Image by krheesy used under creative commons licence: https://www.flickr.com/photos/129440207@N08/16296648887
I have been thinking about how best to survive a post-apocalyptic dystopian future for a really long time. And, my thinking has evolved over that time as scenario after scenario was considered, mulled over, critiqued, and finally rejected as being unrealistic, unworkable in practice, or, most important, not in keeping with actual human nature, or principles of behaviour and social organization. The various survival scenarios I have in turn considered and rejected will make fine grist for future blog entries, but right now I would like to consider a more generic problem having to do with any survivor’s defence in pretty much any post-apocalyptic scenario.
And it is the problem The Lord Humungus faced in George Miller’s 1981 film The Road Warrior. The movie is set approximately five years after an apocalyptic collapse of civilization, and while there are still guns around in plenty – notably Max’s sawed off double barrelled shotgun and Humungus’ scoped .44 magnum revolver – ammunition is becoming scarce. Though we do witness Max scrounging for shells and testing the ones he finds only to have a misfire at a critical time, what I really love is Lord Humungus’ relationship with his Smith & Wesson. He keeps it in a well decorated box, a shrine almost, and only loads it for really special occasions. That is because at the start of the film he has only five rounds left for it. And, in the first scene where we see him use it to stop the rig Max is driving by shooting the engine, he only loads a single round. Yes, that is right, the problem is not a gun problem, the problem is an ammunition problem.
A modern cartridge is actually a highly sophisticated industrial product which once fired is not replaceable or re-loadable unless pretty much the whole of industrial civilization and its long supply chains are in place. So, that means if it does come to pass that The Shit Hits The Fan (TSHTF), anyone planning on relying on a gun or guns for their self defence has seen too many movies and is not planning on surviving more than a couple of years. That is because if you do manage to survive longer than a month or three, you are eventually going to run out of ammunition. Period. Now, some small number of people – some preppers included – do stockpile a large amount of ammunition. But, the average hunter has fewer than, lets say, fifty rounds on hand for any given firearm. I actually think it is closer to twenty. That is partly because ammunition is expensive, partly because it ages, and partly because TPTB have done a good job of making anyone who does stockpile ammunition look like a crazy person. Meanwhile, we know that several US Government agencies have been doing exactly that, engaging in the “crazy” behaviour of stockpiling literally billions of rounds of ammunition – that is enough to supply a full out war for 20 years in case you were curious.
So, two things become apparent from this situation. One is that if TSHTF the authorities will likely be well stocked with ammunition for a very long time. This for me is part of the confirmation of a couple of my survival principles: “Don’t be there when it goes off” and “You can’t fight city hall.” Some implications of these two principles are to “Head for the hills,” which I have already done; “Keep a low profile,” which I have decided to violate only to the degree of authoring this blog and starting The Cloister Initiative; and “Don’t be a threat.” The third one I can not stress enough and will keep repeating clearly – I am not a threat to the existing power structure. I am planning on hiding out as far away as possible from any potential fireworks in a defensive only stronghold as the edifice of civilization comes crashing down all on its own without any help from me. My concern is actually what to do after the collapse, and how to go about surviving it and rebuilding an appropriate level of social order without repeating the mistakes of the past.
The other implication of my analysis so far is that if you are not part of the authorities you had better plan on having a backup plan for any guns-as-defence plan you have now. Because, I hate to be the one to have to tell you, especially if you are an American reading this, if you do survive, you are eventually going to run out of ammunition.
Additionally, unfortunately most of the other options you have for covering this function are decidedly not point-and-shoot. They require both training and regular practice. The classic ranged weapon that is sustainable in a post-apocalypse situation is some form of bow. And, while crossbows are certainly very powerful and fairly point-and-shoot, they suffer from being heavy and having a really slow rate of fire. This is not so good in a survival situation unless you are planning on having a stronghold and basically an army. Regrettably, there is always a quite specific context of use for every technology; weapons, strategies, and tactics included. The crossbow was popular when feudal lords did have strongholds and armies, but the troops were basically peasants with basic training, not professional men-at-arms. That is because using a regular bow effectively is a real skill and requires training and practice beyond some kind of medieval basic training program. There was a reason why the kings of England passed laws in 1252 and 1363 making it mandatory for all English men between the age of 15 and 60 to equip themselves with a longbow and arrows and to practice with them regularly. This practice of regularly using a bow with a draw weight of up to 200 pounds was so significant that archaeologists can identify the archers in a group of skeletons by the thickening of the bones in the left forearm. And you do not make your forearm bones grow thicker by going out in the back yard and shooting off your bow once in a while for fun – it takes regular practice.
So, if you want to have a backup plan, you’d better get started on your archery program now. That is because only a trained archer has an accuracy level, at a sustained reasonable rate of fire, for the weapon to be useful in most defence scenarios. That is why even though we do not currently do archery at Ironwood Sword School I would be happy to see it added to the curriculum at some future point. However, regular training in archery is definitely part of the plan for The Cloister Initiative.
On the other hand, for close quarters defence, nothing beats training in some form of swordplay. And, of course most swordfighting systems are integrated systems. Jiujutsu was originally what swordsmen learned for situations where they were forced into unarmed combat. The German Longsword tradition we teach at Ironwood comprises a full combat system that includes other weapons such as dagger, and unarmed wrestling. And, like archery, it takes time and regular practice to make a competent swordsman – or swordswoman for that matter. Consequently, my vision for the answer to the problem of ammunition running out fairly quickly in a collapse of civilization scenario is to include training in the Historical European Martial Arts, including archery, as an integral part of The Cloister Initiative. But, we can not wait until TSHTF to build the necessary skills and expertise; hence I have been training in the German longsword for seven years already and now include teaching in my practice.
So, in one of the strangest pitches ever and spoken in an Austrian Arnie accent, “If you want to live, come with me and train at Ironwood Sword School.” HA, Ha, ha, what a well conditioned product of the commercial mass-media we all are eh? Hey, it just occurred to me, I should add this too: “Training with us is eezy, act now.” And just remember, even Lord Humungus, the Ayatolla of Rock & Rolla and the Warrior of the Wasteland, had his technology appropriate backup weapon with his patented trident spear thing.