American nightmare: Civil war in practice
Malcom Kyeyune explains what the next civil war might look like in the U.S.
One of the most fascinating intellectuals of our current moment is Malcom Kyeyune, who tweets under the announce name of “Anglo Respecter 40K (@Tinkzorg). Though he’s generally known as a Marxist, Kyeyune has not only increasingly allied himself with the Right, he lately shares much of the same concerns as the Right (or at least within the non-Woke sphere) about where events are currently headed.
Several weeks ago, Kyeyune shared a lengthy Twitter thread in which he discussed the prospects for civil war in the United States, one that drew lots of attention, given the public interest in the topic. He followed it up later with another thread where he explored the topic some more; both are highly-recommended reading.
But what I really want to explore in this post is an interview Kyeyune did with Niccolo Soldo, who goes by the explicit handle “Fisted By Foucault” (@FistedBy). Kyeyune spends much of his time these days contemplating what the future holds in store for the U.S. and, in short, it doesn’t bode well:
The radical left as a political force took its last, best shot in 2019 and 2020 and was routed for the final time. It is quite clear at this point that the left will never again be relevant as a political force, but instead merely as a subcultural one and one active in the attention and Patreon economy on the net. But as this economy is probably not going to survive until 2030, even that part of the left can safely be ignored. The upcoming political battles will be waged between the forces of progressivism writ large and between various stripes of populism. In that context, the dependence of self-proclaimed leftists on big business and the powers that be is no longer really even a problem. [italics mine]
Kyeyune has spent multiple Twitter threads talking about the severity of the supply chain crisis and how there isn’t really a fix to the problem. Thus, it’s a problem destined to get worse and, eventually, lead to a cataclysmic failure that could wreck the economy. Virtually assuring this outcome is that nobody, not the layperson nor those in charge, have any idea how the system works.
Back to the matter of civil war, Kyeyune went into detail with Soldo about how a civil war in the U.S. would manifest itself:
The incompetence of US forces in Afghanistan is not a valid application when it comes to an armed conflict on US soil. With Afghanistan, US forces could simply pick up and go home. In the USA they are at home. They would not be hampered by severely-restricted RoE (Rules of Engagement). The media machine would crank up the propaganda to 11, painting any and all states' rights secessionists as the second coming of both the Confederacy and the Nazis. Civil conflicts are the bloodiest because there is everything to play for.
This is actually such a fantastically unrealistic question that I at first thought it to be some sort of prank, and I must admit – no offense intended here – that I literally cannot even imagine the reasoning that leads to statements like the US army not being hampered by restrictive RoE. It's like someone telling me that I should dry out from the rain by jumping, clothes and all, into a swimming pool filled with murky water.
Why was there a restrictive RoE in Afghanistan? Well, let's go over a couple of possibilities. The first possibility is that a restrictive RoE, aiming at preventing unnecessary civilian casualties, had to do with avoiding political fallout back at home. Too many pictures of blown up children, and American politicians have a harder time getting re-elected on a pro-war platform. The second possibility is that blowing up Afghan children simply made it harder to win the war, by emboldening the Taliban and making the locals not just more likely to join them, but to provide them shelter, resources, and intel on American movements.
If you are very gullible, you could possibly think that the first of these rationales would not apply in a domestic US situation, because ”the media” would simply blast propaganda at the population. Here the less gullible will simply ask a fairly basic question: how capable has the propaganda machine proven to be thus far? Given that the media blasted as much propaganda as they could regarding the authenticity of the 2020 election, the fact that polling shows a majority of republican voters believing the election to not be totally on the level tells us that there are very significant limits to the ability to use propaganda to achieve desired ends (in this case, the desired end was to make the American population think the election was legit). Moreover, the Fox News network experienced an exodus of viewers from Fox to OANN and Newsmax (who a friend of mine described as ”Memri TV for American boomers”), because Fox didn't take a sufficiently aggressive stance on the election. This also led to Tucker Carlson to actually have another talk show host beat him in the ratings, a feat basically considered impossible up until then.
As such, the current model for propaganda is simply not effective enough in information control, even when working with total coordination. Moreover, the pressures on the right wing of the media landscape whenever something like this happens is immense, to the point where Fox had to go back on the offensive in order to stop the bleed to Newsmax and OANN.
By all means, one shouldn't discount ”propaganda” as a political tool. It is after all a political strategy. But the nuts and bolts of how these things work, and their actual limits in how many people they reach and what they can convince them of, become exceedingly clear once one starts looking into the more boring world of ratings and polling. In the case of some sort of civil war, if you wanted people to only get approved news, you'd have to shut down Newsmax, OANN, and maybe even Fox News; the idea that the viewers of these networks would go ”oh, Kamala Harris just arrested all the journalists at the cable news station I watch, time to become Rachel Maddow's biggest fan!” is just not credible.
I feel Kyeyune actually makes a good argument for why a civil war won’t happen in the U.S. any time soon ( at least not this decade). In my last post, I spoke of Selco Begovic and what he described as the media’s role in planting the seeds of civil war in Bosnia. While the U.S. media is as two-faced as the media of the former Yugoslavia, one key difference is that the U.S. has so many media outlets. It’s impossible for any one narrative to overwhelm all others, even if one narrative (the one advanced by mainstream outlets) tends to prevail over all others. The polarization of America is not over ethnicity or religion, but rather over who’s truth is truer than the others. People kill each other over a lot less, but the nature of division in the U.S. is such that it’s not easy for people to factionalize themselves in a manner that creates the critical mass necessary to wage armed conflict.
Still, this point about propaganda only really addresses a small part of this issue. The much, much more critical point is that the US armed forces currently recruits from lower middle and working class demographics in red states. White men are overrepresented in the US armed forces, and they are then even more overrepresented in the parts of the Army and USMC that actually hold guns, kick down doors, and carry heavy rucksacks around. There are absolutely no realistic means of changing this situation. People belonging to the powerpoint class do not join the armed forces unless they can present powerpoints, they do not become doorkickers or mortar bomb haulers. Immigrants are underrepresented and also not reliable – the less strong your connection to a country is, the less likely you are to be in any way interested in the prospect of fighting in one of its civil wars. There's not exactly a huge mercenary pool in the world today to call on if you want to fill out a couple of divisions, either.
The real reason you want to use extremely restrictive RoEs in a situation like the one you claim one wouldn't be used is that the American elite will be fighting with forces that are recruited from the very areas they are supposed to police. That means it will be their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in the gunsights; if you simply level half a rural town in Texas, the people who die will be related by blood or friendship to the people who load the bombs and hold the rifles. This presents two very basic challenges: number one, if you start killing civilians in these areas, your recruitment prospects will become quite catastrophic, quite quickly. Number two – and this is the big one – soldiers have historically been extremely reluctant to follow orders like this. A smart empire will therefore go to great lengths to source their soldiers from populations that do not even speak the same language as the civilians they're supposed to police; the Austrians used Croats in Italy, and Italians in Croatia…and even then the soldiers were often reluctant to stand in the way of a sufficiently motivated civilian population.
This is a very interesting point. While America is more or less “over” its White male population, the reality is, this is exactly who predominantly makes up the ranks of the military, particularly in the combat arms. While the military likely feels they could lose all its White males and still possess an effective fighting force (maybe even a more effective fighting force), the fact is, if the intent is to either purge or decrease the prevalence of this demographic from the military, the country is divesting itself of those who do most of the fighting and dying. How can the U.S. retain it’s military edge by getting rid of those who tend to volunteer to shoot and enter the line of fire as their day job?
Those who do most of the fighting and dying do so for many reasons and culture is one of them: White males make up a large portion of the combat arms because, well, you join the military to fight. Other racial/ethnic groups and women who join the military tend to join the military for other reasons, such as economics and travel. When you join for such reasons, staying out of the fight as much as possible is incentivized. And there isn’t any reason to believe non-White males will be scrambling to fill the ranks of the combat arms should these billets suddenly become available in large numbers: even after opening all combat arms branches to women, they still tend to be comprised of mostly White males.
We should also be fairly clear on what ”restrictive” vs. ”non-restrictive” RoE mean in this context. Non-restrictive RoE does not mean you can simply use all the fancy pieces of equipment the air force and army have at their disposal: MRLS launchers, Apache gunships, fuel-air bombs, tanks, and so on. All of this stuff is mostly useless in situations where the enemy simply refuses to wear uniforms – this equipment is meant to be used in combat between states where both sides take great pains to actually signal which team they belong to, so that the other team knows that it's okay to shoot them. If you're fighting the Chinese, a tank is a great thing to have, because that tank will be able to fire at Chinese tanks (that look markedly different from American ones) and Chinese soldiers, who wear completely different uniforms.
If you park a tank in Anytown, Idaho, and tell it to just go hog wild on the enemy, that tank is either going to end up shooting at nothing, or simply massacre a bunch of innocent civilians. Killing innocent civilians will 1) make your own army much more likely to revolt, 2) make the actual enemy combatants much more able to recruit new militants, and so using an extremely restrictive RoE is actually the only possible way you could even hope to fight a war like this on American soil without just losing it on purpose.
Again, on the level of strategy, I'm sure the US military offers up a lot of interesting possibilities in terms of tyranny and civil war for the prospective ideas guy out there. But in terms of logistics, the US army and USMC is just a total fucking disaster, if you'll excuse my French. It has an order of magnitude – maybe even several orders of magnitude – less troops than would be necessary to perform counterinsurgency across the continental United States. The British used at most 20.000 troops in North Ireland during Operation Banner; 20.000 troops for an area less than two percent the size of Texas. The US armed forces can probably scramble at most 100.000 regulars if you put the USMC, the Army, and whatever ground elements the other branches can provide together. Texas is 100% the size of Texas last time I checked, and it also happens to be just one out of forty eight states on the continent itself. Every time the British tried to relax their punishing RoE (the British army officially reported a 10:1 casualty ratio of British soldiers compared to Provisional IRA militants during Banner!), they quickly found it to be amazingly counterproductive and a boon to the Provos. Of course, the British had a much easier time of it, because they didn't have to recruit their soldiers from Northern Ireland!
So with the army just not having enough people, it then also has to face the issue of political reliability. If you tell troops to fight on behalf of a regime with very questionable legitimacy, and those troops then have to fight their own families, you can expect massive desertions and mutiny, maybe even mutiny at the divisional level (this is much more likely to happen with Army National Guard divisions).
I could go on for ages here, but I won't belabour the point even more than I already have. Again, amateurs talk about strategy – what they plan to use the machine for – but professionals talk logistics – how the machine actually works, for how long it can be expected to work, and what sort of inputs it needs. The US elite simply hasn't taken the steps necessary today to ensure that the Army or the USMC would actually function in a counterinsurgency scenario. And in 2021 there is quite literally nothing that can be done to fix it before the current era of crisis resolves itself somehow.
Kyeyune is likely correct in his assessment of what armed conflict on U.S. soil would look like. Aside from the American Civil War, which was a conventional, high-intensity conflict between two countries (thereby undermining its characterization as a true “civil war”), the next American civil war is likely to be waged between the government(s) and individual or non-state belligerent factions.
The invocation of The Troubles of Northern Ireland has become increasingly popular, likely because it was an example of a civil war taking place in the Western, developed world. Though The Troubles’ status as a true civil war is also questionable, the point is that not all domestic conflict features lots of fighting. The Troubles was defined less by gun battles and more by a seemingly endless series of bombing by both Irish republicans and Ulster loyalists, with the British security forces caught in the middle. It was a most unconventional war, but it hardly lacked brutality.
Kyeyune is also correct in saying the U.S. government would face serious constraints in the manner in which it employed military force on its own soil. Using the military for domestic reasons has always proven controversial and, over the long term, such deployments would be increasingly difficult to justify, especially if any domestic conflict persists indefinitely. While many on the Left may love to see the military unleashed against their right-wing counterparts, if for nothing out of sheer hatred and spite, the lifestyle changes created by military operations on home soil, as well as the inevitability of civilian casualties, could create both war fatigue and alter perceptions of the belligerents.
Kyeyune explains, convincingly, what a civil war might look like in the U.S. But how likely is it to occur, actually? For reasons I’ll explain in future postings, I personally find it unlikely. But, as a worst-case scenario, Kyeyune’s assessment is a sign of how things could unfold should the U.S. see serious armed conflict occur within its borders.
Edward Chang is a defense, military, and foreign policy writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Edward_Chang_8.
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