You Can Stop Worrying About a Civil War

Military Takeover2

And Start Thinking about a Military Takeover

Two years ago I posted here a two-part article about the possibility of a second civil war in the US that I called The Next American Civil War. The opinions reflected in that article were not mainly mine. They were expressed by qualified experts whose overall conclusions were that the probability of civil war in the US over the next 10-15 years ranged from 5% to 95%, with an average of 35%. But after seeing recent events in Portland, I’m inclined to think that America’s most imminent threat is not a civil war. Considering the likely distribution of forces in the country it’s more apt to be a quick-and-dirty military takeover.

Most Americans are not radical Trump supporters. Polls reveal that half of them reject President Trump’s ultra-nationalistic, white-supremacist, right-libertarian views and lowbrow stage presence. They don’t want to live in a dog-eat-dog society, nor get too “involved” in politics, much less street altercations. They just want to muddle through, from election to election. They live hoping that the government will somehow sort itself out and life in their country will return to normal, much as President Trump hopes that the coronavirus pandemic will one day just “disappear.”

Can’t we reliably suppose that the country is in the clear when it comes to domestic military melodrama, thanks to the majority of “moderate” voters? No, we cannot, as a majority of moderates is seldom decisive for the very fact of being moderate and having to weigh in against a minority of hard-core militants. That is not to say that civilians can be expected to play a major role in deciding the fate of America if it were to come down to a cataclysmic, anti-democratic situation.

A “Military” Takeover Would Be Quicker, Neater

Should the US armed forces go to the streets, they would likely be the ones to decide the issues. They form a well-trained, cohesive force, loyal first to one another, then to their officers. They’re well armed and disciplined and they follow orders. That’s the problem. You won’t find many free thinkers or rebels among them. That has been systematically trained out of them.

Under the authority of a carismatic leader they could take control of the country before the democratic machinery of government could even finish its morning coffee. This has been the truth of revolutions from time immemorial. Though they are a minority of the population, the armed forces are the ideal collective to take over a country. Many of the great revolutions and watershed battles of history, from Hannibal to Washington, Lenin and Mao Tse Tung, have been launched—and won—by committed minorities. That’s what we’re talking about here, a revolution. And revolutions are won or lost thanks to the mindset of their troops. What then is the mindset of the American military today?  Are the profesional American soldiers, sailors and flyers, from top to bottom of the ranks, up for a right-wing populist coup d’etat? That is the operative question because, in the end, it would all depend on them.

According to a 2018 Military Times poll , support for Trump began diminishing among US military personnel in 2018, but not as much as the opposition might wish. A more recent Military Times poll from December 2019 finds Trump support slipping further, with half of active-duty service members unhappy with Trump.

Troops unhappy with Trump
Graphic results of a December, 2019 “Military Times” poll.

The above pie graph would seem to indicate that troops who perceive President Trump as the adversary have the advantage in a confrontation. Is that a certainty? Far from it. The process of defending a democratic government under threat works much slower than that of a typical military coup. Takeovers are carefully planned, timed and coordinated. They hit hard and fast. The government supposedly has intelligence sources and contingency plans. Even so, their reaction is a reaction, inevitably less effective. Even this scenario might be too optimistic. They might be more like the cuckolded husband: the last one to find out. That’s what happened when the Soviet Union collapsed in 1989. Nobody in the US intelligence services was expecting it.

A Military Coup Is Extremely Unlikely, Unless…

(From Business Insider, Oct. 5, 2019) While military coups are actually quite rare, they do have some things in common, according to Nathaniel D.F. Allen, assistant professor at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies. “Most military coups occur when things are not going well – during an economic downturn, mass protests over living conditions, and government corruption.” The US has certainly passed this first hurdle. Nobody could affirm that things are going well there today. Allen adds, “One of the most important factors is popular unrest.” The US can tick that box, as well.

A military coup is extremely unlikely to occur in the US for a number of reasons, says Allen, citing the high standard of living and balance of power between political and military forces,” adding, “But ensuring broad popular support and committing to good governance is a part of fending off a military overthrow.”

The problem with Allen’s reassuring remarks is that a lot has changed in America over the past year. The coronavirus pandemic has made short work of “the high standard of living and balance of power between political and military forces.” As for “broad popular support” and “good governance,” are concerned, that’s two more strikes against a democratic solution to the American emergency. Today everything looks increasingly off balance and up for grabs. It is beginning to look like fertile soil for a military takeover. In this most-likely theoretical case the US military would not have to “overthrow” President Donald Trump. He would be the instigator, on board from day one cheering the takeover. And the “enemy” would be the Constitution of the United States.

Plenty of Room for Pessimism

Just a month before Allen’s article was published,  The Atlantic ran in November, 2019, Mark Bowden’s story called “Top Military Officers Unload on Trump.” The subtitle sounds familiar: “The commander in chief is impulsive, disdains expertise, and gets his intelligence briefings from Fox News. What does this mean for those on the front lines?”

Bowden’s account of his talks with “officers up and down the ranks,” is riveting. Four of them were three and four-star generals, now retired. Three of them had worked directly with President Trump. Bowden opens his article with this chilling caveat:

Cognizant of the special authority they hold, high-level officers epitomize respect for the chain of command, and are extremely reticent about criticizing their civilian overseers. That those I spoke with made an exception in Trump’s case is telling, and much of what they told me is deeply disturbing. In 20 years of writing about the military, I have never heard officers in high positions express such alarm about a president. Trump’s pronouncements and orders have already risked catastrophic and unnecessary wars in the Middle East and Asia, and have created severe problems for field commanders engaged in combat operations.

This long Atlantic article is a litany of typically Trumpish presidential flubs and bloopers, along with numerous false starts and double-backs, but no apologies from the Commander in Chief. Bowden ends his article with a quote from one of the generals he interviewed: “The hard part is that he may be president for another five years.”


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Author: Michael Booth

Michael Booth, the creator of, is a US-born publicist, author and online publisher who has lived in a Spanish village in the foothills of Sierra Nevada for the past five decades. Though better known abroad for his fine-art printmaking sites and online magazine, Booth's day job for the past decade and a half, until recently, was his communications agency, dedicated principally to designing and implementing Internet strategies for Spanish companies and institutions. It took him a long time to get out of publicity and into writing but it was worth the wait.

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