"Civil War" was the brainchild of the Guns N' Roses artists Axl Rose, Slash and Duff McKagan. Slash stated that the song was an instrumental he had written right before the band left for the Japanese leg of its Appetite for Destruction world tour. Axl wrote lyrics and it was worked into a proper song at a sound check in Melbourne, Australia. On September 27, 1993, Duff McKagan explained where the song came from in an interview on Rockline: "Basically it was a riff that we would do at sound-checks. Axl came up with a couple of lines at the beginning. And... I went in a peace march, when I was a little kid, with my mom. I was like four years old. For Martin Luther King. And that's when: "Did you wear the black arm band when they shot the man who said: 'Peace could last forever'?. It's just true-life experiences, really."[this quote needs a citation]
It quotes a Peruvian militant general's speech ("We practice selective annihilation of mayors and government officials, for example, to create a vacuum, then we fill that vacuum. As popular war advances, peace is closer").
"Civil War" is the B-side track to the June 1991 release of Guns N' Roses "You Could Be Mine" single, the promotional single for Terminator 2: Judgment Day. "Civil War" was not featured in the film however.
Of all the 30 combined tracks on the Use Your Illusion I and Use Your Illusion II, "Civil War" (Track #1 on Use Your Illusion II) is the sole track to be recorded featuring original Guns N' Roses drummer, Steven Adler, who was fired shortly after the track's recording in 1990. Adler was replaced by then The Cult drummer, Matt Sorum, the drummer for all other 29 tracks on the two-disc set.