REVIEW by Willard Manus
in the midst of a civil war?
Some pundits scoff at the notion, calling those who disagree with them
alarmists. One of their pet targets is Barbara F. Walter, a political
scientist and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is also
the author of a new book, HOW CIVIL WARS START (And How to Stop Them).
Walter pinpoints exactly how and why civil war has broken out in America.
Her research and conclusions have upset her enemies, motivated them to
smear her personally, even threaten her with violence. To her credit,
she hasnt stopped speaking out whenever she can in newspaper and
of her position is spelled out HOW CIVIL WARS START. Like all Americans,
I was shocked by what happened on January 6, she writes. But
it was, at the same time, deeply familiar. President Trumps defiance
after losing the 2020 election reminded me of other presidents, from Nicolas
Maduro, who in the months before Venezuelas 2015 election declared
he would not relinquish his post no matter the outcome, to Laurent Gbagbo,
who refused to concede after Ivory Coasts 2010 election because
he claimed it was stolen. A part of me did not want to accept the implications
of what I was seeing...This is America, I thought, we are known for our
tolerance and veneration of democracy.
But this is where political science, with its structured approach
to analyzing history as it unfolds, can be so helpful. No one wants to
believe that their beloved democracy is in the decline, or headed toward
war: the decay is often so incremental that people often fail to notice
or understand it, even as they experiencing it. If you were an analyst
in a foreign country looking at events in America-the way youd
look at events in Ukraine or Ivory Coast or Venezuela-you would
go down a checklist, assessing each of the conditions that make civil
war likely. And what you would find is that the United States, a democracy
founded more than two centuries ago, has entered very dangerous territory.
the United States a factionalized anocracy that is quickly approaching
the open insurgency stage which means we are closer to civil war than
any of us would like to believe. The siege on the Capitol has made it
impossible for the government to dismiss the threat that far-right groups
pose to the United States and its democracy. January 6 was a major announcement
by at least some of the groups-such as the Oath Keepers-that
they are moving toward outright violence...The attack on the Capitol could
very well be the first of a series of organized attacks in an open insurgency
stage. It targeted infrastructure. There were plans to assassinate certain
politicians and attempts to coordinate activity. It also involved a large
number of fighters, some of whom have combat experience. At least 14 percent
of those arrested and charged are thought to have connection to the military
or law enforcement.
Civil wars look entirely different from past civil wars, Walter states.
Those who wage war against their governments in the 21st century
tend to avoid the battlefield entirely....Instead they choose the strategy
of the weak: guerrilla war and terrorism. And, increasingly, domestic
terror campaigns are aimed at democratic governments.
Here is how all-out civil war in the USA can be prevented, she believes:
establish an independent and central elections management system
(to eliminate voter suppression and/or manipulation).
re-examine the electoral college system, which exacerbates the urban-renewal
divide by giving small states disproportionate power in the Senate.
-bolster the rule of law and fix problems of governance that create the
conditions that extremists exploit.
undo fifty years of declining social services, invest in safety
nets and human capital across racial and religious lines, and prioritize
high-quality education, universal healthcare, and a higher minimum wage...Investing
in real political reform and economic security would make it much harder
for white nationalists to gain sympathizers and would prevent the rise
of a new generation of far-right extremists.
should arrest, prosecute and seize the assets of existing far-right extremists.
It should pursue a strategy called leadership decapitation
which involves imprisoning the leader or leaders of a terrorist group
to hasten its collapse.
-make it harder for outsiders and extremists to sow distrust and division
on social media. Social media must be regulated if factionalism is to
-the threat of climate change must be addressed lest natural disasters
like heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes and droughts tear at our social
Walters insightful and challenging book should be read by anyone
interested in preventing a civil war from destroying our democracy.