23.04.2024 Author: Vladimir Mashin

The Ghost of Civil War in America

The Ghost of Civil War in America

This week, a new action movie titled Civil War was released in the USA. The film, made by the English director Alex Garland, tells the story of a government at war with breakaway states, a president delegitimized in the eyes of part of the country.

Some critics argue that releasing the movie in an election year is extremely dangerous. In their view, even simply talking about a future national project can make it real, and so the movie risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Reviews of this movie vary widely, with some believing it to be a sharply perverse work of speculative fiction that begins with the United States at war with itself – literally, not rhetorically.

Others believe it is a terrific movie that, despite its harshness, is worth seeing: it has received many flattering reviews. The movie shows that America could descend into a domestic armed conflict, and it seems possible, though unlikely.

In one poll in 2022, 43% of Americans said they believed a civil war within the next decade would be at least somewhat likely. The New York Times political observer Michelle Goldberg believes that political violence could spike after the upcoming election and eventually spiral out of control.

Stephen Marsh, author of The Next Civil War, believes that the very idea of the movie is wrong as it overestimates the power of the word or moving image. But he believes there are real factors that are steering the United States toward ever deeper division: inequality, a hyper-partisan duopoly, and an outdated and increasingly dysfunctional Constitution. Simple stories are not powerful enough to change this reality. Nevertheless, there are notable sentiments of separatism, for example, back in 1997, a group of Texas separatists confronted the police for a week, but then the movement died down; a few months ago, Texas sued the federal government over control of the border. Armed militias set up camp along the border, and this is not a movie trailer, this is happening in real life.

Yet politicians do not take the risk of violence seriously enough. Civil War doesn’t dwell on the causes of division; its main characters are journalists, and the story dramatizes the reality of the conflict they cover – the fear, violence and instability that civil war can bring to the lives of ordinary Americans.

America lost approximately 2% of its population during the 19th century civil war (1861-1865): recalling the horror of that conflict should diminish the sense of American exceptionalism. Incidentally, George Washington warned in his farewell address that hyper-partisanship that puts a party over country could lead to political collapse.

Marsh believes that Americans in 2024 can easily envision a civil war and recognizes that it would be a real disaster. The Washington Post wrote on April 13: “Voters aren’t shy about saying how bad they think things are – ask them if the country is moving in the right direction and barely a quarter of voters will say yes; ask them if the national economy is doing well and more than 65 percent will say no.”

It should be noted that a few months ago the Saudi TV channel Al Arabiya published on its website a large article by American political scientists, which contained an analysis of a possible split of the United States after the elections: the authors proceed from the thesis that neither of the main parties – Republicans or Democrats – will recognize the results of the elections in November 2024. Therefore, some states may unite and challenge the central government in Washington.

Given the fierceness of the election campaign, Americans themselves do not rule out this possibility. Michelle Goldberg, in an April 12 article titled “Civil War and Its Terrifying Premonition of America’s Collapse,” concludes that the film is a serious warning and cautionary tale, for its ideas are “close to where America is now.”


Vladimir Mashin, Candidate of Historical Sciences, political observer, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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