Letter Re: Some Ground Truth–The “Us” and the “Them” in a Societal Collapse

Mr. Rawles,
I am a retired Army warrant officer working for the Army teaching Electronic Warfare and Signal Intelligence. I only started reading your blog last week. It’s addictive, but slightly disturbing.

Having worked for the Army for 27 years in a number of different failed countries I may have a unique perspective on survival that I would like to share with your readers. I believe most of the “survivalist community” is vastly underestimating the impact that other humans are going to have on their plans. Hunkering down and waiting for everyone to die off is a simplistic plan and I believe has almost no chance of working. You may be able to hide your retreat, but you can’t hide the land it sits on. That land itself may become a scarce commodity if the US transitions to an agrarian economy.

Food is the key resource. Most communities are at risk because they simply don’t have enough calories stored to get them through any kind of crisis. But, storage is no more than limited capital to allow people time to grow more food. Food production requires land….if your retreat is sitting on farmable land, it will be a scarce resource.

Carrying capacity of the US using non-petroleum farming techniques is far lower than most of your readers probably think. Also, most areas of the US, especially cities, don’t have anywhere near enough farm-able land to go back to some kind of agrarian pattern. Without public infrastructure and modern transportation, we are going to experience a huge die-off caused mostly by starvation. In a total collapse scenario without immediate restoration of the economy, basically everyone who lives in a city is doomed unless they can take over some kind of farm land.

If you live in an area without enough farm land, you will be a “have not”. Period. I don’t care how much food you have stored in your basement.

Here is my key point. These teeming millions will not just starve and go away. I believe that anyone who thinks they can defend a working farm against raiders is deluding themselves.

1. People are dangerous. They are the most dangerous animal on earth. You can never lose sight of that! In almost any society breakdown scenario you can think of, you will be surrounded by starving predators that are much more dangerous than tigers. In the USA, every one of them (or at least the vast majority) will be armed with firearms. The ones currently without firearms will obtain them by any means necessary including looting government armories. These are thinking-breathing and highly motivated enemies.

2. Raiders, defined as “outlaw looting groups” may be a threat for a very short period, but I really don’t see groups of more than 4-6 ever forming…they will be quickly replaced by much larger groups of “citizens” doing essentially the same things, but much better armed and organized.

An Example: A few hours after Albania’s political crisis in 1998, (which was caused by a national lottery scam), almost every adult male in the country procured an AKM from government stocks. Armories were the first targets looted. I flew into Tirana packing a pistol and a sack of money, naively thinking I would be able to move around the country and defend myself. What a laugh. Everyone had me outgunned, and the vast majority of them had military training of some sort. I never got out of the capital city. Every road seemed to have roadblocks every few miles, blocked by armed local citizens.

3. Without central authority, people don’t just starve and go away. They form their own polities (governments). These polities are often organized around town or city government or local churches. They may call it a city counsel or a committee or a senate. The bottom line is, “We The People” will do whatever “We” have to do to survive. And that specifically includes taking your storage goods.

4. When (not if) a polity forms near you, you had better be part of that process. If not, you will be looked upon as a “resource” instead of a member of the community. The local polity will pass a resolution (or whatever) and “legally” confiscate your goods. If you resist, they will crush you. They will have the resources of a whole community to draw upon including weapons, vehicles, manpower, electronics, tear gas, etc. Every scrap of government owned equipment and weaponry will be used, by someone. Anyone who plans to hold out against that kind of threat is delusional.

5. The local polity that forms is almost certainly going to make mistakes. Some of them are lethal blunders. Odds are, the locals will probably not have given a lot of serious thought to facing long term survival. They will squander resources and delay implementing necessary actions (like planting more food or working together to defend a harvest). They may even decide to take in thousands of refugees from nearby cities, thereby almost insuring their own longer term starvation.

A much better approach is to be an integral part of the community and use the combined resources of the community to defend all of your resources together. This would be much easier if a high percentage of the community were like minded folks who were committed to sharing and cooperating. Because any community with food is likely going to have to somehow survive while facing even larger polities, like nearby cities, counties or even state governments. Don’t expect to face a walking hoard of lightly armed, starving individuals. Expect to face a professional, determined army formed by a government of some kind.

A small farming community can probably support a few outsiders, but not very many. The community will need to politically deal with outside polities or they will face a war they can’t win. Hiding the fact that you are self sufficient is going to be hard. You can’t hide farm land.

Defending your resources against the nearby city will be even harder. You may be able to save the community by buying protection with surplus food…if you have prepared for that. You may indeed have to fight, but stalling that event for even a year could mean the difference between living and being overwhelmed. In any case, your community needs to go into the crisis with a plan. You may be able to shape that plan if you become a community leader instead of a “resource”. With Very Kind Regards, – R.J.

JWR Replies: You’ve summed up some essential truths quite succinctly. Your points square nicely with the scenario in my first novel (“Patriots”). It also matches my premise of gemeinschaft kampfgeist, in the context of cohesion in the “we/they paradigm.”