Sunday, January 16, 2022

How Civil Wars Start by Barbara F Walter

While Walter was shocked by the events of January 6, it was, she says, deeply familiar. She has studied civil wars and their origins, hundreds of which have happened in the last seventy-five years. Many started in ways similar to what she was seeing in the U.S. The same elements, the same warning signs she had identified in other countries are now present in the U.S.

Walter helps readers understand how civil wars start by reviewing many that have recently happened. She looks at the patterns and the changes. One change is the transition to wars fought by ethnic and religious groups rather than political entities. Rather than government soldiers, the warriors are now vigilantes and armed militias attacking government leaders. She shows how social media has been used as a catalyst and cohesive force.

We in the U.S. may have thought we were immune. Not so, says Walter. “I have seen how civil wars start, and I know the signs that people miss. And I can see those signs emerging here at a surprisingly fast rate.” (111/4020) The U.S. has entered a dangerous place. She details how, in the last five years, the situation has become precarious. The democracy score for the U.S. has dropped to its lowest point since 1801. (1837/4020) We cannot ignore what happened nor the speed at which it happened, Walter says. “...[W]e are closer to civil war than any of us would like to believe.” (2103/4020)

There are actions that can be taken to protect our democracy, such as restoring the quality of governance. I hope our leaders will rise in their responsibility to our country. I have read a number of books about recent political events in the U.S. and this one is definitely the most chilling.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Barbara F Walter is a professor of political science and Rohr Chair in Pacific International Relations and an adjunct professor in the UC San Diego Department of Political Science. Her current research is on the behavior of rebel groups in civil wars. She received her Ph.D. In political science from the University of Chicago and completed postdoctoral research at the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies at Harvard University and at the Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University. She is on the editorial board of several political journals and publications. She is a permanent member of the Council on Foreign Relations. She is co-founder of the blog Political Violence At a Glance. You can find out more at

Crown, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

(My star ratings: 5-I love it, 4-I like it, 3-It's OK, 2-I don't like it, 1-I hate it.)

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