The phrase civil war means any armed conflict involving more-or-less organized formations of armed participants within a single country. (ODE has "a war between citizens of the same country".) There have been many civil wars in the history of most countries, and they still continue in the twenty-first century. They are often marked by atrocities, and are usually an outburst after a period - sometimes a long time - of poor relations between groups - political, religious or ethnic. Some, usually those that have been most influential in the formation of a country's current character, are dignified by capital letters and the definite article: it may be helpful for some readers of AWE to give an indication of some of the most frequently referred to of these, as they are frequently mentioned in some subjects.
- In Classical Studies (Ancient History), the prime Civil War was that in Rome between Julius Caesar and Pompey the Graet (Pompeius Magnus) between 49 and 45 BCE, the subject of Caesar's book De Bello Civile ('On the Civil War).
- In Britain, the [English, Scottish and British] Civil War refers to the struggle between Parliament and the King in the mid-seventeenth century. The long-running argument had begun in the previous century, and was not over till the next; but its armed phase was essentially between 1642 (the battle of Edgehill) and 1651 (the battle of Worcester). The armed conflict is sub-divided by historians into several different conflicts (1642–45,1648,1651), but in ordinary conversation, 'The [British] Civil War' is taken as 1642-1651. Its events include the execution of Charles I, the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell and the Restoration (of Charles II).
- In the USA, the [American] Civil War refers to the 'War between the States', or 'the War of Secession' of 1861-65, when the Union (essentially the northern states, under President Lincoln) fought to prevent the Confederacy (southern states) seceding from the nation and setting up as an independent country. Although 'states' rights' (to secede from the Union) was the actual cause of the war, the underlying cause was the struggle to abolish slavery, which was very largely confined to the southern states, who believed their economy and way of life depended on it.
- In the first half of the twentieth century, three particular civil wars caught the popular attention in Britain:
- The Russian Civil War, a consequence of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Forces loyal to the murdered Tsar (White Russians) fought the Bolshevik communists (Reds) between 1918 and 1921. In Russia, it is sometimes called the War of Allied Intervention, as the Revolution had led to Russia, which had fought under the Tsar on the same side as Britain and France, making peace with Germany: after the Armistice in 1918, the victorious allies had men to spare in their armies, and wanted to avenge the Romanovs (the royal family), closely related to George V. They were not successful. The conflict was marked by atrocities on both sides.
- The Irish Civil War ran between 1922 and 1923. It was fought by Eamon de Valera (later president) and other members of the IRA, who could not accept the [treaty setting up the] Irish Free State (the 'twenty-six counties'; now The Republic of Ireland, or Eire) which remained after the creation of Northern Ireland (the 'six counties' of Ulster) as a constituent part of the United Kingdom in 1921.
- The Spanish Civil War, from 1936 to 1939, involved volunteers from many countries, on both sides. It was begun when General Franco (1892-1975) led a rebellion by the Spanish Army, linked to a fascist party, the Falange, against the election in February 1936 of a Popular Front coalition, anti-clerical and anti-monarchist, which included communists. In a rehearsal for the Second World War, anti-fascists from all over the world (including Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Laurie Lee) flocked to join the International Brigade, supporting the Republican (Governmental) forces. Germany meanwhile supported the fascist Nationalists by sending units of the Luftwaffe (the 'Condor Legion') to gain combat experience, and fight the Spanish Air Force which had remained loyal. Thanks largely to this technological advantage, the rebels won, and Spain remained a fascist state until 1978. Picasso's masterpiece Guernica depicts the aftermath of a bombing raid, an early demonstration of 'terror bombing' from the air.
- Several civil wars happened in Europe as results of the Second World War: there were civil wars in Greece (1946-9); Italy (after the Fall of Mussolini in 1943); Yugoslavia, and later several in states of the former Yugoslavia (Bosnia, Kosovo, Alabania, etc), for example. Recently, there have been many civil wars in Africa, such as Angola, Biafra, Burundi, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Liberia, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia and Uganda; in Asia (e.g. Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Lebanon, Palestine, Sri Lanka and Yemen); and in South America, such as Colombia and Guatemala