History’s Top 5 Most Influential Civil Wars

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In the wise words of Guns n’ Roses frontman Axl Rose: “Nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain.” Or rather, try this quote from Mr. Rose: “What’s so civil about war, anyway?” The answer is nothing, really, when the word is taken to mean “courteous.” However, in the context of a civil war, the word refers to a domestic military conflict, not to civility. But even domestic wars tend to affect other nations in myriad ways, spilling violence across borders and shifting the balance of power among countries, disrupting regional stability, interfering with trade and, sometimes, leaving a power vacuum into which others rush. These five civil wars were anything but civil, and their consequences reached far beyond national borders.

5 When will it End?

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The Syrian Civil War is already drawing in fighters from neighboring regions: Shiite Hezbollah fighters support the Assad regime, and many Sunni groups support the rebels. And it has already led to millions of refugees and internally displaced persons. And, of course, more than 70,000 deaths. There are planned peace talks in the offing, but no real end in sight to this awful, current civil war.

4 When in Rome

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Julius Caesar’s greatest military achievements were arguably not the victories over foreign adversaries, but over his own countrymen. The Great Roman Civil War spanned from modern Italy to Greece to North Africa and as far east as Spain, and lasted from 49 to 45 B.C., pitting supporters of the Roman Senate against the consul/general. Caesar’s forces triumphed, and his ascent to the role of emperor ended centuries of Rome existing as a Republic, instead sowing the seeds of empire.

3 The King is Dead

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From 1642 to 1651, a state of civil war existed in England that almost changed the history of Britain forever! Except then it didn’t. Three brief wars pitted supporters of the crown against supporters of the parliament. The crown was held by Charles I until his execution in 1649, and then by Charles II until the fighting ceased, at which time England became, for a decade, a commonwealth ruled not by royalty but by a Protectorate headed by Oliver Cromwell, who acted more like a dictator than a democratic head of state. By 1660, Cromwell was dead and the empire was again ruled by a monarchy.

2 The American Civil War

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The greatest legacies of the American Civil War are easy to pinpoint: preservation of the union and the end of slavery. The lingering divisiveness that both led to and was left by the war is harder to understand; in many ways the regions in conflict from 1861 to 1865 still seem like separate entities. But what is clear-cut when viewed from either side of the Mason-Dixon line is that the Civil War was one of history’s deadliest conflicts. It is often called the first “modern war” due to mechanized transportation (the train), advanced communication systems (the telegraph) and new weapon systems including the rifle, advanced artillery and the like. All of this added up to more than 600,000 soldiers killed, along with untold numbers of civilians.

1 This Changes Everything

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No recent “regional” war has had the global impact of the Russian Civil War of 1917 to 1922. The conflict was kicked off by a series of events collectively called the Russian Revolution, wherein various Bolshevik groups with communist ideals rose up against the old guard imperialists, overthrowing the government of Tsar Nicholas II. The Russian Civil War led to the establishment of the U.S.S.R., which as the constant foil of the West throughout most of the 20th century, affected everything from other wars to space travel to trade to music.

Steven John is a published novelist and competitive pole vault champion. (The latter is not true.) His writing runs the gamut from speculative fiction to essays fueled by a mix of mirth and derision. He has never been to Lisbon but, statistically speaking, is probably taller than you.

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