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Come and Take It (Chris Sullins, August 12, 2008)
The state capitol court building was still in remarkable shape given everything that had happened in the nation over the last five years. It was now surrounded by an outer wall of steel-reinforced concrete topped with a spiral of razor wire. The grounds enclosed by the security wall included both a rotunda with a memorial to the state’s Vietnam War dead and a grassy area where the Blackhawk which brought Tom Hedge had just landed. Things had changed a lot since Tom’s father had fought in the war and returned home to this state. Tom twisted his wrists slightly against the cable tie handcuffs which bound him and continued to walk between two soldiers. He thought “How has it come to this.”
After the helicopter lifted off and left, its rotor sound was replaced by the hum of a massive generator housed in a shipping container at the edge of the field. As the soldiers took Tom up the steps to the court building, he noticed woodstove pipes which jutted randomly out of some windows on each floor. They weren’t in use now that it was mid-Summer, but he saw stacks of split wood and piles coal placed off to one side along the building’s foundation stones.
At the top of the steps was a large open verandah that was sand-bagged to waist high. Various soldiers and state police officers milled around on this deck talking and smoking. They all wore body armor and were armed with both rifles and handguns. Tom was led past this group through a set of windowless double steel doors. He immediately felt the cool air from mechanical air-conditioning –something he thought had been lost to the past. He found it somewhat amusing that the metal detector arch and x-ray baggage machine was off, though.
Tom was escorted through the atrium and to the left where he entered a large courtroom. Five judges sat on the bench facing across from the entryway, a dozen men in suits stood around tables facing the judges, and more soldiers and state police officers sat along the walls. Off to one side Tom noticed men sitting in mixed camouflage uniforms and recognized them as his comrades and survivors from yesterday’s battle. All were in zip-ties and some were in bandages. He was placed with them. Although he had been re-elected as their leader two years ago no one looked up or acknowledged him in any way.
The court was called to order and after some instructions from one judge to the stenographer, one of the men in suits began speaking and listing the charges against Tom and his group. Some of the men’s heads sank lower while others closed their eyes; Tom drifted off to thoughts of the past. He remembered the terrible events over the last five years which resulted in the state losing over 90% of its population –75% within the first year alone.
“…Tom Hedge and his men then seized equipment from the State Guard Armory at Springfield including tanks, armored personnel carriers, small-arms, and assorted ammunition…”
Tom felt he did his best to control the local situation after the old order fell apart. After the national grid went down and didn’t come back, it didn’t take long before hordes of people from the city nearby in the next state began to drift across his county. With no real leadership left in the decapitated federal government out East followed by the lack of re-supply and later loss of radio communication with the state government, Hedge and his men had to make the hard decisions and use any local resources at hand.
“…witnesses who will provide testimony of unlawful detention, forced labor, the denial of food and medical care…”
Food was always in short supply for the first three years. All the canned food was consumed in the first few weeks; most of the livestock that hadn’t been eaten during the first winter was stolen in the middle of the night during a raid from the county to the east, wild game became rare at best, and fish in the lakes were depleted. Local farming only made a good comeback last year after a long time subsisting on fruit trees, berries, wild roots and any imported goods they could barter from travelling merchants. Although the food supply had improved, local agriculture was now very labor intensive and this had come with hard choices –do you feed tractors, tanks, or people?
“…conspired with terrorists from the stateless Western Expanse to raid the bio-diesel facility in our neighboring allied state of…”
Much to his surprise Tom had learned that some people were never interested in on the spot gold or silver bullion trades for their goods and services. Even after the old order of things fell apart and the national currency became worthless, these people still spoke of “written contracts” and “verbal agreements” with people living in other places. He was even more amazed to find out some of these outside deals made in advance were for less than what he had offered.
“…in violation of the Tri-State Treaty signed in Fort Wayne last year. I should add the State Attorney General has also received a request for extradition in regard to a separate incident…”
Hedge’s men had captured a so-called messenger from the reorganized State government two years ago. The man stated he was sent out to contact the leadership in each of the counties on the old map and have them send representatives to the State Capitol Building for a meeting. He said the State was aware of Hedge and his men and wanted them to attend as well.
The traveler talked about a lot of big plans the State government had in mind such as getting the rail lines working again. With the trains running they could start trading again with some of the neighboring states. However, he didn’t know when regular rail transportation would include Tom’s part of the state.
Tom told the man he didn’t believe the new state government would be any different than the last one. It was just another group trying to assert power. What came next? Taxes? The last state government did nothing except leave them flapping in the breeze when things were at their worst. Tom sent the man on his way with a simple “We’re not interested. Don’t come back here.” He didn’t want a war with yet another group, but just to be left alone.
“…resisted complying with lawful authority and failed to submit his forces to inspection and training by the Commander of the State Guard as required under the Unorganized Militia Act…”
Hedge’s men had seen their fair share of battles both with the county to their east as well as with the raiders who seemed to come from all directions. During the first year the marauders came by four-wheeled vehicles, then motorcycles, and then horseback. Every so often a former federal or state military unit would pass through in armored humvees and try to take what they pleased. They had successfully fended off attacks from all of them. His men were as seasoned veterans as any of those who had served in the old republic’s Global War on Terror. Some of his best advisors were veterans from the Middle Eastern front.
Tom noticed the shoulder patches on the uniforms of the State Guard soldiers around him. The spot used in the past for the US Flag was now occupied by the old State flag. Below that flag many of them had combat patches representing now defunct federal units that had seen past combat overseas. The unit patches on the other sleeve were mostly from the old State’s National Guard, mixed with county and city seals. Tom saw one patch representing the county east of his own and noticed its wearer was bearing arms and not a zip-tie.
The new State Guard had used a formidable array of men and equipment yesterday. Hedge’s handful of tanks and APCs were completely taken out during the first minute of the battle by an equal number of A-10s and Apaches. Despite his foxholes, trenches and pillboxes around the old university campus that served as their base of operations, Tom’s 300 men were quickly overwhelmed by 3000 men.
“…Tom Hedge, I said these are the charges before you. How do you plead?”
Tom snapped back to the present. He looked up at the panel of men who would be his judges and mustered the best response he could think of at the moment. The response was one heard frequently on TV back in the old days from the busy streets of Brussels to the dusty bazaars of Baghdad.
Tom looked the judge straight in the eyes and replied “I don’t recognize this court.”
* * *
Take the population of whatever state you’re living in right now and lop a zero off the end. Do the same for your county and all its towns and cities. Take all the cities within 300 miles of road travel and do the same thing. Include cities across state boundaries and international borders. There’s still a lot of people left, isn’t there?
Despite any differences in style of government, predominant language or religion, these are your economic neighbors. They will always share your regional climate and probably the same food distribution network and energy resources.
This smaller number of people would still have a lot of needs, wants, and desires. If they were organized into the same job categories as once existed in Medieval England, there would still be hundreds of different occupations. There was far more in the village of yore than the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker. (Hurry get in line before the last job left is “Gong Farmer”). Step back even further in time into some remote hamlet in the Dark Ages and there were more employment opportunities available than peasant farmer, skilled mason, literate monk, bored brigand, or rabid raider.
Anyone who has worked with a group of 30 or more people on a daily basis understands the most theoretically simple of systems will get complicated. Each person may have a different role, but they’re all connected in some way. This entire group relies on outside connections as well. The last time life was “simple” for this size of group was sometime prior to the Neolithic period.
Back then there wasn’t as much specialization among group members and very little separation between work, family, and leisure life. But, there were not a lot of different goods and services available either. For example, the sporting goods stores were rather limited to whatever bows and spears could be locally produced. However, the purchaser did get a lifetime parts and labor warranty if the weapon was broken during a hunt –as long as the owner wasn’t eaten first.
As humans we’ve developed our systems to have a more satisfying life in this world. Things seem to run well for a while. At some point they always become unbalanced –either through conflict with our neighbors or with the natural environment itself— and a wheel eventually comes off. Being creatures of the wheel we return to the wreckage, tinker with it, get it running, and either run out of fuel or flip over into another wreck.
The last cultures that had no memory of the physical wheel were almost completely destroyed by the expansionist empires that have led to our modern global civilization. But, even these peoples had social stratification, warfare, and other ills that forced them into painful times of change. If we look back far enough, we find they too, had their ebbs and flows of power, growth and contraction.
There might be a future time in this country where illiterate people in loincloths run around the hills hunting deer with Trijicon-ACOG-topped M4s, but somehow I seriously doubt that would last long. Unlimited caches of ammo and gun-barfing floating stone heads of Zardoz aside, mankind always finds a period of peace and looks for something more in his life. During that time, people will gather together in places of learning. Knowledge and spiritual life become a focus again.
Look at history and take note of the Renaissance that followed centuries of warfare in Europe. Not long after America’s worst carnage ended in 1865, colleges were founded in war-torn Appalachia. During the last century the Balkan states were knocked out three times only to pick up the pieces each time and re-open for business. It doesn’t take much effort to find examples from times and places across the world.
My purpose with the introduction to this essay was to use an individual brush-stroke to help with painting the big picture for a wide audience. I think it’s interesting to note that the readers will range from scholars dealing in statistics to survivalists dealing SKSs. I will read their postings and articles on the same websites later. We all discuss the cycles of growth and collapse. Our thoughts will illuminate as text from the latest laptops to donated monitors in public libraries. Knowledge has been exchanged.
This electronic method will not always be available, but there will still be oral tradition. We will have our story-tellers and teachers. There will be memory. No matter what happens in the future someone will want to formalize all that collective memory into symbols. Knowledge will grow from these tiny seeds of words. To sustain it will require special roles and tools all over again. It’s in our nature as man to do this.
I may have made a crack earlier about Gong Farmers, but I know they have an extremely important job in every village. When I was among a group of officers in Iraq we discussed the various jobs and duties of all the people who kept our bases running. Granted they all had a unique function which would be missed if absent, but we wanted to consider which would have the fastest detrimental effect felt from the top all the way to the bottom if it disappeared. It didn’t take us long to agree that the most important occupation was not the commanding colonel or general, but the handful of guys who emptied our port-a-johns.
I’ll end this by asking the question about the scenario I constructed at the beginning. How would things be different for Tom Hedge if he had considered how the excrement settled after the SHTF?
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