Civil unrest has played a significant role in regime change and nation-building since the inception of civilization itself.
Egypt, historically regarded as the very cradle of civilization, is now being rocked by civil unrest driven by protests against the troubled 30-year reign of the country’s president, Hosni Mubarak. Several people have been killed and thousands arrested, and foreign visitors are being advised to leave the country.
While countrywide unrest in the United States is mostly unheard of, it too has experienced pockets of civil disobedience. Both the Watts riots in 1965 and the L.A. riots in 1992 were sparked by incidents involving clashes between African American motorists and Caucasian patrol officers. The assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968 and the Kent State shootings in 1970 also touched off riots.
These incidents and other, less notable disturbances, varied in their levels of severity. The Kent State riots, although unfortunately ending in bloodshed, did not erupt into widespread violence. The L.A. riots, however, lasted three days and resulted in the deaths of 53 people and more than a billion dollars in property damage.
Many factors played a role in creating these perfect social storms. The country’s earlier experiences with civil unrest occurred amid the backdrop of the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War. The L.A. riots were largely driven by the inarguable video evidence of police brutality that was viewed by a community dissatisfied with perceived class differences and racial stratification.
Even so, all of these incidents have a very interesting and conspicuous link ““ the engagement of the National Guard. In fact, National Guard units in 18 states (36 cities) were mobilized following Martin Luther King, Jr’s. assassination.