Sixteen Million One: Understanding Civil War

International conflicts such as world wars take up a lot of time and space in the history books, but most of today's warlike activity occurs within national borders.  From Colombia to Darfur to Sri Lanka the peace has been disrupted by rebel insurgencies, genocide and civil war.  It is estimated (who can tell for sure?) that in the past fifty years sixteen million people have died in these struggles.  A civil war may turn out to be more intractable than wider nternational conflicts since the combatants can't withdraw back to where they came from.

Patrick M. Regan's book "Sixteen Million One: Understanding Civil War" finds the roots of today's struggles in poverty, distribution of resources, economic disruption and "identity politics".  It is not simply that two contending groups are so different -- Hutus and Tutsis in Rwanda or Protestants and Catholics in Ulster actually have a lot in common -- but, writes Dr. Regan, identity "is an important factor in civil wars only after it has become politicized, by being made a criterion for exclusion."  The conditions that will move a young man to take up arms are complicated with much individual variation, but in many cases they include the recognition that he will be battling forces with greater power and resources but responds to the persuasions of a charismatic leader.  He also may have nothing else useful to do in life.

Patrick Regan is a professor of political science at Binghamton University.  He is also an associate editor of the Journal of Peace Research and is on the editorial board of Conflict Management and Peace Science.  He spent a year as a Fulbright Scholar at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway.  Among his earlier books are "Organizing Societies for War" (1994) and "Civil Wars and Foreign Powers" (2000).  Professor Regan also served in the U.S.Peace Corps and worked in Mother Teresa's hospice for the destitute in Calcutta where, he states, "the most striking thing about the 'patients' was how they tried to maintain their dignity in spite of extremely trying circumstances."

His knowledge of destabilized regions has been gained first hand, often at personal risk in many of the world's danger zones.  In "16,000,001" Dr. Regan tells of encounters with the "Troubles" in Northern Ireland, rebellion in Central America, Bangladesh and the Palestinian Territories.

You don't have to think too far into the past to see the historical blunders that the world community has made in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  And it will end with Israel relinquishing most or all of the pre-1967 territories to a Palestinian state.  Israel will tear down settlements, move out settlers, and make some sort of arrangements over Jerusalem.  It will have taken nearly thirty years of constant hostilities punctuated by extended periods of armed struggle, but it will get there.
-- from "Sixteen Million One"

To rescue the world from the scourge of civil war Dr. Regan believes that these conflicts need to be internationalized, with outside forces involved to bring hostilities to an end rather than -- as has sometimes been the case with intervention by the U.S. and others -- simply take sides, supplying armaments and other support.  He also believes that beleaguered governments need to be tolerant of dissent and dedicated to eliminating poverty and discrimination, though he writes that "I am many things but naive is not one of them."  In a post-script to "16,000,001" Regan takes on the challenge of indicating what individuals and small aid groups can do in the face of situations like that in Darfur.  He writes skeptically about large aid projects and speaks well of closely-focused projects of KickStart International and the microloans of Grameen Bank in Bangla Desh.

Patrick Regan joins Bill Jaker on OFF THE PAGE to speak about his experiences and impressions.  To join in the conversation post a comment here to OffThePage@WSKG.ORG.

Guests: 
Patrick Regan