Chinua Achebe penned "Civil Peace" in 1971, depicting through it the effects of the Nigerian Civil War on a man and his family. The War, which began in 1967 with the secession of several Southeastern provinces from Nigeria, led to an intensive ethnic conflict and wide-spread starvation, destroying national infrastructure and shattering Nigerian society. The Igbo people of the Southeast were particularly hard hit.
In 1970, the Southeastern provinces, which had formed the independent, but short-lived nation of Biafra, surrendered to Nigerian forces, thereby reuniting the country. In three years of fighting, an estimated one million civilians had died from violence and severe malnutrition (Philips). Those who survived were left to rebuild their homes and lives in the aftermath.
Achebe produced three short stories about the Civil War, including "Civil Peace", and later included them in the collection Girls at War and Other Stories, published in 1973. "Civil Peace" focuses on Jonathan Iwegbu, a hard-working and optimistic survivor navigating the unstable post-war period. By accepting both gains and losses without losing hope or determination, Jonathan serves as a model for the reader. His persistence suggests that people - and by extension, Nigeria and the Igbo people - can pull themselves back up.
While highlighting the protagonist's resilient behavior, the story also reveals the devastation wrought by the Nigerian Civil War. Jonathan's losses include not only a job and money, but also his son. Nevertheless, "Civil Peace" remains surprisingly optimistic despite its realism, providing a glimpse into the aftermath of war and individual efforts at reconstruction.