A COMPARISON OF DEFINITIONS
Civil wars occur between citizens, while a revolution is against the government. Yet, since both are wars, they remain intrinsically similar.
WHAT ARE THEY?
By definition 1, a civil war is the effect of a major disagreement between two groups of citizens. In such a wars the government is neutral. A revolution is a different thing. By definition 2, it is a complete coup d'etat. More than that, actually. It is an almost total shift of governmental control from one party to another (the word "shift" is key, since another definition of revolution is a paradigm shift). The government is one of the sides of a revolution. A prime example of this is the American Revolution. In this war, the Americans were fighting against the British government.
FEDS IN THE MIDDLE
In a civil war, by definition, the government remains neutral. However, one group may gain control of the government. Though sometimes, a civil war causes a government to lose all control. In many cases the government may agree with one group of citizens, but until the government provides support to a group of citizens, the war remains a civil war. A revolution includes the government in a very active fashion. This is due to the fact that a revolution involves citizens fighting against, or revolting against, the government. If citizens begin to revolt, the government has no choice but to be involved, does it?
WARS WILL BE WARS
Yet, whether the government plays an active role or not, both a revolution and a civil war have the same objective: to gain control of or influence the state and its government, either permanently or only temporarily. We'll use the American Revolution as an example again. The Americans wanted to influence the government and the state. They wanted to make the British decide to leave them alone. In a civil war, the groups usually want complete and permanent control of the state. But both a civil war and revolution occur due to the same reason: citizens are angered. Whether they are angered at other citizens or at the government, that is what decides whether it will be a revolution or a civil war.
QXZ and I had a discussion about the ambiguousity of dictionaries and/or my examples. You see, the dictionaries (all of them) define a civil war as a war between people of the same country. Same country is key. Every dictionary says that. But QXZ points out that the American Civil War is, indeed a civil war. We all agree on that point, right? He also points out that the USA split into the Confederate States of America and the United States of America. This means that two different countries, two different governments were warring with each other. Technically speaking, this is not a civil war. But we all know it is. Therefore, I hereby propose that the definition of "civil war" be expanded to include different factions of the same government warring with each other, and two different governments that were previously the same government warring with each other.
(I don't like changing the original text of the writeup, but of course, I don't want to mislead everyone.)
Since our definition of "civil war" has been expanded now, some previous statements of mine are false. This includes the following:
Whether they are angered at other citizens or at the government, that is what decides whether it will be a revolution or a civil war.
Now the citizens can be angered at the government that they were previously part of
. Also, the following statement is debatable:
But both a civil war and revolution occur due to the same reason: citizens are angered.
Since government factions or two different governments can now go to war with each other and have a civil war, the citizens might not be angered. The citizens might be unwillingly under the control of a new child government that declares war on the parent government
. Of course, they could willingly support the new child government in its war against the old one.
So, what has QXZ taught me? You can't always apply dictionaries to situations that occur in real life.
1 Merriam-Webster OnLine: Collegiate (r) Dictionary 2000
2 The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition