This may seem a somewhat ominous article given the times, but with many of the world’s elites retreating to their bolt holes, perhaps it is topically. For, if you are rich, one of the things to own these days is some sort of luxury “bourgeois bunker” to ride out the apocalypse. Which of course thanks to that 1% is a lot more likely, particularly given those around Trump, urging a return to work in the middle of a health crisis (for the plebs of course, they’ll be staying safe in their bunker!).
However, I think the 1% don’t appreciate certain realities of any post-apocalypse world. For example, I came across this old article from the Guardian which discusses how some of the well to do plan to ride out a potential apocalypse. Apparently one of the problems as they see it is the lack of money (and if your a libertarian and your answer is gold…think again! a tin of spam will be worth way more than gold), which means how can they hire goons to guard them? One hedge fund manager suggests having food whose access they control via a code, as a form of currency. Or perhaps getting their guards to wear shock collars as a means of control. I mean what could possibly go wrong with a plan like that?
…that the goons would instead put the shock collar on said stockbroker and make him give up the code to the food locker….or they just use him as a battering ram to bash open the door to the food vault! Either way, my point is that in the event of an apocalypse there’s certain people would will find themselves “surplus to requirements”. They have skills that are no longer relevant or useful. And in such a dog eat dog world (not unlike the libertarian paradise these types often fantasise about) useless items are generally discarded.
And as I discussed in a prior post any apocalypse will disproportionately effect the young and the old. Childhood mortality will return to pre-industrial levels and old people will be counting the days if they are lucky enough to live past 50.
Oh, what’s that we hear from Americans preppers? You own a gun! Well good for you! Unfortunately the leading cause of death in a post apocalypse world will be disease, exposure, malnutrition (which is not simply an absence of food, but an a lack of a good balanced diet), dehydration and the after effects of whatever caused the calamity in the first place (extreme climate change, disease, radiation, etc.). So unless that gun is some sort of magic wand that can purify water, or you can shoot bacteria with it, you’re flat out of luck. Plus guns need “ammunition” which has a limited shelf life (about ten years typically) and its not as if there’s going to be any gun stores open.
But an issue I want to tackle in this post is the very idea that you can ride out an apocalypse, such as a nuclear attack for example, and what follows on from that, in a bunker. With Trump in power making daily threats about using the US arsenal, not to mention him screwing up the response to Covid-19, its led to a boom in those building nuclear bomb shelters (I wonder how Fox news will spin that, manufacturers are screwed, same with anyone on a fixed income, but at least the bunker business is booming).
The reality is that there is no such thing as a nuclear bomb proof bunker. The temperature from a nuclear blast can reach the same as at the centre of the sun, while the air blast can result in an overpressure in excess of 50 psi (and anything more than 5 psi means a wind speed of over 200 kmph which will demolish most buildings). These conditions will easily destroy any structure that takes a direct hit, be it buried or on the surface.
Bury something deep enough it might survive, but then we need to consider the seismic effects, which will turn anything inside the bunker into jelly unless its somehow insulated from that (e.g. a mass damper). Even then any tunnels connecting the bunker to the surface will likely collapse, so whether anyone survives or not is a moot point. They’ll be trapped hundreds of meters underground with a depleting air supply and will die long before help comes. Not that there’s going to anyone topside who’ll be bothered to dig them out.
This is why, during the early days of the cold war, nuclear war bunkers were designed only to survive the secondary effects (the air and heat blast) and tertiary effects (fallout). While they would never survive a direct hit, the odds of them taking such a hit were fairly low, as the first generation of nuclear weapons weren’t very accurate.
The first ICBM’s had a CEP of several km’s and air dropped weapons weren’t that much better. The Hiroshima bomb, despite being dropped in perfect weather conditions with no enemy opposition, missed its aim point by about 250m. And the Nagasaki bomb missed by 3 km’s. Now granted, if you’re aiming a nuke at something the size of a city, or an airfield (or the Pentagon), accuracy is kind of irrelevant. But if you are trying to hit something buried in the ground that’s only say 20m across then that’s a different story (particularly if you lack accurate maps and don’t know exactly where it is).
However, that was then and this is now. As the cold war progressed, nuclear weapons became increasingly more powerful and more accurate. And the introduction of MIRV’s complicated things yet further, as they potentially allowed multiple warheads to be showered at a target area from a single missile. You could set off one at high altitude to create a large EMP burst, another for an air burst and several more ground bursts to destroy individual targets (ground bursts tend to produce more fallout than an air burst). And if you were feeling particularly vindictive you could chuck a cobalt bomb at the target area, which would create fallout so intense it will mean that those in any surviving bunkers would have to wait many decades before they can leave (so they’ll either run out of supplies or simply died of old age!).
Faced with this military forces switched to a strategy of basically not being around when the nukes started flying. Warheads were mounted on mobile platforms, such as submarines or a TEL’s, with command and control moved to aircraft. Many of the ground based bunkers were thus abandoned and sold off (ironically to many of these same preppers types snapping them up, failing to consider the reasons why the military abandoned them in the first place).
And as for disease, they tend to come in waves, the current crisis is going to last several months, and it will probably be at least a year to a year and a half before there is any kind of a vaccine. So you’d need to be willing to spend an awful long time under ground. Plus if its so serious that civilisation collapses, then that means no vaccine, so you’ll have to face up to it sometime. A bunker simply delays the inevitable.
But if you’re in a bunker at least you are safe from looters and biker gangs? Not necessarily. It was never part of the military plan to occupy these bunkers long term (and in any event the military have literally got an army with which to defend its bunkers). They would be operated for as long as necessary, after which they’d be abandoned. Because a bunker is only useful so long as you can control the territory on which it sits. Once such control is lost it becomes useless and the general military protocol would be to abandon it and retreat.
Once the enemy, be it a hostile army or a bunch of angry looters, are in control of the outside of a bunker they are free to attack it with whatever they have available, hammer drills, demolition equipment, explosives, etc. Or they can try to force those inside to come out. Literally try to smoke them out, or start rolling hand grenades or petrol bombs down the air shafts. Or they might take a leaf out of Tywin Lannister’s book and try to flood the occupants out. Bottom line is, once those outside decide they want in, they are getting in.
Plus bunkers are fairly resource hungry, they need lots more power than a building on the surface (which is going to be difficult to supply, you’ll likely be relying on a diesel generator, which will need surface access for both air and exhaust) and are expensive to maintain (and its not as if you can nip down to B&Q for supplies or call out a local builder). In short the critical path for such a bunker will be its energy supplies (not just for heating and lighting but also to run the pumps that stops the bunker from flooding and run the air circulation system) and once they are expended the bunker becomes pretty much uninhabitable very quickly.
Others have put their faith in surface structures. I drew attention before to this idea of a modern day castle to survive the post-apocalyptic world. What’s wrong with that? Well there were very specific reasons why castle walls were built in the past and why we don’t build them anymore. That being the enormous cost of building them and the ease with which castle walls can be demolished with modern machinery (such as an armoured bulldozer) or high explosives. Assuming the enemy doesn’t just fire shells over the wall and flatten the town inside (or demolish a castle from a safe distance away).
You may enquire at this point, well what WAS the military’s plan for what to do after a nuclear war….what plan would that be? It was the military’s goal to fight the war. Dealing with the aftermath is someone else’s problem. Many governments do have plans, but they are somewhat vague and haphazard.
For example, somewhat ironically given what its said above, there’s been some thought about how to secure a money supply and (oddly enough) ensuring the survival of Hollywood movies (glad to see they’ve got their priorities straight!). However they don’t seem to have a clue about how to feed everyone. Presumably they are working under the assumption there’s bound to be a corner shop or a Walmart open somewhere. And in the UK the plans rely heavily on local authorities (you know the ones who can’t organise bin collections properly!).
So in some respects the preppers do have a point. Governments will be clueless in such a crisis and they will struggle to cope. However, that doesn’t mean you get to fill in the blanks with whatever fantasy most appeals to you. The reality is that these bourgeois bunkers represent a very expensive form of “security theatre”. They won’t actually work in an apocalypse and in all likelihood the occupants will just be painting a large bullseye onto their ass, so the looters (and anyone generally angry with the rich for getting the planet into this mess) can come and find them, then drown them all while singing along to the rains of Castamere.
And its also incorrect to assume that an apocalypse would necessarily mean a permanent end to civilisation. It would probably re-emerge somewhere, probably around a group of survivors with the right skill sets and resources (e.g. any university campuses, industrial towns or farming communities that survive). The King of the wastelands (and the Ayatollah of rock and rolla) might have a small army of well armed fanatics at his back. But once he runs out of ammo and fuel, or enough of his army have died of dehydration and disease, his reign will be cut sort.
A bunch of nerds who have technology to back them up will easily be able to out-compete such gangs. They’ll be able keep themselves healthy, fix/repair or build new weapon systems, generate power then start getting computers and machinery running again. And thus ultimately develop a new economy, trading with other communities for goods and services. So eventually some sort of society might well re-emerge, but of course it would be very different from our current one. And ironically, given how much conservatives hate experts, its likely such a society will be dominated by them. Former centres of learning (or industry) could be the capital cities of such post-apocalypse civilisations, ruled over by a hierarchy of technocrats.
Another trend recently has been for the wealthy to move to neutral countries like New Zealand and build your bunker there, which would likely escape the effects of nuclear war…largely because nobody can find it on a map. This is something Trump supporting Libertarian Peter Thiel recently did. That said, a recent investigation by Vice News, while it certainly showed many rich people buying property in NZ, it couldn’t find much evidence of bunkers.
But okay, what makes NZ a secure place to ride out an apocalypse? Well they’ve got a stable government (not many populist nutters), a policy of neutrality, anti-nuclear weapons, a good social welfare system, publicly funded health care, gun controls (or a willingness to bring them in if needed, as shown recently), lots of renewable energy, relatively low levels of income inequality and good integration between the different races and communities. Which means everyone just get along with each other and they go bungee jumping…so here’s a thought, crazy idea I know but…why not just support implement NZ style policies in the US or UK?
So perhaps a more sensible survival strategy to spending millions on a bunker, would be co-operation, rather than caveman isolationism. Or trying avoid the scenario where you might need such bunkers in the first place. It is ironic to say the least to have Trump supporters vote for their guy (or give millions to his campaign), then run around digging up the garden and gathering supplies, or spending millions on a bunker (in a liberal left leaning neutral country), just to cope with possible blow back from the shortcomings of the very policies you’ve been campaigning for.