Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Has the New American Civil War Started?

Has the new American Civil War started?  A new civil war is not a new idea. Many novels and movies have utilized this theme. In the civil war that I foresee, only a few shots have been fired thus far. Nevertheless, such a war is increasingly becoming a reality.

The Civil War, as it is popularly known in the US, was fought from 1861 to 1865 between the Union and the Confederacy. Would these states remain together as the United States or not? The end of that war decided the question in the affirmative, yet the scars of this conflict are still apparent more than 150 years later.

The phrase civil war can refer to any war to separate one political body from another. Some scholars have called the 1861-1865 war as the Second American Civil War. They refer to the American War for Independence as the First American Civil War since it led the separation of the thirteen colonies from Britain.

Whether this new American civil war will lead to eventual separation or not is still an open question. While it may seem unlikely at the moment, there are signs pointing in this direction. Don't misunderstand me, I don't want this to happen, but I am frightened by what I see happening currently in the US. I have children and grandchildren there and do not want anything unfortunate to happen to them.

The standoff in Oregon is only the latest manifestation of the militia movement, which consists largely of disaffected white people who believe that the federal government's authority is either broadly abused or outright null and void.

They insist the American people must form armed paramilitary groups in order to stand up to Washington and make their voice heard. The movement was active in the early-mid 1990s, but has grown exponentially since President Barack Obama was first elected to the White House in 2008.

Though the group in Oregon is small, the number of similar groups is increasing. This movement includes not only militias but also “common-law” courts, publishers, ministries and citizens’ groups.

There are now more than 1,200 active anti-government groups, including over 276 armed militias (a 37 percent increase over 2014), and sovereign citizen coalitions that do not recognize the US government’s jurisdiction, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), which tracks their growth.

This movement would not be as much of an issue as it is if it were not for one of the most contentious issue in the US at present: gun control. Race is probably the biggest. I heard one speaker of the militia in Oregon lament the fact that they could use still more guns and ammunition.

Obama, through his executive actions, has tried to control the spread of guns, but every time he speaks out on this issue, gun sales spike. This illustrates a regional divide in the US, one that reflects the racial divide.

Americans living within or on the margins of cities ravaged by gun violence, welcome Obama's plan. However, those from rural areas, who romanticize about 18th century-styled militias, and view gun ownership as the fundamental constitutional right, his speech -- and tears -- are not a call to disarm, but rather, a call to purchase even more arms.

Other countries do not have this problem to the same degree. The US has about six violent deaths per 100,000 residents. None of the 16 other countries that were surveyed came anywhere close to that ratio. Finland was closest to the US ranking with slightly more than two violent deaths per 100,000 residents. Within the US, there is a wide divergence in the number of death per capita. Compare gun ownership and the number of firearm deaths per state in the two charts.

The gun question has accentuated existing divisions and now threatens to lead to civil conflict. How can the two sides of the gun control debate be harmonized? Their positions are irreconcilable, as the reaction to Obama's modest initiatives that center on closing loopholes on background checks on gun purchasers demonstrates.

Americans own more than 300 million guns. Many of them view the possession of guns as their right Guns are not only necessary for sport and self-protection but are guaranteed by the Constitution in the Second Amendment according to most Americans. The US Supreme Court agrees.

In 2008, the Supreme Court in a 5 to 4 decision ruled that the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to own guns for personal self-defense, despite the amendment’s opening language: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

However, it is now understood by many that this decision is hardly the blanket protection for gun ownership that the National Rifle Association and adamant gun rights people claim. Nor is it the sweeping defeat that those who want gun control lament.

Therefore, a middle ground would seem to be possible between the NRA and advocates of public safety, yet a compromise seems unlikely in the polarized atmosphere that exists in the US on many social issues. Gun control is anathema to many gun owners and is what really makes their blood boil.

But the end of the massive violence that has gripped the US for so long is not possible unless the state begins to disarm gun owners, some of whom have already threatened to resort to violence, if necessary, to preserve their right to own guns. Armed citizens, they insist, should have the right to combat the forces of the state if need be.

When the possession of guns is viewed as a fundamental, constitutional right, the nation is in serious trouble. Aside from the error of interpreting this right in an individualistic manner, which is contrary to the communal intent of the authors of the Second Amendment to the Constitution, who saw the provision of a militia as necessary for citizens together to prevent tyranny, those who defend this right in such an extreme way as to resort to armed violence are potentially advocating treason.

While governments can become tyrannical, citizens must seek to fight such tyranny in legitimate, non-violent ways. But people must not resort to armed insurrection. Then we would have a revolution on our hands.

The depth of the divide within American society cannot be reduced to a conflict that is generated by people who stem from rural or small city communities, are predominantly white, and who feel that they have lost power and influence. That argument does not yet address many other factors such as racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, growing inequalities, and indeed a host of other things.

These other factors also contribute to the dangerous brew that threatens to destroy the US if allowed to develop further. The Republican candidates for the presidency of the US, led by Donald Trump, are stocking the fire that keeps this horrible concoction brewing.

The divide between Americans has also been described as a culture war. This would not be so serious if not for the way guns enter into the equation. Sadly, even churches and other faith communities are showing signs of the same split.

The magazine of my own denomination carried an article last year entitled, "Should Christians Carry?" This was not about abortion, as I first naively assumed, but about gun control but about Christians carrying guns.

I do not have the answer to how to stop this deepening division, except to say that I can only appeal to people of faith to speak out boldly and resolutely in defense of those who want to put an end to this madness that may yet culminate in a new civil war.

For people of faith the choice between owning a gun and trusting in God is very clear, at least in my opinion. You would think it is for all Americans since they write "In God We Trust" on their currency, but apparently that is not the case. Guns are what they need for protection.

Obama's tears in his townhall address were genuine. in spite of claims by Fox news to the contrary. The ex­ec­ut­ive ac­tion he announced is likely to widen the cul­tur­al chasm between the parties make it likely that gun control will play a major role in the 2016 race.

The split is most ap­par­ent when look­ing at the ques­tion at the core of the gun-con­trol de­bate: wheth­er it is “more im­port­ant to pro­tect the right of Amer­ic­ans to own guns or to con­trol gun own­er­ship.” More strik­ing than the slight tilt to­ward gun con­trol in the latest poll was the sharp di­ver­gence between the groups that each party now re­lies upon most.

Gun control joins gay mar­riage, ac­cess to free con­tra­cep­tion un­der the Af­ford­able Care Act, leg­al status for un­doc­u­mented im­mig­rants, leg­al­ized abor­tion, and ac­tion against cli­mate change as cultural values shared by many Demo­crat­s but rejected ­by con­ser­vat­ive groups of older, blue-col­lar, and non­urb­an whites who mainly vote Republican.

Yet such party alliances and allegiances do not define the split in American society. Nor do such labels as liberal or conservative, left or right, or even Democrat and Republican accurately describe the gap between these two groups of Americans. With one group committed to public safety through effective gun control, while the other is afraid that the government will take their guns away, there is little chance of reconciliation. No middle ground is left.

On the one hand, a Democrat in the White House and Republicans in control of Congress after the November election will only worsen the current stalemate. On the other hand, if one of these parties controls both of these arms of the government, then the situation may get out of control entirely. 

If I had my way, I would abolish the possession of guns, except possibly for sport. The possession of handguns, however, should be eliminated entirely. But this dream is just that; it is unrealistic, especially in the US where a bloody civil war is now a possibility.
Could the culture war turn into a real war? Some people actually think so, and it seems the US military has been planning for the scenario, too. The Pentagon has prepared a report on how to deal with such an insurgency if it should happen in the next decade or so.

I pray that another civil war in the US will never happen! Please pray as well!

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