“civil wars are always more brutal than other wars”

In a Facebook discussion:

it would have been interesting to see how the Balkan war late in the 20th C arose and why there was such genocide.

I can’t remember the ins and outs of it – but civil wars are always more brutal than other wars.

My response—off the top of my head—was:

  1. Civil wars are not covered so much by modern war legislation nor the ancient rules of war, so there are no limits to methods or violence.
  2. The opposing sides are not easily differentiated so anyone can be a target to anyone.
  3. In civil wars dividing lines shift as power struggles occur: you don’t know who you can trust.
  4. Civil wars often have a variable number of sides which keep changing as alliances shift.
  5. Civil wars have greater confusion as communication and hierarchies are far weaker than in conventional wars.
  6. External states always take advantage of them to weaken the warring state, usually by propping up the weaker side to keep it going.
  7. Civil wars are great opportunities for proxy wars which means external material and money to keep them going long beyond a natural end.
  8. Civil wars are a great opportunity to sell untested weapons to see how they perform, debug them and advertise them.
  9. Defeat in a conventional war is easier to identify as battle lines collapse so they stop sooner.
  10. A conventional war can end with one side giving up, a civil war often requires complete crushing of the loser.
  11. You cannot retreat to your own country in a civil war.
  12. The infrastructure is usually so badly affected that the injured cannot be sent somewhere to be cared for in a civil war.
  13. There is less likely to be a safe family at home to return to in a civil war.
  14. In a civil war there is a greater tendency for revenge and cruelty (exacerbated by armed militia and little legal constraint).
  15. In a civil war each side is usually more equally matched using the same techniques, language, cypher systems, weapons and training meaning they have to slog it out to round 12 to win on points rather than get a quick knockout in round 2 or 3.
  16. Civil wars make use of mercenaries and attract and welcome psychopaths, extremists, revolutionaries and criminals.
  17. Civil wars make use of untrained armed civilians who both die more messily and kill more messily than trained soldiers.
  18. Civil wars are invariably total wars meaning everyone and everything is a valid target.

That’ll do for now. Oh, please, lets have a 2000 word essay on civil wars!

Although, with hindsight, that is the makings of a book.  Or a thesis.  I left out child soldiers, PTSD in armed civilians, how much harder it is to catch the war criminals afterwards, how much harder it is to reconcile, the damage to the society, recovery of the post-war bankrupt economy, the long-term consequences of having had an armed civilian population and the opportunity cost.