Book Review: How to Survive The End of the World As We Know It

Part of our training includes planning for any kind of emergency, crisis or disaster.  Whether we are learning to handle violent encounters, medical emergencies or even simply hard times brought on by family expenses like daycare or college, Sayoc and Atienza Kali students are taught to think of scenarios before they occur so we can plan accordingly.  We are feeders, not receivers.

In the past two months I have been devouring books, probably around two a week.  Some have been great, some have been good but not that relevant to our training here at IEFMA.  One of my resolutions for this new year was to read more, and encourage readers on this site to do the same by sharing my thoughts.  After going on my Amazon spree acquiring books like “On Killing”, “Facing Violence” and “The Gift of Fear” (review to come), I started looking into preparedness books.

“How to Survive The End of the World As We Know It: Tactics, Techniques and Technologies for Uncertain Times” was written by James  Wesley Rawles, the blogger and founder of SurvivalBlog.com and a former US Army Intellence officer.  It is a comprehensive and palatable read, covering literally everything I could possibly think of in “The End of the World As We Know It” situation.  While some of the material is further in it’s progression than I am in my personal evolution I did find myself reading about raising livestock and installing solar panels for energy with as much interest as the components of food storage, weapons and communication.  Rawles’ ideas were right on with our own training, including use of the term “force multiplier” to not only include weapons but also night vision and comm’s.

Here are the first few paragraphs of the book, which gives a perspective of our culture through his lens and sets the tone for the book.  I made my wife read this last night and even she agree that it is fairly convincing.  I hope it is for you too.

From the Introduction:

An Extremely Fragile Society

We live in a time of relative prosperity. Our health care is excellent, our grocery-store shelves bulge with a huge assortment of fresh foods, and our telecommunications systems are lightning fast. We have cheap transportation, with our cities linked by an elaborate and fairly well-maintained system of roads, freeways, rails, canals, seaports, and airports. For the first time in human history, the majority of the world’s population now lives in cities.

But the downside to all this abundance is overcomplexity, overspecialization, and overly long supply chains. In the First World, less than 2 percent of the population is engaged in agriculture or fishing. Ponder that for a moment: Just 2 percent of us are feeding the other 98 percent. The food on our tables often comes from hundreds if not thousands of miles away. Our heating and lighting are typically provided by power sources hundreds of miles away. For many people, even their tap water travels that far. Our factories produce sophisticated cars and electronics that have subcomponents that are sourced from three continents. The average American comes home from work each day to find that his refrigerator is well-stocked with food, his lights come on reliably, his telephone works, his tap gushes pure water, his toilet flushes, his paycheck has been automatically deposited to his bank, his garbage has been collected, his house is a comfortable seventy degrees, his televised entertainment is up and running 24/7, and his Internet connection is rock solid. We’ve built a very Big Machine that up until now has worked remarkably well, with just a few glitches. But that may not always be the case. As Napoleon found out the hard way, long chains of supply and communication are fragile and vulnerable. Someday the Big Machine may grind to a halt.

Let me describe just one set of circumstances that could cause that to happen:
Imagine the greatest of all influenza pandemics, spread by casual contact—a virus so virulent that it kills more than half of the people infected. And imagine the advance of a disease so rapid that it makes its way around the globe in less than a week. (Isn’t modern jet air travel grand?) Consider that we have global news media that is so rabid for “hot” news that they can’t resist showing pictures of men in respirators, rubber gloves, goggles, and Tyvek coveralls wheeling gurneys out of houses, laden with body bags. These scenes will be repeated so many times that the majority of citizens decides “I’m not going to go to work tomorrow, or the day after, or in fact until after things get better.” But by not going to work, some important cogs will be missing from the Big Machine.

What will happen when the Big Machine is missing pieces? Orders won’t get processed at the Walmart distribution center. The 18-wheelers won’t make deliveries to groceries stores. Gas stations will run out of fuel. Some policemen and firemen won’t show up for work, having decided that protecting their own families is their top priority. Power lines will get knocked down in windstorms, and there will be nobody to repair them. Crops will rot in the fields and orchards because there will be nobody to pick them, or transport them, or magically bake them into Pop-Tarts, or stock them on your supermarket shelf. The Big Machine will be broken.

Does this sound scary? Sure it does, and it should. The implications are huge. But it gets worse: The average suburban family has only about a week’s worth of food in their pantry. Let’s say the pandemic continues for weeks or months on end—what will they do when that food is gone and there is no reasonably immediate prospect of resupply? Supermarket shelves will be stripped bare. Faced with the prospect of staying home and starving or going out to meet Mr. Influenza, millions of Joe Americans will be forced to go out and “forage” for food. The first likely targets will be restaurants, stores, and food-distribution warehouses. As the crisis deepens, not a few “foragers” will soon transition to full-scale looting, taking the little that their neighbors have left. Next, they’ll move on to farms that are in close proximity to cities. A few looters will form gangs that will be highly mobile and well armed, ranging deeper and deeper into farmlands, running their vehicles on surreptitiously siphoned gasoline. Eventually their luck will run out and they will all die of the flu, or of lead poisoning. But before the looters are all dead they will do a tremendous amount of damage. You must be ready for a coming crisis. Your life and the lives of your loved ones will depend on it.

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~ by Joseph Marana on 01.18.2012.

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