What is a Civil War?

Headstones from the American Civil War at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
Headstones from the American Civil War at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

A civil war is fought within one country between civilians of that country. Civil wars have been fought throughout human history and across the world except in Antarctica. Many of the world’s nations have at some point engaged in a civil war.

Why Are Civil Wars Fought?

Civil wars are fought for a variety of reasons, but most are for political issues when the masses disagree with the government. Throughout history, civil wars have been used to change or overthrow governments. In the mid-twentieth century, civil wars became the preferred method of overthrowing governments in Latin America. Some wars have been fought to gain independence as in the case of the United States, the Republic of Ireland and Sri Lanka.

How Long Do Civil Wars Last?

Civil wars in the early 20th century were short and lasted for a couple of months. After the Second World War, the length of civil wars rose to an average of four years. During and after the Cold War, civil wars could be fought for decades such as in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Lebanon.

How Are Civil Wars Fought?

The nature of civil wars depends on several factors such as the course and intended results, the funding, and the experience of the participants. The disparity between the opposing forces leads to the adoption of guerrilla warfare tactics to reduce casualties and maximize the impact of attacks. Guerrilla warfare was employed during the civil wars in the Middle and the Far East, Africa, and during the American Civil War.

Is A Civil War A Revolution?

Civil wars and revolutions have similar motivations, tactics, and belligerents, and in most cases, they might be used interchangeably to describe a single event. The major difference between a civil war and a revolution is the length of the conflict; while most revolutions are short, some such as the Cuban Revolution might last over long periods. The American Revolution is not described as a civil war by historians, but the participants described it as such until the term “revolution” was first used to describe the event in 1776.

Do Civil Wars End?

Civil wars may or may not achieve the intended outcomes. Some will result in the surrender of one side of the faction leading to the suppression of the militia or the overhaul and overthrow of the government. Some wars are ended by treaties when the participants agree to some conditions to stop the conflict. The Lebanese Civil War came to an end after the signing of the Taif Agreement that allowed the government to remain in power while altering the Parliament to represent religious groups in the country.


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