The Foreign Service Journal, July/August 2018

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | JULY-AUGUST 2018 101 doomed as they are illusory, for the sim- ple reason that civil war is an essentially contested concept.” Contesting Definitions Between the restrictive definition of two historians who only allow for five true civil wars in history (the English, Ameri- can, Russian, Spanish and Lebanese) to looser definitions that call the period from 1914 to 1945 a European civil war and the Cold War a global civil war, the concept is often defined by the victors. Armitage points out that had the Amer- ican Civil War been won by the South, it would undoubtedly have been known as a “war for independence” or “revolution,” as it still is in parts of the South. (That definitional contest was finally decided by Congress in 1907.) And the definition is not merely academic. It leads to legal and political issues that play out not just in the hearts of the contestants but in the laws of war, the treatment of civilians and combatants, and the means for reconciliation. Ideas, Armitage believes, have conse- quences; he dedicates 20 pages to Henry Halleck and Francis Lieber’s efforts to cre- ate a legal framework around the Ameri- can Civil War. As Romans defined civil wars, they also grappled with what sparked them and whether there was “some fundamental flaw in the Roman Republic that gave rise to them.” Historians sought answers in morals (Augustine), material corruption (Sallust) or the simple and unavoidable contest to define citizenship (Florus/ Lulan). Says Armitage: “If the Roman writ- ers on civil war had taught anything, it was that the cycle of civil war, once begun, was likely to continue unbroken.” As Armitage enters the modern age, the topic becomes more familiar and immediate. He frames the debate by citing a Syrian who “lamented that the high ideals of the uprising against Assad— freedom, equality and the protection of Islam—had been replaced by sectarian violence. … It had gone from revolution to civil war.” Syria is also an extreme case of foreign intervention into civil conflict, which has lately become evenmore nonchalant than during the ColdWar. According to Georgetown Professors Lise Morjé Howard and Alexandra Stark, “civil wars are lasting longer and are increasingly likely to end with a one-sided victory rather than a negotiated settlement.”This contrasts with the period from 1989 to 2001, whenmost civil wars ended in negotiation. Tribal Discord Isn’t Foreign As I walked the field where General George Pickett led 12,000 men across a mile of open ground into canister and rifle fire, I heard a range of foreign voices and wondered how our civil war was interpreted by non-Americans. I once rode in the back of a pickup truck in Somalia with an African American and remember the look of incredulity fromone of our Somali partners that two individuals from such obviously distinct tribes could be on such friendly terms. They were hav- ing a devil of a time closing ranks between the Habr Gedr and the Abgal. On another occasion, my Sunni inter- preter presented the core beliefs of Shi’ite Islambefore I made a trip to Hillah, Iraq, his effort to ensure I was not seduced by such transparently false teachings. It made it easy to dismiss these conflict-ridden places as simply prone to fighting. But seeing the heroic statue depicting the Virginians ready to charge across that open field, could Germans and Koreans exploring those fields in Pennsylvania have thought anything different of Ameri- cans? Armitage touches on this, concluding that the very debate over the concept of civil war reveals “a great deal about the way we define our communities, how we identify our enemies and how we encour- age our allies.” What is perhaps missing from his book is a discussion of the institutions—the judiciary, legislature, media—that help channel conflict and keep it in the realm of non-violence, preventing its breakdown into civil war. For several years U.S. non-intervention in the Balkans conflict was reportedly driven by a belief, held in particular by President Bill Clinton, that civil conflict was simply the natural state of things for “them.”Then the astute and skilled appli- cation of force and diplomacy created a new institutional reality that allowed the warring sides to live in relative peace. Over and above his contribution to intellectual history, Armitage perhaps offers even more when this book is under- stood as a simple cautionary tale for soci- eties seeking simple answers to complex problems through a weakening of their own institutions and a reckless stirring of tribal discord over unity. n Keith Mines is a senior FSO currently serving as director of Andean affairs in the State Department. His pertinent service includes Colombia, Somalia, El Salvador, Sudan, Haiti, Iraq and Afghanistan. The very debate over the concept of civil war reveals, says Armitage, “a great deal about the way we define our communities, how we identify our enemies and how we encourage our allies.”