Progressive Programmer

Progressive Politics or idle geek banter. What's on my mind when I'm irked, intrigued, bored or up too late.

Location: Michigan, United States


What's so civil about war, anyway?

A co-worker of mine and I often chat about politics. We don't work directly with each other, and don't even work in the same building anymore, but since long before the Iraq war, we have talked via email, while having a cigarette, instant messaging... We each take great joy in sending a link to the other, attempting to prove our own points, knowing full well that the other will simply not budge.

He the die-hard, Bush-loving Republican that believes in smaller government and the Bush Doctrine, and I the Union-raised liberal that thinks government should help make everyone's lives better without playing favorites and that the Bush Doctrine was sold on false pretenses and didn't play out well at all.

Aside from revealing my affection for a certain late 80's/early 90's metal band, my title is a genuine question.

What is civil about it?

And, more to my point, what is the definition of Civil War?

I hadn't even tought about it until my Republican friend sent me a link (which I have lost, but it was to NewsBusters if I can be as fair as I can be here) claiming that the media was knowingly overstating the risks of all out civil war in Iraq. I hadn't seen the site before, but it seems to be either the answer to, or predecessor of, MediaMatters. Anyways...

I skimmed the article, and then said, "Define civil war". I hadn't thought about it much at that point, other than to think of our own civil war, but definitions can be troubling sometimes, injecting one's own views or slants etc., so I figured I would ask.

I hope he'll not mind my quoting his response: "Countrymen fighting countrymen."

Now, I jumped on this, of course, because if this were true, it would mean that Iraq had been in a civil war since 2003. I pointed out an article something like this one that told of the Administration knowing since late 2003 that the insurgency was locally-fed, and not primarily fueled bands of foreign fighters. But I do believe there are some foreign-born factions in the Iraqi insurgency, and I always have. So how should that fact play into the determination of whether Iraq is in a civil war?

I said that I felt that the definition needed to be qualified in some way. Imagining a civil war like our own, men lining up against each other and killing each other in massive fields of battle just does not seem likely, perhaps ever again in any war we might be a party to. There was some sort of qualifier missing from this definition, I thought.

So what is it about a situation in a country that makes it a true state of civil war?

We chatted a bit longer and traded more barbs, as we always do, but the question stuck with me until tonight.

Enter Wikipedia's page on the subject:
A civil war is a war in which parties within the same country or empire struggle for national control of state power. As in any war, the conflict may be over other matters such as religion, ethnicity, or distribution of wealth. Some civil wars are also categorized as revolutions when major societal restructuring is a possible outcome of the conflict. An insurgency, whether successful or not, is likely to be classified as a civil war by some historians if, and only if, organized armies fight conventional battles. Other historians state the criteria for a civil war is that there must be prolonged violence between organized factions or defined regions of a country (conventionally fought or not). In simple terms, a Civil War is a war in which a country fights another part of itself.

Not to use a cop-out, but it appears everyone is right.

My friend was right when he said "Countrymen fighting countrymen". I was right when I tried to imagine a more conventional war. Some historians use broad terms, and some require a specific form of battle. Judging from the 250 edits that page has undergone in 2006 alone, perhaps the definition will change by tomorrow.

But if the only difference between a civil war and an insurgency is the semantic preferences of the historian in question, why the big debate over whether this is a civil war? Seems to me that everyone is right, and everyone in Iraq is still in one hell of a mess.

I'm not liberal, I'm just paying attention


Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's not Kerry's "utterly failing" that is the problem.

It's sadness for the loss of a soldier, the death of whom Kerry likely feels was unnecessary. He's been fighting for veterans, and to keep them from dying in unnecessary, poorly run political wars, for 30 years.

When WE look at the picture we see a lot more. We feel a lot more. And we read even more into it. We think that Kerry is sad that he lost, or that he went there because Bush never would, or that his sadness is compounded by his not having won... by the Bushies ability to convince enough Americans that the Bushies were for the troops, rather than against them.

Kerry may have failed to win the Presidency, but it was the American electorate, aided by the media's willingness to trumpet the message of the right, that "utterly failed" its country.


just read that comment on kos today - i wanted to tell you that you're exactly right.

11 March, 2006 18:39  
Blogger progprog said...

I wish you would have left me a link back to it so I could remember the context. But I'm glad you appreciated the comment.

11 March, 2006 22:28  

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