I envision one possible future for America that is fairly bleak, at least in the short term. If the economy deteriorates the way that I anticipate, and if the power grids ever collapse, then it could trigger that dreaded "worst case" situation. Such a socioeconomic collapse could precipitate a large population die-off in metropolitan regions, a bit less in the suburbs, and even less in the countryside. But an extended period of lawlessness would still cause considerable loss of life and property in rural areas. There will surely be a lot of refugees from urban areas, and some of them will turn to looting, in order to survive. The new paradigm for American farmers and ranchers might resemble the security situation faced by farmers during Rhodesian Bush War of the 1970s.
Life for farmers in Rhodesia in the 1970s was nerve-wracking. Starting in the late 1960s, communist guerillas, trained and armed by Cuban and Chinese "advisors", had been slipping into the country to wreak havoc and terror on the civilian populace. While most of their victims were black, the communist terrorists (or "terrs" as they were called in Rhodesian slang) began attacking isolated farms owned by whites. Early on in the war, they were literally able to catch the farmers sleeping. Later, as defenses were raised, the terrs adopted the tactic of burying pressure-activated land mines on farm roads.
Since phone lines could be cut, a radio network was established in Rhodesia, called the Agric-Alert system. With it, there would be a chance to call for help if a farm came under attack.
Rhodesian farmers had to be constantly armed, and constantly vigilant. To carry just a pistol was considered foolhardy. Intrusion detection systems in those days were rudimentary. They were limited to trip wire-activated and a few photocell-activated bells or buzzers. (These days, of course there are more sophisticated infrared (IR) sensor systems, like Dakota Alerts.)
There was substantial reliance on dogs to give a warning if strangers approached a farm house. The Rhodesian Ridgeback proved to be a breed well-suited to this task. A few farmers also raised Guinea Fowl, specifically for their "watchdog" nature.
"Protective Works" became the norm at Rhodesian farms. Grilles to stop hand grenades were fitted outside of house windows. Floodlights were set up that could be used to daze attackers. Elaborate perimeter fences topped with barbed wire became de rigueur. Often these were constructed in depth, with two fences (or more) around a house, sometimes with tanglefoot wire in between. Traditional cow bells were sought after, for attaching to trip wires. At least one fence--typically the inner-most fence--would be constructed of chain link material, to pre-detonate rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs).
Farmers resorted to constructing lethal electrified fences. Most of these were left on all night and were full current 220 volts, AC! They also set up remotely-fired shotguns and command-detonated directional mines. These were essentially ersatz Claymore mines. The farmer's Claymore-like mines were positioned to cover the most likely crossing points for fences, and at other choke points that could be seen from a farm house. Assuming that terrs might climb up fence posts, some remotely-fired shotguns were buried and fired upward, parallel to fence posts. (Ouch.) Late in the war, some of the terrorist's own contact land mines that had been recovered by demolitions specialists were re-purposed into command detonated perimeter security mines. There was also quite a cottage industry in mine-proofing vehicles.
Infrared and light amplification night vision equipment was very scarce and expensive in the 1970s, so it was out of reach for all but a handful of Rhodesian farmers. And light amplification gear (such as Starlight scopes) was--and still is--export restricted by western nations, as a military equipment, under the ITAR treaties. Furthermore, Rhodesia was explicitly under an arms embargo, so there was just a trickle of gear coming in from any nations other than South Africa, Mozambique, and Israel. Furthermore, of that gear, civilian farmers were "Third in line", behind the Rhodesian Army, and the British South African Police (BSAP.) By the way, the BSAP didn't change its name after Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration on Independence (UDI) in November of 1965.
The Watchful Daily Grind
Life on Rhodesian farms was largely routine, but farmers did their best to not fall into predictable patterns or lapse into inattentiveness. Each morning, farmers carefully examined their dirt roads, looking for signs that land mines had been planted. They kept in close contact with their resident farm workers, neighbors, and people living at nearby native kraals, to check on reports of any suspicious activities or any sightings of roaming terrorists. (By the standards of Rhodesian farmers, anyone living within five miles was a "neighbor.")
All through the daily tasks of tending crops and caring for livestock, every adult and most older children went everywhere, armed. Many farm tractors were fitted with gun racks, to keep a rifle close at hand, at all times. A surprising number of the guns owned by the farmers were fully automatic. The selective fire Belgian FN-FAL battle rifle was widely used, and almost reverently cherished. Some HK G3 rifles (by way of Mozambique) were used in smaller numbers. Many folks, especially the ladies, carried Uzi submachineguns, or the Commando LDP (in later years the Sanna 77 variant) submachineguns. The latter were locally produced in Rhodesia and South Africa. Some farmers were also able to acquire hand grenades and rifle grenades.
At dusk, unless under the urgency of harvest season, farms "buttoned up" for the night by SOP, and no one ventured outside of the farm house's perimeter fence unless there were exceptional circumstances. Dairy farmers felt particularly apprehensive, since at least one of their twice-daily milking sessions would be during hours of darkness, at least in winter months. So some security precautions were also set up outside of the outer doors of milking parlors.
Here is a quote from the book The Farmer At War by Trevor Grundy and Bernard Miller (Salisbury, 1979):
"In many of the sensitive commercial farming areas — and these now cover the majority of farms — homesteads have taken on the appearance of fortresses containing their own arsenal of arms that would not discredit military establishments elsewhere in the world. The chain-link security fences are usually wired to alarms designed to indicate exactly what sector of the fence has been interfered with or breached. In addition some are fitted with highly sensitive microphones to identify and pinpoint potentially hostile sounds from long distances — footsteps on gravel, movement through grass — and monitor these through a receiver installed near the farmer's bed. Alerted, the farmer can at the press of a button, switch on blinding searchlights or phosphorus flares strategically placed in the garden, and fire sets of grenades usually concealed in the bush outside his security fence. Again instant and massive retaliation has beaten off many attacks."
The Aftermath: Hyperinflation and Ruin
What was once Rhodesia is sadly now Zimbabwe, a nation that has been thoroughly pillaged by Comrade Mugabe and his cronies. This former breadbasket of Africa now has frequent starvation, is thoroughly bankrupt, its currency was destroyed by hyperinflation, and it has a crumbling infrastructure. The country is nearly in ruins. The grid power is on only sporadically. The water systems have been fouled, hunger is constant, and the life expectancy has dropped precipitously--although some of that is attributable to the advent of HIV-AIDS. Ironically, after UDI, Rhodesia had been snubbed by the international community in an effort to get them to institute universal suffrage. But now, following the predicted "one man, one vote, once" (installing a "President for life"), the former terrorists that took over instituted a quasi-dictatorship government so vile and corrupt that now it too is under severe diplomatic sanctions and military sanctions by the west. (The sanctions were imposed because of flagrant "electoral fraud and human rights abuses".) In fact, a dozen people in the key leadership of Zimbabwe's perpetual ZANU-PF government including Robert Mugabe are still banned from travel to most First World nations.
Following the war, the farmers have not fared well. Many were forced to surrender their guns, leaving them vulnerable to attack. Nearly all of them have lost their life savings, due to the combined effects of currency export controls and the hyperinflation. And many of those that continued to own and operate farms under Mugabe's government were forcibly evicted, and a few were raped, tortured, or killed.
I recommend that SurvivalBlog readers take the time to study low level insurgencies in general, and the Rhodesian Bush War, in particular. History doesn't repeat, but it often rhymes.
Some good insights on the Rhodesian experience can be found in these books:
- Fireforce: One Man's War in the Rhodesian Light Infantry by Chris Cocks
- Rainbow's End: A Memoir of Childhood, War and an African Farmby Lauren St. John
- The Bush War In Rhodesia: The Extraordinary Combat Memoir of a Rhodesian Reconnaissance Specialist by Dennis Croukamp
- James and the Duck: Tales of the Rhodesian Bush War (1964 - 1980) by Faan Martin
- Contact by John Lovett
- Contact 2 by Paul Moorcraft
- The Saints: The Rhodesian Light Infantry by Alexandre Binda (compiled by Chris Cocks)--An expensive book but it has wonderful detail on the Rhodesian Light Infantry (RLI) with some great photos. The recent printings come with a documentary film on DVD.
- Rhodesia by Robin Moore. (JWR's Caveat Lector Note: This is the same Robin Moore who had previously penned the best selling book The Green Berets. Shortly after publication of the first of his three books on southern Africa, Moore fell into disfavor among the American volunteers in Rhodesia, for verbally making some racist statements.)