||Civilians are primarily characterized as the victims of war. While they are indeed victims, focusing solely on their victimization obscures the ways in which civilians navigate bloody conflicts. What options are available to civilians in times of war? I propose that civilians possess three broad options: they may flee, support armed groups, or speak out. While each of these phenomena has been studied extensively, they are not always approached as choices and have yet to be seen as parts of a broad menu of civilian choice.
The flight, support, voice schema allows for new insights into the decisions made by those who choose not to fight. My project is based on multi-site ethnographic research in three Southeast Asian conflicts, including interviews with over three hundred persons. Utilizing these and other data, my study speaks to several questions: What types of civilians are more likely to choose flight, support, or voice? Why do some civilians flee, while others stay behind? Why do some civilians provide various forms of support to armed groups, while others do not? Why do some civilians raise their voices, despite the obvious risks, while others remain silent? How might civilian decisions influence armed groups and shape a given conflict?
In all three cases, flight was especially common among young men and regional ethnic minorities. They fled primarily to gain security and economic opportunities. Village chiefs and Islamic leaders tended not to flee, which I explain in terms of socio-cultural expectations. Support for armed groups was most evident among women and Islamic leaders. Support must be explained by a range of factors, including security, economic incentives, socio-cultural expectations, and personal conviction. Distinct forms of voice were taken up by women, activists, farmers, and village chiefs, motivated in large part by conviction against armed conflict (grievances). Societal roles and expectations survive even in times of war, shaping civilian decisions in surprising ways. Civilian decisions can even shape conflict dynamics, as ethnic patterns of support shape zones of combatant control and, through a combined strategy of support and voice, civilian groups can use armed groups to achieve their own goals.