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Tom Shafer: On Survivalism

October 17, 2012

Tom Shafer.

About a month ago, some old guy predicted the end of the world on May 21st.  And when it didn’t end, he said he had the date wrong and it’s now in October.  He’s milking this pretty good, especially since the October date will be his third attempt at predicting the date the world ends!

“You know, the guys I respect are the ones who say, ‘Pay your bills and don’t trust bankers’,” Shafer said.  “I’ve heard this ‘world’s gonna end’ stuff over and over again for a long time and in every case, the world as we know it has out-lasted the doomsayer predicting otherwise.”

Shafer acknowledged that it’s been a rough year for disasters.  The massive tornadoes in Joplin, Missouri and the big one in Alabama.  Add to that the flooding along the Mississippi and it’s been a bad year.  Those are certainly disasters for those affected and preparedness / survivalism goes a long way to lessoning the disruption in the lives of those folks.

Tom pointed out that the term “survivalist” has gained a negative connotation thanks to the mainstream media and the “cultured elites”.  They hate “survivalists” – or anyone who isn’t dependent upon the “elites” for their well-being and livelihood.

He mentioned the Y2K run-up in the late 1990s, which saw a lot of survival marketing and sales promotion.  As a subscriber to five gun magazines, Shafer laughed that he got his fare share of this stuff.  “What the hell do I want with a survival condo in Utah?” he joked.

Early on, Shafer said he didn’t see himself as a survivalist but he’s changed his mind upon further reflection.  If you want to be prepared for trouble, you have nothing to apologize for, he says.

As an example, Shafer said he’s always looked for two things in a potential home – besides not being in a demilitarized zone – and that would be a fireplace or woodstove and a basement.

The basement represents a tornado shelter and the fireplace or wood stove offer some heat if the power goes off in the wintertime.  “That wood stove saved me many times from having to spend a night or two in a hotel.”

As for tornados, he’s only been grazed by one, some five years ago.  It uprooted a huge hackberry tree next door and stripped the siding and awnings off his house, but the walls and roof held.

That tornado got Shafer thinking about the whole survival movement in general.

He supposes survivalism really started with explorers like Columbus and his men five hundred years ago, who left their homes to travel to unexplored places without GPS, communications, medicine – heck, they didn’t even have refrigeration.

If something happened, they relied upon themselves because there was no rescue.  If your boat sank, or crashed on an island, you were out of luck.

It’s changed in more modern times.  Shafer distinctly remembers the Illinois State Fair in the 1960s had a survival shelter display.  It was built with concrete block walls in an inverted V and in the front of it was plate glass so you could see inside.  They had a mannequin guy along with his a mannequin wife, and it had cots, a Coleman stove and lantern, a big wall of stored food, and some board games in case you got bored in there.

Of course the Russians never attacked, but the Cuban Missile Crisis effectively jump- started the modern survivalist movement.  In reality though, it was actually just a preparedness movement.

Today, the government keeps promoting preparedness.  There are websites and FEMA pamphlets, for example.

Commercial survivalist literature began with Wilderness Survival, by Tom Brown.  The book explains how to survive with just the stuff on your back, how to make fire, how to find water, eat some plants and critters too.

Shafer mentioned the movie Castaway.  The character survived a big plane crash and in four years, supposedly all he did was make fire, cooked crabs, lived in a cave and talked to a volleyball.  Wasn’t that basically the entire movie?

Information in any of the books Shafer brought in would show you how to build things from A to Z to improve your life.

“You know, in four years, it seems you would have more than a grass skirt and a volleyball!  This guy wasn’t very industrious, was he?”

The Foxfire series of books shows you how to do darn near everything from building a log cabin to making herbal medicines and dressing out a deer.  Some survivalist-types believe it’s prudent to know and understand 1800s technology in case something happens to modern conveniences.

Shafer mentioned Cresson Kearny’s Nuclear War Survival Skills and the Nuclear Survival Handbook.  These are pretty technical and specific to surviving nuclear war.

Then there’s the whole bunker mentality issue.  How many scary movies have you seen where at the beginning of the movie, the world ends and people try to ride it out in their bunker?

That bunker mentality has probably been in the plot-line of a hundred-plus movies.  Even the Twilight Zone did a bunker segment where they only had enough room for a few people and the neighbors were all banging on the door.  Its been around since the 1950’s.

Shafer said he doesn’t have a bunker but when he calls in to talk radio, sometimes he’ll tell them he’s calling from his bunker.   That starts off the whole tone of the conversation pretty light hearted.

Shafer does not mean to ridicule the survivalists movement because he’s read up on it for years and years – but some folks really take it a little too seriously.

Apparently there are wealthy people that sell their stuff and move to some kind of isolated home or shelter.   They have a paranoid feeling that something bad is going to happen and they’re determined to be the last guy on earth.

Shafer talked out Mel Tappen, a successful Wall Street banker who made a fortune then moved to a survival retreat in rural Portland to get away from civilization and impending disaster, or so he thought.

He wrote a book on survival and had a newsletter.  Shafer liked his books and took some of his advice to heart.

Ironically, Tappen died as a result of a cut his foot from a broken drinking glass in his swimming pool.  The wound became infected and he spent his last couple years in a wheelchair only to put on a bunch of weight and die of a heart attack.

All of the survival stuff in the world didn’t help him.  It kind of broke Shafer’s bubble, but his book was well written.

Shafer has amassed one heck of  a collection of survival literature, many of which he brought to show for our audience.  He’ll loan you some of the books if you would like to read them.