What is it like to write a book about plagues during a worldwide pandemic? Terrorism expert Brian Michael Jenkins, senior advisor to the president of the RAND Corporation, did just that in his new book, Plagues and Their Aftermath: How Societies Recover from Pandemics (Melville House, September).
In his book, he delves into what our world might look like post-pandemic—from the economic and political repercussions to armed conflict and bioterrorism—through the lens of other pandemics throughout history. In this Q&A (which first appeared in Newsweek), Jenkins talk[s]…about what effect the war in Ukraine has had on the COVID-19 response, whether partisanship delivered a “mortal blow” to America and whether there’s cause for optimism in the face of the uncertainty brought on by multiple global, simultaneous crises.
Q: You immersed yourself in the study of plagues during a pandemic. What was that like?
A: Actually, I didn’t set out to write this book. I had written a chapter on whether COVID-19 would increase the likelihood of future political violence for an academic book in Europe. In the process, I became fascinated by the legacies of pandemics. Since COVID-19 was keeping me off airplanes, I traveled back and forth in time through books and research reports, exploring post-pandemic landscapes, and comparing them to what was happening here and now. Like any explorer, I kept a journal of my travels—it became the book.
Q: Your field of study is generally terrorism. What effect has COVID-19 had on worldwide terrorism?
A: There is no straight line from testing positive to terrorist bombings. Some terrorist leaders welcomed COVID-19 as an ally against their enemies. Others saw the resentment and anger over control measures as an opportunity to spread anti-government propaganda and recruit new followers. Major outbreaks of disease foment unrest, in some cases riots, and potentially acts of terrorism.