Thursday, July 6, 2017

How to write the next civil war

Our household subscribes to the Wall Street Journal.  That's because my wife is a lifelong journalist and works in Communications, and if those aren't reasons enough, I enjoy reading newsprint at the breakfast table.  The NY Times and Washington Post live on my phone.  But the Journal not only has a distinct point of view, there's also the rich selection of articles on subjects that I didn't know I wanted to know about, until I turn the next page.

The above article is an interview with Allen Guelzo, director of the Civil War Era Studies Program at Gettysburg College.  Our nation today is divided.  That much is a given.  But the 1850s and 60s were worse, and according to at least one historian, we aren't on the brink of civil war.  Read it if you can get past the barricades.  And keep in mind that I found the historian's professorial calm to be reassuring.

But you aren't a genuine SF writer unless you can see the wrong inside a learned, well-reasoned argument.

There is a regional quality to today's pain, but no, it's not nearly as distinct as it was in 1860.  Trump and the Right have their neighborhoods and districts, and in some cases, full control of certain states.  For instance, Nebraska is decidedly Republican, save for parts of Omaha and Lincoln.  But it's difficult to imagine organized armies forming at any mutually agreed-upon border, wearing uniforms punched out--I assume--by Vietnamese garment makers.  No, the civil war that I'd write about is much more chaotic and silly, arbitrary and hard to control.

The succession of most of our slave states triggered the first civil war, and just as important, Lincoln's determination to stop this bullshit.

What would be a comparable ignition event for the 21st century?  If I was writing the novel, my guiding guess would involve the Federal Government being "captured" by the other side.  Left or Right, that choke hold would inflame passions and cause those on the outside to organize and arm themselves.  (If they don't have munition caches already.)

Actually, this sounds rather like the last ten years, doesn't it?

In that atmosphere, the next war might start with small sparks.

In the 1850s, congressmen battled with congressmen on the chamber floors.  That was something read about in newspapers, I assume.  But not seen by the nation.  What if we saw live feeds where Ted Cruz and Chuck Schumer traded body blows?  Think of the noise on Facebook.  Imagine a million family gatherings where the same caustic feelings were happy to bloom.

That story might be served best as bleak and small-scale black comedy.

Or the spark and subsequent firestorm might be enormous.  The Left is eager for the 2018 mid-terms.  But what if their opponents cooked the books, retaining control over every branch of government?  Even better, what if our ties with Putin became official and obvious?  There's a notion worth a full scenario.  The United States leaves NATO and signs a mutual-protection pact with Russia.  Ludicrous to imagine, sure.  But jump back twenty years and look at today.  What about our world doesn't look deeply peculiar?

So that's how the nation finally splits.  Cities against the farms.  The coasts against the interior.  Not armies marching, no.  But terrorists and malware and shutting down power plants and water, and chaos, and nobody holding any genuine authority.

Novels never write themselves.  A fact that has slowed down my production by a factor of a thousand.

But history does write itself, every moment, and let's hope our futures don't flow the easy route into anarchy.

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