It took more than a spark to ignite the American Revolution. It was more than an opening salvo that heralded the Civil War. In both cases, there were long-standing divisions about the proper order of our society. Those divisions got debated. Tensions rose. Rhetoric became violent. War was discussed as the ultimate end years-long arguments. A patchwork of enemies and allies were cut from the social fabric. Flags were raised. Disaster awaited.
History repeats itself, and it is time to discuss it. Civil war has once again entered the lexicon. Political and social divisions have intensified, and inter-connectivity has, ironically, segmented us into sociopolitical tribes that more and more refuse to recognize the humanity in those who hold different beliefs. The coronavirus, the economic meltdown it created, and unrest over police brutality have provided conditions that even further intensify our divisions. There is a growing chorus of voices who raise the question of whether we are on the brink of war, and others who have fetishized it.
At a time when so very few Americans have experienced war in ways other than through an HBO miniseries or a video game, it is not surprising that the subject is treated with a dangerous flippancy in social discourse, that it is seriously countenanced as a possibility. Yet it is deeply disturbing.
It’s a diverse group of factions; “boogaloo bois,” anarchists, right-wing militias, III%ers, politically charged gun-owners – there are millions of those – and isolated groups in every conceivable place in the spectrum of political and social thought have seemingly all entertained the notion of civil war. “When does the shooting start? Will I be ready?”
No. You won’t.
I spent three years preparing for war as an infantryman in the US Army, an organization with an institutional memory that encompass well over two centuries of warfare. Trained in such a body of experience, I was not ready when the shooting started. It’s cliché to say that nothing can prepare you for that, but it is no less true because it is oft-repeated. I remember a very distinct feeling that something had gone terribly wrong when I pulled that trigger to take a human life. “This is as bad as it can ever get,” I thought at the time. It got much worse, though, as that year wore on and I learned what trauma and loss was. I knew what a nightmare life could become.
No, you’re not ready for that. No amount of television, movies, or video games gets you ready for that. No number of volatile comments can harden you to it.
They can lead to it, though.
It is time we take stock of these threads of rhetoric and think about what they really mean. Think of your life now, your routine. Think of how many people you depend on to follow that routine and to facilitate you providing for your needs. Now take all that away. All of it. The people who once formed your communities now form threats, real and perceived. Your aspirations are reduced to animalistic survival. It is a terrible way to live. Indeed, it is not living at all.
It can happen here if we allow it to. We could become the next Syria. We are not immune to the forces of history. We can collectively shape those currents, though, and we must. It is well past time that we take a hard look at ourselves, our beliefs about one another, and the tone and demeanor of the rhetoric with which we convey those beliefs. There are those who benefit from fanning the flames, but the vast majority of us are not among them. We must isolate them and invalidate those voices of escalation. We must not be backed into the corner of civil war by the pursuit of ad revenues or likes and shares and re-tweets – for attention.
Our society is not perfect. It never will be. But we cannot strive to improve it if we give in to destroying it. We must be better than that. We are better than that.
Photo: Getty Images