What is Civil War?

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Civil war it is an armed conflict waged by groups that are part of the same country. This internal conflict can be motivated by several factors, such as political disputes, differences ethnic, religious and cultural, seeking control of economic resources and territories, overthrowing a government, etc.

O The term “civil war” originates from the Latin language, more precisely in the expression bellum civile, which was used to refer to internal wars fought within the Roman republic.

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Topics of this article

  • 1 - Summary about civil war
  • 2 - Concept of civil war
  • 3 - What are the causes of a civil war?
  • 4 - Civil wars throughout history
  • 5 - Has there ever been a civil war in Brazil?

civil war summary

  • Civil war is an armed conflict that is fought by groups belonging to the same country. It is therefore an internal war.

  • It may contain direct or indirect foreign intervention, but the struggle takes place between internal groups.

  • The term originates in the Latin language, arising from the expression

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    bellum civile, which mentioned the internal wars of the Roman Republic.

  • The causes of a civil war are quite varied, and may be economic, political, ideological, cultural, ethnic and religious issues.

  • Throughout history, countless conflicts of this type took place, such as the American Civil War, the Syrian Civil War and the Contestado War.

civil war concept

The concept of “civil war” is used in reference to conflicts that take place within a national territory, having varied motivations, as we will see. In other words, a civil war is an armed conflict that is practiced by people who share the same nationality, that is, it happens between citizens of the same country.

A civil war can happen through foreign intervention (providing weapons, money or diplomatic and ideological support, for example), but the fight is waged by actors from the same country. For a conflict to be understood as a civil war, there must be regular and consistent use of armed forces by both sides of that conflict.

A word civil war has its origins in the Latin language, more specifically in the expressionbellum civile. This expression was used to mention the civil wars that had taken place within the Roman Republic, especially from the 1st century BC. W. The idea was to refer to a conflict between the Roman citizens themselves.

Civil wars are marked by high mortality, and many political scientists establish that a 1000 deaths per year is enough to determine that an internal conflict is a war civil. However, this quantification of deaths per year is controversial and questioned by many other political scientists.

A violence of civil wars he took even to episodes of genocide, as happened in the Rwandan Civil War, fought in 1994, for example. The perpetuation of civil wars, in addition to violence, has led nations to economic and social collapse, as in the cases of Somalia and Afghanistan, for example, countries in civil war for decades.

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What are the causes of a civil war?

civil wars are multifactorial conflicts, that is, the causes that can initiate this type of conflict can vary greatly from country to country, although scientists politicians point out that there is a certain pattern that allows identifying nations that are heading towards the outbreak of a conflict of this type.

In general, the more historically traditional causes for starting a war civil are:

  • political motivations;

  • ideological disputes

However, the civil wars of the last decades têm brought new elements, as:

  • territorial disputes;

  • control by natural resources;

  • religious and/or cultural issues;

  • ethnic conflicts, among others.

The objectives of a civil war can also be varied within each context. In general, civil wars can have as objectives the desire to guarantee political autonomy, the desire to take possession of resources and strategic territories, the desire to seize power in a given country and establish a new political and ideological path, among others.

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Civil wars throughout history

O twentieth century he was marked by civil wars, and political scientists point out that this type of conflict has increased considerably since the second half of this century. In any case, civil wars also happened at other times in history prior to the 20th century. Here are some examples of civil wars:

  1. American Civil War (1861-1865): conflict that divided the United States, plunging the northern and southern states into a violent war. This war began when some Southern states declared their secession because of disagreement with the Northern states over the expansion of slavery to the new states in the west of the country. The breakaway states were defeated and this conflict caused 600,000 deaths. To learn more about this conflict, click here.

  2. Spanish Civil War (1936-1939): conflict waged by republicans and nationalists for political control of Spain. The nationalists, supported by Nazi-fascism, carried out a military coup that removed the republicans from Spanish power. The struggle for power ended in 1939 with the victory of the nationalists and the rise of the Francoist dictatorship (totalitarian regime established by Francisco Franco). It is estimated that 500,000 people died. To learn more about this conflict, click here.

  3. Rwandan Civil War (1990-1994): conflict motivated by the dictatorship of Juvénal Habyarimana. This dictator strengthened the existing ethnic division in Rwanda, giving privileges to the Hutu population. The war began with the invasion of the country by Tutsi militias. In 1994, the Hutus promoted a genocide that caused the death of about 800 thousand people. In all, the war claimed the lives of about a million people. To learn more about this conflict, click here.

  4. Syrian Civil War (2011-): ongoing conflict since 2011 that began with the desire of a part of Syrian society to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad. The Syrian government's reaction led the country to war. Subsequently, the conflict took on religious fundamentalist features, in addition to the intervention of different foreign powers. It is estimated that around 600,000 people died. To learn more about this conflict, click here.

Has there ever been a civil war in Brazil?

Contrary to what many people think, Brazil has had civil wars throughout its history, although many of them have been short-lived conflicts with a low number of deaths. Between the civil wars that took place in Brazil, we can mention:

  • Farrapos War (1835-1845);

  • Federalist Revolution (1893-1895);

  • War of Canudos (1896-1897);

  • Contestado War (1912-1916);

  • Constitutionalist Revolution (1932).

Image credits:

[1] Everett Collection It is Shutterstock

By Daniel Neves Silva
History teacher 

Would you like to reference this text in a school or academic work? Look:

SILVA, Daniel Neves. "What is civil war?"; Brazil School. Available in: https://brasilescola.uol.com.br/o-que-e/historia/o-que-e-guerra-civil.htm. Accessed on April 17, 2023.

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