When World War I ended, nobody called it World War I. It was simply The Great War.
There were 16 countries involved, 40 million casualties, and 20 million deaths. It comprised land-, air- and sea power, and lasted from 1914 to 1918. In France, 300,000 homes were destroyed, Great Britain spent 35 billion U.S. dollars on the war effort, 56,000 Russian soldiers died in gas attacks, and at the height of the war mobilized forces equaled 60 million. It was the war to end all wars—until the next one. World War I had been, it appeared, a prelude.
So it may also be with the American Civil War in which a staggering 2.5% the United States population died—about 750,000 men, women, and children, Union and Confederate. An improvement in weapons honed the accuracy of the soldiers, and brutal tactics destroyed farms, villages, and entire cities. It was the bloodiest of conflicts. and though the South ultimately surrendered, nobody won.
Yet here we are, 155 years after Lee's surrender at Appomattox Court House, about to become engaged in—as Lincoln said at Gettysburg—a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure. As president, Lincoln feared the dissolution of the Union. A successor, the 45th president, fears its solidarity, and he knows in that lizard brain where there is no call for compassion or empathy, that nothing can divide a country—brother against brother—as surely as a civil war.
And this second civil war will not be fought along geographic lines, but on cultural and moral boundaries, and though some may find it ironic that the impetus for the fighting is once again the racial divide, I find it repugnant. But again, for Donald Trump, whose record of bigotry and white supremacy goes back decades, a race war to ensure his re-election is well within his sphere. Or perhaps a political war with red states pitted against the blue. One way or the other, Trump has little interest in preserving the union, but interest only in preserving himself.
A president who truly loves his country —who believes in the values of the flag he wears on his lapel—would do everything in his power to bring the warring factions together. Instead, Trump has done the opposite: in Michigan last spring he supported the armed militia who parked themselves outside the Capitol and demanded the state be reopened, this despite no medical parameters having been met. A Covid-19 surge followed. A month or so later, in the nation's capital, he used excessive force to scatter peaceful demonstrators so that he could gain a photo-op. And so we learned the rules of engagement for the coming conflict: people with guns and MAGA hats good, peaceful protesters for racial equality bad.
But even with all that history, who would have anticipated presidential support for someone like Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old Trump supporter who brought a long gun to a protest rally and killed two people. Trump bootlicker Sean Hannity is raising money for the murderer's defense, and Tucker Carlson, who long ago lost all credibility with all but the most frightfully deranged, praised Rittenhouse for trying to maintain order. Trump himself refused to condemn the act, once again giving tacit permission for any halfwit with a gun and a Trump sticker to consider himself an honorary militiaman and shoot anyone within his scope.
The next Civil War has already begun. No Bull Run or Roanoke Island, but Portland and Kenosha. No blues and greys, but flags and placards and creepy couples sitting on their porches and waving guns at people marching by. And no president striving for the preservation of the union, but a tin-pot monarch hell-bent on creating an autocracy.
In the end this Second American Civil War will do nothing but point out the waste and futility of the first, and that may be the most tragic result of all.