I remember when I was a kid, the book that turned me onto survivalism was, I believe, ‘Alas Babylon’, although I think that at about the same time I managed to fall into Ahern’s ‘Survivalist’ series. I genuinely can’t recall which one was first, but I did a book report on ‘Alas Babylon’ so I think that was the one that started the ball rolling. Time frame? Mmmm…1980.

I was a fascinating time to be alive. Some of you might remember it. Jimmy Carter, a prototype Obama, was president. In normal circumstances he probably would never have made it into national politics but the previous administration had the taint of Nixon about it and at that point it wouldn’t have been terribly difficult to beat a Republican candidate. (Trivia: Gerald Ford, the incumbent, was the only person to be President who was not elected to the Presidency or to the Vice-President position.) As it turned out, the malaise of the Carter administration, with it’s foreign policy debacles and economic issues, laid the groundwork for Reagan to sweep into office on the platform of “Are you better off now than you were four years ago?”

But…prior to Ronnie, it was stagflation, mortgage interest rates were around 11%(!!!!), and the Soviets were still a real threat. Against that backdrop there was a rebirth of the preparedness ‘movement’ that hadn’t really been seen since the Cuban Missile Crisis days. The big apocalypse du jour was World War Three. I was only peripherally aware of it as a 13-year old kid. But looking back, wow, was it a bizarre time. Everyone who was anyone had an AR-15 and a 1911 of some flavor. The SKS and AK rifles were virtually unheard of unless your dad brought one back from his trip to Vietnam. Your only source of 7.62×39 was Normal or Lapua. ALICE gear and woodland camo ruled the world. MRE’s were still nascent. For the dedicated survivalist, Mountain House was your food, Buck or Gerber was your knife, Radio Shack was your comms, and your AR and 1911were made by Colt. Period. Social media? The classifieds in Soldier of Fortune and, later,  American Survival Guide were about it.

Nowadays it is so amazingly different.  A lot of guys still choose the AR but but there’s at least a dozen makers. Same for the 1911. And, ironically, Colt is usually not the preferred source for either. Mountain House remains the industry leader but there are a few other players in that very narrow market. Communications options nowadays go past the ubiquitous CB radios of the 70’s. And the internet….well….the internet lets anyone get all the cool, esoteric, hard-to-find gear that, when I was a kid, to weeks or months to get.

Is there anything cool from the 70’s/80’s era of survivalism that was better then than now? Well, machine guns, for sure. The 1986 ban really screwed that up. Other than that, I don’t think there’s much in the survivalist arena from that era that isn’t better now. Of course, at this point, you’d have bloody near 40 years of being a survivalist under your belt.

And how did those threat analyses turn out anyway? Well, the Soviet Union imploded in a fit of self-actualization, nuclear winter became even less likely, and World War Three, as we had understood what it would be, pretty much vanished. The new threats were an overreaching government and a New World Order.

Then, of course, Y2K popped up on the horizon and those of use with basements full of MRE’s had something new to get worked up about. News media showed people who went all-in and sold their condos in Los Angeles to buy chunks of desert in Nevada that they could fence off and get ready to bunker down in. Annnnnnnnnnnnnnnd…..Y2K came and went with nary a blip.

A year goes by and we get the main act in the upcoming Global War On Everything as the World Trade Centers become landfill filler. For the next few years the big threat is terrorism and, for the more astute, a global economic slump that seems to be lurking in the background.

A few more years go by and 2008 becomes the year that the financial world bursts into flames. The housing bubble bursts, everyone’s retirement savings get a massive haircut, and people start getting nervous. Homes get foreclosed on and, within a few years, automakers demand government bailouts to prevent us all from living under bridges and eating our babies. (Because, somehow, if Chevrolet goes bust it means the end of the world.)

A few Infowars types get loud about the defunct Mayan calendar and 2012 is predicted as being the year we all finally get to use our freeze drieds and homemade toilet paper. 2012 passes with no major humanity-threatening disasters.

Bird flu, SARS, and one or two other variants rear their head and for a while the trendy apocalypse-du-jour is bird flu. Later it would be Peak Oil. After that, its the white horseman’s second bite at the apple and the new panic is ebola. The world trembles and….we’re still here.

But…in the interim of all those years, there were plenty of disasters and small-scale apocalypses. Hurricanes, earth quakes, forest fires, economic downturns, and that sort of thing came along and while they didn’t threaten humanity as a whole, for some people it was the end of the world.

The moral, if there is one, I suppose, is that the end of our world has been predicted and missed for as long as we’ve been around. The end of your world, however, is far, far, far more likely and possible.

I’ve yet to have to eat freeze drieds, channel my inner roof Korean, or man roadblocks and hang looters. However, I’ve had way too many occasions to need my emergency fund, stored fuel, extra clothes, or first aid kits. So… end of THE world events, but there have been a few end of MY world events. Fortunately, being prepared for the former usually covers the latter.

Despite the world not devolving into Mad Max territory, I see no reason not to keep keeping on…it makes me sleep better, feel more secure, and when hiccups in my life do happen it keeps me from having to make hard choices.



16 thoughts on “Reminiscing

  1. Wow….. memories!

    Now, years later, a defining moment. Winter power outage in our area for a number of days. Neighbor knocks on my door… “What’s up Matt?” “I saw your light on, and came to see if power is up for you”. “Nope! Still out. I just have LED lanterns. Need to borrow a couple? You okay for heat and food?”

    • With us it was seven tornados hitting town, tearing up a bunch of stuff. Our neighborhood had only minor damage, followed by ten days without electricity or water, and two weeks without reliable sewer service. Most folks had enough ordinary food to get by, but it turns out we were the only ones on our block with mechanical can openers.

  2. “…..the end of our world has been predicted and missed for as long as we’ve been around. The end of your world, however, is far, far, far more likely and possible.”

    Very, very true. And while this is no apocalypse, 2020 is not that far off, and I for one, believe it will be the most contested & consequential national election since Lincoln.

    Buy it now. Bury it next week. Deny everything.

    • Politically speaking, I think 2018 will be a precurser of 2020. We’ll just have to see who has a real platform that will bring out voters.

      • Voting is a joke,when the PTB let you choose their POS1 or POS2 do you really have a choice(the poll worker has a trunk full of ballots as a backup/electronic machines are prehacked if anyone gets it wrong). They learned that after Carter tried to change the swamp a little but was shut down and blamed for everything(Nixon price/wage freezes,18%mortage rates,post Vietnam recession et al)

  3. Great post! Thank you for it. It is funny that you mention the books that got you started, because I found it was Survival Magazine back in the late 80’s that got me turned on to the topic. I can remember all of the turmoil of the Carter years, but I was a kid and none of that hit me too heavy, but I do remember Reagan’s first election and I was scared to death Carter would get back in, I was glad things went the way they did for sure!

    Like you, I have kept on preparing through the years and while the “big one” hasn’t happened, some little ones have and I’ve been thankful for the ability to take care of myself and my family. While the wife has gotten a little whiny about it sometimes, she’s been glad that we’ve been able to provide for ourselves. It is nice to see my now grown children walking down the same path with me.

    The end of our world, I hope it never happens, but I know better, nothing lasts forever. I may not live to see it, and that is ok by me, but I do want those who come behind me to be prepared for whatever life throws at them.

  4. Great post. Thanks.

    My first look at any sort of “survivalism” was the book The Girl Who Owned a City, read when I was about 12 or so, so around 1980-81.

    As a teen I lived a stone’s throw from Naval Submarine Base Bangor in Washington State. The whole are we all gonna die in a nuclear apocalypse thing was pretty on my mind.

    Working on survivalism type stuff hasn’t been a constant for me, it’s something that’s usually in the background and occasionally perks to the surface. Not having any debt and having a pile of extra food around has always been comforting and helpful, so I don’t really see any downside to it.

  5. [Is there anything cool from the 70’s/80’s era of survivalism that was better then than now?]

    Absolutely. 1970s-80s TEOTWAWKI fiction was MUCH better than today’s. I started with “No Blade of Grass.” Then there were Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, et al.

    Today we get SJW solutions.

  6. I was a 21 year old infantry soldier in 1980. I in-processed at Fort Jackson on Oct 29, 1979. Two days later, we were at Fort Benning. On Nov 4th, the Iranians took our embassy. Then, the Russians invaded Afghanistan that December. We thought we were going somewhere soon. But, nothing ever happened that affected me during my 3 year enlistment.

    The PX had tons of gun magazines that I ate up. Paperbacks, too. That’s where I found Jerry Ahern’s “Survivalist” series. Great stuff.

    My interest in survivalism began a few years earlier, in the pages of Guns & Ammo. Mel Tappan’s column “Tappan on Survival” and his book “Survival Guns”, had a profound effect on my thinking and was one of the reason I enlisted. Get shown the skills and get paid for it? Winner!

    Other books that made a dent in my head were “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Earth Abides”, “Alas, Babylon”, as you mentioned. The “Ashes” series, a few others.

    One thing I really miss is how great Shotgun News was prior to 1986. The ads were amazing. Especially the import stuff. And auto-sear pieces.

    Soldier of Fortune was also very interesting in the late 70’s-early 80’s. Actual ads for employment in Africa. No experience necessary. That would have been incredible.

    Happy Friday of Color. I hope everyone makes at least one cool score.

  7. “Alas Babylon” was my entry level book. But for me it was 1969. I got into Ahern’s books once in the Army, late 1970’s. It was a real good series thru the 1st 7 or so, then it went futurist, with 70’s-plus equipment (Glock was China’s primary sidearm).

    Try being a “survivalist” as a high school teen, no guns allowed, almost no money, and living at home with parents who thought things were just going to roll along (and for them it did).

  8. Prepping (formerly “survivalism”) is nothing but common sense taken to a rational end point, which is why the items end up being quite handy in a host of situations less disastrous than The Full Monty.

    And it’s seasoned with a small desire, come the day, to tell those miserable sand worms no one else thought could happen, “Broke into the wrong g–d— rec room didn’t you, you b—–d!

  9. “Earth Abides”- I forget the name of the author- was a nuclear war tale I read in high school, circa 1978.It seemed to be a more believable tale than others of the genre. At that time, race riots were still flaring up in Boston and other areas, and violent labor strikes were still the norm. The New York City Blackout of ’77 was a precursor of sorts. If the difference between the 70s and now is stark, compare to the 1920s and 30s. I tend to believe the US almost came apart in that era. But we got through.

  10. Heard about “Alas Babylon” from its mention in one of Ringo’s books about a year ago. Have food and guns, however… Roomie complained bitterly that I woke him up by talking to the power company when the juice went out for several hours and the live-in landlord told me to “not call in the future as the power always comes back on soon”. Only upside was I got to play with NVG with no interfering outside lights.

  11. Even tho I’d been reading Mother Earth for several years, I didn’t get the idea of planning ahead until I read Howard Ruff’s “How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years” around 1981 or so. What got my attention was on page 248. He was giving a talk & started out with a question: “”How many of you believe that we’re headed for some kind of monetary collapse?” Nearly every hand in the room went up. I then followed up with one more question:
    “Do you honestly believe that in a period of monetary collapse that you will be able to safely drive down to your supermarket in your gas-guzzling car, make a selection from a dazzling variety of goods on the shelf, pay them with your personal check, walk safely out the door to your car, drive home and put them in your dependable, electric-operated refrigerator?”
    “That’s the first time I ever got an ovation for a question – after a moment of reflective silence.”

    I was hooked. 🙂

    Fiction was also influential – Earth Abides, almost everything by Nevil Shute, & others I can’t think of at the moment.

  12. I bought a new mini-truck after Carter screwed up the economy. When I first talked to the dealer, my loan interest rate was near 17%. I stalled the deal for a week, and the rate dropped to about 13%.
    Earlier, I had to abandon the motorcycle industry, as it nearly imploded. So many dealers closed that the parts distributor I worked for tossed most of its employees.

  13. Thanks for the memories. I was there through the NYC Blackout of 1977, collapse of 1988, Y2K, collapse of 2008 – you name it.

    What personally got me started in prepping was several different impetus:
    1) I was in the Boy Scouts in the early 1970’s(“always be prepared”);
    2) I was in Ham/CB/ radio (they don’t work too well without electricity);
    3) I was in a bookstore in the early 1980s, and and saw a book on the shelf that looked interesting:

    “Life After Doomsday” by Bruce Clayton, 1980 (ISBN 0-8037-4752-7)

    THIS ONE BOOK sent me off on a lifetime of prepping. Clayton designed his book and information/ideas/advice to be of the worst-case scenario (WWIII nuclear war). Basically, he said, if you can survive THAT, you can survive anything. I still have my original paperback copy, as well as several hard-back reprints.

    It will serve a person well to emulate the lyrics of Hank Williams Jr song:
    “A country boy can survive”.

    I am prepared. Are YOU. Thanks for the space.

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