On April Fool’s Day, a vet and writer named Andrew Exum published a speculative account of a future war between his native Tennessee and Georgia, spurred by a (very real!) dispute over access to the Tennessee River. Exum goes so far as to draw up defense plans and maps of the fighting, and imagines how the people of East Tennessee could draw upon something he says comes naturally to them: insurgency.
As a soldier, I fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan; as a scholar, I performed most of the fieldwork for my doctoral dissertation in southern Lebanon. Nowhere in the world, though, have I ever encountered a more brutal, tribal and violent race of people than the Scots-Irish of East Tennessee. Any Georgian occupation force would inevitably get sucked into our petty politics and family vendettas. We might share a language, but Georgia would struggle to relate to its new foreign subjects, let alone entrench its authority over us.
The wars of the 9/11 era have demonstrated the perils of fighting heavily armed religious fundamentalists on their own soil. We Tennessee Presbyterians are a little like the Taliban--only certainly better armed and probably less tolerant of the Roman Catholic Church. Still, if Georgia wants to invade and occupy East Tennessee, it is welcome to try. Getting in should be easy. Getting out, however, is another matter entirely.
It’s juicy stuff. Exum is obviously playing up certain truths for his audience, but the escalation of an interstate conflict into violence twangs a certain nerve right now. America stands at the brink of a bipartisan crisis, with both sides cauterized by seemingly irreconcilable differences over marriage equality and gun control. Salon writer Andrew O’Hehir speculated about interstate war in January, saying, “I suspect that as long as we’ve got a country, the Confederacy will still be with us.” And a few months before that, Small Wars Journal published an account by a team of experts imagining a Recession- and immigration-fueled Civil War in 2016.
Exum’s speculation is obviously tongue-in-cheek, but there’s a reason that these kinds of scenarios are discussed so commonly--jokingly or no. A second Civil War fascinates us in the same way zombie movies do, by depicting an extreme version of the current cultural or political climate.
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