event happening in another region. Not because I’m an expert in geopolitics. It’s just people merely seeking an outsider’s opinion on some domestic issue as well.
With that in mind, I wanted to address the possibility of the U.S. going into a civil war, why I believe it won’t happen, and what I think is more probable.
The prospect of another civil war permeates the collective American mind.
Or so it seems to this foreigner. It’s expected that this sentiment will surface in times of crisis. However, most people have only a vague idea of how an 1861 replay would happen. Whenever I’m discussing with someone and ask how they envision a civil war in the United States playing out, most replies are vague generalizations like “city vs. rural,” “neighbors vs. neighbors,” or “red vs. blue.”
It’d be foolish to deny that a civil war in the U.S. is possible, and the sentiment is genuine and cannot be overlooked. But the real question is how probable, how likely – not if it’s possible or not.
Without a logical explanation of how a civil conflict would start and unfold in the real world, what form it would take in contemporary America with regards to practical aspects, nor much consideration to other factors and components surrounding it, I can’t see how this idea stands.
A good place to start is a concise definition of “civil war.'”
There are tens of different definitions out there. I’ll stick to the most objective and thorough explanation I could find:
“…a politically orchestrated, widespread, protracted, physically violent battle that takes place within a nation, usually between sizable/statistically significant factions of its residents or citizens over the exclusive use of physical force within the nation… The challengers may want to unseat the rulers with the monopoly of force over the state’s remaining territory, or they may aim to secede from a portion of the original area.” [SOURCE]
Every war is a conflict, but not every conflict is a war.
This distinction is significant because it emphasizes the fundamental differences between particular phenomena. A civil war is a specific event with specific dynamics and duration.
Revolutions, riots, crime waves, and other demonstrations aren’t civil wars. Drug cartels battling each other for power and territory, or a hundred criminal gangs fighting each violently and terrorizing the population and the authorities, are not civil wars.
Some political scientists define civil war by numbers, though 1,000 yearly deaths motivated by religion or race would characterize civil war just as ones caused by politics or civil rights. Besides, everything can be politicized.
So while numbers are important – especially when talking about human lives – assigning political motives to intra-violence may not be as clear-cut in times of generalized turmoil and confusion, when everyone is at each other’s throats for a dozen or more different things.
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We can’t ignore the wide gaps and radicalization in politics, civil rights, and also wealth that are currently present, as has been said numerous times (I certainly cannot because the same is happening in my own country).
The genuine concern, though, is whether or not this will result in an actual, full-fledged Civil War on American soil. It’s time to see the reasons why it has a low probability of happening in the foreseeable future:
The U.S. government’s power
The American government has solid institutions and vast financial, logistical, and military resources. More importantly, it can promptly summon these resources to quell actions that could break public order, seriously disrupt infrastructure, or attempt to overthrow the central or state powers.
Is it realistic to believe that the dominant force won’t act quickly and forcefully to end any uprising or concerted intra-violence – before it turns into a full-blown civil war? Despite the official machine’s inefficiency and other flaws, we should not underestimate its capacity and determination.
Legendary investor Charlie Munger wisely said, “Show me the incentive, and I’ll show you the outcome.” When searching and analyzing potential incentives for Americans to go to war with each other or against the government, now or soon, I see more questions than answers.
Is life in the U.S. objectively that bad right now? What civil rights have been lost? Would liberals and conservatives fight each other to the death – again, without the swift intervention of state and federal forces? If Americans are so divided, could they unite against the government?
I’m not saying everything is fine because it’s not – far from it. But anger, confusion, and revolt aren’t incentives. These things fluctuate even in healthy societies—division and polarization rise and drop. Things will come to blows in some places eventually. But are they reaching a tipping point nationally at the moment?
Now to more physical matters: even if most (or all) other conditions are present, we should consider whether or not there is sufficient funding, coordination, direction, leadership, and logistics for a high-intensity, sustained, widespread combat, regardless of the shape a civil war would take in the U.S.
Americans have access to more than enough weapons and ammunition to wreak significant harm, that’s for sure. Can the U.S. become a 1990s Serbia or a 1970s Lebanon based on that? Again, in theory, it can. However, firearms alone don’t make a war.
Additionally, if Americans somehow decide to unite and attempt to overthrow the government, would that be sufficient to fight off the police, military, and all other special forces?
The global interests
There’s no question that there are some foreign and domestic enemies who would love to see the United States consuming itself in a bloody civil war. However, the nations and organizations that may want the U.S. destroyed are too few, too poor, and too weak to influence or sway things that way.
America’s real adversaries are more intelligent and know they (and the rest of the world) can’t go too far without each other. Therefore, some only want its influence and overreach reduced and a more balanced composition of global forces. Others seem more interested in following their path and leaving the U.S. power sphere for new alliances.
Many U.S. adversaries (and also allies) are more interested in maintaining an advantageous position to gain political or economic advantages (or both). A historical fact: as the Empire was falling, many of Rome’s “enemies” weren’t trying to bring it down but rather seeking to enjoy the perks and benefits of its lifestyle.
This is a complex subject, and others are more apt to talk about it than me. I’m bringing that up to argue that while a lot of outside and inside meddling and sabotage is occurring, things are never simple nor always what they seem on the surface. None of that is new, either – and shouldn’t steer the U.S. into civil war by itself.
There’s no shortage of crap hitting the fan in the world right now. Let’s consider the likelihood of a civil war against the possibility of the U.S. getting directly involved in the Ukraine conflict or going to war against China.
Because that’s what governments do to create a distraction from the problems they make themselves and unite the population around a common cause. The incumbents and their supporters seem pretty keen on that, to be honest.
The Civil War rhetoric
The fear of America breaking apart and coming to blows became evident recently. The 2020 elections, J6, the revision of Roe v. Wade, and the attacks on the Second Amendment are just a few wedges testing the fabric of American society and ratcheting up the rhetoric of civil war. There’s more coming.
Before these events, experts, analysts, politicians, and media outlets asserted the United States would enter a civil war “whether things go one way or another.” There’s been a lot of violence, some of which was motivated by politics. Yet, no visible, significant mobilizations from any organized part of society toward a protracted civil conflict.
The fact that it has happened before is often used as justification for the possibility of a civil war in the United States. What does that mean for the future? Not much. It’s possible because everything is possible, not because it has happened before. It could happen for the first time.
I’m trying to argue that for some events to occur, a long and complicated list of preconditions and predecessors must be present simultaneously. Civil war is not a fire waiting for a spark to happen. Even in a banana republic or during a severe crisis, it’s no trivial matter. Other than the sentiment, there’s not much indicating it’s imminent.
The United States is not a disjointed banana republic.
American society may be angered, confused by everything happening, and even hopeless about the future. However, the fact that the United States is still the world’s top superpower is unaffected by the general mood.
Many people may feel that way, but this impression is false. I’m not downplaying the hardship; just pointing out the difference between the U.S., a developing nation, and a shithole country. Thirdworldization is real, and it’s no small SHTF. People are pissed with the decline in living standards and the loss of privileges. But, no actual, broad disruptions have materialized (not yet).
It would be quite a leap for wealthy and stable nations (and even some emerging ones) to get from their actual position to a coup d’etat or widespread, organized civil conflict and chaos on the scale of Haiti or Sri Lanka. Besides, the U.S. is no exception: the current crisis is global (my apologies to the sensitive and entitled).
This is what I believe can happen in the U.S.
The economy and finance timebomb is already on the countdown. Even if it doesn’t explode, taking the entire system with it, the mad scrambling to keep it alive will be enough to stifle growth. That alone can bring about a crisis so dire that it will rip people’s faces off.
A false flag or Black Swan event could pop up by the end of the year or early 2023 to create a way out for the elites. It could be a dirty bomb, a nuclear strike, another virus, a war with China, or a sovereign debt default. I’d rank those and others as more probable. A civil war in the U.S. would be too contained, and the powers that be need something more significant to cover their mess this time.
Either way, until something major happens (if it does), unrest and other social disturbances will spread and get worse. Essentially, an escalation of violence and criminality that’s already taking place everywhere. Mass shootings, unprovoked attacks, climate terrorism, authoritarianism, cyberattacks. That’s the stuff that happens in real life during a secular downturn cycle.
Also, expect protests, strikes, sit-ins, and other manifestations to increase in frequency, number, and violence. Especially as the recession worsens and industries and businesses fail in huge numbers, causing bankruptcy, shortages, and mass layoffs that will throw larger portions of the population into misery and despair.
I realize this is a controversial subject. As stated at the outset, I’m not an authority, just a distanced observer giving my opinion on an issue that affects everyone, not only Americans. I’m not trying to be contentious or convincing, much less fanciful. Just make people think and prepare.
It’s ironic because I draw a lot of criticism when I make this argument. For some reason, the idea of a civil war not happening soon in the U.S. doesn’t sit well in some circles or with some people. There’s a lot of pent-up energy and tension-building out there, and that must find an escape valve somehow – real or imaginary.
I am expressing this viewpoint in good faith and with the appropriate deference. Believing (and hoping) that something unpleasant will not occur is an optimistic perspective. That is one prediction I hope I’m right about, and things stay calm in Uncle Sam’s land.
For now, if you’re not in Haiti, Ukraine, or another country where horrible things are happening, you have several reasons to be optimistic. Turn off the news and spend some time alone with yourself. Take a stroll outside and observe people coming and going. Exercise, go outdoors, play with the kids, and pet your dog (or cat).
It’s not 2019 anymore. But it’s also not the end of the world.
What do you think?
Do you believe the US will have a civil war? Do you think we’ll be able to move past our differences? What are your predictions? Let’s talk about the future of the US in the comments.
Fabian Ommar is a 50-year-old middle-class worker living in São Paulo, Brazil. Far from being the super-tactical or highly trained military survivor type, he is the average joe who since his youth has been involved with self-reliance and outdoor activities and the practical side of balancing life between a big city and rural/wilderness settings. Since the 2008 world economic crisis, he has been training and helping others in his area to become better prepared for the “constant, slow-burning SHTF” of living in a 3rd world country.
Fabian’s ebook, Street Survivalism: A Practical Training Guide To Life In The City , is a practical training method for common city dwellers based on the lifestyle of the homeless (real-life survivors) to be more psychologically, mentally, and physically prepared to deal with the harsh reality of the streets during normal or difficult times. He’s also the author of The Ultimate Survival Gear Handbook.
You can follow Fabian on Instagram @stoicsurvivor