History of Modern Survivalism

Discussion in 'General Survival and Preparedness' started by Minuteman, Feb 1, 2010.

  1. Minuteman

    Minuteman Chaplain Moderator Founding Member


    Survivalism is a commonly used term for the preparedness strategy and subculture of individuals or groups anticipating and making preparations for future possible disruptions in local, regional, national, or international social or political order. Survivalists often prepare for this anticipated disruption by learning skills (e.g., emergency medical training), stockpiling food and water, preparing for self-defense and self-sufficiency, and/or building structures that will help them to survive or "disappear" (e.g., a survival retreat or underground shelter). The specific preparations made by survivalists depend on the nature of the anticipated disruption(s), some of the most common scenarios being:
    Natural disaster clusters, and patterns of apocalyptic planetary crises or Earth changes, such as tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, blizzards, and severe thunderstorms, etc.

    A disaster brought about by the activities of mankind: chemical spills, release of radioactive materials, nuclear or conventional war, or an oppressive government.
    General collapse of society, resulting from the unavailability of electricity, fuel, food, and water.
    Monetary disruption or economic collapse, stemming from monetary manipulation, hyperinflation, deflation, and/or worldwide economic depression.
    Widespread chaos, or some other unexplained apocalyptic event.

    History of Survivalism
    The roots of the modern Survivalist movement in the United States and Britain can be traced to several sources, including government policies, threats of nuclear warfare, religious beliefs, writers warning of social or economic collapse, apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction and climate change.

    A Duck & Cover movie poster
    A copy of Survival Under Atomic Attack, a Civil Defense publicationThe Cold War era government Civil Defense programs promoted public atomic bomb shelters, personal fallout shelters, and training for children, such as the Duck and Cover films. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has long directed its members to store a year's worth of food for themselves and their families in preparation for such possibilities. Also, the Scout movement lives by the motto: Be Prepared!

    The Great Depression that is associated with the stock market crash on October 29, 1929 and the contraction of the money supply that followed is often cited by survivalists as an example of the need to be prepared.

    With the increasing inflation of the 1960s and the impending US monetary devaluation (predicted by Harry Browne in his 1970 book How You Can Profit from the Coming Devaluation), as well as the continuing concern with a possible nuclear exchange between the US and the Soviet Union, and the increasing vulnerability of urban centers to supply shortages and other systems failures, a number of primarily conservative and libertarian thinkers began suggesting that individual preparations would be wise. Browne began offering seminars on how to survive a monetary collapse in 1967, with Don Stephens, an architect, providing input on how to build and equip a remote Survival retreat. He provided a copy of his original Retreater's Bibliography for each seminar participant.

    Articles on the subject appeared in such small-distribution libertarian publications as The Innovator and Atlantis Quarterly. It was also from this period that Robert D. Kephart began publishing Inflation Survival Letter (later renamed Personal Finance). The newsletter included a continuing section on personal preparedness by Stephens for several years. It promoted expensive seminars around the US on the same cautionary topics. Stephens participated, along with James McKeever and other defensive investing, "hard money" advocates.

    In the next decade Howard Ruff also warned about socio-economic collapse in his 1974 book Famine and Survival in America. Ruff's book was published during a period of rampant inflation in the wake of the 1973 oil crisis. Most of the elements of survivalism can be found there, including advice on storage of food. The book also championed the claim that precious metals, such as gold (such as South African Krugerrands) and silver, have an intrinsic worth that makes them more usable in the event of a socioeconomic collapse than fiat currency. Ruff later published milder variations on the same themes, such as How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years, a best-seller in 1979.

    Newsletters and books on the topic of survival followed the publication of Ruff's first book. In 1975, Kurt Saxon began publishing a tabloid-size newsletter called The Survivor, which combined Saxon's editorials with reprints of 19th century and early 20th century writings on various pioneer skills and old technologies. Kurt Saxon used the term "survivalist" to describe the movement, and he claims to have coined the term. In the previous decade, preparedness consultant, survival bookseller and author Don Stephens from California, had popularized the term "retreater" to describe those in the movement, referring to preparations to leave the cities for a remote place of haven or survival retreat when/if society breaks down. In 1976, before moving to the Inland Northwest, he and his wife authored and published The Survivor's Primer & Up-dated Retreater's Bibliography.

    For a time in the 1970s, the terms "survivalist" and "retreater" were used interchangeably. While the term "retreater" eventually "fell below the public radar", many who subscribed to it saw "retreating" as the more rational, conflict-avoidance, remote "invisibility" approach. "Survivalism", on the other hand, tended to take on a more media-sensationalized, combative, "shoot-it-out-with-the-looters" image. One of the most important newsletters on survivalism and survivalist retreats in the 1970s was the Personal Survival ("P.S.") Letter (circa 1977-1982) published by Mel Tappan, who also authored the books Survival Guns and Tappan on Survival. The newsletter included columns from Tappan himself as well from Jeff Cooper, Al J. Venter, Bill Pier, Bruce D. Clayton, Rick Fines, Nancy Mack Tappan, J.B. Wood, Dr. Carl Kirsch, Charles Avery, Karl Hess, Eugene A. Barron, Janet Groene, Dean Ing, Bob Taylor, Reginald Bretnor, C.G. Cobb, and several other writers, some under pen names. The majority of this newsletter revolved around selecting, constructing and logistically equipping survival retreats. Following Tappan's death in 1980, Karl Hess took over publishing the newsletter, eventually renaming it Survival Tomorrow.

    1980sIn 1980, John Pugsley published the book The Alpha Strategy. It was on the New York Times bestseller list for nine weeks in 1981. Even after 28 years in circulation, The Alpha Strategy is considered a standard reference on stocking up on food and household supplies as a hedge against inflation and future shortages. This has made the book popular with survivalists. In addition to hard copy newsletters, in the 1970s survivalists got their first online presence with BBS and Usenet forums dedicated to survivalism and survival retreats.

    Interest in the first wave of the survivalist movement peaked in the early 1980s, on the momentum of Ruff's How to Prosper During the Coming Bad Years and the publication in 1980 of the book Life After Doomsday by Bruce D. Clayton. Clayton's book, coinciding with a renewed arms race between the United States and Soviet Union, marked a shift in emphasis in preparations made by survivalists away from economic collapse, famine, and energy shortages which were concerns in the 1970s to nuclear war. Also in the early 1980s, science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle was an editor and columnist for Survive, a survivalist magazine, and he was considered influential in the survivalist movement. Ragnar Benson's 1982 book Live Off The Land In The City And Country suggested rural survival retreats as both a preparedness measure and as a conscious change of lifestyle.

    Interest in the movement peaked again in 1999 in its second wave, triggered by fears of the Y2K computer bug. Before extensive efforts were made to rewrite computer programming code to mitigate the effects, some writers such as Gary North, Ed Yourdon, James Howard Kunstler, and Ed Yardeni anticipated widespread power outages, food and gasoline shortages, and other emergencies to occur. North and others raised the alarm because they perceived that Y2K code fixes were not being made quickly enough. While a range of authors responded to this wave of concern, two of the most survival-focused offerings were Boston on Y2K (1998) by Boston T. Party, and The Hippy Survival Guide to Y2K by Mike Oehler. The latter is an underground living advocate, who also authored The $50 and Up Underground House Book which has long been popular in survivalist circles.

    The third and most recent wave of the Survivalist movement began after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in 2001 and similar attacks in Bali, Spain, and London. This resurgence of interest in survivalism appears to be as strong as the first wave in the 1970s. The fear of war, combined with an increase in awareness of environmental disasters and global climate change, energy shortages, economic uncertainty, coupled with the vulnerability of humanity after the 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina on the U.S. Gulf Coast and avian influenza has once again made survivalism popular. Preparedness is once more paramount in the concerns of many people, who now seek to stockpile or cache supplies, gain useful skills, develop contacts with others of similar outlooks and gather as much advice and information as possible. Many books have been published in the past few years offering survival advice for various potential disasters, ranging from an energy shortage and crash to nuclear or biological terrorism. In addition to reading the 1970s-era books on survivalism, blogs (such as SurvivalBlog) and Internet forums are popular ways of disseminating survivalism information. Online survival websites and blogs discuss survival vehicles, survival retreats and emerging threats, and list survivalist groups. Economic troubles emerging from the credit collapse triggered by the 2007 US subprime mortgage lending fiasco and global grain shortages have prompted a wider cross-section of the populace to get prepared. James Wesley Rawles, the editor of SurvivalBlog and author of the survivalist novel Patriots: A Novel of Survival in the Coming Collapse was quoted by the New York Times in April 2008 as saying that "interest in the survivalist movement 'is experiencing its largest growth since the late 1970s'". In 2009, he was also quoted by the Associated Press as stating: "There's so many people who are concerned about the economy that there's a huge interest in preparedness, and it pretty much crosses all lines, social, economic, political and religious. There's a steep learning curve going on right now."

    The advent of H1N1 Swine Flu in 2009 ratcheted up interest in survivalism even further, and significantly boosted sales of preparedness books, and made survivalism more mainstream.

  2. tacmotusn

    tacmotusn RIP 1/13/21

    Minuteman, you never cease to amaze. Myself being a baby boomer and having lived through all those emotional roller coasters, also once a boy scout, and an avid reader, I was aware of many of the writers mentioned. I even have many of the books written by those authors. But, ..... you have named a few who are previously unknown to me. So, I now have some new authors and books to chase down. As a side note; Books a Million online lists "Unintended Consequences, by John Ross" at $29 not in stock, but, claims to ship in 2 to 4 weeks. I have my fingers crossed for luck, and have placed an order. I have read it, but want a personal copy. Anyway, thanks for the post.
  3. dragonfly

    dragonfly Monkey+++

    Most of my meager information about "survival" came from my Grandmother.
    Those that have lived thru the era of the great depression seem to have a handle on the meanings, few will ever realize..( I hope!)
  4. Gray Wolf

    Gray Wolf Monkey+++

    Pretty good info minuteman, The "Survival Guide" magazine was there, and now we have the "Backwoods Homesteader" magazine published right here in Oregon to pick up the torch.
    As far as The Church Of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, members are counseled to have a years supply of every needful thing, not just food.
    And not just for SHTF kind of stuff, it covers mundane things like blizzards, floods, periods of unemployment, power outages, anything that might temporarily interrupt the flow of life as we have come to know it.

    Unfortunately, most people cannot or even refuse to think about the possibilities. Maybe it's because if they realized how woefully unprepared they are, it would scare them too much.
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