Prepping for and Surviving Civil WarAdam Smith
Quite a few preppers have based all of their training, accumulation of provisions and other material or intangible preparations on plausible, society-toppling events like a second civil war. The way things are going, a civil war is no longer purely theoretical.
A never widening chasm between the Haves and the Have-Nots, increasing cultural balkanization and simmering resentment brought on by planet-wide lockdowns, political malfeasance, and a host of other issues are even now turning former friends against each other, and before long the fractures may widen irrecoverably.
It is impossible to concisely say just how widespread and how devastating a second civil war will be. You only need to crack open a history book or hit up Wikipedia to get the tale of the blood-red tape accounted for in civil conflicts around the world.
These are among the most devastating conflicts in recorded human history, and ironically enough, it so often happens that civilians, not those fighting on the front lines, suffer the worst.
You will be facing a lengthy list of possible dangers, not just direct harm from weapons, bombs and targeted sectarian violence but also from shortage, famine, lack of medical care, and from lack of societal infrastructure that we today take for granted as a sure thing.
But for every painful reminder that history furnishes it also provides us with lessons that our ancestors paid dearly for. Lessons that we must learn from.
In the remainder of this article I will share with you these lessons, along with other tips and procedures that had been gleaned from the collective experience of survivors who saw the onset and end of civil conflicts around the world.
Your survival is not guaranteed when the next civil war occurs, but we will do everything we can to improve your chances.
Nothing Civil About a Civil War
Right now, you might be thinking you are not terribly worried about the next civil war, God forbid should it occur, because you are not in the military and you have 100% no interest and no intention enlisting to fight in an official or unofficial capacity.
Your logic is sound on paper, but reality disagrees with your prospects if history is anything to go by.
Civil wars are ugly. Extremely ugly. The American Civil War was one of the most costly conflicts in lives (between 650,000 to 850,000), although some estimates are lower), treasure and property that our young nation has ever participated in, and the civil wars of other prosperous nations around the world have been nothing short of apocalyptic.
It will definitely not be a picnic participating in a civil war as a combatant, but it is potentially even worse to be a noncombatant. War is always hardest on civilian populations in the end, and civil wars have a way of getting particularly nasty.
Civilians that are caught in or near battle lines, contested population centers or just along routes of travel are always in danger.
Targeted strikes from aircraft and vehicles, rolling gun battles conducted by infantry, punitive actions undertaken by partisans and irregulars, and even the deployment of strategic weapons will all reap a terrible harvest and lives from civilian populations that huddle desperately and whatever places they think are safe.
Worse than this, civil wars force people to pick a side. Being lukewarm will not save you; your proclamation of neutrality will fall on deaf ears. It is very much a “with us or against us” mentality, especially among irregulars, partisans and anyone that is fighting in a mercenary capacity.
You could be shot, stabbed, beaten, burned or tortured just because it is assumed you are on the other side, even if you are not fighting. After all, it is your people who got us into this mess in the first place…
But let’s just say you don’t fall victim to any of those unhappy and grueling fates. War still inflicts plenty of casualties in ways that have nothing to do with bombs, blades and bullets.
The death tolls in the 20th century alone for civilians living in and around protracted conflict zones the world over are the stuff of nightmares, and a great many of those deaths resulted from things that we plan on dealing with and the aftermath of a major disaster; chances are you can forget all about utilities you used to enjoy on a day-to-day basis.
Exposure will now be a near constant companion, and with it the threat of freezing to death or dying of heat stroke. The intricate clockwork machine that is commerce in the 21st century will be broken irrevocably, and no longer will food and even water be brought readily to storefronts.
Deaths from dehydration, starvation and illness will become so common as to not even be worth remarking about. Injury and maladies that were formerly trivial will be life-threatening as a matter of course.
What supplies that there are and are counted by the government will always be priority earmarked for their own forces to keep the war machine going. So much of the time, civilian casualties will just be an acceptable cost of doing business.
Perhaps worst of all, the very glue of our society, the basic level of trust we have for our fellow man and our neighbors, will be annihilated, destroyed beyond any dream of recall.
Assuming you do survive the carnage and the destruction and the agony what peace prevails in the aftermath will be uneasy, tense and forced. The psychological and social scars will last for generations.
Preparing for Civil War
This article is written from the perspective that you’ll be participating in the hostilities of any civil war strictly in a self-defense context. If you are looking for any information on how best to prosecute a civil war as a combatant, you will have to look elsewhere.
Assuming that you are not participating directly in the hostilities it is going to be hard to say exactly what you will face during the war, when that will occur and how long you will have to endure it.
But, once again, we can turn towards the grim and dark days of history both near and far to get some insight. Whatever you are forced to suffer, take some solace in the fact that you are not the first person to have suffered so, nor will you be the last.
You will have to deal with many threats, and also make many life-or-death decisions. Sometimes the calculus will be impossible to determine, or your fate decided by margins that are so thin as to be negligible.
Below is a list of the major factors you will have to consider when living in a state experiencing a civil war:
- Who Are You Up Against?: State actors, irregular fighters, opportunists, organized crime, partisans and the teeming throngs of the desperate. Conflict zones, and especially ones made so by civil war, are packed full of people who will hurt you, kill you or take what you have. You need to know how to deal with all of them.
- Stay Put or Run?: Vital to your survival is knowing when to move and leave an area and when to stay put. Both have advantages and disadvantages but you cannot afford to be wrong. Similarly your choice of where to go, rural or urban, will significantly impact your safety based on several other criteria.
- Group Up to Survive: Loners usually don’t survive situations like civil war unless they are so far from any interactions with belligerent as to be unnoticeable. Even then, you will always have an easier time of things with more people around to help out. Assembling a group that can be relied upon to work toward the common goal of survival should be a high priority.
- Making Movement Safely: Moving around an active conflict zone is nothing like your usual commute or Sunday stroll. Everyone you encounter will be on the lookout for suspicious people going to suspicious places to do suspicious things, and you might even be forced to move under a standing hard travel ban or through actively contested areas- both risky propositions.
- Protecting Yourself: One of the major Catch-22s of being a civilian in a warzone. You cannot afford to go without protection but getting caught with guns by any side is a great way to get killed as an enemy partisan or assassin. Don’t expect “your” side to be okay with it, either.
- Maintain a Low Profile: Your gray man skills will be put to a severe test living through a civil war. Drawing attention in the wrong place, at the wrong time or from the wrong people is liable to see you lose possessions, get yourself incarcerated or even be killed.
- Dealing with Martial Law and Gov’t. Mandates: Talk about conflicting interests. You will likely have to deal with strictly enforced government directives or even martial law for the duration of a civil war. Many of them will run completely contrary to your needs and interests. Disobeying them will have major consequences. How best to deal with this…?
- Treating Injuries: There are uncountable ways to get hurt or maimed in and around active conflict zones, and many of them are hard to see coming. You will not simply be able to dial 911 and summon aid anymore. This means you must be your own first responder. Knowing how to treat all kinds of maladies and injuries with or without proper gear may make the difference.
- Stockpile for the Future: Everything that truly matters will become scarce in a civil war setting. You can get a leg up on the rat race if you stock up now. That is only half the equation, however: Everyone from criminal gangs to gov’t. Soldiers and partisan fighters will be hungrily sniffing out where their next meal, drink, and magazine will come from. You will have to be clever, quick and resourceful just to keep even a fraction of your resources.
I’ll be sharing all kinds of insights and things you should know about these factors in their own sections below.
Who Are You Up Against?
- Soldiers: Professional fighters belonging to one “legitimate” government or another.
- Irregulars: Motivated belligerents who fight for their own reasons, for one cause or another, outside the bounds of a government entity.
- Criminals: Lone desperadoes, opportunistic gangs or massive illicit enterprises, criminals always look to profit from the distraction and chaos caused by war, often at your expense.
- Civilians: Your fellow survivors just trying to survive and see the day all this ends. Their desperation and fear makes them dangerous and unpredictable.
Most people imagine a civil war scenario as literally “brother against brother”. Historically, this is true in the strictest sense, but a civil war pits two or more sides of a nation against each other in a clash that will determine culture, governance and more.
That being said, you’ll be making a grave mistake if you assume that all the belligerents running around are going to be uniform soldiers, easily recognized.
It is almost certain that some or even most of the combatants may indeed be uniformed, more or less, but there are also people you have to watch out for who won’t be. Trust is something you should share sparingly if at all during a civil war.
Most wars will be prosecuted by legitimate professional soldiers, perhaps on both sides of the conflict.
There will always be at least one side that is representing the current standing government, though any breakaway factions or newly-hatched nations might muster their own official armed forces from those who deserted the legacy government.
The attitudes and behavior of professional soldiers in conflict zones is always highly variable, and just because soldiers are on your side does not mean you can let your guard down or even approach them.
The stresses brought on by war easily fracture the human mind, and you’ll see people act viciously or cruelly out of character towards their fellow man as a result, even those they are ostensibly supposed to be protecting.
When tensions are especially high and you’re hiding or moving in an active conflict area, the risk of you being shot or killed in some other way will be at their highest.
Mistaken identity is a thing, and soldiers who have seen too much death already might not be willing to take any chances with an unknown contact.
Besides professional soldiers, each fraction will see its fair share of irregulars attracted to the fight.
These ramshackle forces could be made up of near-peer organized militias, enthusiastic fighters motivated to enter the fray for ideological reasons, opportunistic partisans or rogues and adventurers getting involved for some other reason, including boredom and plunder.
Sussing out the motivations and intentions of people in this category will always be very difficult, as they may not be constrained by any genuinely professional intent, or the oversight of governing bodies or agencies.
Should you find yourself attracting the attention of these groups who are on the other side you will have much to fear, as many times these people will seek to vent their rage and frustration on the constituent “single cell” of the opposing ideology. That means you, by the way!
Aside from legitimate and what-passes-for-legitimate belligerents participating in hostilities, you’ll also have to be on the lookout for opportunistic criminals, individuals, small bands and large organized entities. Invariably, wherever war goes so too goes organized crime, like sharks following in the wake of a whaling ship at sea.
Any gangs that already exist that avoid being wiped out or disbanded will oftentimes grow in power and influence.
Other major criminal interest might move in, taking advantage of the chaos and uncertainty of the war zone in order to dispatch rivals or expand their operations, particularly smuggling, racketeering, prostitution and more.
While unsavory, criminal enterprises are often capable of supplying goods and services that cannot reliably be had in other ways. Still, more criminals will only seek to take advantage of the overall lack of law enforcement to engage in whatever evil deeds their hearts desire.
Lastly, you’ll have to be on the lookout for fellow survivors and civilians just like yourself. Unfortunately, you’ll have to be very, very sparing with your trust as everyone is likely to be suffering just as badly as you are.
Rumbling bellies might see people with families that are relying on them resort to thievery or even heinous acts of depredation in order to provide for the people they love. If you remember nothing else, you must remember to always keep your guard up.
Stay Put or Run?
- No “Correct” Answer: Your choice might change with the situation, or be dedicated for you.
- Bug Out: Fleeing might be your only option to escape certain death, but this choice will almost always be an uncertain and perilous one.
- Bug In: Staying where you are might be scary, even dangerous, but sometimes it is worth it; you’ll know the terrain, the people and the overall situation better.
- Bunker Up?: A fully equipped, hidden bunker is seen as the ultimate prepper retreat for this type of scenario, but they are far from foolproof. Your hidden hideaway might become a tomb.
- Where to Go?: Not all locations are equal when it is time to hide or make a stand. You’ll need to know what to expect before that time comes.
The most instinctive and seemingly the most obvious answer when facing danger from a civil war is to get as far away from the conflict as fast and as early as you can. This is entirely reasonable but will not always be possible or even advisable depending on the situation you are facing.
Your hand might be forced. You might be forced to shelter-in-place to survive bombardment, occupation, or any number of other hazards until you have both time and opportunity to attempt escape with a modicum of safety.
By the time this occurs, roadways could be choked with debris, clogged with other fleeing refugees or actively controlled by belligerents from one side or another.
You probably don’t need me to tell you that any of these will drastically slow you down or halt your progress, and also present significant dangers all on their own.
If you decide to stay put, you might get some choice on where you decide to shelter or you might not. You could have advance notice of an incoming threat or a brewing battle, or your first warning could be exploding ordinance or a massive gunfight breaking out.
Sometimes you have to play the hand you are dealt and hope for the best. Where you are living, or currently residing, also factors into the calculation. If you are in a rural town with very little or even no strategic importance, you might be better off staying put.
If you are a living in the metropolitan area, logistical hub or industrial town you might want to get out while the getting is good. Staying anywhere where you know people and they know you is always an advantage.
On the other hand, if you have to bug out, you had better be prepared. You need to have some idea of where you are going, and what you can expect when you get there. Will you even be able to find reasonable habitation, or will you be roughing it all the while?
Remind yourself that you will be a refugee in the most literal sense of the term, and during wartime you will never be a welcome sight, representing only, as you are, a drain on resources that are already stretched perilously thin for the residents of any given area.
Also, simply being out on the road is going to be hazardous, exposed and vulnerable as you are to being overtaken by troops (on any side of the fighting), highwaymen and other people who will fleece you or kill you.
I have included more particular considerations for the bug-out, bug-in question in regards to surviving a civil war in a couple of subsections below.
Is a Bunker a Good Idea?
- A bunker is a potential life-saver if you lose everything.
- Might allow you to ride out war in secrecy and safety.
- Any discovery of bunker by unaffiliated individuals will all but guarantee destruction and displacement.
- All participants and people in a conflict zone will be keen to raid your supply stash.
The apple of every prepper’s eye is having a bunker that they can call their very own, one in a hidden, remote location that is completely self-sufficient, and stocked with every conceivable necessity one could want to ride out the end of the world.
Who would not want to flee to such a location in the middle of a nasty civil war!? This idea is undeniably enticing, and bunkers surely do have merits in many situations, but you would be a fool to put all of your eggs in this particular basket in the context of a civil war.
The long and the short of it is this: A bunker might indeed be the thing that saves you in a civil war, especially if it has remained hidden, well-stocked and maintained when you find yourself out of resources or have already lost everything, including your home. Being able to access a dedicated cache so amply supplied will be a blessing.
But on the other hand, bunkers have a substantial drawback in that you will pretty much be locked into staying there for the duration.
Anytime you enter or leave the bunker you increase the chances that you will be detected, and even if someone tails you from a distance you are likely to lead them right to your honey hole.
Your problems with operational security will begin before you ever head to the bunker during wartime; someone has to construct that bunker, and every person that knows about its presence or probable purpose is a potential leak that can see your prized prep ransacked or commandeered.
Even if you are the one to build it yourself, someone might just get lucky and stumble across it or put two and two together if they figure out what you are doing. Then they will place a big, red pen on their personal map…
It is easy to understand why. Any prepper-built survival bunker is always going to be chock-full of goodies like a giant loot box. This will make it quite a prize for any of the groups we discussed previously, be they professional soldiers, irregulars or criminals.
Basically your bunker must avoid attention and notice from the very first day you break ground to construct it until they day you no longer need it.
The moment that it is discovered by anyone, even a single person, who cares to talk about it or investigate then the clock is ticking on when you will have to abandon it or else risk death or capture.
Where Should You Go for Shelter?
- Cities are often hotly contested battlegrounds and full of strategic targets, but might allow your more flexibility to move around undetected.
- Rural and wilderness areas afford you better chances to hide peacefully, but you will be more vulnerable due to lack of manpower and witnesses.
- You might have to adapt on the fly to meet changing conditions.
- Most important consideration is remaining with a large enough group to provide mutual defense and staying away from contested areas.
Deciding where to flee to, or where to stay, to ride out the conflict is a pivotal choice in your survival plan. Some people believe in staying in the city, just outside the city or in a larger town.
Others would only consider a rural area or even a place that is completely undeveloped and devoid of human habitation.
There are good reasons to do both, and you might indeed end up having to do both before the last shots are fired. Let’s take a look at the reasons why.
Cities are an obvious choice for some people, being where they have lived, worked or grown up. Cities provide no shortage of hard cover from gunfire and places to hide.
In cities there are also many streets, alleys, warrens, sewers and tunnels that make for convenient hidden highways for moving around, safe from prying eyes when the chips are down.
The problem is that cities are full of both people and other strategically important targets, and are perpetually targeted for invasion by troops, bombing from the air, and pounding from clanking armored vehicles.
Many of the most destructive and dangerous modern weapon systems will be deployed profligately in and around cities to support the typically intense fighting taking place therein.
When you think about it that way, remote and rural territories probably sound comparatively blissful… This is not always the case!
There are many instances of isolated people, or small groups, living in sparsely inhabited places being picked off and preyed upon relentlessly by criminals, troops and other people who are just bent on doing evil.
Far from support and the mutual protection provided by a large group of people banding together, those who live on the fringes and far outskirts of settlements often suffer unspeakably during civil conflicts.
Even in case you’re living in a village or something akin to a compound with multiple families trying to survive together and provide for the mutual defense, that is not likely to go well when you are facing down professional soldiers or battle-hardened Irregulars.
Most people will probably see the best chances of survival and remaining free of any unhappy outcomes by living in a very small city or large town, whatever you want to call it.
If you can find a place like that that has as few installations of importance as possible- rail yards, airports, industrial centers, logistical hubs, major crossroads and so on- you’ll improve your chances even more.
You must never forget that the chief threats you will face during a civil conflict are not bullets and bombs; the chief threat is the people besides your own!
The single best way to counter a human threat is with humans of your own, or put more succinctly a group that is invested in the mutual defense and survival of itself.
If you are surviving with just your family, your wingman, or a small team you will probably have success for a time.
But whenever you are discovered, forced to fight and need to make a show of defense you had better have the manpower that will make people think twice.
Ultimately, you’ll have to make a choice and live with the consequences when it comes to where you will live to ride out the civil war.
Group Up to Survive
- Stick Together: Even small groups have significant advantages over going things alone in a time of war. Groups have the manpower to help with work, help on watch, and contribute to a fight if push comes to shove.
- Assemble Your People: Your group could be inherent, like your family, or elective, like a MAG or coalition.
- Provisions Count: More bodies means more mouths to feed. You will have to diligently watch your supply situation if you want your group to go the distance.
Wars, including civil wars, are conducted by groups of people, literally armies. A lone human being will rarely make the difference one way or the other as it is units, groups, assemblages of people who are getting things done, both in an “official” capacity and otherwise.
This means you will rarely if ever be equipped to deal with threats brought about by civil war as an individual. Your survival will probably depend on who you can rely on among the people around you.
You will have plenty of cause to enlist others to your aid for the duration: You’ll need people to help you get work done, be it scouting, building, gathering or fighting.
You’ll definitely need an abundance of people to keep watch while the rest sleep or work. It is also good to have people who can help you when you get hurt, sick or injured.
So the question then is who do you bring with you? For most of us, the members of our group will be more or less baked into our lives; family, friends, and other close associates we already have a high degree of trust with.
These are also the people that we would not turn our backs on even at risk to ourselves.
This is the foundation of any group interest- blood and kin. Even if the people in this group are a liability, or more of a drain on resources then they contribute, they can still serve important, even vital functions depending upon their skill sets and abilities.
Another prepper-centric ideal for civil war survival is a mutual assistance group, or MAG. A MAG is simply a collective or a coalition of like-minded people who have voluntarily decided to contribute to the collective survival and welfare of group members when things get scary.
They could do this for mutual aid in the form of supplies, skills or labor, or even do something so extreme as pooling all of their possessions and manpower together in order to establish a compound, village or some other community all their own, a place to withstand the world.
Perhaps the largest benefit of a MAG in a civil war setting could come from its distributed nature.
Assuming the members do not live very near to each other geographically but are still familiar with and invested in one another, this could provide multiple safe havens, a sort of survival “railroad” for members who are turned into refugees fleeing dangerous areas.
Ideally, a MAG will one way or another give its members who are displaced by a civil war a fixed point on their maps to head to, definitely a comfort in such uncertain times.
But for all the benefits, any group can provide you must take care to ensure they are properly provisioned. More people means more mouths to feed, more water for drinking, more supplies for medical care and still more besides.
A large stash that would last a single person quite a long time can seemingly evaporate in a week if a larger group is now drawing from it.
This is not a reason to avoid putting together a group, or joining one, but it does mean you need to put in the work now, sharpen your pencil, and get your estimates right before you start stocking up.
Making Movement Safely
- Timing: Move when fighting is over if at all possible.
- Day or Night: Certain areas will be safer to move through in the day, others at night depending on local conditions and extant threats.
- Beware Snipers: In cities, even ones with minimal fighting, snipers regularly take potshots at people moving around.
- Get off the beaten path: Paths and roads that are less traveled are most often safer, and more likely to be free of hazards like roadblocks and explosives.
- Safety in numbers: Try to move in groups totaling three to five people. Any fewer is vulnerable to mishap or injury, more might see you designated a target by combatants.
Anytime you are moving around a place where you have bunches of armed people out and about, on edge, afraid and generally on the lookout for suspicious persons, moving through that area is going to entail a certain amount of danger.
It might even be near suicidal depending on the local conditions. Unless you are far, far away from any fighting in a country that is currently experiencing a civil war you must think through and execute any movement very carefully.
First, anytime you are moving in an urban or suburban area that has been experiencing ongoing fighting or has recently seen the cessation of fighting you must be on the lookout for snipers of any faction.
Historically, recent civil conflicts in the Middle East and Europe have plainly illustrated the threat posed by snipers in urban areas, and you’ll have very, very little chance of detecting them before it is too late.
You might be shot for simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time, for being mistaken for a member of another faction or just for kicks.
If you do go anywhere, try to go in a small group at the very least. Having two to four additional people with you will allow for better security, awareness and mutual aid if things go wrong or someone gets hurt.
You can consider going in a larger group than that, but be advised it will significantly raise your profile and not just your overall visibility. Professional soldiers and irregulars operating in the area are more likely to suspect you are a hostile element when moving together.
As is always the case, nervous troops with loaded weapons in a conflict zone are often well within their rights to shoot first and worry about the consequences later.
When you make movement is also of crucial importance. Obviously, you should never try to move around while a battle or fight is underway. The risk of catching a stray bullet or wayward ordnance is just too high, as is the fact you could be targeted in a case of mistaken identity.
In some places, moving during the day might be the safest option if most of the fighting or action takes place after sunset, and in other places the reverse might be true with night time being the safest time to move owing to snipers and other sporadic threats.
Don’t forget that modern and well-equipped militaries often have plentiful supplies of night vision devices and thermal sensors that let them fight as effectively in the nighttime as they do in the day. You won’t be hiding from them in the dark!
If you are forced to move during dodgy times, try to do so in a way that appears as non-threatening as possible and go by the least traveled routes available to you. Routes that are fast, easy and commonly employed are the ones that are going to be checkpointed, blockaded and littered with mines or IEDs.
You don’t necessarily have to avoid a route with a checkpoint if you know that the checkpoint is allowing regular traffic through, just at a reduced rate. Understand that it is still highly likely that your vehicle can be searched, possessions taken, and potentially you could be incarcerated for various reasons, real or invented.
Also remind yourself that checkpoints invariably have at least a few heavy weapons or combat vehicles in place that will make short work of people on foot or in vehicles.
- Tough Call: Go unarmed, and avoid the wrong attention and be defenseless, or keep your guns close to stay safe and draw aggro from troops.
- Keep it Secret: Keep your guns and ammo securely hidden until they are absolutely needed. Don’t put them all in one spot!
- Get More than You Need: Guns and ammo are always valuable in conflict zones, and make great “high end” commodities. Also, it is good to have spares if you lose, break or have one taken.
- Keep it Simple: You want guns that are common in your area; easy to replace, fix and find ammo for.
You will be facing a classic dilemma if you are trying to survive a civil war. The first part of the conundrum is that you would be a lunatic if you chose to forgo some method of reliable self-defense considering all the human-centric threats you will be facing for the duration.
Literally everybody and their brother has guns; you definitely need guns also. But as sure as the sun will set in the west you can depend on any governments or other groups, legitimate or illegitimate, that are vying for control of a given area will ban firearms in the hands of civilians for the duration.
This is a problem for obvious reasons. If you give up the guns, you are effectively defenseless in the grand scheme of things. If you hang on to the guns, and get caught with the guns, you could be facing imprisonment or summary execution.
At best, you might be mistaken for a combatant in or out of uniform. This means you must always act carefully when you are going around armed, and do everything you can to securely and safely hide your firearms and ammunition until they are needed most.
I cannot tell you how or where you should hide your guns, except to say it must be a place that is truly hidden while still being accessible in a reasonable time frame.
I will give you one tip, in that any place you can probably think of right off the top of your head is a place that will be known to people who are searching for them if that ever occurs so try again.
A few other factors for consideration include both type and quantity of the guns you are going to keep handy for self-defense. Obviously, any gun beats no gun when you need one right now, but you should take pains to make use of guns that are commonly available in your area, war notwithstanding.
This will make them more valuable as trade fodder and more importantly replaceable, entire guns or just their parts, when things go wrong.
Also consider having drastically more guns than you need: If you are ever shaken down for guns or forced to turn them in for whatever reason, there is a good chance you can part with one or two and keep the rest if you don’t have them all stored together.
Keeping and using guns as a civilian surviving in the middle of an active conflict zone is a thinking man’s game, and you had better be thinking long and hard about your choices before, during and after if you want to keep your head.
Maintain a Low Profile
- Don’t Stick Out: Try to look like everyone else in the area. Don’t look better off, don’t look worse; try to stay right in the middle, beneath notice.
- Applies to Shelter: Your shelter should not look better maintained or in better repair than the other structures nearby.
- Fortify or Not?: Maintaining a low profile is tricky when the situation calls for physical defenses like walls, barricades, wire and more. These will definitely attract attention from people who think there are things worth protecting inside.
- Keep Quiet and Out of Sight: Especially in areas of sporadic or active fighting, lights, movement and sounds will attract attention, and bullets follow attention. Make sure you and your group practice noise and light discipline at all times!
It is imperative for any civilian in a civil war to maintain as low a profile as humanly achievable, and I mean a low-profile in every single aspect of your life and existence.
Your home, your vehicle, your clothing, your body, everything; everything about you, yours and your possessions should look just like everyone else’s in the area.
Do not stick out in any meaningful way. Standing out means you attract attention; attracting attention in a war zone, especially a civil war zone, means bad things (see: bullets) will probably follow in short order.
If you are a civilian, and especially if you are a prepper, you need to absolutely ditch the idea of wearing any military-style apparel, gear or clothing, at all. Anything that could identify you as a combatant, professional or irregular, is a total liability.
It will either attract attention and gunsights, or it will attract attention and see you detained, and possibly hoisted under the pretenses of acting like a spy, infiltrator or saboteur. None of these are good outcomes!
This extends to more than just uniform appearance. If everyone in an area is living on the ragged edge – dirty, starving and hopeless – then you also want to look dirty, starving and hopeless. Appearing well-fed and clean when everyone else could get you followed and robbed.
This part of the background mentality extends to your home or any other shelter. It should appear identical to the buildings or shelters nearest it. If every building is shot up, broken and busted your building should remain broken, shut up and busted.
It should not attract attention or invite exploration in any way. This can be something of a conundrum when it comes to physical defenses.
Barricades, barb wire and reinforced doors and windows will definitely give you an advantage when the time comes to defend what you have, but if they attract that fight in the first place that sort of defeats the purpose.
This is a very tricky thing to figure out, and requires much thought on your part. You might take pains to conceal any defenses you do have, or just decide to forego them entirely if the fighting is not particularly intense in your area.
Remember: There is no truly ideal solution; there is only trade-offs, and you will have to pick which advantages you want and accept the disadvantages that come with them.
Maintaining a low profile extends to everything that you do. You and your group must constantly maintain noise, light and, when necessary, movement discipline to avoid detection and prevent attracting attention.
Dealing With Martial Law and Government Mandates
- Martial Law: When military forces assume control and governance over an area, they are responsible for law enforcement. This can make violation of mandates costly or deadly.
- Mandates: Mandates and orders for civilians issued by controlling forces will make your life difficult, impossible or hellish. Expect to face movement restrictions, curfews, confiscation of goods and mandatory housing of troops.
- Weigh the odds: Your needs will often run counter to the mandates issued by controlling forces, but defying them could see you beaten, arrested or killed outright with no trial.
- Forget about due process: So much of the time in civil conflicts due process is a bullet and nothing more. If you piss off the enforcers badly enough, there will be no trial.
Any group that has currently subjected a city or a region to its control, either the legitimate government or the would-be, newer, semi-legitimate government, will assuredly institute all kinds of odious regulations and mandates on civilians living in the area.
It is overwhelmingly likely these mandates will be enforced via martial law. “Martial law” in common parlance simply means the military will be assuming governance and assuming law enforcement duties over civilians in a given city, area or region.
It does not take much in the way of imagination to see how this could go terribly, precipitously wrong if you need to violate any given mandate handed down by an overseeing authority in order to ensure the safety and survival of you, your family and your group.
What could these mandates be? Well, once more if recent history is anything to go by it could be an order to shelter-in-place when absolutely no help is forthcoming, even if doing so actually lowers a civilian population’s chance of survival.
It might be intolerable restrictions on movement, curfews and mandatory confiscation of weapons, food and other supplies. You might even be forced to house troops and other personnel.
Regardless of what the mandates are, much of the time you will find they run contrary to your interests and you will have to make a decision. If you buck the current authority in the area you will run afoul of whatever forces are responsible for enforcing it.
The consequences for getting caught will vary widely, from punitive action like additional confiscations or detainment to summary execution, on the spot, and in the field.
There is not much in the way of advice I can give you on this, as you will have to weigh to scales and then choose based on what the greater need is against the possible consequences.
I can tell you this, however: make it a point to read the temperature of whatever forces in the area are responsible for law enforcement.
Try to learn as much about them as you can. This way you can learn if they have a reputation for being brutal or just harsh toward violators. Others might be much more lenient, akin to traditional police.
For this reason, it is imperative for you to gather as much intelligence, news, rumor and scuttlebutt as you can about what is going on in an area and who the players are.
Only by understanding who you are dealing with and what you can expect if you act counter to their orders can you make an intelligent and informed decision about what mandates you will and will not comply with. This is definitely a situation where ignorance is not bliss, but potentially deadly.
- Only a Matter of Time: You are surviving in dangerous times. Count on being injured or wounded during a civil conflict.
- You are Your Own EMT: You probably will not have access to trained medical assistance under any conditions. If you or someone in your group cannot intervene, you will have to take your chances.
- Stock Up: Medical supplies will be precious in any conflict, and will command premium prices in trade. Make sure you have an ample supply before things kick off.
If you want to get hurt, maimed and mortally wounded, hang out in an active war zone. You knew it would probably come to this eventually. As I have mentioned several times throughout this article there are countless ways to get hurt in and around the proceedings of a civil war.
Unfortunately, unless you are extremely lucky, far behind the lines or a VIP, you are not going to be able to reliably obtain trained medical intervention to treat an injury.
This extends to boo-boos and injuries which are trivial or laughable in kinder times, but which may nonetheless eventually be fatal if not cared for. This means at the bare minimum you must have the training and the supplies needed to care for all kinds of common injuries, great and small.
This is even more depressing because war zones have a way of draining medical resources of all kinds from a given region, and you can bet your bottom dollar that they will be in vanishingly short supply if you are not a professional soldier or worker in a functioning hospital.
If you are wise, you will prioritize getting trained and skilling up on first-aid and trauma care above all other things.
Aside from serving you the best in everyday life, this may be the skillset that determines whether you or someone you love lives or dies as a result of injuries sustained in a conflict.
You must be prepared to treat penetrating and lacerating injuries, such as the kind that typically inflicted by bullets, blades, shrapnel and sharp debris.
You must be prepared to treat burn injuries endemic to open warfare, the kind resulting from fires as well as thermobaric and other incendiary weapons. Even outside of combat you will have to contend with fractures and breaks, fevers and illness, rashes and other ailments.
If you or anyone in your family or group is a trained medical professional of any kind, even a veterinarian, you need to keep them close and treat them right as they will be invaluable during a situation like this.
Of course, the skills only go so far and improvising medical gear and bandages should only be done in desperation.
Make sure you stock up on everything you need to treat minor injuries as well as major trauma, and include plenty of bandages, antiseptic, hemostatic gauze and clotting agents, tourniquets, splints, medicines, first-aid books and more.
Stockpile for the Future
- For Yourself: Many items, basic commodities and niceties alike, will evaporate in the shortages that always accompany civil war. If you don’t have plenty of what you need, don’t count on getting any more reliably.
- For Barter: Cash is likely to depreciate or become entirely worthless during the conflict. Goods of all kinds will be traded among troops and survivors alike instead. Stocking up surplus goods as currency, especially in the case of luxuries, is a wise move.
- Keep it Portable: You will have far less opportunity to move or trade large, bulky or heavy goods in a time like this. Think carefully before you commit to any large goods or equipment for any reason.
You should be heading into surviving any civil war with the notion that the cash currency you are used to using for daily purchases is going to plummet in value, or even become entirely worthless.
As the war drags on, you will become increasingly submerged in a barter culture where goods that used to be common are now used as cash. You can expect this new “wartime economy” to basically take care of itself, as barter has been the basis of economies for millennia.
Of course, if you are going to participate you must have goods to trade with, and the goods that people want to trade for are oftentimes the goods you yourself need, so stockpile with the notion in mind that you will have a reserve specifically for trading for things you need and don’t already have.
Lucky for you, many of the items that will suddenly become valuable in a war economy are inexpensive, easy to transport and easy to buy in bulk. A few are listed below:
- Medical Supplies
- Shelf-stable food
- Potable/purified water
- Hand tools
- Lighters and matches
- Guns and ammunition
- Spare parts
Additional items that are less necessary as strict survival items but are undoubtedly useful or classed as “luxuries” are good trade fodder, including things like:
- Bar soap
- Spices and sauces
- Tobacco products
- Sealing buckets
- Nail Clippers
- Children’s toys
Before you write off any of the items featured above in the second list, I would have you know that all of them, every single one of them, are items that people were killed for and did kill for while surviving civil conflicts in the 20th century.
It stands to reason that these small luxuries, helpful gadgets and reminders of better times will remain incredibly valuable in whatever civil conflict we have the misfortune to live through.
I pray that no one reading this article today or in the future will ever have to endure the horror, the degradation and the misery of a civil war. But it seems that ours is a species not made to get along with each other for long.
Surviving a civil war is a challenge that seems so cyclopean that survival is more a matter of luck than anything you can do on a personal level, but that is not true.
With the right skills, the right preparation and the right understanding of the factors and variables at work you will be able to make decisions to keep yourself and your loved ones safe or at least safer for the duration.
Take the time to read over the information and recommendations presented in this article so you can at least have a plan in case the unthinkable happens.