Civilian in a Civil War Zone

This guest post is by Tom B and entry in our non-fiction writing contest .

Back in the mid-1970s I spent a couple years backpacking in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Central, and SE Asia. The part of my trip which might interest preppers was my time in Lebanon. Those poor people really did experience the end of the world as they knew it. Due to minimal government interference in the economy, Lebanon had been the great economic story of the Arab world- but it had terrible sectarian and political differences and neighbors delighted to exacerbate and exploit them for their own uses.

My experiences as a non-combatant in a civil war zone were peculiar to the place and the time -a small agricultural village in the mountains of Lebanon in the fall of 1975- and may not be what anyone expects to experience themselves. Nonetheless, it is one example of what can happen when TEOTWAWKI hits, and how it may develop.

It may not be immediately obvious that disaster has arrived as it may develop slowly: bad, then OK, bad, OK, terrible, OK again, then calamity. I am not sure there is any way to tell in advance if things will get worse, or start getting better until the bad times have passed. Being prepared is about all one can do in some situations.

I was in Lebanon because my step-sister had married a guy from New York whose grandparents had been Lebanese, and they had left a big apple orchard and a farm house to his father. My step-sister and her husband had gone over to manage the orchards in the spring of 1975, but as of August they had not gotten word out to anyone about their safety. I was backpacking in North Africa, and decided to go see how they were. Meanwhile, what we know now as the Lebanese civil war was beginning to sputter along in ever less isolated incidents of violence before igniting in all out war.

The day after I arrived, my brother-in-law’s parents arrived unannounced from New York. They too had been concerned about safety, and about the apple crop. The orchard was theirs, the house was theirs, and they proved to be very difficult to get along with in a confined and high stress situation.

In the beginning a few people would be reported killed, mostly but not entirely in Beirut, followed by a few days of quiet. Then several more people would be killed, in what amounted to little more than crazy bar fights among highly stressed people, followed by days of quiet. Then a lot of people killed, followed by more quiet. The incidents would repeat, ratcheting up, then down, and up again, with no way to know if they would get worse or better. In hind sight, it was only the beginning of a horrific war known for atrocities by all sides.

Rumors were rife, and almost impossible to confirm or refute, but true or untrue, they affected behavior. The stress of surrounding violence and economic uncertainty affected everyone.

Every day from my arrival in late August until we got out in early November, we heard full auto weapons fire every 10 to 15 seconds, 24 hours a day. Usually it was far away, sometimes accompanied by the heavier and slower fire of heavy machine guns, sometimes the thud of mortar rounds or RPGs hitting, all day, all night. The night I arrived there was a wedding celebration in a village on the other side of the valley. All night the celebration went on with people firing mostly assault weapons into the air, sometimes belt feds. Over the following months we rarely knew if firing was random, target shooting, or fighting. The uncertainty just built more stress.

As my hosts intended to stay only through the harvest, we didn’t have much in the way of stored supplies. There was equipment and agricultural supplies for the orchards, but little to no stored food, and as my brother-in-law refused to have any weapons, we had none more effective than kitchen knives. We were entirely dependent on the goodwill of those around us.

Fighting in the Beirut affected the supply line: deliveries to food stores, gas stations, and other businesses in the mountains became intermittent. Many things simply ran out. Gas station attendants carried assault rifles to prevent robberies and line skipping. One day my brother in-law drove to Syria with an empty drum in hopes of getting gas. He came home hours later, empty handed: the border was closed.

All of the few kitchens I saw in the village had hot plates or stoves fueled from propane cylinders which people normally bought either at the village store, or at a supermarket in Beirut. When the fighting got bad in Beirut, which was about a 45 minute drive down the mountains, people couldn’t go safely to the supermarket, and the village store had no propane canisters so when we ran out of fuel we cooked on the kerosene space heater in the living room and on another in the master bedroom. Alternative ways of cooking, unplanned, saved the day.

We also grilled chicken on a charcoal grill on the back porch. As the the sun went down over the distant Mediterranean we listened both to the radio news as BBC Cyprus reported on the fighting in Lebanon, and to the live sounds of fighting coming up the valley from the northern suburbs of Beirut.

With almost no store bought food at times, we made do with our one major resource: apples from the orchard. We ate a lot of windfall apples: raw apples, apples sliced and cooked with sugar, apple sauce. On one of our forays into Beirut, my brother-in-law bought a juicer, so when the electricity was working we had plenty of apple juice as well. Any way we could vary apples.

Spam was in decent supply, and we ate a lot of it. Sliced, straight from the can, or fried. I haven’t eaten the stuff since, but that was what was available, so there were weeks when we ate it every day, and at most meals.

Potable water was a sad joke. We had a pipe laid directly to a small spring above the village, but the spring itself was open, and used by goat herders to water their flocks, so the water was contaminated. The water from the public fountain across the street wasn’t so bad but nearly everyone had bouts with diarrhea of the “I have to drop trou RIGHT NOW” variety. Sometimes Lomotil worked on it, sometimes it seemed to have no effect at all. More stress.

I found it’s a good idea to carry a personal supply of toilet paper with me at all times, otherwise the only recourse was to splash water with your left hand- if water was available. And remember to eat with your right hand. That is the origin of Middle Easterners eating out of communal pots with their right hands: they traditionally used the left one to clean themselves. That also explains the Muslim practice of cutting off the right hand of a third time convicted thief: Besides being maimed, he can no longer eat out of the communal dish, so he is truly outcast.

The electrical grid extended even to our little village, but as the fighting continued it became unreliable. Much of the time we had power for the lights, but quite a few evenings were spent at least partially by candle light. Plenty of candles and matches were a necessity, and fortunately we had them.

My brother-in-law’s father decided to do major work in the yard around the house, blasting some outcroppings and using the rubble for building retaining walls to expand the garden area. Then in his seventies, he insisted on throwing rocks around, despite hired labor costing only a dollar a day, and despite the impossibility of getting him to a hospital in less than an hour if he had a heart attack. He got through it fine, but his insistence on helping caused more stress for an already stressed family.

The stress, in fact, is hard to describe, and is a subject rarely touched on in the Prepping literature. It’s debilitating: when communities are severely stressed, they react differently than they would normally. There are more arguments over trivial issues, and far more fist fights between people who normally are friends. From the moment I got to the village until we left Lebanon over two months later, we could hear automatic weapons fire all day, all night. While it was rarely nearby, several times a minute we could hear firing, never knowing if it would come closer, or how much closer, or come right to us. Rumors of atrocities were all around. Many people took them at face value, others weren’t sure, but the rumors added stress.

One night, shortly after we all went to bed, I was lying by the barred window overlooking the front porch when I heard whispers outside, then rifle bolts being pulled back and released. As I got down on the floor whoever was outside started firing, full auto. The shooting went on for only a minute or two, the last shot of each short burst blending with the first reverb as the sounds bounced around the stone village and surrounding mountain. Then there were the sounds of people running up the road toward the top of the village, more firing from there, silence, then a car driving past with lights out, then nothing.

We never found out who had been shooting, whether from the village or not. No blood on the ground. Just nothing. An emptiness. A vacuum. No one to rage at, nothing to react against. Just noises in the night, and then there were none.

The stress defined life in every way. My brother-in-law had been remodeling the old farm house for a couple summers. One of his ideas, completed the previous summer, was to turn a bedroom into a proper bathroom to New York City bachelor standards: Jet black fixtures and blood red tiled floor and walls. Walls tiled all the way to the very high ceiling. He had chosen high gloss ceramic floor tiles, slippery when wet and easily scratched by grit, so of course anyone wanting to use the bathroom had to remove his boots before going in. Then his father decided that the grout needed cleaning with a toothbrush. All of the grout. He ordered me to do it.

I was a guest, unwilling, but a guest, and we both expected me to pull my own weight. Fair enough, but for weeks he and his wife had proven themselves rude, despotic, and dictatorial to everyone also trapped in the house, always giving orders, never a request, never a thanks, vehemently finding fault with all but themselves at every opportunity. Abusing their son in front of his wife, their 6 year old, and me, calling him “a fool” and “worthless” and an “idiot” in front of us multiple times a day.

I started brushing the grout but after some minutes of thinking “This is insane. We are in a war zone, surrounded by fighting, short of food, drinking polluted water, and he is worried about grout.” I finally very carefully put down the toothbrush and stared at the wall, turned around when he demanded to know why I was stopping, and told him that if he wanted the grout cleaned, he could do it himself. I walked out, and never heard more about it.

Stress: being in a civil war zone, unarmed. Knowing that you are at the mercy of everyone who does have a gun. Stress: a gun fight outside my window, knowing that if just one of them fired a burst into the front door lock, they could come in and do anything they wanted to anyone they wanted. Stress: eating only apples, bread, and Spam every day for a week. Stress: Family members who are universally abusive. Stress: another family member who escapes into heavy doses of prescription pain pills, too drugged some days to work in the orchards or in the kitchen. Stress: Intermittent severe diarrhea. Stress: seeing a little girl emotionally and physically abused by her step-father. Stress: Barely able to stop oneself one night from beating the perpetrator with a cast iron skillet. Stress: Cannot escape. Stress: Cannot help. Stress: Trapped with people who abuse each other or cannot fight back. Stress: Still cannot help. Stress: Cannot leave. Stress: Withdraw to the bedrooms where we can still hear others criticize, bicker, and fight. Stress: Finally deciding to leave, walking out the door and down the road to hitchhike to the city and get a flight out, only to have a neighbor who works at the airport drive home and tell me neither he nor I can get to the airport today because the fighting is too bad. He will take me when he can next get to work, but not today. Stress: Going back to the house. Back to the bedroom. Write in my journal, in detail, every day. Set down some of the stress, write of the events. Preserve the experience in writing.

It doesn’t matter if you have lots of supplies at home if you are not. Some time after we finally got out of Lebanon, a large group of PLO fighters woke the village by ringing the church bell. As people walked to the church to investigate, they were told to start walking out of town. They couldn’t go back to their houses for anything. If they tried, they would be shot. So all but a few of the oldest were forced to leave with nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Then the PLO went door to door, shooting the locks off the front doors, taking what they wanted and vandalizing the rest: scissoring all of the clothes in the closets, gouging table tops and upholstery with knives, destroying all of value.

There were rumors that the people who looted my brother-in-law’s house were the workmen who had worked on rebuilding the garden in the fall. We will never know. A lesson from that may be to maintain a low profile. Be cautious of letting others know you have something worth stealing. Don’t let them see what you have, don’t tell them: Low profile.

We think small towns may be better places for preppers than isolated farm houses or cities, but when a hostile military force moves in there are only two options: become a refugee or die. Simple as that. Well armed though they were (nearly every man had an assault rifle) the villagers were out-manned and out gunned. Resistance would have been suicide. They walked.

That possibility might lead some to think that a geographically dispersed network of friendly places might be worth developing. Certainly the villagers largely had such networks: many went to live with family members in Beirut, and some sent their families overseas, especially to France and the US. Even if you have no contacts in other countries, valid passports for all family members would be necessary, and difficult to get after a breakdown.

Checks couldn’t be cashed because banks couldn’t clear the deposit checks. Cash was the thing to have. The apple crop was sold to a wholesaler, but he paid with a check which wouldn’t clear for months. There was no alternative. The Syrian employees, paid a dollar a day for the harvest, and allowed to sleep in a cement block shed, had to be content with checks which didn’t clear for months. There was no alternative.

Stores in Beirut stayed open during all but the worst days of fighting because the owners and employees had no other options: they had to make money to pay the rent, to buy food, and supplies for their families.

Several times we drove into the city to see if an appliance store had gotten in the new stove, washer, and dryer for the kitchen. My first time there the roll down metal security shutters were rolled up, but there were bullet holes in the glass window, covered with bumper stickers. Some of the appliances had bullet holes in them. Someone had driven by during the night and sprayed the shop because they thought the owner was giving money to the other side. So: cost him money so he can’t afford to give any away.

The next time we visited, the shutters were down, with over a hundred bullet holes, but the shop was open. The next time, the shutters were sieves and had a big round concave dent as well: it had been hit with a rocket. All the appliances and electronics, from refrigerators to reel to reel tape players, had holes, but the shop was still open for business: even in a war zone people had to make money to eat.

On one of those trips into town we stopped at a cabinet maker’s shop who was making cabinets for the new kitchen. There were sandbags across the end of the street and men with guns. When we told them who we were going to they let us in. The cabinets weren’t ready: there had been too much fighting to work on them. I noticed outside that the street light standards looked like cheese graters from the sidewalk up to about six feet. People had taken concealment behind them during the fighting. Every light standard on the block had hundreds of bullet holes in it’s lower six feet. Hard to imagine what that fighting had been like, but people were back at work. They had to eat.

Eventually, in early November the apples were harvested, the wholesaler’s check deposited, the workers paid with checks they couldn’t cash, and we took a service taxi along the safe route to the airport. It was so safe that the driver charged $125 US dollars for what was normally a twenty dollar trip. Well over $500 in 2012 dollars.

We made it out, though. And the driver would not take a check: just cash.

The next day the airport was closed due to shelling.

Months later, after the PLO ran the villagers out, they used the ground floor of our house as an ammunition storage bunker. Since it was built on the side of the hill, the ground floor was partly underground, and the floor above was poured concrete. The walls were cut stone and the windows barred, so it was a good choice. Later still, when the Syrian peace keeping force moved in the PLO didn’t have time to remove the ammunition, so they blew it up. The tile roof went up, the floor slab did as well, and the walls shifted out but remained partially intact. The slab ended about four feet above the ground floor.

If you go to Google maps and type in “Jouar El Haouz, Mount Lebanon, Lebanon” you will find the village I was in. Zoom in and you will see an orange tile roof inside (South) the tight bend in the road which runs through the village. That’s the Catholic church. The ruins of the house we lived in are directly across the street to the NW of the church. Zoom out a bit and follow the road South East and you can see blue reservoirs dug to irrigate apple orchards. Best Starkins and Golden Delicious ever. Crisp, juicy, tart to sweet depending on when they are picked.

I was back in the Middle East in the summer of 1977. The war was in a lull then and I was able to spend a few hours in the village. Some people had moved back by then, and showed me the vandalism committed against their property: the shot open doors, slashed clothes and upholstery. Anything to cost the other side. And, of course, I looked at the ruins of the house.

The most shocking thing I saw was a pair of teenage sisters who I had known in 1975. We had talked in broken French, English, and Arabic, teasing each other while picking apples. In 1977 they seemed happy to see me back, and pulled out their snapshots to show me what they had been doing for the last two years. In their snaps they were dressed in olive drab uniforms, carrying assault rifles, and at ages 15 and 17 had been defending themselves by killing the enemy.

I heard later that, when the war resumed full blast, their family got out and moved in with extended family in New Jersey. Later still, they moved back to Lebanon. TEOTWAWKI had finally ended for them.

This contest will end on October 10 2012 – prizes include:

  • First Place : $100 Cash.
  • Second Place : $50 Cash.
  • Third Place : $25 Cash.

Contest ends on October 10 2012.

About M.D. Creekmore

M.D. Creekmore is the owner and editor of He is the author of four prepper related books and is regarded as one of the nations top survival and emergency preparedness experts. Read more about him here.


  1. Homeinsteader says:

    Tom B: Thank you for sharing; so much to think about, so much to learn. So much to do.

  2. Riveting. By far the best post I have read on here.

  3. Thanks for you observations. Your writing style allowed me to follow your experience clearly.

  4. Tactical G-Ma says:

    Thank you for your story. What you experienced was horrible and still wasn’t the worst. Most of us can only imagine what it was like but your story helped me get a better image. I wish for you and your family peace of mind and healing.

  5. THat happening here would be pretty bad , it also depends on the factions as well , during the last civil war , civillians were treated much much better by the Confederates than by the Union . Just sayin .

  6. nyquil762 says:

    Thanks a bunch for sharing your very personal story. The insights that you communicated were riveting! Most of us in the United States barely see war on television anymore (let alone experience it). Hopefully, we can all learn from your insights. Thanks again and be well. nyquil762

  7. Thank you, Tom B. This is the type of information we need so much!

  8. An excellent account of a first person narrative. This is no Walter Mitty fantasy. The truth of the events smacks you in the face as “This is real.” The uncertainty of conditions and the future, the reality of the reality and trying to make plans when in fact mostly reacting to insane situations causes the stress to take hold. He is right about the effect of stress and how it is pretty much not addressed elsewhere. Stress is handled in different ways by different people, but it it there, it is distracting, it is debilitating and it makes things worse. This story is real. No false bravado and no sugar coating. This is the best account. Truely remarkable and makes you feel like you are there.

    • “stress…is debilitating and it makes things worse.”

      It does. Far worse. Stress makes so many people so much more violent than they would normally be that it is a major part of the cycle. It is hard to imagine what a society is like after it has been stressed like the Lebanese were.

      We took an English language Lebanese newspaper when we could get it, and the stories of friends shooting friends over foosball games, of a man chasing a kid down the street with a cleaver over a dead chicken, of people just flipping out over something trivial and killing a friend were in every issue.

      I was in Istanbul during a time of terrible inflation- over 100% interest rates for loans, if they could get a loan. People were really touchy. I guess I was pretty jaded, because it wasn’t until one afternoon when I was walking around and thought “Huh! It’s two o’clock and I haven’t seen a single fist fight all day” that being surprised at the lack of violence is not the way most people live. I’ve been back a few times since then, but the economy has always been much better, and people were behaving normally. I’ve never seen any violence anywhere in Turkey since then.

      It was weird to realize that seeing two or three fistfights a day didn’t strike me as unusual. Stress does that: people who aren’t normally violent get very violent, and others stop noticing.

  9. Suburban Housewife says:

    Wow – what an experience! well told too

  10. Definitely a good account of what can happen in a bad situation. I would say that you are lucky you made it out alive. Lots of food for thought.

  11. ace riley says:

    americans are lucky to never have had to experience such a nation wide event such as a civil war in a very long time. hopefully it can stay that way.

    glad you where able to make it out and tell your story

  12. Great piece, Tom B.! I’ll try to email to other family members who either don’t know about your experience or never knew the details. xo

  13. GoneWithTheWind says:

    You should have left. In almost every case of a story of danger and sufferring the people involved failed to take steps early on in the saga. I know, I know, there are a hundred reasons you couldn’t or didn’t but I think it’s important to understand this point if there is anything to learn from this story. When faced with a situation that is quickly headed South tell your friends and loved ones with you it’s time to go, make the situation clear if they don’t understand and then go with or without them. If the situation warrants then use a little subtrafuge when you leave for your safety. Like excuse yourself to use the restroom and disappear or climb out a bedroom window at 3:00 am and put some miles between you and the danger. Imagine how different this story would be if it was you sister telling it and it ended with your death. The fact that you are here today to tell this story is pure luck/chance.

    • I agree, GWTW. I tried twice by myself before succeeding -with the family- the third time.

      The first time, I said goodbye and simply started walking down the road, hoping for a ride. That’s when the neighbor who worked at the airport picked me up and told me the fighting was too intense.

      The second time he and I drove down to Beirut, but, without giving a very long and stressful day it’s due, we couldn’t make it to the airport and went back to the village.

      The third time was after the apple harvest was in and we all got out during a short lull in the fighting, the others to Europe on any flight available and I to Iran and points east.

      There were only a couple reasons against leaving, but they were important. Leaving before the harvest would have meant walking away from what in today’s money would be something over half a million dollars profit, with no Lebanese taxes due. I wouldn’t have gotten any of that, but part of it would have gone to my step-sister’s husband.

      Without getting into what today would be termed seriously dysfunctional family dynamics, neither my step-sister nor her six year old daughter were going to leave ahead of her husband. I felt I needed to stay to support her and her daughter within that abusive extended family.

      I finally decided that my support was really not much help, and I was pretty run down with all the stress myself. That is when I started trying to get out.

      Remember the bit about putting down the toothbrush when I gave up cleaning the tile grout? I probably stood there staring blankly at the grout from ten inches away for the next ten minutes, almost nothing going through my mind beyond “I just cannot do this. I cannot do this. I just cannot do this. I can’t.” That is one of the ways stress affects some people.

      Another aspect was that we just didn’t feel all that unsafe in the village.There was the shooting around the house one night, but that was the only incident while we were there. There were rumors of killings in nearby villages, but never, so far as I knew, confirmed.

      The real danger was going to the airport: the very act of getting out was the most dangerous thing we could do. While the airport was often, even generally, open,the road to it was often covered by snipers.

      I wish we had gotten out sooner, and still find it hard to believe that the family didn’t send the two women and child out. But that is the way it was.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        Thanks for that response. After I wrote what I did I thought maybe it came off too strident. What I was really trying to do was maybe help others who might be pulled into a similar situation. Life is full of lessons and not all of them easy. What is easy is to learn from the mistakes/misfortunes of others. Your story was a warning to others to maintain situational awareness and when your “spidey sense” starts tingling to act

    • Ditto.

      I was on the evacuation of Beirut in 1976 & follow-on ops later on…mass chaos, but a hell of a lot of fun for a 19 year old Cpl.

      In ANY religious conflict you are going to lose & it is time to get out of Dodge. It was your “Step Sister,” not really related by blood & sounds like her Hubby & his parents were the typical Mid-East control Freaks, throwing common sense to the wind.

      So I have to wonder what was really keeping you around?

      Been going over this same scenario in my head, sans high stress family environment, and have come to a few conclusions:

      1. Everyone needs their space, so plan ahead for it.
      2. Anyone trying to become overbearing or a control freak needs an intervention or shown to the gate.
      3. Priority of Work should be voted on…not forced upon someone, unless they are NOT pulling their weight, then rule number 2.
      4. Be willing to sacrifice for the sake of others…thus setting the example (caveat: in a close knit circle of trust).
      5. Laugh…there is always an entertainer in the crowd (no matter how bad they are), so let them entertain the group at night & get a good laugh in…works wonders.

  14. WOW!!! the word “riveting” has been used 3 time so far and im fixing to use it a 4th. this was a riveting story,but it only whetted my appetite to hear more. i would love to hear about how you purchased things,if barter was widespread,if there were any hard fast general rules for bartering. i’d love to hear a lot more about getting food,cooking food,fuel for cooking and hygiene,how was it handled? was hygene affected by the war? there are so many avenues i would love to pursue if there was some forum here (HINT HINT) the we could ask questions. great story and thanks for taking the time to put it into words. Brad

    • Thank you, BC.

      So far as I know, bartering never was important while I was there. As I recall, the village was only about 200 people, many of them distantly related to my step-sister’s father-in-law. There was some reciprocity going on, like in most families. The orchard foreman’s wife made flat bread twice a week, and made extra for us, no charge.

      Hygiene: Hygiene in the village was not notably good- think of the water supply. I’m not sure it went down hill a lot tho, at least while we were there.

      The postal system fell apart though: I remember reading, I think after we got out, that so much mail accumulated during the fighting that the postal employees just dumped 20 tons of it into the Mediterranean sea.

      All the way through the war, the Lebanese maintained a cash economy, first with Lebanese lira, which were gold backed, and after the looting of the gold reserves, with other countries’ money, definitely including American dollars.

      Despite the incredible destruction, especially in the cities, people were investing in Lebanon all the way through. The apple orchards were astonishingly profitable, and people from other Arab countries bought land, terraced it, dug reservoirs to collect snow and run off during the spring, planted trees, and waited for money to grow on them.

      I am definitely not saying that in a similar situation barter would not develop, but people are used to using money. The Lebanese used checks which both writer and receiver knew would not clear the banks for months. The trust was amazing.

      And, of course, barter is very inefficient: if one party has apples, and wants propane, but the guy with propane doesn’t want any more apples, then there has to be a big discount in the price of apples so the recipient can find someone who does want apples, and before they rot.

      My guess is that barter economies (not economies where a few people engage sometimes in barter, but where everyone does, all the time) are impoverished economies. It may well”work” better than no exchange at all, so if that is the alternative, you go for it, but it is very inefficient. That’s why money was invented and became so popular: much more efficient.

      • This is a riveting experience we can learn from, but as bartering has it’s fallbacks in lebanon or limited people, being diverse in supplies and skills can work out most of the time. It is how civilization started, and how people became diverse based on the needs of trade.

        Placing faith in a Christian God in how he would want me to behave has helped me under stressful times. (Stress meaning I had 8 bad people trying to kill me at once with an ex boyfriend’s strangulation on me due to abuse, a neighbor who hated me and shot at me, and 6 men sent to shoot me because I was a witness to illegal activities). I have seen many without faith lash out in anger,rage, false accusations, hate, and killing without understanding the emotion which they let get out of control. If stress gets the best of people, it will do them in as I had seen my perpitrators lose everything for it.

        God has a purpose. Be wise, be prepared, be faithful.

  15. Tom B
    We’re glad you were able to get through that as well as you did.The telling of those events and experiences are exactly what we need to know,how is it really going to be, what will it really be like.I can sit here at my computer desk in the living room of home and guess as to what it’ll be like,hope I have all my bases covered,but when you hear what the reality is you can get a real sence of what you’re going to need to do.
    We all know that it won’t be easy no matter how well prepared we think we are.
    Stress is a huge factor in everyday life,a dangerous situation will only increase it a thousand fold.Even now I’ve noticed shorter tempers and a general dark cloud around the worse things are getting.Just hanging out with friends the conversation turns into a bitchfest about how bad it is.
    Finding a way to manage stress, everyday or emergency, is vital to keeping it together and making it through tuff times. Diet ,exercise, meditation can all do wonders,even just a few minutes a day of you time may be all that is needed to stay healthly and on your game.

    • Thank you, too, Big D.

      I left out a lot of things because the story was so long already, but I may work on an addendum.

      While I can’t really add much about specific “How To”s that lots of people haven’t already covered better than I could, I may be able to give some insights into what it looks and feels like to be in a society which is collapsing into incredible, stomach turning violence and destruction- without going into the very gory details. It seems odd, but the economy continued functioning, and people maintained a great deal of trust in each other, at least when they weren’t on opposing sides.

      • Tom B
        I’ll be first in line ,shut up and take my money,for the book you right with all the details.
        The real stuff ,the looks ,the feel,the details of everyday life that we wouldn’t even think of, thats what we need to hear. Not just so we can prepare, but maybe so we can not let it happen in the first place.

  16. This is the BEST entry I have read in the last 2 years! Thank you.

  17. Tom, thank you for sharing your experiences in Lebanon. I too was captivated by your account.

    How did y’all manage to protect the apples in the orchard? Seems like it would be hard to prevent people from coming in and taking them. Did most people have their own fruit trees, or did they get tired of apples or were there just so many that there were always some left for you?

    • Good question, Lantana. I discovered that the security issue for “our” orchard was not with the apples, but with the water supply.

      The orchard had about 5000 trees. Someone could easily have stolen a few dozen apples during the night, and we would never have known it, but stealing a meaningful number would have been tough for three reasons: The thieves would have needed a lot of crates, a truck to move them, and they would have had to work at night. The fighting in Beirut held up the harvest a number of times because the crates were in a warehouse in a combat zone (resulting in too many windfalls, which cannot be crated lest they ruin the other apples i.e. One bad apple spoils the bushel). So, if crates were impossible for us to get, they were for thieves as well.

      If any neighbor had needed apples to eat themselves, I think any wise owner should have been delighted to tell them to take all the windfalls they could use. Helping the neighbors is a major way of building a support network at any time. During a crisis it is all the more important. Being generous with windfalls would be cost free as there were too many for us to eat, they couldn’t be used otherwise, and thefts couldn’t be stopped anyway. However, I never heard of the issue coming up.The workers who helped with the harvest certainly took all the windfalls they wanted.

      Water: All the water for irrigating the entire orchard was stored in one reservoir dug into the mountain above the orchard, carried down to the top of the orchard in a pipe, and from there through a complex of open ditches which allowed watering one section at a time. The trees had to be watered regularly, and lack of water could damage the quality of the crop, possibly severely.

      I was told one day that I would be spending the next couple days sitting by the valve at the top of the pipe to prevent a particular orchard owner from pirating the water for his own trees. Apparently the guy had a history of doing so, at the end of the season water supplies were tight, and my step-sister’s father-in-law was present and not about to allow it. So he went to another town to have a metal box made which could be locked around the valve,but I would just sit there on the assumption that no one was going to get violent over it.

      So, I had a fairly pleasant, if mostly boring couple of days standing guard while the box was made. The only person I saw was a goat herd who brought his goats to drink. No one had mentioned him to me, but since he was carrying an assault rifle I just smiled and waved: my job was to protect the valve and thousands of gallons, and I wasn’t inclined to get shot over a few goats-full.

      It wasn’t until I got back to the house that night that I found out it was, in fact, OK for him to water the flock there: they didn’t drink much water, and it is quite important to maintain good relations with people who can hurt you badly simply by not mentioning things you want to know about- like who is stealing your water.

  18. Really great post. What you are talking about are REAL survival scenarios. If some of us the the US could read this post we would stop thinking that prepping for what we have to deal with here is such a big deal and get on with in.

  19. akalls001 says:

    Time and again we see on the news about actions like Tom described…and I do NOT want to hear that there is nothing one can do…..pick up a weapon any way possible, stealing comes to mind, so does assaulting one who has one and take his….then ya be a man, stand up and defend yourself and those ya care about…..people all over are sheep and they are used and abused because they let it happen…..and I didn’t get a lot about prepping out of this except “ya don’t have enough”, or the stores are closed so it is too late….most people do NOT believe in TEOTWAWKI so they do nothing to prepare, and be prepared to defend themselves….there is always a way, and running away works but don’t come crying to me…..and Tom, how is it that you could spend a couple YEARS bumming around Europe, etc. in the first place…too much money?
    Just another spoiled rich kid are ya? ARE YOU PREPARED, and do you BELIEVE in TEOTWAWKI?


    Lewis in MN

    • Tactical G-Ma says:

      Lewis in MN,
      Wow dude. When is the last time you were in a war zone? When you walk a mile in his shoes then you can be an a**hole.
      Just like the rest of us, he did what he felt best.

      Besides, 1st rule of the pack is tact, not attack.

    • Lewis,

      Have you taken your meds today? No need for personal attacks.

    • >>pick up a weapon any way possible, stealing comes to mind, so does assaulting one who has one and take his…<<

      Hi Lewis, I can only speak for myself. Stealing and assaulting innocent people doesn't work for me. If it does for you, that's your choice. You may well live longer than I.

      At a purely tactical level, morality aside, if one can do that, stealing anything from a member of the community in which one lives is a great way to get ejected from the community. I think being an unarmed guest in good standing is a better way to protect oneself.

      Stealing from an outside community, in the situation we were in, was simply impossible.Trying to do so would have resulted in immediate death.

      Remember: None of us was a real member of the village community: even my step-sister's father-in-law had left it when he was in his teens, only to return intermittently after his father had died and left him the house and orchard. We were all outsiders dependent on the community.

      One can be highly prepared at home and still be caught out while traveling. I believe that stealing from your hosts, from the community, or from an adjacent community is a great way to immediately -and appropriately- lose the protection of people who have only a tenuous responsibility to help one, and a great way to get shot.

      I don't know the perceptions of the Lebanese, especially outside the village. We were essentially outsiders. The upside of that is that we were not a threat to anyone: we had not explicitly taken sides. If we had stolen guns from anyone, we would have thereby declared ourselves partisans. Stolen from a villager? There are things worse than being a resident outsider: Being a resident criminal is sure high among them.

      You have to decide your own moral parameters,and what is practical in a given situation. I am not interested in stealing from the neighbors, and assaulting someone in another village is likely to be riskier than minding my own business.

  20. Great stuff, Tom, especially the psychology of stress. We should all pay more attention to this aspect of preparation and survival.

  21. I agree with Otto…..
    I wonder how do you prepare for such constant stress?
    Great insights Tom, and I am very glad you survived to give them!

  22. SurvivorDan says:

    Good first hand account. I understand the stress and the feeling of helplessness. I saw a lot of bad stuff in Nicaragua many years ago mostly perpetrated by the murderous FSLN. Unarmed people were exploited, robbed and murdered. Most of the time we were unable to intervene. It’s not always as clear cut and simple as some have commented here. I was an armed (mostly) baby sitter and taxi driver for various American civilian gov’t workers doing ‘humanitarian work during the civil strife.
    Sorry you went through that terrible time in Lebanon Tom B. Such an experience weighs heavily on one’s psyche, even decades later.

  23. Hey guys,

    Georges here, I’m a 32 yrs old male from Beirut, Lebanon. I’m a long time lurker, first time poster. I just love, so much awesome info.

    Tom B, first of all, great article brother, you were here during the early days of the Lebanese Civil War (LCW) and I’m glad you survived and were able to leave safely with your loved ones.

    I was born the 1980, and lived my childhood in West Beirut, where shootings, shellings, killings, kidnappings, carbombs, and other fun stuff were a daily occurence. As a Christian family in a muslim-dominated area, we had our shares of hassles and stresses, in addition to the day-to-day issues everyone else had.

    Surviving through the nightmare makes you realize quite a few things about life, death, and people. The most important thing is to take the Boy Scout motto “Be Prepared” seriously: my family always had food supplies to last us a few weeks, along with water, both potable and for hygiene.

    Being “Grey” was crucial, and so was having good relations with your neighbours, especially if you are a member of a religious minority.

    Having weapons at home is crucial, especially since if you live in an area where you’re considered fair game and therefore liable to get kidnapped/ shot/ etc. In our building, there were a few Christians (Both Lebanese as well as Armenians) families that were politically neutral, ambiguous about owning allegience to any party, and kept other in the dark about gun ownership. These factors meant that no one messed with them. A good thing, as there was little hope of crossing the “Green Line, separating East (Christian) and West (Muslim) Beirut. Snipers were on the lookout for people so you kept close to wall, didnt go out much unless there was a cease fire and you needed food and water.

    If M.D and you guys are interested in an article about my childhood and teen years living in Beirut, I would be honored to share it with the Wolf Pack.

    Take care, stay safe, and God Bless.

    Georges Z. Fahmy – M.A
    Director of Operations – Greater Middle East
    Senshido International
    +961 3 499 712

    • Georges, I would very much appreciate anything you can tell us about life in Beirut. I had the perspective of an outsider in a small village, and only for a bit over two months at the very beginning. There was terrible fighting going on at times, but not where we were.

      Growing up in an urban war zone had to be very different, both in kind and duration.

      So many of the published accounts of war are told from the perspectives of the soldiers. I think more about the perspectives of non-combatants -and those who started as non-combatants and were drawn into taking sides- would be more useful for most of us, and just plain interesting.


      • SurvivorDan says:

        Ditto georges. Love to get your perspective. It may seem like ‘just’ history to some but that’s how we learn not to repeat mistakes or how to make the best of a lawless Collapse. Bring it…

    • GeorgiaBoy says:

      Welcome, Georges. I would be very interested in such an article.

    • I would definitely like to hear your story. Welcome to the Wolfpack!

      • im glad i came back to read some comments. i would love to hear your account of growing up under those conditions and how you coped. i think the fear we seem to have is that the conditions you and tom experienced, may someday be a reality here. this would explain our burning curiosity.

  24. GeorgiaBoy says:

    Great post, thanks for sharing your experience.
    I think you are spot on in your thoughts about bartering above-vastly less efficient than a money based economy, but no doubt The more barter items someone has, the better off they’ll be-food, liquor, medical and hygiene items, tools, seeds, skills, etc.

    • ” but no doubt The more barter items someone has, the better off they’ll be”

      I think you are right, GeorgiaBoy.

      A slightly different aspect is that the more you have, the more you can share with the friendly neighbors. That builds solidarity and trust, as well as some level of mutual obligation. I think that can well be more important even than bartering, at least with the immediate neighborhood. Strangers, of course, not so much.

      I think of it this way: If my neighbor comes over asking for help taking a tree down, I don’t ask what he will give me in return. I just help. Sometime down the line I will want some help and he will owe me. Also, the other neighbors figure out that I contribute to the community, and are more willing to help me when I need help.

      When I moved into our house I made a point of introducing myself to our neighbors as I saw them working in their yards. A few have remained quite stand-offish, but I am on good terms with five of them. We don’t socialize, but when we see each other we stop and chat for a few minutes.

      That keeps communication going and we all find out about current events- like the time our house was burgled a couple years ago. All the neighbors who are friendly with us knew it the same day or the day after. That lets them be on the lookout.

      In return, a neighbor saw a homeless person standing by our mailbox when we weren’t home, and after she thought about it a minute, called the police. It was a small act, but it may have saved us some trouble. If she had thought “Oh, a homeless person by that creep’s mailbox”, maybe she would have called, and then again, maybe not.

      Having some things to help the neighbors with in emergencies, like, as you mentioned, medical and hygiene items, or bleach to purify water, cost relatively little, but can pay off in a big way in good will.

      I guess I have gone off on a tangent from bartering, but I think they are related, especially in the kinds of goods involved. Some people you just give stuff or your time to, other people you trade the same stuff or time with.

      Barter with outsiders might be very useful at times, and some level of mutual reciprocity with the insiders/neighbors is useful all the time. If someone abuses the system, well then you have to deal with that, but so far I haven’t found it a problem.

  25. Thank you for the account Tom B. I enjoyed the read, thank you for sharing and following up with answers to the questions afterward.

  26. Sometimes the romantic ideas of being in a third world country are not what they seem to be. My mother was vacationing in mexico once and was seranaded by the sound of small arms set at full auto.

  27. That was interesting reading, I couldn’t put the monitor down. The gun fire all night, the screaming families being slaughtered in their homes for the TV, the gun fire from the screeching cars going down the side streets, the bodies heaped in the abandoned houses next store.

    I feel lucky I just live at the edge of Detroit – no civil war here.

    • Tactical G-Ma says:

      Michael C,
      You were being facetious, weren’t you?

      One of my daughters taught school for a spell in inner city Memphis. Not good. Ever see the old movie Fort Apache, The Bronx?

      • T. G-Ma,
        Yeah, I saw that movie with ol’ blue eyes (Steve McQueen). I remember the scene where he flips his hat around to try and disarm a hostage situation.

        As far as facetious, only the last line…I don’t feel lucky.

        • Tactical G-Ma says:

          The movie I was referring to was ft. Apache the Bronx w/ Paul Newman. The Bronx, where Yankee Stadium is, was without law during the 70’s. Mob rule. That is what I imagine Detroit is like now.
          It is a terrible thing when people become hopeless.

  28. Tactical G=ma…………….1971 and 1972, Danang (Rocket City) Viet Nam…how about you???????????????

    Lewis in MN

    • Tactical G-Ma says:

      I was a spook in Anchorage. Then Misawa 73-76. Remember the only women in combat were nurses. But I was with AFSOUTH ALLIED WAS HQ (NATO) 80-86. I think my close encounters with the Red Brigade gives me a little insight. Course the only time I fired an M-16 or .45 was for quals but I volunteered for everything but ERA didn’t pass. Oh, and went to too many closed casket funerals of men I knew and worked with. Does that count?

  29. Okay…..maybe a bit harsh…..but I will NOT apologize for my opinions

    Lewis in MN

  30. Tom…………of course taking from your own is not recommended…guess I need to be more clear………….take it from someone who wants to use it on you…..or that has already been shot and killed….and what if rhe only ones around want to do you in???????? Do unto others FIRST………..

    And Tactical G-ma…..I guess we would have called you a REMF…sorry, is true…..and when you see piles of clothing cut off a GI, full of blood and whatnot, or drive by the Morgue….then ya were there…

    Lewis in MN

  31. Tactical G-Ma says:

    What does REMF mean? It is an acronym I don’t recall.

    My whole point was that everyone should feel safe enough to tell their story on this blog with harsh ridicule.

  32. Tactical G-Ma says:

    You can disreguard my earlier question. I now know whar REMF means and that was me.

    • SurvivorDan says:

      For others: REMF = Rear Echelon Motherf*****. Essentially a desk warmer or non-combatant brass. And for those that served honorably in such a capacity, no disrespect from me. Those are essential jobs which support the combat troops.

      REMF as a pejorative is usually reserved for those that Monday morning quarterback field decisions or think up’ handcuffing’ rules of engagement or those brass who hurl young men into the abyss without a lot of thought about the consequences to those putting it all on the line.

      • SurvivorDan says:

        Most military personnel who served in support positions (about 80 – 90%) performed a necessary function to get the troops where they needed to be and with the equipment they needed to have.
        There were only a handful of dirt bags among them whom I derisively called….REMF.
        To the rest….thank you for your service.

      • SD:

        Both the DW and I were REMFs. Worse we were Military Intelligence! I told people we were so far in the rear, if we turned around we’d be in the front. Concrete buildings with no windows. Or large buildings w/lots of windows. One of the reasons why I get a little fired up when Joe blamed the Intel Community for the poor decisions made by the politicians.

        Quote from “Midway”: “So how much of this can you truly read? …10%. Hell, Joe you’re guessing. We like to call it analysis.”

        But it’s like using airplanes to blow up buildings, if it hasn’t been done before, the PTB have a hard time accepting that it could happen.

      • GoneWithTheWind says:

        I too was a REMF and served 20 years including the entire Vietnam war period. The closest I got to Vietnam was the West coast of the U.S. Make no mistake I know as all former military know that the guys in the fight, the ones putting their lives on the line are the heros. I have no illusions that I was ever at personal risk. I have the greatest respect for our fighting forces; Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, special forces and any others I may have left out. The job of the REMF was to support the mission and our biggest sacrifice was sometimes working 12 hour days or 6 1/2 days a week. Having said all that, I’m uncomfortable with any fellow military member denigrating the efforts or jobs of one of his compatriots. You don’t elevate yourself by lowering others.

  33. Tactical G-Ma says:

    And Lewis,
    Thank you for serving our nation in Vietnam. I apologize for not chosing my words better and for going on the defensive. You certainly deserve better than that.

  34. Thank you all for the warm welcome, I will spend some time writing an article and submit it to M.D when its ready. 🙂

  35. I wasn’t off my meds……but sometimes I act before thinking….I just remember in Nam the local populaces did nothing to protect themselves….a hundred would be held at gun point by three and just stand there…why not overpower them, take their weapons and defend yourselves????? Sure, some will die, but most will live and then be responsible for their own safety…I remember watching a convoy of ARVN’s going out on patrol, about 500 of them….the next day they came streaming back, WITHOUT their weapons, tanks, etc……they refined to defend themselves…..If they won’t fight for their country why did we let them come here? The same with Lebanon…
    anyway, I do apologize to Tom….when it comes down to it, we are responsible for our own safety….

    Lewis in MN

    • Apology accepted, Lewis. Thanks. We all act before thinking some times, and later regret it. Sometimes someone pushes the right button without knowing or intending, and whammo. It happens.

      >>in Nam the local populaces did nothing to protect themselves….a hundred would be held at gun point by three and just stand there…why not overpower them, take their weapons and defend yourselves????? <<

      My guess is that was your button: you saw the results of passivity in the face of deadly danger and it made a big impression, as it should.

      I think the passivity can be mindset, not necessarily what I would call cowardice, though that may be the case many times, too.

      I don't know what kind of cultural childhood training kids got in Vietnam, but nowadays American kids in public schools are trained to be passive in the face of bullying or outright assault. Just think of all the cases in the papers where a kid defends himself and gets the same punishment for fighting which the clear aggressor gets. Essentially, defending oneself is a schoolyard crime.

      Kids are explicitly taught they must soak it up and then go tell an authority figure who will then investigate and then may or may not do something in response to an assault which is already over.

      That teaches a mindset which can last a lifetime. It teaches that you must not defend yourself, and that your personal safety is the responsibility only of others, and that those others will not protect you during the event itself. And you WILL be punished for defending yourself. Essentially our school boards have made self defense as serious a violation as criminal assault.

      I think that system is criminal. Not illegal, of course, but criminal nonetheless.

      I remember three time I was bullied in grade school, junior high, and high school. In the first two cases, since I had long been told fighting was bad, be a good boy, follow the rules about not fighting, I wanted to follow the rules, so I put up with the bullying. I didn't know what else to do. I wasn't afraid of the fight itself,I was trying to be good.

      The first two times I kept backing down, and that resulted in the bullying getting worse over several days. In each case I finally broke through my training/mindset and beat the kid bloody, and that was the end of the bullying.

      The third time was in freshman year of high school, and my immediate response was counter attack. That worked too. I not only was never bullied by that kid again, but since it happened in a study hall a lot of other kids saw it happen and everyone saw the result of bullying me. I had no problems with bullying after that. Fortunately it happened a minute or so before the teacher walked in, so neither of us was punished, despite a couple overturned desks and books all over the floor.

      In my case, my problem wasn't that I was afraid of fighting, but that I had an emotional need to obey the rules, to obey (and please) my parents, and my understanding of the rules and expectations were that I mustn't fight.

      I was wrong, by the way, at least about my parents: after they found out about the second fight they were happy that I had defended myself. They weren't against fighting or self defense, they were against me bullying others. Defending myself was fine. I just hadn't understand that distinction.

      Jews from Spain to Russia learned to be passive, and for centuries suffered humiliations, rape, beatings, and murder. Some of the survivors of the Holocaust learned the right lesson.

      Until the Stonewall Riots of 1969, homosexuals were persecuted at levels hard to believe today. One can sympathize with them, or despise them -that's up to you- but the lesson one can draw is that the persecutions stopped when the police raided the Stonewall Bar and the patrons responded by throwing bricks and burning cars. There is a good account of the event at if you plug "Stonewall Riots" into search field. If you do, don't miss footnote 1.
      Maybe even start with it to provide context about the bullying being perpetrated by government against people who wouldn't defend themselves.

      This is getting long-winded, but I guess my point it that passivity can be taught, and learned. And it can be unlearned.

      It's all mindset.

      • GeorgiaBoy says:

        Tom, wow, I completely agree with you on what has happened in American schools, and that is it is criminal. And of course that same viewpoint/attitude is found outside the schools- that all violence is bad, don’t defend yourself, call the authorities. I don’t see how anyone can disagree with or punish anyone for defending themselves, but you’re right, they do.

      • Petnumber1 says:

        Tom B – I love, love, LOVE what you say about bullying. It is only becoming a bigger and bigger issue now because kids are taught (forced?) to take a passive approach. I guarantee it wouldn’t take long for the bullies of this world to learn their lesson if kids were allowed to fight back. I have always taught this to my kids – try once to be diplomatic; if that is rejected, defend yourself by whatever means necessary, and if you get in trouble, I’ll defend you to the death. One kid in our community a couple of years ago got tired of being bullied, and he beat the hell out of the kid who was constantly harassing and smacking him around. Guess what? He got arrested. He now has a record. Just because he defended himself. What’s a kid to do? And what kind of kids are we raising?

        • >>He got arrested. He now has a record. Just because he defended himself. What’s a kid to do? And what kind of kids are we raising?<<

          Petnumber1, Whenever I have thought about the subject, a couple things come to mind, and they have both upsides and down.

          One, we are teaching kids to disrespect authority, because those in authority have thrown away the respect which ought to be automatically accorded their position. At least I hope that some significant portion learn to have no respect for those who do not deserve it.

          I think it is a good thing to question authority, not to necessarily reject it, but not to accept it without question. School boards today make it really easy to question.

          The downside is that all too many learn to refuse to respect even legitimate authority. They may not be able to distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate.

          The same goes for having a police record. A record in a decent society is a badge of shame. As ever more respectable people get that badge because of bad laws, though, it loses its shame and may even become a bit of an honor. That is a terrible thing for a society.

          One of the worst things our country is doing to itself is failing to resolve the issue of how to secure the borders and deal with illegal aliens.

          I happen to be strongly in favor of legal immigration. My brother in law is Spanish, and my other sister's long time boyfriend is Dutch/Indonesian. Good people, and they played by the rules.

          I don't know how to deal well with the now high school age or older illegals who were brought here as small children by their parents. Their being here isn't their fault, and many are now highly Americanized. I feel bad for the situation their parents put them in, and which we have not resolved.

          However, I am satisfied that giving illegals amnesty of any kind will do two things, one bad and the other catastrophic.

          First, amnesty rewards not merely bad behavior but explicitly illegal behavior. Like philanthropy, which aims to subsidize something -museums, schools, hospitals, whatever- in order to get more of it, rewarding illegal behavior will encourage more of the same. We do not need more people here who's very presence is a declaration of disrespect for our laws.

          The effect of amnesty which I think would be catastrophic is the effect on the American public's view of what is sometimes called the social contract.

          Generally, we believe that we should follow the laws, even when we may disagree with them. If it is important enough, we may work to change the law to better suit us. We teach that to our kids, and while we may not follow it perfectly, most people are pretty good about it. It shapes our culture in the same way that evading laws shapes others.

          Giving amnesty would put the government in the position of demonstrating unequivocally that following laws we disagree with is for fools, and it would be doing so in front of our children.

          My guess, and it is only that, is that it doesn't take much more than a single generation for a law-abiding society to morph into a law evading society. All it really takes is a generation of law-abiders to be publicly shown to be fools.

          When I was in high school, a business executive told me that he had gone to Italy, hoping to engineer a purchase of an Italian company by the company he was working for. He told me that when he got there the company execs were very cordial, and very open about their business practices. They showed him three sets of financial books, saying "These are the financials we show the government tax collectors. This set is what we show the company's owners. And this set shows the real finances."

          That's the way business was done in Italy, and was one of the reasons much of Italy was poverty stricken. No one could trust anyone.

          As you might imagine, the American exec walked away from the deal, saying there was no way a publicly traded company in America could have that sort of subsidiary.

          Imagine that attitude toward government, toward authority, toward honesty, taking over here.

          We aren't far from it already. There is at least anecdotal evidence that business executives are far less honest than they were a generation ago, that financial reports cannot be trusted as they used to be, and that there is far more crony capitalism than a generation or two ago.

          We aren't so far from becoming Italy. And that moral collapse, that realization that playing by the rules is for suckers when the rules themselves are crooked, may be all it takes to push us over the edge.

          Sorry for the gloom!

    • GeorgiaBoy says:

      I completely agree with your point about Vietnam, and have always been surprised that that point doesn’t get made in a lot of the books about Vietnam, which talk about how the US lost the war, when ultimately the South Vietnamese didn’t fight hard enough to keep their country.

  36. ah……..they refused to defend themselves

  37. Im sure a lot of you already know of this site , its called surviving in Argentina ….he changed it to The Modern Survivalist , but this guy lived through that countries collaps ……some of the things he says are pretty sobering and grim .

  38. I have never seen the site before, which is here:

    However, I have read his book, “Surviving The Economic Collapse” by Fernando “FerFAL” Aguirre. I found myself nodding in agreement all the way through whenever he talked about situations anything like what I experienced in Lebanon.

    He definitely knows what he is talking about, and he brings an important perspective. He experienced lousy government, economic collapse, and a huge rise in criminal behavior, but not a civil war. It was different, and therefore well worth the $25 or so Amazon charges.

    He covers a lot of material on weapons and tactics, cash and trade, and back up retreats in other countries, but I found his description of the every day effects of the financial meltdown extremely interesting. It was terrible.

    As I recall, he is very critical of the isolated farmhouse strategy because the isolation leaves the occupants totally at the mercy of criminals: there is no one to come to your help, there is no one to hear your screams -which may go on for many days before the attackers are satisfied you have given them everything they want.

    If you want a real life experience story, this is a good one.

    • YES !!!!!! its the same guy .

    • Encourager says:

      This is the book that got me started prepping seriously. My oldest son had given me Patriots to read and then we had a few long talks about prepping. I had started buying a few things here and there but eventually used them up in everyday needs. After reading “Surviving The Economic Collapse”, which BTW scared the crap outta me, I became dedicated to prepping. I also decided to learn to shoot a gun (which I had never done and was terrified of handguns) and ended up getting my CCL. I still don’t know or have enough experience to be comfortable with firearms, but I am working on it.

      BTW Tom, great post. When it comes to voting for the best, you win, hands down. I know this post is very late but am still catching up on reading this blog! Whew!

      • Thanks, Encourager. That’s nice to read!

        Being prepared is great for peace of mind, and the threshold of effectiveness is really low: just about anything you do is better than doing nothing. I suspect the people in New York City and New Jersey who made no preparations are realizing that about now. Water, food, lights, a stove, and a place above water level make a real good start.

        Thinking of guns: I am a big believer in having fun with them, because that leads to lots of practice. Part of that is not having to worry about the cost of practice ammo, so I have defensive guns in serious calibers, but have identical versions in .22 rimfire for cheap practice.

        So, since I like Smith & Wesson J-frames (the little guys fit my hands better than the bigger frames), I have some in .38 and .357, but also in .22. Model 1911s in .45, but also in .22. It would work just as well for people who like 9mm or .380 or whatever.

        It roughly doubles the cost of the hardware unless you find conversion units for the primary guns, but you make up the cost on cheaper ammo in a hurry. Even conversion units are fairly expensive, so one might decide to spend a bit more on a gun because then one has a complete second gun. You do need to practice with the carry gun because you need to be familiar with the recoil and know it is working, but .22 ammo is a small fraction of the cost of centerfire ammo.

        I know that many will disagree, but it works for me.

        Have fun shooting!

  39. Pineslayer says:

    Wow. thanks for the story. With what is going on today, would you travel around the area again? And/or where? My oldest girl has wanderlust and wants to travel.

  40. Hi Pineslayer,

    I haven’t been to any of the Islamic countries since the 1980s, and my perceptions are shaped in large part by the same news media we all get.

    I would certainly go to Israel, but I wouldn’t hitch hike thru Syria or Jordan to get there anymore. Of course, with the fighting in Syria, I wouldn’t go there at all. Jordan, yes. Jordan has great stuff to see, and a real tourist industry now which wasn’t there when I was in 1977. The ruins of Petra are well worth a lot of effort, as is the scuba diving in Aqaba- tho one can get similar diving in the Israeli city of Eilat.

    There may be some issues in eastern Turkey right now because of the problems in Syria, but Mediterranean Turkey is amazing, and, again, there is a tourist industry there. Istanbul has been one of the world’s greatest cities for over a thousand years. I’ve been there four or five times as a backpacker-type traveler and it is on my list for another visit before I go paws up. Hagia Sophia/Great Mosque is absolutely jaw dropping, and the Blue Mosque as well. There is a collection of emeralds at the Topkapi Palace that is hard to believe- one of them is the size of a paving brick…5 kilos as I recall.

    My impression is that the tourist industry is pretty thin in Egypt at the moment, probably in Tunisia, too. I don’t know that there was one in Libya.

    I don’t think the route I took would be doable today. I went overland, mostly hitch hiking and local bus, from Spain via car ferry to Morocco, east overland to Algeria and Tunisia – a wonderful desert country with Roman ruins, and the remains of Carthage, I spent a month hitching around Tunisia alone and never could speak English with anyone.

    I couldn’t get a visa for Libya so took a ferry up to Sicily, got to Greece, hitched up to Istanbul, then back to Spain where I hooked up with my father for a couple weeks, then I flew to Beirut for the time I wrote about.

    From Beirut to Tehran by air while the Shah was still in power, local buses to and through Afghanistan and Pakistan and India, flew to Rangoon and from there to Thailand and on home across the Pacific.

    In 1977 I started in northern Europe, overland, again by local buses and hitching, thru Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, back up to Turkey and east again until I came down with hepatitis in McCloud Ganj, which is the town in Northern India where the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government in exile are located. beautiful alpine area.

    Getting out was kind of a pain, but not too bad. I had planned to go home in a couple months anyway, and curing hepatitis requires bed rest for about a month, so decided to go home. At the same time I was in McCloud, an English guy, a high school math teacher, went a bit nuts and was running around this tiny Tibetan town stark naked, telling stray dogs he was the Dalai Lama, and burning himself with cigarettes. Just before I got sick a couple of us grabbed him and hauled him off to a hospital in a nearby town, but they said they couldn’t do anything for him, and anyway all patients rely entirely on family for food: the hospital would not provide any. They also said that if we turned him loose, he would be arrested and the police would likely beat him until he stopped making trouble. Then I realized I had hepatitis and needed to get out.

    The upshot was that two or three of us rented a jeep and two drivers from the Tibetan Government-in’Exile and drove down to New Delhi with him. As I recall it was more than a twelve hour drive, with this guy hallucinating and trying to jump out for much of the way. Eventually we dropped him off at the British legation and I got a flight to London,where I went into St Pancras Hospital for Tropical Diseases for a couple weeks before flying home for more rest and recuperation.

    Anyway, the routes I took, which were pretty much thru backwaters, are I think closed today because of fighting in some countries and greater hostilities to foreigners in others.

    Some places would be fine. Things seem worse when reading about them from afar, and a traveler would just have to talk with people coming from various destinations. Problems in a country usually are confined to pretty specific areas, and they rarely affect places a tourist goes. They can though. There are criminals who kidnap foreigners for ransom, and some people have spent weeks to years in captivity in places like southern Algeria. Or in Latin America, for that matter.

    One thing which is extremely important in the Islamic countries, most especially for women, is to dress modestly by local standards. Long sleeves, head scarf, long skirt are really mandatory. You see Hillary Clinton in Islamic countries, that’s how she is dressed, and there is a good reason for it.

    In a lot of those countries, the popular impression of Westerners is largely through Western movies, with lots of free sex depicted. In Arab/Islamic countries, such women would widely be considered prostitutes, and treated as such. Dressing as western women do in the West is an invitation to daily harassment and rape.

    Also, I discovered that I could accept an invitation for lunch from a local person without problems, but not a dinner invitation and definitely not an invitation for an alcoholic drink at any time. Every time I did, I not only got propositioned by the man afterwards, but he got very angry when I turned him down, usually saying something to the effect that “I bought your DINNER. And drinks!” etc. I finally realized that an invitation to dinner and drinks had major additional meanings, which they thought I understood, but hadn’t.

    Situational awareness, as others have said, is really important. Anywhere, going off to isolated places with total strangers is dangerous: you are putting yourself at their mercy, and they may be fine people, but they may also be predators. There are just things which is foolish to do. If you can’t put your finger on what makes you uneasy, but you do feel uneasy, my rule is to listen to feelings and get out if I can.

    So, no, you can’t do what I did, but you could do a lot. Arabs and Muslims in general are extremely hospitable. I would get rides from people who would get to their destination and tell me that if I couldn’t get where I wanted, come back and beat on the door until they were awake, and they would take me in. They would make meals in their homes for me, and once even sent their kids out to the road to hitch hike for me.

    The flip side is that while they are very honorable, if one inadvertently insults someone, they can be very angry, and if you are isolated, you may be in trouble. Diplomacy is important, as is being able to distinguish between true anger and someone who is testing you.

    A number of times I had men come up to me on the street and start shouting and waving their fist. If I had blanched, fallen back, and started apologizing for an unknown insult, I would have flunked. The proper response was to get right back in their face, just as much, without escalating. At some point the guy would stop, break in to a big laugh, and say “Good. Good.” in Arabic. I had passed the test.

    By the way, I think that works in the national and international politics over there. Look at the people climbing our embassy walls and burning the embassy’s own flag. Those are not just signs of disrespect. They are tests. When we let them get away with it, we flunk the test, and many decide it is safe to escalate.

    Maybe I’m wrong, but if I was in charge, when people come over the wall, my first, immediate response would be to unleash foggers full of pepper spray. It would make the point without killing people. Passivity in the face of aggression means you are a loser.

    My understanding is that the revolutionaries who seized the American embassy in Tehran during the Iranian revolution expected Jimmy Carter to respond by saying that if the hostages weren’t released in 24 hours, America would start bombing. They planned to just turn the hostages over: they had made their point. Instead, Carter, the most powerful man in the world decided to be a nice guy, and start negotiating. By that act, he lost. He flunked the test, and we have been paying for it ever since.

    There is no one more despite than the man with great power who is afraid to use it. The powerless may get no respect, but they are far above the powerful who are seen as cowards.

    Jimmy Carter and his advisors had no idea what they were involved in, and no idea how to respond properly by the cultural standards of the Iranians. They were tested, and instead of showing unequivocally that the most powerful country the world has ever known was willing to use that power ruthlessly, they decided to be nice guys. Flunk. Flunk. Flunk.

    This has gone off topic a bit, but traveling safely cans till be done in some countries, though I think not all, especially as a backpacker type. Some knowledge of cultural sensitivities is important, dressing and behaving appropriately by local standards is important, So is knowing when to be conciliatory, and when to get in someone’s face.

    • Oops: Third paragraph from the end: “There is no one more despite than…” should be “despised” not “despite”. Sorry!

  41. Excellent post Tom B, you’re right on the money 🙂

    I will write an article about my experiences during the Civil War in Lebanon and hopefully M.D will post it 🙂

    • Georges,

      It sounds like a winner…

    • Thanks, Georges. It’s reassuring that the beliefs I came away with are not all completely mistaken!

      There is so much to see and learn in the Arab countries, Turkey and other Muslim countries that it is well worth going. Going briefly, and staying only in international tourist hotels, is less than ideal for me, but if that is the way one goes, it is much better than nothing, Traveling on one’s own and staying in local hotels is better for getting an idea of what it is like to live there. It’s also a LOT cheaper per day!

      My impression is that almost all the Christians and Jews have emigrated from the majority Muslim countries. There used to be a lot in Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, and elsewhere. They were minorities, but quite substantial ones.

      Over the last several decades the combination of increased hostility at home, and better, accessible options like Israel and Europe have led to people abandoning their home countries. Lebanon being perhaps the exception, though the Muslim birthrate has been much higher than the Christian birthrate for many decades.

      My impression, both on the spot back then, and from what I have read and been told more recently, is that most people are quite hospitable throughout the region, and, unless you push the wrong buttons, inclined to be at least neutral and frequently quite friendly.

      The problem today is not so much the people as a group, as those who have been radicalized: my impression is that that group is a substantially bigger portion than it used to be, so one is more likely to encounter them, and they can be quite violent.

      Still, it is a lot like a European tourist coming to the US during the worst of the crack wars in the 1980s. It wasn’t simply that one could safely go to Yellowstone National Park, the New England States, or check out the Bonneville Salt Flats. One could go right into Manhattan or downtown Chicago and be fine: the crack wars were confined to specific parts of those cities. There was some spillover, particularly for burglaries, but the tourist areas were pretty safe.

      I lived in Manhattan, specifically Spanish Harlem a few blocks south of Columbia University, during the mid-1980s, and then the lower East Side of Milwaukee, both during the crack wars. There was some spillover from Harlem into Spanish Harlem, but Spanish Harlem was actually a pretty decent neighborhood. Not upscale, but reasonably safe. Lots of Latin American immigrant families, many of them black, Indian, or mixed, and they were strong families with hard working immigrant members.

      They tended to socialize on the steps in front of the 5-floor apartment buildings, so they recognized passersby, they knew who belonged on their block, and if someone didn’t. They kept an eye on the strangers. It wasn’t a perfect neighborhood, but it was pretty good.

      Go ten blocks east and ten north and it was a different story. I went through Harlem during the day three times on Greyhound buses when leaving for weekends, and every time I saw a fistfight either on the sidewalk or right in the street. I can’t conceive what it was like to live there in those days.

      Milwaukee was somewhat different. The crack wars were going, but the Milwaukee River separated my neighborhood from that area. There were three bridges connecting the two. Druggies would walk across them to access our neighborhood for daytime burglaries. When the closest bridge was closed for repairs, burglaries around our end declined a lot, but went up at the ends of the other two. When ours reopened and another was closed for repairs, burglaries in our area went back up, and down at the end of the other bridge.

      Crime aside -and that was almost all property crime- it was a great urban neighborhood. I could walk to a good Mom & Pop grocery store a block away, to three movie theaters with 8 screens, a hardware store, Osco and Walgreens, and about 50 restaurants in all price ranges. Also several museums and the parks along the lakefront. I could also walk to work in twelve minutes.

      I frequently walked to movie theaters at night by myself. This was before Wisconsin allowed concealed carry, so I decided that the simplest thing I could do to make myself an unattractive target was to openly carry a 5D cell MagLite. Hard to miss that, and if I saw anyone I had the least question about, I would turn it on so they couldn’t miss it. The idea was not to make myself impervious to attack, but to make myself look more difficult than the next guy.

      Once again, I have gotten a bit off track, but the general point is that even when significantly bad things are happening, they tend to be confined to specific areas. Avoid those areas, be aware of what is going on around you, and you will considerably decrease the risks.

  42. Pineslayer says:

    Tom B, great, great reading. i happen to believe that most people are good and that a very violent, ignorant minority get the press. My personal attitude is that I do not wish to risk my families safety to see certain parts of the world. I need to try and get over it, I am very protective and give no quarter when confronted. better to stay close to home first and hope that things stabilize. My oldest went to Bejing this summer and was thrilled and repulsed by what she saw. i have had bad times in Mexico, but my friends love it. i need to grow thicker skin and put my personals issues aside so that my youngest can experience the world. Wish I could travel an AK.

  43. Tom B! So sorry I wasn’t able to read your story (though story seems a pretty weak word to apply to what you’ve written about your stay in Lebanon) earlier being as how we were in Taiwan for the month and have just gotten home. You’ve done a terrific job of detailing those months. As your big sister, busy bringing up three kids and living in Spain while you were in Lebanon, I guess I wasn’t fully aware of the danger you were in at the time, so you’ve now enlightened me. Beautifully written and well expressed. Thanks.

    An aside to Pineslayer: From my teenage years I’ve been fascinated by travel but couldn’t satisfy that hunger til after my sons grew up and out and on into their new lives and formed their own families. Most of my travel now is either as a volunteer English speaker in Spain or hiking with an English company in Europe or beyond. From the age of 60 onward, I’ve had fantastic hiking experiences twice in Turkey and a couple years ago in Jordan. Friends warned me about going to these countries, but I figured at my age (now 72) my major responsibilities were over and done with and I could now just go off in search of adventure (mild adventure!). In Jordan (which I’d chosen because I wanted to see Petra, where we spent three days sightseeing and hiking) we spent several nights in Bedouin camps, with no hot water, no electricity (wearing headlamps to see our supper), and sleeping in tents – in fact one night some of us took our sleeping pads out into the desert and slept under the stars. It was wonderful. Jordan is a gorgeous country with great food and lovely landscapes and seemed very safe in spite of the danger in neighboring Syria. I wasn’t an independent backpacker like Tom was and your daughter would probably be travelling differently than I did but the experiences of meeting up with other cultures is enlightening and recommended for all ages, to anyone with a curiosity about other countries. You may have to put up with the minor inconvenience of restrooms with squat toilets and no toilet paper or when hiking, no restrooms at all but you’ll come home with a new perspective on your own country as well as those you’ve visited. I hope your daughter will have a wonderful and safe adventure.

    • ” I guess I wasn’t fully aware of the danger you were in at the time”

      We in the village were not in all that much danger while I was there because nearly all the fighting was miles away. We had the stress of shortages, and, not knowing if the fighting was going to come to us, we didn’t know how much danger we were in. Being unable to gauge the danger was extremely stressful.

      We had some very scary experiences there, when the shooting happened around the house, and a couple times when we were shopping in Beirut, but those were exceptions.

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