top of page
  • Writer's pictureStephan Garnett

The Truth About Civil War

Photo Credit: Timothy H. O'Sullivan/Library of Congress. Soldiers lay dead at the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863.

More than 600,000 American soldiers died in the United States Civil War. At least 50,000 civilians perished in that war. Over 400,000 Union and Confederate soldiers were held captive in prison camps, and an estimated 50,000 prisoners died in those camps.

The Civil War cost the United States $5.2 billion in damages, including about $1.5 billion in destruction to the South alone.

During the seven years of the “Dirty War,” Argentina’s Civil War, between 10,000 to 30,000 citizens were killed. Many of them were “disappeared” after they were seized by enemy authorities and never heard from again.

Lebanon suffered 120,000 fatalities during its 15-year civil war, and about 900,000 civilians were displaced. The Cambodian Civil War unleashed the Khmer Rouge. For four brutal years, 1.5 million Cambodians died from overwork, starvation, disease, execution and murder.

Civil War is a completely hideous affair.

This is not a conflict that emanates from a foreign power attacking and infiltrating from beyond a nation’s borders. The enemy is from within. The enemy is in the next state, the neighboring city, the next town, down the road, around the corner or across the street. The enemy was once a cherished friend or family member.

Civil War means that citizens take up arms against each other; it means that they have vowed to eradicate their own countrymen and women, that they will willfully desecrate and destroy portions of their own nation, that they will imprison and brutalize people who share their national heritage.

Civil War is a hurricane of desolation and misery. And anyone who advocates for it is a fool!

But that is what we’re now hearing from a significant number of American citizens, those QAnon-worshipping, conspiracy-conflicted, flag-waving, gun-slinging, “Deep State”-fearing, science-refuting morons, who are operating under the delusion that the United States of America belongs only to them.

The urge to “get your guns” and attack those who have allegedly lied to and deceived them has become a dangerous clarion call, a frightening rally to “save the nation” from some vague army of adversaries, who don’t look and think the way they do, who oppose their repressive laws, who argue with their myopic perspectives.

These people are victims of their own ignorance. They have no clear grasp of what civil war costs in human suffering, what it takes to recover from the horrors it manufactures, or the terrible, haunting memories it leaves behind.

Up to this point, we have been fortunate in this nation. We rescued a ripped and frayed union and sewed it back together with patches of national unity and strands of freedom for nearly 4 million human beings once held in barbaric bondage. But democracy is a delicate and tenuous fabric that needs constant mending. One tear can quickly unravel it into a ragged shroud.

For those who champion civil war, for those who are so anxious to take up arms against their own, for those who feel their only salvation is to destroy their own nation, I urge them to read history, our greatest teacher.

I urge them to read about the Battle of Antietam, where the clash of Union and Confederate forces in a Maryland field culminated with more than 22,000 killed and wounded. Or the burning of Atlanta, which ended with more than 6,000 casualties and a once thriving city reduced to smoke and ashes.

I suggest they read about the hundreds of grown Argentinians, men and women in their 30s and 40s, who are just now confronting the agonizing realization that their parents are not their parents, but the recipients of children snatched from people who were “disappeared” and probably murdered.

I propose that they read about Black Saturday, when 300 Lebanese Muslims and Druze were massacred by Phalangists, a Christian, right-wing political party comprised of mainly other Lebanese. Or of the 15 years of murder and strife in that country, of the more than 3,000 car bombings that left at least 4,300 people dead.

I implore them to read about the atrocities committed by Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, the political party that isolated that nation from any foreign influence or assistance, closed schools, hospitals and factories, abolished banking, finance and currency, outlawed all religions, confiscated private property, relocated whole urban populations to collective farms, and systematically murdered more than a million fellow Cambodians.

All of these misled combatants thought they were right. All of them thought they were building a new nation. All of them embraced a political philosophy that ultimately accomplished little more than unloosing death, destruction and national mutilation.

I submit that these misguided Americans, seething with so much anger and hatred, talk to the knowledgeable citizens of Angola, Bangladesh, Congo, Cuba, Ethiopia, Greece, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Paraguay, Rwanda, and the many other nations -- including the United States of America -- that have suffered the profound anguish of civil war, societies that have lost the capacity for common sense and reason, and eviscerated themselves. They’ll discover the honest truth about it.

The great Civil War general William Tecumseh Sherman once summed up the terror of massive armed conflict in one short sentence: “War is hell!”

He knew something we should all realize, that if war is hell, civil war is a thousand hells. Civil war is a titan turning on and devouring itself.

No sane person should ever want it.


bottom of page