Sometimes Im a bit nostalgic about the days of the Cold War…
I remember when I was a kid in public school that there were these blue/pink/white certificates hanging on the wall near the doorway of each classroom. I dont remember what they said but I believe now that they were Civil Defense (CD) occupancy ratings…nope, thats not right. It just came back to me..they were instructions about where the people in that particular room were supposed to go and what the arrangement of alarm bells meant. And, of course, I remember the 'shelter drills' we used to have. Unlike a fire drill, where you left the building, you formed into two lines and sat against the wall in the hallway. The blinds in the classroom would be pulled, maybe to prevent flying glass or something. It never occurred to me as a kid what these drills were meant to warn against. I wonder if they even do them anymore in the NYC public schools.
I also remember the ubiquitous yellow-n-black fallout shelter signs that were on the entrances of many public buildings. Again, something I never gave any thought to. It wasnt until the last few years that I found that wherever those signs were there were also CD supplies as well. I do remember seeing the CD toilet kits at the public schools and I also recall the old green water barrels being used as garbage cans. I also remember my grandfather had a card in his wallet from the CD that explained the 'all clear' and 'alert' sirens…that things probably a minor collectable on eBay these days.
Then, of course, I remember the heyday of the 'survivalist movement' which ran through the very late 70's and into the 80's when it died down only to flare up for a brief moment in 1999. I don't think anyone really believed the Soviets were going to nuke the US but … better safe than sorry, right? Then after Reagan raised the stakes to the point that the Sovs had to fold we found out that the mighty Soviet War Machine wasnt exactly the crimson juggernaut we thought it would be. (Although we certainly got an inkling of that when they invaded Afghanistan and started the slide into failed imperialism).
Somewhere along the way the idea of the survivalist devolved into the caricature of a gun-toting redneck racist with a bunker full of canned beans and tinfoil hat. Admittedly, the 'movement' itself probably did the most damage with some very vocal people who came off as a little nuts. Later, it seems, alot of these same people turned up in the 'militia movement' which was really the same survivalist movement given a political common cause. Again, the tinfoil hats came out as black helicopters, UN conspiracies and New World Order theories abounded. On the other hand, the Clinton administration made some lovely faux pas that played right into them, esp. the Waco debacle which probably did more to put ATF under the microscope and on the map more than any other thing theyve ever done. The militia movement, which had its highlights with Linda Thompson urging a march on DC to arrest politicians and J.J. Johnson appearing before congress – in camo, petered out as well once Clinton left office although on some levels it never really disappeared…it still exists in a few different forms but its much more low profile.
The Oklahoma City Bombing(s) probably did more to advance the idea of 'those crazy paramilitary survivalist militias' than anything else. (And spawned more conspiracy theories….the most intriguing being that 'John Doe #2″ was Jose Padilla. Conveniently, the only guy in a position to really tell the tale kept his mouth shut and was executed.)The Four Corners 'survivalists' also kinda gave a black eye to the whole notion of survivalism and somewhere in there people, my self included, started calling it 'preparedness'.
Now theres been a swing of the pendulum back towards a certain legitimacy of the preparedness ideal. The World Trade Center attack made people feel vulnerable and while many decided to move to the boonies or Canada to 'be safe', many others picked up a Brigade Quartermaster catalog and started putting together gear. After Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath you again saw a change in attitudes. Not across the board, mind you…but among people who could rationally think, and not give 'knejerk' responses of “We cant live our lives in fear' , you saw an attitude of 'Maybe there is something to that whole three-days-food-and-water thing'. Katrina's riotous aftermath, and the fedgovs stunning flatfooted non-response, also showed folks that maybe having an Ak or an 870 isnt such a crazy thing.
So, we went from the burgeoning 'survivalist movement' of the 70's/80's to the 'militia movement' of the 90's, ramped up to the frenzied Y2K craze in 1999, de-escalated into the 'security moms' of the 2001-2005 period and are not not too far from where we were in the 70's/80's – not exactly as 'harmless' or mainstream as then but not as ridiculed or marginalized as in the 90's.
In terms of a 'social movement' this may very well be recognized as the second 'Golden Age' of survivalism. Why? Well, the newer technologies make things like energy production and disaster-resistant buildings far more affordable than previous. The internet singlehandedly has done more to unify (and divide) people on the topic of preparedness/survivalism. We've had several cautionary tales from Katrina, the '92 LA Riots, the northeast blackout, etc, etc, to show that things really can come to a screeching halt. We've had the Clinton administration with its gun bans and Janet Reno's badge-toting thuggery, and the Patriot Act's abominable curtailment of liberty to show us that government is pretty much never the solution to a problem. The result is that more people, more 'normal' people, are coming around to our way of thinking. Certainly the market reflects that…things that we used to ahve to hunt long and hard for like gas masks, NBC filters, MRE's, etc, etc are becoming more commonplace in consumer catalogs.
Where does it go from here? Beats me. On many levels I dont care. Whether it becomes a 'movement' or a 'fad' doesnt matter to me because I'll continue to do the things Ive been doing, not because theyre trendy or popular, but because I believe its the smart thing to do. I think many people feel the same way. I also think that after a while many people who 'jumped on the bandwagon' after the World Trade Center or after Katrina will slide back to being 'non-survivalists' but a few will stick with it and as they do they'll be part of the new
'kinder and gentler' 'saner and subtler' type of survivalist that may make the notion of survivalism/preparedness more well regarded than it has been for a while.