OPINION: Are we in a new kind of civil war?



Wars are not always fought by armed military forces with guns, bombs, stealth fighters and sophisticated weaponry. And the enemy is not always clearly defined. Even the reasons for war often lack clarity. But the divisiveness and fighting still rage, nonetheless.

At first glance, you might think characterizing the divisiveness that America is experiencing today as a different kind of “civil war” is a bit overstated. Just pause and think a moment.

First, we need to fully understand the meaning of those two words.

The meaning of the word “civil” is distinct from a military matter. Civil means those things relating to ordinary citizens who live in the same country and their associated concerns. It also includes the disorder or conflict occurring between citizens of the same country.

A closer look at the meaning of the word “war” shows that it is not only defined as a sustained armed conflict between military forces, but also as a conflict between political groups involving hostilities of considerable duration and magnitude.

Many wars are fought and won with words, ideas, philosophies – often misguided words, misguided ideas, misguided philosophies and the amorphous “us versus them” dynamic.

Given the complete meanings of both “civil” and “war,” it can be said that America is indeed experiencing a different kind of “civil war,” with battles on multiple fronts. Sadly, all of the battles are not just a war of words. Some include or have the potential of violence.

One current pernicious battle involves the persistent charge that the last presidential election wasn’t legitimate and that it was riddled with voter fraud. The vitriol and divisiveness, even violence, among citizens is more than palpable.

More disturbing is the growing concern from authorities over the increasing chatter of extremists threatening even more violence to overturn the election. We all remember the violent insurrection at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying the results of the presidential election.

Another battle in full force involves the efforts of many states to change, eliminate and obfuscate the basic bedrock of what it means to be American – each citizen exercising the right to vote. There are even calls for forensic audits of the last election, suggesting fraud when there is no evidence.

This battle is indeed reminiscent, in many ways, of America’s Civil War.

That war was fueled by one overriding issue: whether it was in the best interest of the country to continue to enslave and suppress a whole race of people. Many remnants of that war still linger.

There seems to be no end in sight to the vigorous and vociferous efforts of those states that are enacting policies and laws to change how citizens exercise the freedom to vote. The efforts are divided along ideological, political, and racial lines. How can one not be reminded of the fight over the abolition of slavery in terms of motives to suppress a basic freedom?

The legitimacy of the presidential election and ongoing efforts to deny the vote are not the only battles brewing in this country.

There is the growing battle of nationalism masquerading as patriotism. These skirmishes right now are manifesting themselves in the proliferation of anti-immigration sentiments, blatant acts of white supremacy and the random acts of domestic terrorism against targeted racial groups or those of different political persuasion.

When there is a tug between nationalism, which focuses on selfish interests, and patriotism, which puts the welfare of the country first, the situation is ripe for civil unrest.

Even the response to getting America over the pandemic can be characterized as a civil war battle of sorts. A large segment of the country is fighting against every measure, refusing to do those things that would help stop the virus. Another segment is trying to do what it can to prevent the spread.

The divisive response to COVID has been just as harmful and deadly as many other crises this nation has ever faced, including military wars.

America is divided on many fronts. The chasms in some areas are very wide and very deep. Those who care about the future well-being of this country should be concerned whether we as a nation will be able find a way to close them and not only coexist but thrive as a unified nation.

Or, will this different “civil war” of conflicting values, philosophical views and political positions – both false and factual – keep us at odds, leading the nation to the precipice of self-diminution and self-destruction?

America has always been a nation with a tapestry made up of different people with unique cultures that enrich our humanity.

But the very rights, privileges and values we hold dear are at risk because of the growing discord and civil unrest fueled by misplaced, misunderstood and misguided information from those who have put selfish interests before what is in the best interest of preserving or improving the well-being of the country.

There seems to be no end in sight to the battles around the claim of a false presidential election, unsubstantiated voter fraud, racial hatred and a deadly pandemic.

Two truths have withstood the test of time. One, a house divided against itself will not stand. Two, a great country is not destroyed by an external enemy but from within.

America is indeed in the midst of a different kind of “civil war” with battles on many fronts and is approaching a critical crossroads. The road taken will have consequences with defining and long-term effects, which will determine what America wants to be, or to become.

The looming question: Will the outcome make life in America better or worse?

(Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, from the University of Wisconsin. Reprint from Missouri Independent.)


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