So, it’s come to this. A once unthinkable question has now become embedded in the news cycle: Does America’s increasingly uncivil behavior mean we are heading toward civil war? At least one poll of Americans taken within the past year found that 46 percent of those questioned thought civil war in America was at least somewhat or very likely.
Here’s the good news: our guest Brian Michael Jenkins, one of America’s most respected analysts of political violence, says these folks have it wrong. That today’s America cannot split into anything as simple as civil war.
But, Jenkins wrote for NBC News, “A more likely scenario is a turbulent era of civil disturbances, armed confrontations, standoffs, threats, assassination attempts and other acts of political violence.”
Sounds pretty ugly, but Jenkins offers consolation from history. Real American carnage has happened many times before in our history, he says. “We have been through similar outbreaks before and survived.”
Brian Michael Jenkins is a senior adviser to the president of the RAND Corporation and author of numerous books, reports, and articles on terrorism-related topics, including Will Terrorists Go Nuclear? (2008, Prometheus Books). He formerly served as chair of the Political Science Department at RAND. On the occasion of the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, Jenkins initiated a RAND effort to take stock of America’s policy reactions and give thoughtful consideration to future strategy. That effort is presented in The Long Shadow of 9/11: America’s Response to Terrorism (Brian Michael Jenkins and John Paul Godges, eds., 2011).
Commissioned in the infantry, Jenkins became a paratrooper and a captain in the Green Berets. He is a decorated combat veteran, having served in the Seventh Special Forces Group in the Dominican Republic and with the Fifth Special Forces Group in Vietnam. He returned to Vietnam as a member of the Long Range Planning Task Group and received the Department of the Army’s highest award for his service.
In 1996, President Clinton appointed Jenkins to the White House Commission on Aviation Safety and Security. From 1999 to 2000, he served as adviser to the National Commission on Terrorism and in 2000 was appointed to the U.S. Comptroller General’s Advisory Board. He is a research associate at the Mineta Transportation Institute, where he directs the continuing research on protecting surface transportation against terrorist attacks.