Survivalism Part 2 - A Historical Prespective

Jack Goblin By Jack Goblin, 21st Sep 2013 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>Emergency Preparedness>Terrorism

An examination of the history of Survivalism in the U.S. from the beginning to current days.

The Beginning

It is safe to say survivalism in America began during the Cold War. There had of course been 'end of the world' fears and beliefs before, most of them religious based. And preparing for problems by laying up stocks of food and supplies, at least among the rural population, was essential in days of yore when outside help from governments Federal, state, or local after a disaster was a luxury not an expectation. But with the advent of nuclear weapons, plus the means to deliver them to any spot on Earth, and two powerful nations hostile to each other possessing both, suddenly the Wrath of God was not necessary to unleash Armageddon; the Wrath of Man would be more than sufficient.

Nuclear Fears

There were two schools of thought on nuclear war. One was that it was unsurvivable and the living would envy the dead, at least until they joined them. The other was that it would knock civilization in the U.S. and USSR back several hundred years at least, and not do much good to the rest of the world, but it would not be the end of all things. Alas Babylon by Pat Frank - one of the first post-Apocalyptic fiction novels - took the latter view, depicting a small Florida town that survived WWIII undamaged and largely free of radiation but where life became a constant struggle to survive when food, clean water, and most of the benefits of modern life were scarce or gone. The U.S. government also stated, at least for public consumption, that a war was survival-able for those not killed or fatally irradiated. And through its Civil Defense Department made available and sent out leaflets and manuals telling the public what they needed to have and do in the way of supplies and preparations to make it through nuclear war and other disasters. Many of these C.D. publications were comprehensive and well thought out enough they would not be out of place on any survivalist's bookshelf even now.

Other Fears and the Rise of Survivalism

The 1960's and 1970's added additional concerns, as worries about environmental degradation, racial tensions, social change, and increasing public awareness of possible dangers undermined people's confidence that things would automatically stay the same. Books such as How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years by Howard Ruff raised the specter of a social and economic collapse; something those who had lived through the Great Depression could understand only too well. Men such as Kurt Saxon and Don Stephens considered the question of what would be necessary in the event of nuclear war and other disasters, publishing newsletters and writing books on the subject. These and other newsletters and magazines allowed survivalists to communicate with each other, and a movement began to gel. The later rise of the Internet gave survivalists even greater opportunities for communication; however, it also lead to an increase of rumors, conspiracy theories, polarization, and splintering as those with different opinions on what were the greatest threats and the best way to deal with them formed groups and began to oppose one another. It was also during this time that the less savory elements of the survivalist movement - White Supremacists, far right wing and religious zealots, and hate-mongers, among others - began to gain notoriety.

Still More Fears; Including of the Government

In the 1980's and 1990's, the collapse of the Soviet Union reduced the risk of global nuclear war, but did nothing to ease worries about other dangers, or prevent the rise of other fears. The ever increasing U.S. debt and spending levels began making many question how long this could go on, and what the consequences of a U.S. default on its debts might be. Declining production in many established oil fields even as demand for petroleum products was increasing caused some to wonder at what point the world might literally run out of oil, or at least cheap oil, causing enormous disruption of the global economy. And the growing power of the U.S. Federal government, with the great potential for abuse of that power, caused many grave concern. Some reacted to the latter by forming militias, private paramilitary groups. This, of course, lead to even greater government scrutiny. Which lead to even more concern and escalation on the part of such groups. Events such as the siege at Ruby Ridge and of the Branch Davidian complex furthered the radicalization of some elements of the survival movement, while increasing the feeling among many members that the government was becoming the greatest threat of all.


The hype around and prolonged build-up to the turn of the century and Y2K brought many into the survivalist movement; and sent them out when nothing significant happened. Even though those knowledgeable about computers, survivalist or not, were insisting at the time it would NOT be an End Of The World As We Know It event and people should stop being silly. Other factors also had major effects. One of these was in 1998, the publication of the first of the Patriots book by James Wesley, Rawles. Although self-admittedly not a very good work of fiction, the depiction of the economic and social collapse of the United States and a small group's efforts to survive the devastation attracted great attention in the survivalist community and beyond. As did a 2009 book, One Second After, by William R. Forstchen, a science fiction work in which the U.S. is subjected to an Electro Magnetic Pulse that destroys everything containing or dependent on computers and microprocessors and - in a second - returns America to the 18th century, technology wise, with horrific results. Both of these books are frequently cited or given by survivalists to people they wish to convert to their way of thinking as guides to how bad it can get. But the occurrences with the greatest impact were not fictional. The attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on 9/11/2001. Hurricane Katrina and the devastation it inflicted on New Orleans and other communities. The wave of natural disasters and disruptions in the U.S. and worldwide, from the Indonesian Tsunami and the Japanese Earthquake / Tsunami, to the Midwest derecho and Superstorm Sandy. All these and others have made the public uneasy and survivalists more and more worried about the future and what might be going to happen next. On the other hand, the recent over-hyped belief that the ancient Mayans had predicted the end of the world on 12/21/2012, although ridiculed by serious survivalists, and the fact that yet again nothing happened, has been put forward by the public as another example of how survivalism is nonsense. Based on historical precedent, that opinion will continue until the next disaster makes some people rethink the subject.


Link to the first article in this series here.

Link to a review of the book "Patriots" here.

Next, in Part 3 - What Survivalists are afraid of, a List.


Armageddon, Environmental Disaster, Nuclear War, Race War, Survivalism, Teotwawki

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author avatar Jack Goblin
Was born. Haven't died yet. Don't intend to anytime soon.

Thank you much for reading my articles. I hope they brought you pleasure and enlightenment. :)

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