"All wars are Civil Wars, because all men are brothers."A Civil War is an intense conflict between organized groups trying to take control of a state and/or region, or to change government policies. Most Civil Wars are fought by a status-quo ruling body of the state and one or more groups that wish to change said state, though said non-state groups often fight each other as well, and it can also be between two states that both claim to be the sole rightful (nation-)state for a single nation. To be considered a "war" rather than an uprising or rebellion requires that the conflict involve regular armed force, involve organized factions, and be on a certain scale and of a certain intensity. All the sides involved have to have a genuine chance (however small) of achieving their aims in the conflict for it to be a Civil War and not just a rebellion/uprising. Where rebellions end and Civil Wars begin often isn't clear, and whether a conflict is called one or the other often depends on what the factions - especially the victorious one - decide to call it. Those fighting Civil Wars usually don't call them that, as they try to make use of the power of language to suggest that they are in the right: the ruling power will term it a police action against unpopular extremist rebels. Their enemies will consider themselves People's Heroes and Freedom Fighters spearheading a populist Revolution. However, it is just as likely for a small group of rebels to claim Civil War status (as such terminology would give their struggle an air of seriousness it would not otherwise have), or likewise, for the government to use the term (to justify force that would seem excessive against a mere criminal action). How the outside world views the situation is largely Written by the Winners. This is largely why wars for independence are so murky when it concerns the concept: generally, if a country fails to gain independence, expect it to be called a civil war, and if it does, expect it to be called a regular war or a Revolution (thereby implying that the two post-war countries were never one). No matter who prevails, it is often a Pyrrhic Victory, as, depending on the world situation, internal conflict provides an opportunity for exploitation or conquest by outside forces: Divide and Conquer if the villain takes advantage, and Enemy Civil War for the heroes. Civil Wars both real and fictional have provided excellent opportunities for stories, as depicted morality can be all over the board. The fact that both sides believe themselves to be justified allows for an authorial portrayal of both sides having good people fighting for what they believe in along with a couple of real bastards on both sides. Often, while one side may indeed be presented as morally superior, there will be a Worthy Opponent among the enemy ranks and the Perspective Flip is common. Along with that, there can be Star-Crossed Lovers pining for each other across the battlefield and families split by the tension of what they believe is right. Many an Alternate History is based around one side of a Civil War prevailing over another. This is not to be confused with Marvel Comics' Civil War, or Civil War the Power Metal band. Examples of factual Civil Wars commonly used in media:
— Francois Fenelon
- The Wars of the Roses (1455-1485), famously depicted in Shakespeare's plays.
- The English Civil War(s) (1642-1651) looms large in British wargaming and historical re-enactment, but also some dramas
- The American Revolution (1775-1783) is under-represented, but still features in US works
- The French Revolution (1789-1799) involved a series of wars within France, in the Vendee, in Brittany, Lyon and Bordeaux fought between Royalists and Republicans.
- The American Civil War (1861-1865) features in US works
- The Meiji Restoration, which served as the culmination of a period of conflict in Japan known as the Bakumatsu (1853-1867)
- The Russian Civil War (1917-1922) features prominently in Soviet works and expat accounts, most famously in Sholokhov's epic novel Quiet Flows the Don
- The Chinese Civil War c.1916-1950 is a setting for a smattering of mainland-Chinese dramas and several foreign sinophiles' diaries
- The French Civil Wars in 1940-44 and 1954-62 are conspicuously absent (bar The Battle of Algiers) - official policy under Charles De Gaulle was that the former never happened, and the same has largely gone for the latter as well
- The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) is the inspiration for Picasso's Guernica and features in the writings of George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway
- The Korean War (1950-1953) is perhaps best-remembered as the setting of M.A.S.H. and some forgettable action-flicks
- The Vietnam War (1955-1975) is very well represented in US media, albeit featuring largely (if not exclusively) on the US's involvement.
- The Troubles (1969-1998) are at least in the background of many works set in the British Isles in the '60s-'90s, although as with the Irish Civil War of 1922-23 direct focus on the events is very rare.
- The Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) is hard to avoid in local media
- The collapse of the Han Empire brought about a civil war that culminated in the rise of three separate empires. Most famous for being the origin of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, though the Romance throws in a lot of folklore and anachronisms.
- And a host of others.
Examples of famous fictional Civil Wars:
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Anime & Manga
- The Gryps War of Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam was fought between the Anti Earth United Government (AEUG) and the Titans. Both factions claimed to be operating under the Earth Federation, though when the Titans demonstrated a remarkable lack of care for whether or not Earth Federation political leaders were caught in the crossfire, the Titans were declared traitors.
- In Fullmetal Alchemist there was the Ishvalan Civil War which happened in the backstory, and devolved into a Guilt-Free Extermination War due to the Amestrians ordering their genocide.
- Later on in the manga, Colonol Mustang starts his own revolution to take power and stop the plans of the main villain, assisted by General Armstrong and her forces.
- Astérix provides the page picture (although the names aren't those of the Goth chiefs but doctored to be the names of then-current French politicians). Astérix, Obélix and Getafix engineer an Enemy Civil War berween the Goths to prevent them from invading Gaul before centuries.
- The Marvel Civil War, with heroes supporting a Super Registration Act fighting those who refused to reveal their identities. Intended to be an Outside Man, Inside Man situation, with the pro-reg group trying to head off an even worse situation by co-operating. This also went meta, the resulting Fandom War, pitting the authors of said story arc versus most of the rest of the fandom and their fellow writers.
- Its sequel, Civil War II, involves the Marvel superheroes once again split, this time Captain Marvel wants to use someone's precognitive powers to prevent crimes and disasters from happening. Iron Man, however, refuses to punish criminals before they commit crimes. All of this is set off by the death of War Machine and She-Hulk slipping into a coma at the hands of Thanos.
- In The Smurfs comic book version of "King Smurf", the title character fosters rebellion among the Smurfs with his authoritarian rule as the village's monarch, leading to more and more Smurfs choosing to side with the rebels instead of with King Smurf, even during the Final Battle when the village was breached by the rebels. By the time the dust settled, King Smurf only had about a dozen Smurfs still loyal to him surrounding him in a circle and would have been consumed by the rebels had not Papa Smurf showed up to shout "STOP!" and bring all the Smurfs back to their senses.
- Another civil war erupted in "Smurf Vs. Smurf" where the North Smurfs and the South Smurfs fought over the correct use of the word "smurf" in compounded words and phrases (or however the language division was portrayed in non-English versions), which led to Papa Smurf seeking the reluctant help of Gargamel to straighten the whole mess out.
- In Equestria: A History Revealed, the Equestrian Civil War, when Luna first became Nightmare Moon and attempted to usurp Celestia.
- Depending on your interpretation of the backstory of Shell Shock, the conflict may or may not be a civil war.
- Heavily implied to be the case in Welcome To The Brothel.
- In A Kingdom Divided some of Equestria's towns rebel against Princess Celestia.
- In Brother Against Sister, it's Prince Blueblood who leads the seceded part of Equestria. Apparently, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic writers love this trope.
- Occurs twice in Venezuela before the Alien Invasion in Worldwar: War of Equals. First between various political factions after Hugo Chavez's death and the second between Loyalist forces and supporters of the new military leadership after Nicolas Maduro is removed from power by a military coup.
- Narrowly averted in the My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic fanfic The Divide. After it's discovered that Sombra was Celestia's son, Cloudsdale secedes from Equestria in disgust, with rumblings as far as the Crystal Empire of others planning the same. However, despite Chrysalis' attempt to inflame the situation, cooler heads prevail, and ultimately the situation is resolved peacefully, with Cloudsdale rejoining.
- Much like in the books, Son Of The Seven Kingdoms has a civil war, but the number of sides is smaller: the main contendants are Joffrey (who holds the Iron Throne and has the support of the Westerlands) and William (with the support of the North, the Riverlands, Dragonstone and part of the Stormlands), while Renly and the Tyrells seek to ally with William (who is betrothed to Arya Stark) by marrying him to Margaery, Dorne and the Vale are proclaiming neutrality and the Iron Islands might end up becoming independent.
- After Renly's death, the rest of the Stormlands flock to William, as do several Westerland lords dissatisfied with Lannister rule; the Tyrells are talked into allying with the Lannisters by Littlefinger, who also promises Tywin that he can win over the Vale; Tyrion begins trying to win over Dorne for William; and the Iron Islands still go independent.
- In Robb Returns, the Iron Islands are on the edge, due to the growing differences between those who intend to heed the Call (such as Rodrik Harlaw) and those that deny it happened (like Balon Greyjoy and Damphair).
- Another begins to brew up in the Riverlands, between those who follow the Old Gods and the resurgent Faith Militant.
- The W.I.T.C.H. fanfic Ripples has one break out on Meridian following the Darkest Winter Night, between those loyal to Phobos and the so-called Council of Restoration, composed of all the noble houses which view him as an usurper and wish to depose him. However, the latter eventually collapses due to a combination of political infighting and being worn down by Phobos' military, leading to the canon Rebellion beginning.
- Timeline-191: After the End features a Japanese Civil War break out near the end of the Fourth Pacific War, as a result of insane military dictator General Ishii ordering a purge of all (actual and imagined) political enemies he believes are about to enact a coup against him in order to sue for peace with the Compact of Democratic States. This causes many surviving high-ranking officers throughout Japan's Co-Prosperity Sphere to declare their territories independent of Ishii's regime, leading to fighting with loyalist forces in the same regions. Other officers, meanwhile, seize control of many of the Sphere's Puppet States, allegedly to ensure Ishii's control but really to establish their own fiefdoms, a series of events made even more complicated as most of those puppet states break out in open rebellion against all Japanese control. And on top of all that, Ishii's government is eventually overthrown by a syndicalist revolution, leading to fighting all over the Home Islands between syndicalists and military loyalists.
- Rhodesia and South Africa both fall into chaotic civil wars as various militias rise up against both nation's dominant Apartheid governments. In both cases, it takes a Regime Change brought about by foreign intervention to end the fighting — in Rhodesia, the OSS (this timeline's version of the CIA) engineers a Military Coup by moderate officers disgusted by the government's radical violence against the rebels, while South Africa requires a full-scale invasion and occupation by the European Community to topple the remnants of the government and bring about peace.
- The Ottoman Empire eventually dissolves into total anarchy, as Sunni fundamentalists and ultra-nationalists begin targeting Jewish, Christian, Shi'a, and other religious/ethnic minorities throughout the empire, who retaliate by raising their own militias and fighting back. And while we don't see the conclusion of this conflict before the timeline wraps up, narrative comments state that it results in the final end of the empire as an entity.
- Summer Crowns has a few examples:
- Several Riverland houses which were loyal to the Targaryens (and the Freys) rise up against House Tully.
- A nonviolent political version happens in the Reach, between the Florents (who were made Wardens of the South by the Baratheons) and the Tyrells (who want their position back).
- Braavos borders on one between a faction which, for Realpolitik reasons, wants to ally with the slave-holders in Lys, and another which holds hardcore to the Braavosi tradition of being anti-slavery.
- The Galactic Civil War within the Galactic Empire forms the central conflict of the Star Wars franchise, preceded by the Clone Wars, fought between the Galactic Republic and a Confederation formed for seceding Republic planets. Numerous smaller-scale civil wars are noted in the Star Wars Expanded Universe, and initially the Empire cracked down on them fiercely, unlike the Republic which usually let them be or sent Jedi to figure things out. Later the Empire was content to let them rage while chasing Rebels.
- In the EU there's actually a Second Galactic Civil War, this one with the Galactic Alliance (post-New Jedi Order New Republic, which in itself is post-Endor Rebel Alliance) against the Confederacy, which is a group of worlds led by Corellia in an attempt to break away. It ends up shifting the power balance quite a bit; the Jedi Order even forms its own temporary government in order to end the conflict.
- Marvel Cinematic Universe:
- A civil war between loyal agents of SHIELD and HYDRA infiltrators begins in Captain America: The Winter Soldier, and it is continued in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..
- Of course, there's also the Avengers civil war in Captain America: Civil War. Which, unlike its comic book counterpart, is sparked by the Sokovia Accords, a bill that would place the Avengers under the authority of the UN. Actual violence doesn't break out until a third party frames Bucky Barnes for a terrorist attack.
- A civil war is an important part of the backstory in A Brother's Price. The royal family of Queensland had such a wealth of daughters that the family was split, the older half staying and marrying Michael, the younger half marrying Raphael and moving to rule recently-annexed Southland. But Michael turned out to be infertile, and the younger sisters became more and more insistent that their children be considered the heirs. This led eventually to what was called the War of the False Eldest, which ended with all of the younger sisters and their children being executed. Except, it turned out, for their boy Alannon, who was abducted by Queensland spies; he is dead by the time of the book, but the Royal Blood he passed on certainly has an impact on his grandson.
- Most of A Song of Ice and Fire is devoted to this. They start calling it The War of the Five Kings in the second or third book. In the Back Story there are more, such as the Dance of the Dragons, the Blackfyre Rebellionsnote and Robert's Rebellion.
- Discworld's Ankh-Morpork has a number of Civil Wars in its backstory, though the narrator makes clear that many were accidental, overblown in the retelling, and generally not very competent affairs. It is mentioned that while the Patrician, Lord Vetinari, has created a time of relative peace under his rule, he has done so by playing increasingly small factions against each other, to the point where, although everyone is technically still fighting a civil war, no one can do enough damage or make enough money out of it to become a threat. The Night Watch books in particular utilize the concept.
- Don Quixote travels to Barcelona, a Spanish province that is at a Civil War at The Cavalier Years
- The Dragon War trilogy from Dragons of Requiem is about a war between the Cadigus Empire and hundreds of Vir Requis who defect from his brutal rule in hopes of restoring Requiem to how it used to be.
- The Wizarding Wars of Harry Potter. Presumably Voldemort had his eye on global conquest, but the books focus on his attempts to fully consolidate power in Britain, and those fighting against him from within.
- The Hanover-Stuart Wars in Waverley.
- For Whom the Bell Tolls is set during, and about, the Spanish Civil War.
- In Christian Nation, a dozen or so American states that are in protest of President Steve Jordan enforcing the Fifty Blessings to be the law of the land, superceding the power of the Constitution, attempt to secede, forming the Secular Bloc States, leading to what was called a "holy war" which ultimately ends with the rogue nations being recaptured and the last holdouts of freedom and democracy being laid siege upon in Manhattan.
- World War Z has one break out in China during the height of the Zombie Apocalypse, between the ruling Communist government (which is insistent on wasting lives on pointless human wave tactics against the zombies) and renegade sections of the military (which realize how stupid those tactics are). This war ultimately ends when a rebel submarine takes out the whole Politburo with a nuclear strike, after which both sides reunite to focus on the zombies.
- The Silerian Trilogy: After the Valdani leave, Sileria's factions devolve into a power struggle between the Alliance and shallaheen versus the various water lords.
- The Traitor Son Cycle: When the "visiting" Gallish knights - who, for the past year, have been raping, robbing and generally mistreating the Alban populace - manage to arrest the Queen on charges of adultery and intend to have her burned at stake, the people finally have enough and a war erupts between the Gallish faction and Queen's loyalists.
- Victoria is all about the violent dissolution of the United States prompted by, among other things, a hyperinflation crisis, anemic response to an engineered pandemic, harsh anti-smoking laws, and federal support of rapists, murders and criminals over the common citizen in the name of racial tolerance and sensitivity. Aside from the failed efforts of the Feds to retain power, few of the successor states are inclined to get along, or even suffer each other to exist.
- Ira Tabankin is very fond of this plot as applied to the USA.
- The Shelter has a New Confederacy form after a breakdown in the social order from American debt and a disastrous war with China.
- America's Second Civil War features Barack Obama suspending elections and dissolving Congress, and the resulting insurgency against him.
- In The Year 2050 Americas Religious Civil War has a Muslim majority impose Sharia law on the US, and the previous president leading a nationwide resistance movement.
- CALEXIT has California secede from the Union following Donald Trump's election, and the subsequent civil war.
Live Action TV
- Two of them on Babylon 5: The Earth Alliance Civil War, and later the Minbari Civil War. Several other civil wars are indicated or implied to happen off-screen after the show's end, such as the Telepath War on Earth and Vir's rebellion against Emperor Londo Molari on Centauri Prime.
- Game of Thrones: Westeros has been subjected to quite a few of these, particularly the Dance of the Dragons which was a massive civil war between two rival branches of House Targaryen, fought 170 years before the events of the TV series, and most recently the War of the Five Kings, which was a major civil war that erupted in the wake of the death of King Robert I. In essence, the war is at first a three-way battle for the Iron Throne fought alongside two independence movements. The five kings in question are Robert's heir apparent, Joffrey Baratheon, Robert's two younger brothers, Stannis and Renly Baratheon, the "King in the North" Robb Stark, and the "King of the Iron Islands" Balon Greyjoy.
- Doctor Who has had at least two Dalek civil wars:
- The Unification War in the backstory of Firefly, by virtue of its intended analogizing to the The American Civil War.
- The fight of the Federation against the Maquis in the Star Trek franchise veers from this to portraying them as merely a terrorist group, Depending on the Writer.
- Star Trek: The Next Generation had a rather short-lived (in broadcast terms) civil war in the Klingon Empire, instigated by the House of Duras when Picard (acting as arbiter) snubbed their blatant attempt to install a Puppet King. It lasted two episodes and ended as soon as the Federation stopped the Romulans from supplying the Duras, leading to their quick defeat.
- Season 6 involves a civil war in Heaven, as the Council of Angels fragments after season five's Screw Destiny ending. On one side, Archangel Raphael and those who think the Apocalypse should be restarted. On the other, Castiel and those he's convinced to try this "free will" thing. There's plenty of spillover onto Earth, although most of it is left to our imagination. It gets so bad Castiel is willing to work with Crowley, then give up on free will altogether and declare himself the new God after absorbing the souls of Purgatory. This ends badly.
- In Season 9 the remaining angels are all thrown out of Heaven and sent to Earth. Soon multiple factions are fighting a nasty civil war amongst themselves over what the angels should do next. Angels who prefer to remain neutral are hunted down and killed by all the warring factions. There is also a civil war going on in Hell as the Demon Knight Abbaddon has returned and challenged Crowley's position as King of Hell.
- Comments from Castiel's former followers in Season 7, as well as Metatron in Season 8, suggest that the fighting never actually stopped. It's just that the spillover doesn't reach Earth again until the angels fall in mass at the end of Season 8.
- Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.:
- The show spends the last portion of its first season dealing with the infighting between loyal SHIELD agents and those who served HYDRA. By the time Season 2 starts, however, this conflict is over, allowing SHIELD to focus on HYDRA's external organization.
- The second half of Season 2, however, deals with another SHIELD civil war, this time between Coulson's rebuilt but traditionally run group, and Robert Gonzales' "real SHIELD", which is dedicated to more transparency and equality among its agents, but has a more hardline approach to dealing with superhumans. That one ended when Coulson revealed Nick Fury was still alive, not to mention his connection to the Avengers. Gonzales wisely ceased further hostilities, giving into Coulson's suggestion to merge amicably.
- Rome: Much of the series is centered around the civil wars of the late Roman Republic. In the first season Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon after he's declared an outlaw by the Senate, emerging victorious over Pompey Magnus and his allies. After his assassination the Caesarian and conservative factions declare a truce. Then a three-way civil war erupts between a rogue Mark Antony, Octavian, and Brutus and Cassius; Octavian teams up with Antony against Caesar's killers after he had just finished fighting Antony. Finally, there's a civil war between Mark Antony and Cleopatra on the one hand and Octavian on the other, who gives himself absolute power after defeating Antony to end all this infighting for good.
- Tyrant: In the second season there's an islamic insurgency in Abbudin after a gas attack on the rebels leads them to team up with more radical elements. This becomes an all-out civil war between the Al-Fayeed dictatorship, the Army of the Caliphate, and local militia the Red Hand.
- The Horus Heresy is one of the biggest setting-defining events of Warhammer 40,000, despite the fact it took place ten thousand years ago in the past. This is due to the fact that the war was so devastating that it resulted in the deaths of trillions, caused the Emperor to essentially die, and cost the Imperium thousands of years of technological innovation, transforming it into a Fascist, but Inefficient dictatorship/theocracy, besieged on all fronts by hostile forces and stuck in Medieval Stasis.
- Happens frequently in BattleTech. The Free Worlds League tend to be at civil war with each other from time to time, and the Clans don't always agree with one another and fight each other just as often during their Invasion. Then there was the FedCom civil war instigated by Katherine Steiner-Davion for control over two states.
- The primary setting of Fate of the Norns: Ragnarok: an eternal winter has set in, the end of the world approaches, and Viking society collapses: cue lots of civil wars for what's left.
- Dragon Age:
- The first game contains a brief civil war between Loghain and the Ferelden nobility, who aren't happy with him seizing power during the Blight
- Dragon Age II shows the beginning of a civil war between the mages and templars which could potentially spread across the world. The player is forced to choose a side, which is more difficult than it sounds. The conflict is more widely depicted in Dragon Age: Inquisition.
- As of Asunder (which takes place shortly after II), civil war is also on the horizon in the Orlesian Empire, the most powerful human nation in the setting. This is further detailed in The Masked Empire and resolved (for the time being) in Inquisition.
- One of the Awful Truths revealed about the elves in Dragon Age: Inquisition is that this is how the original elven homeland was really destroyed, or at least weakened enough for Tevinter to conquer it.
- The Elder Scrolls
Serana: Oh, great a war of succession. Nice to see things didn't get boring while I was sleeping.
- There have been numerous throughout the series' backstory. To note:
- While each race of Mer (Elves) split off from the ancient Aldmer under typically unfriendly circumstances, most of the groups left under peaceful self-exile. However, the very first race of Mer to split off, the Maormer (Sea Elves) of Pyandonea, were banished after starting a Civil War in the ancient Mer homeland of Aldmeris. They were forbidden to ever return to their homeland.
- The very first Atmoran migrants to Tamriel (ancestors to the modern Nords) were said to have crossed the northern seas to escape the constant Civil Wars plaguing their homeland.
- The First Cyrodiilic Empire came to an end after centuries of civil conflict. Most prominent was the conflict between the two sub-groups who make up the Imperial race - the Colovians (hardy highlanders who have more in common with the Nords) and the Nibenese (cosmopolitan heartlanders famed for their "merchant nobility"). The Colovians split with the declining empire, leading to dozens of squabbling petty kingdoms vying for control. It would be centuries until Reman Cyrodiil came along to reunite the people of Cyrodiil and found the Second Empire.
- The continent of Yokuda, to the west of Tamriel, saw a bloody civil war waged between the Ansei, or "Sword Saints", and the forces of the Yokudan Emperor, Hira, who was attempting to consolidate power by eliminating the Ansei. After urging from his son and fellow Ansei, the legendary Frandar Hunding (by this point a Badass Grandpa) reluctantly led the "greatly outnumbered" forces of the Ansei against the corrupt Yokudan Emperor Hira. Frandar and the Ansei were victorious, but were considered "red with blood" by the citizens and chose to self-exile to Tamriel following the conflict. (Yokuda itself would be "sunk beneath the sea" not long after.)
- Hammerfell, home of the Redguards, saw a civil war erupt in the late 2nd Era between the Crowns, descended from Yokudan nobility, and the Forebears, descended from the "Warrior Wave" of Ra'Gada (including the Ansei) who secured Hammerfell for the migrating Yokudan people. The civil war left both sides weak and allowed Tiber Septim to easily capture Hammerfell for his new Empire.
- The War of the Red Diamond in the 3rd Era is one of the most famous of modern times. After the death of Emperor Antiochus Septim, his 15 year old daughter Kintrya II took over as Empress. However, her aunt, the infamous "Wolf Queen" Potema, accused Kintrya of being a bastard and therefore illegitimate. Potema declared her son (nephew to Antiochus), Uriel III, as the rightful heir. Potema and Uriel were joined by the disgruntled leaders of several of the Empire's provinces in starting the war, as well as an alliance with the aforementioned Maormer, who invaded southern Tamriel, creating a two-front war for the strained Empire. Kintrya would be captured by Potema's forces and would die in captivity. However, her supporters, now led by her uncle Cephorus, would strike back and kill Uriel III, ending his claim to the throne. Cephorus would take over as Emperor, defeat most of Potema's forces, and then kill Potema herself after a protracted 10 year insurgency. It was the largest conflict the 3rd Empire of Tamriel had faced since it was founded. (And would remain as such until the Oblivion Crisis.)
- In Skyrim, a major side-arc to the story (which is almost as expansive as the main quest itself) revolves around the Civil War raging in Skyrim between the Imperial forces and the Stormcloak rebels (with the Aldmeri Dominion looming in the background). The Dragonborn can join either side and lead it to victory, or negotiate a temporary peace (to focus on the whole "world getting eaten by dragons" issue). The war itself is a sterling example of Grey and Gray Morality and Both Sides Have a Point in action, neither side is "right" and both sides have negative aspects. To note:
- The Empire is trying to hold onto Skyrim because it needs both the resources and the manpower, especially since they expect a full-scale second "Great War" with the Aldmeri Dominion (see below) in the near future. Skyrim also acts as a vital transportation hub, connecting the heart of the Empire (Cyrodiil) to all of its other remaining provinces. The Stormcloaks (rightfully) criticize the Empire for not understanding the people of Skyrim or their culture (agreeing to the ban on Talos worship in the White-Gold Concordant with the Dominion to end the first Great War was the final straw for many Nords). Many (even beyond the Stormcloaks) also believe that the Empire's vast bureaucracy and weak leadership clog their government with inefficiency. However, the Empire is generally considered fair and just rulers by the common citizens, and even many Nords feel that Skyrim has a worse chance against the Dominion in a war on their own, so they've backed the Empire. Skyrim also has a long history as one of the Empire's greatest supporters, and the 3rd Empire (of which the current Empire is a remnant of) was founded by a Nord (Talos Stormcrown, aka Tiber Septim). Many Empire-supporting Nords believe that no "true" Nord would abandon such a long-time ally. The Empire only agreed to the White-Gold Concordant in the first place because, while they did successfully recapture the Imperial City from the Dominion, they were too weakened (even with Skyrim's backing) to continue the war. They also don't bother to really enforce most of the Concordant's provisions, including the provision banning Talos worship, and blame the Stormcloaks causing a scene over it for the Thalmor starting to enforce it in earnest.
- The Stormcloaks are the Nords who've chosen to secede from the Empire, believing that Skyrim stands a better chance without the Empire bogging them down and behind a strong leader (Ulfric Stormcloak). They find the Empire's decision to agree to lop-sided peace terms with the Dominion to be disgraceful and even offensive, to both the warrior sensibilities of the Nords and to their religious beliefs. However, most Stormcloaks also display a noticeable degree of Fantastic Racism against non-Nord races (with plenty of "Skyrim is for the Nords" rhetoric), and their rebellion is perceived by Empire-supporters as ill-timed and short-sighted, especially in the face of the true threat of the Dominion.
- Behind it all lies the Aldmeri Dominion, under the leadership of the Altmeri religious extremist Thalmor. Following the Great War, they instigated the Civil War hoping to weaken the Empire by depriving it of its strongest remaining province while bleeding both sides dry for an eventual Dominion takeover. There is even evidence that they tortured and brainwashed Ulfric Stormcloak as a prisoner in the waning days of the Great War and then unleashed him to accomplish exactly this task. (However, they may have underestimated Ulfric's leadership and inspirational abilities, as he quickly proved to be more effective than intended...).
- If The Dragonborn gets involved and ends the war early for either side it completely derails the Dominion's plans in this regard. Whoever wins in this case will be a much more powerful foe as a result of the decisive (early) victory, and will have a Thu'um using, dragon-commanding damn-near Physical God as their champion. The only "wrong" choice for the Dragonborn is to do nothing in regards to the Civil War.
- Serana lampshades the whole thing in the Dawnguard DLC.
- There have been numerous throughout the series' backstory. To note:
- The Great Schism, which started in the last year of the Human-Covenant War when the Covenant's Prophet of Truth thought that the Sangheili/Elites had outlived their usefulness and thus tried to wipe them out with the help of the Jiralhanae/Brutes. It didn't work out so well for him; several Sangheili ended up allying with the humans to destroy the Covenant once and for all. That said, conflict still continues between the Elites and Brutes.
- After the Covenant falls, both the Elites and Brutes begin fighting amongst themselves as much as they've been fighting against each other; the most notable of these intraspecies civil wars is the conflict between the Arbiter's pro-human Elite-led Swords of Sanghelios and Jul 'Mdama's anti-human Elite-led Covenant revival. In particular, the civil conflicts on the Elite homeworld have become so destructive that its population has fallen to less than half of what it was during the time of the Covenant.
- Before the Covenant War, humanity itself was on the brink of civil war, as the fighting between the UNSC and the Insurrectionists spread across the Outer Colonies. The conflict was mostly put on hold once the Covenant started attacking, but after the Great Schism, the Insurrectionists have begun rising up in force again.
- The backstory notes that the Forerunners fought their own fair share of civil wars before their ecumene was solidified.
- In Mass Effect 3, the Robot War between Quarians and the Geth was actually spawned by a Civil War between Quarians who sympathized with the Geth and Quarians who wanted to destroy them all. The Geth only took up arms to defend their friends, but this eventually became "defend themselves" when the quarian sympathizers were rendered into a non-entity.
- The backstory for Star Trek Online reveals that this is pretty much the state of affairs for the Romulans post-Shinzon that got worse post-Hobus Supernova. The backstory dealt with the war between Tal'Aura's Romulan Star Empire and Donatra's Imperial Romulan State in the aftermath of Shinzon's rebellion while the main bulk of the Romulan Player Character deals with Sela's Romulan Star Empire (ran by the Tal Shiar) going up against D'Tan's Romulan Republic.
- The Alliance-Hierarchy War in Star Control is also a civil war for humanity, because there are humans on both sides: the Earthlings on the side of the Alliance, the Androsynth on the side of the Hierarchy.
- Happens repeatedly in StarCraft. The big reveal in Legacy of the Void is that the Xel'Naga more or less wiped themselves out this way. A rogue faction of Xel'Naga led by Amon grew weary of their duties (they wanted to be gods, not shepherds) and tried to break the Cycle by artificially uplifting the Protoss and the Zerg to use them as weapons. The rest of the Xel'Naga objected and fought against Amon's mad scheme. By the time the dust settled, nearly all of the Xel'Naga had perished.
- Alderaan is going through one in Star Wars: The Old Republic, kicked off by a Succession Crisis that split a people that were already divided over their leaders' decision to secede from the Republic. Like many of the conflicts in the game, it was another Proxy War fought between the Republic and the Sith Empire, with the Sith backing the disgraced House Thul and the Republic, in response, throwing their support behind the more respectable House Organa (yes, that Organa). A third faction in the conflict is House Ulgo, who forcibly stole the throne from the ruling House Panteer and is pretty much hated by almost everyone. Both the Republic and Imperial planetary quests end with the player dethroning the Ulgos—and either capturing or killing their leader Bouris Ulgo—leaving their respective Houses in a better position to win the war.
- In The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel, the Erebonian Empire enters a civil war between the Noble Alliance and the Imperial Military at the end of the first game. The whole of the second game is devoted to trying to stop it.
- After the takeover of Molossia (now Kickassia), the people of Channel Awesome fracture over the spoils, resulting in one of these: The Nostalgia Critic against everyone else.
- One of these ended a dynasty in the Acasi Empire, which in turn ended a twenty-year war between the empire and the neighboring city-states of Rhael.
- Decades of Darkness sees a lot of these:
- The divergence point is Thomas Jefferson's early death in 1809, starting a series of events that results in New England (along with a disillusioned New York and New Jersey) seceding from the Union, with military help from Britain.
- Spain eventually has its own civil war, which eventually causes it to split back into Castile and Aragon.
- In Brazil, anti-slavery/pro-democracy forces within the military eventually stage a coup against the royal family, who escape with support from the Americans, resulting in the country being divided between an American puppet state in the north and a republic in the south.
- Near the end of the timeline, their losses in the Great War cause Britain and France to break apart into a number of bickering smaller nations.
- Also near the end of the timeline, there's a civil war in Canada (here an autonomous kingdom instead of a dominion) between supporters of the monarchy and a democracy movement. This one isn't resolved by story's end, but it's speculated in-universe that the republicans will succeed in breaking western Canada away, leaving a rump kingdom in Ontario; left unresolved is the fate of Wisconsin, which is the most heavily divided between the two sides.
- In The Falcon Cannot Hear, the assassination of President-elect Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1933 means there's no New Deal to help the United States successfully recover from the Great Depression, causing tensions to continue to rise between various left- and right-wing groups and the government, coming to a head when the Bonus Army kills the President and Vice-President in 1937. Army Chief-Of-Staff Douglas MacArthur subsequently stages a Military Coup to try and stabilize the situation, but that just ignites the powder keg and kicks off the Second American Civil War, which has no less than five major factions — MacArthur's "Khaki" military government, which controls D.C., the Rockies, Alaska, and the overseas territories; the American Soviet Republic, which stretches from Chicago to NYC; the "White" coalition of fascists and business interests led by Huey Long, which control the South, Texas, part of the Southwest, and eastern New England; the Provisional Government, or "Blues", an alliance of prewar liberals and democratic socialists, who control upstate New York, the Upper Midwest, western New England, and the West Coast; and the Continental Congress, an alliance of farmers dissatisfied with the other factions, which controls the Midwest and Plains. And that's not mentioning smaller players — North Dakota, which declares independence; Maine, which becomes highly autonomous and plays the other factions for greater independence for itself; B.R.O.W.N. (the Bannerman Revolutionary Organization of Willing Negroes), a black militia in White territory; and Henry Ford, whose private armies turn Detroit into his personal fiefdom.
- And all of the above is pretty much just the basic set up. Things get a bit more complicated later on: after MacArthur dies in a hurricane, the Whites take control of D.C., the Japanese seize the Pacific possessions, and the rest of Khaki territory dissolves into warlordism, leaving a rump government in the Alaskan panhandle. The Blues defeat Ford, and then form the Red Oak Pact with the Congress and Maine. This inspires the Blue-friendly East Coast soviets to break away and form the American Workers Collective, which forms the Popular Front with the Blues. Later, the Japanese invade the West Coast in support of the Whites, causing the Red Oak Pact/Popular Front, the ASR, most of the Khaki warlords, B.R.O.W.N. and a no longer neutral Canada to band together. They drive back the Japanese, defeat the Whites, bring North Dakota to heel, and then defeat the ASR and the remaining independent warlords. With these final acts, the remaining factions gather for a Peace Conference in Toronto, officially ending the war and forging a new United States federal government.
- In The Ruins of an American Party System, a three-way civil war breaks out in Germany in the 1920s between the Nazis, the Communists, and a more centrist authoritarian government that supports a restored monarchy. The latter eventually wins.
- During the partial decolonization of Africa in the 40s following the conclusion of the Second Great European War, civil wars break out in Libya and Ethiopia between their pre-war royal governments and strong Soviet-backed Communist movements.
- After Gandhi's assassination, tensions in India boil over, leading to open conflict between the British and their loyalists, Hindu and Muslim nationalists, and Communist revolutionaries.
- No W has a few examples:
- Venezuela, after a coup against Hugo Chavez. The US initially backs the military junta that removed him, but eventually pulls out, restoring momentum to the communists.
- Russia, after Moscow is targeted by a nuclear attack by Chechen terrorists, which results in the death of most of the top government. After that, Russia falls into a civil war between several rival factions.
- In Egypt, one breaks out after Mubarak's death, and the Muslim Brotherhood being blocked from the subsequent elections. Eventually, they nuke Cairo, and take over the country.
- Several commentators are worried that the United States is heading towards one as well, in reaction to President Santorum's increasingly fundamentalist tyranny.
- The Washington Burns timeline has a few examples:
- Due to the slaveholding South gaining more control over the federal government, while simultaneously a very aggressive abolitionist movement takes hold in the North, sparks naturally fly, with the final nail being the draconian measures taken by President James Hawthorne to enforce slavery. In 1859, New England and New York break with the Union and form the Confederation of American States, with the intent of seceding fully if Hawthorne isn't removed and the government isn't reformed. And things get more complicated when several state governments object to Hawthorne trying to militarily crush the CAS rather than negotiates, leading to clashes between state militias and the Union army; this leads to Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Kentucky and Appalachia (OTL West Virginia) denouncing Hawthorne as unfit to be President and forming the Free States Alliance, declaring themselves the legitimate US government and allying with the CAS, with the intent of reconciling them once Hawthorne is defeated. Then the slave and Native American revolts in the South start on top of this... The war ends when the Union angers Britain by violating their neutrality, leading to them aiding the FSA/CAS/slave/Native alliance in crushing the Union forces, leading to Hawthorne's surrender and the reunification of the US in 1862.
- A second American civil war breaks out in the early 1900's, when the hard-right wing Nationalist governments of several Western states grow dissatisfied with Liberal and Federalist rule and declare independence. This lasts less than two years, before the Union utterly crushes the rebels and reabsorbs their states.
- There's a civil war in the 1850's in Texas between those who want independence and those who want to stay part of Mexico. Though this quickly becomes a sideshow to a Mexican civil war between Republicans and Imperialists. Thanks to American intervention, it ends with a compromise that sees Mexico divided between a Republican north and Imperial South, and Texas divided between an independent east and a west that stays in Mexico as part of the new republic.
- A brief one occurs in Britain in 1900 after it's revealed that Prince Edward and his conservative allies has attempted to seize power from his sister Queen Victoria II and her reformists by keeping her locked up (for her "health") and using her son Victor as a Puppet Regent. Once she's broken free by her husband and word gets out of what's happened, Scotland and half of England flock to her and turn on Edward's forces. Edward ultimately loses, killing his nephew and himself rather than let himself be captured and Victor be freed.
- The war for Mobius on the Sonic SatAM cartoon.
- In Transformers in general, the default state of Cybertron seems to be a state of civil war to provide a reason for robots to shoot each other. There have also been various internal conflicts within both Autobot and Decepticon, and occasionally Maximal, Predacon, and Vehicon ranks.
- Book 2 of The Legend of Korra starts off with the Northern Water Tribe imposing martial law on the Southern Water Tribe. Considering that the Southern Water Tribe does not recognize Northern leadership and has been allowed to self-govern for almost a century or even longer, this predictably resulted in an insurgency.
- The end of Book 2 revealed that the civil war was built on false pretenses. Northern Chief Unalaq (probably) didn't give a crap about what the South was doing. He instead wanted unfettered, exclusive access to the Southern Spirit Portal located in Southern Water Tribe territory, and the simplest way to do that was to impose martial law as justification to plant a military base around the portal.
- The balkanization of the Earth Kingdom happened off-screen shortly after the events of Book 3. The reunification of the Earth Kingdom led by Kuvira also happened off-screen and was mostly glossed over. However, considering that Kuvira had an army and used it to intimidate city leaders to submit to her leadership makes it easy to speculate that the reunification of the Earth Kingdom likely wasn't gentle.
- In the South Park Imaginationland Trilogy, the war between the Good and Evil Imaginary characters orchestrated by a terrorist cell. Each side had their own separate territory in Imaginationland.