Western democracies must not be complacent, says Krish Kandiah. Civil War is an uncomfortable watch, but it may be the wake-up call we need


Source: A24 Films

The current landscape of American politics is as tense as I have ever seen. My US friends tell me that friendships and families are being ripped apart over which way to vote in the upcoming election.

The current courtroom drama over hush-money, fraud and conspiracy reminds me of all the John Grisham novels I have ever read rolled together into one. And I am still haunted by the events of January 6 2021, when the halls of Capitol Hill were stormed by an angry mob.

With such political fractures and social anxieties colliding so dramatically, it does not seem too far-fetched to imagine how apparently irreconcilable differences between Red America and Blue America could escalate into the dystopian scenario presented in Alex Garland’s latest film Civil War.

Jesus’ words weren’t just a cosy soundbite

The film is visually arresting and viscerally challenging. The soundtrack assaults your senses and nerves with the brutality of war. The scenes of devastation are harrowing and haunting. But it is the personal stories that really drive the message home: can we stem the tide of division before it is too late?

The story unfolds through the eyes of Lee, a renowned war photographer played by Kirsten Dunst, and her young protege, Jamie, who is begrudgingly allowed to tag along on the perilous car journey to the frontline. Together, they head from New York to Washington DC to interview the President. As the 4x4 vehicle makes its way through dangerous territory, we get a horrific picture of what life is like in this dystopian alternative reality.

A violent reality

I have seen what military anarchy does to the world. I was living in Tirana, Albania when once-quiet streets began to thunder to the staccato of automatic gun fire. When law and order disappears, normally polite civilians go into fight-or-flight mode. When confidence in the government is lost, it seems like nobody can be trusted, and violence quickly ensues.

I have seen what happens to ordinary people in those situations. When families fleeing the war in Ukraine came to live in my home, I saw the trauma, loss and grief close-up. It undermines not only an individual’s security, but their sense of self-worth, belonging and hope. It leaves long-lasting scars that are passed down to the next generation.

The release of Civil War comes like a prophetic warning. It is 30 years since a million people were killed in cold blood by their neighbours in the apparently peaceful country of Rwanda. We are, once again, reminded that no civilisation is beyond descending into barbarity and butchery.

We must not be so arrogant as to think that war couldn’t come to our own Western democracy. Every human being is capable of great evil. Our thin veneer of civilisation can quickly be taken away. Democracy is fragile. We must do all we can to prevent division and polarisation.

Fighting for peace

When Jesus said: “blessed are the peacemakers”(Matthew 5:9), his listeners were living in occupied territory. There were few rights for women and children. The tax system was corrupt. Protesters, rebels, freedom-fighters and other perceived threats to the authority of the Romans were executed. Jesus’ words weren’t just a cosy soundbite, or a comfy saying on a page of mindfulness colouring. They were revolutionary.

No civilisation is beyond descending into barbarity and butchery

Peace is always hard won – and even harder to maintain. We need bold peacemakers to stand up against division, whether between factions or friends, on the front line or our own front doorsteps. Peacemaking is dangerous business. The ultimate peace cost Jesus his own life.

I have seen enemies forgive one another, and how a little empathy can quickly de-escalate trouble. I have seen the power of reconciliation, patience, self-control, gentleness and forbearance.

Civil War is a difficult watch, but if it makes us more committed to waging peace in the name of Christ, then it is worth it.