There was a time when normal Americans thought about how to survive a nuclear exchange with the Russians. During the Cold War, this seemed like a real prospect, so there was a reason to think about it. Into the 1960’s school kids had to do the hide under the desk thing, which was mostly about conditioning people to accept permanent war, but it conditioned people to the idea of being nuked. How to make it through a nuclear war became something of an industry.
There were two schools of thought on the subject back then. One said that any hint of a nuclear attack by either side would result in a mag dump by both sides. The United States and the Soviet Union were in a prisoner’s dilemma. If either side showed restraint, then they risked the other side striking first and possibly making it impossible to retaliate, so logic said to send all of your missiles first. Both sides accepted this logic which is why a system was put in place to prevent it.
From a survival perspective, such a scenario made the prospects for anyone living through it extremely low. The arsenals at the time were larger than today and the assumption was they could wipe out all life on the planet. The initial blasts would kill most people, but the fallout and nuclear winter would kill the rest. Even if people survived somehow, the numbers would be tiny. There was simply no point in preparing for what would be instant death for almost everyone.
The other school of thought was more optimistic. War would escalate with an initial exchange that might not lead to a mag dump. Even if the will were there to send all the missiles, many people would refuse to push the button. The disruption from the initial strikes would also render communications useless. The example of Vasili Arkhipov seemed like proof that a full scale exchange was unlikely. That meant it was possible to survive a nuclear war if you were prepared.
Today, that last scenario is more plausible. Nuclear arsenals are much smaller than during the Cold War. No one is really sure that the antique systems on which these weapons rely would work under stress. The American ICBM system still relies upon 1970’s technology. The Russian systems are similarly antiquated. The most likely scenario is that the major powers are no longer functional after a nuclear exchange, so lots of people survive the event.
The first step in surviving a nuclear war is to avoid a direct hit. Washington DC will get several direct hits and the initial flash will vaporize most of the population. The shock wave will level most of the city. By now, the Russians and Chinese know to target Northern Virginia, so it will be a saturation bombing. The five percent that survive the initial blast will be radiated and die soon thereafter. Therefore, the first rule of nuke club is to be outside the target zone.
The safe bet is to be away from the coasts. The Rockies or Appalachia are the best bet for making it through the first stage. Denver will be nuked, for sure, but the damage will be contained to that plateau. People in the mountains will escape the flash and the blast, even if Denver takes multiple strikes. The Green Briar will get hit, for old times sake, but most of West Virginia will be spared. There are lots of places to escape the flash and the blast in the mountains.
Once things settle after the final missile strikes, there will be four key things to surviving the aftermath. You will need water, shelter, food and a way to defend yourself from the people who were not prepared. Imagine a land ravaged by mask wearing Covidians and you get the picture. You will have to be prepared to kill a lot of people in order to avoid ending up like them. This means you need to pick a spot that has access to water, a food source and is defendable.
Since a post-nuclear America is going to look like the frontier as far as you are concerned, you are going to need frontier skills. You will need to know how to make a fire, provide yourself basic medical care and know how to hunt and fish. If your location is near a river, then you can initially get by with fishing and water from the river, but you have to boil the water and cook the fish. The ability to make fire without modern items like a lighter or matches is essential.
Once you have sorted the location and provided yourself with the frontier skills required to live in the wild, you need to think about the defense issue. A man alone is easy prey, even to desperate city people roaming the countryside. It would be better to have a tribe that can work together for common defense. That means you either need the skills to create a tribe from who is left or you have to create a tribe now. One way or the other, survival will depend upon community.
This basic framework of preparedness is just scratching the surface, but it does provide the basis for building a survival plan. For example, you will not want modern firearms for defense in the post-nuclear world. Making your own gunpowder for modern ammunition is not realistic. You can make black powder from raw materials. That means the old fashioned muzzleloader is a good weapon to own and master. Of course, older range weapons like spears and bows are an option.
The same applies to tools. Creating your own electric for powering modern tools is possible, but not very practical. If you assume society takes generations to bounce back from the holocaust, then it makes no sense to rely upon modern tools. They will break and you will not be able to fix them. The same would apply to vehicles. Old cars need gasoline and lubricants. Even if you stock those, they will run out eventually and your vehicles become lawn ornaments.
This is why forming communities in advance of the holocaust is critical. You can plan for the two general scenarios. The first scenario is the world steps back to the pre-industrial age and does not bounce back. The other scenario is the people responsible manage to survive and quickly set about recreating the modern world by bringing things like the power grid on-line. Do you want to play a role in that rebuilding or do you want to seek vengeance on them?
Community building in advance lets you wargame these issues. It also makes survival much more likely. No one man can know everything or prepare for everything, so having help increases your odds of survival dramatically. It also provides the means for surviving what comes after the initial devastation. In a post-nuclear world, tribalism will be the key to survival, which means the best tribe wins. Of course, that is also why the world was blown up, but that is a story for another day.
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