Preparing for Nuclear War IV – Psychology

In the last three articles, I started to talk about the mechanics of preparation. Started … because I’m trying to work out what is needed.

In this article, I wanted to think a little about the psychology, because I can’t get my head around the fact I’m thinking through this appalling scenario, whilst normality is still happening around me and I’m doing the minimum actual preparation myself.

In part, the reason is the very rational: I don’t yet know what I’m trying to prepare for, and how I can prepare for it. So, for example, there is no point digging a hole in the garden to hide in, if it turns out that my best option is to move house. Indeed, it could be counterproductive, to have a big hole in the garden, when trying to sell the house and move.

But, in part, it is that I cannot believe what I think is coming, is coming. It’s the “rabbit unable to move in the headlights” scenario. I can see the danger, but I am fixated by the danger and unable to respond.

But also, I know most other people don’t see any issue. I am in a small minority who is predicting this terrible thing. My reasoning is based on my own understanding of similar historical events, and as such quite unique, and, let’s be honest, untested. And, it will remain untested and unproven, until it either proves a reliable way to forecast such appalling events, or it fails. Should I really trust my own judgement when so few agree? I got a lot right about covid, I was right about climate. When I finally did the research to understood that we were being lied to on Russia, I got that as well. I won’t always be right, I am not always right, but it’s absolutely certain that people like the media & politicians are wrong about such large scale things far more often than I am.

On the other side, I look at history and I look at the jews of Germany, and I keep asking: “why didn’t they get out before it started”. I can now see why. Even if you are aware of the danger, it is very hard to believe you are right. It’s so easy to just keep to your normal routine and put off doing anything about it. How do you square the reality of that “to do” list of household chores, with the fact that your house may not be there at all in a few weeks? I know how to to the “to do” list, I don’t know how to cope with my house being blown up. It’s easier to thing about the “to do” list, and ignore the possibility of your house being blow up.

It is just so much nicer to shut out the possibility of the appalling calamity and pretend life is normal, to preserve normality as long as possible to focus on the hear and now, and not to entertain the dark future. To keep partying to the end … and then die. Except you won’t. It will be a horrible death and you’ll hate yourself for partying.

A sensible approach: progressive preparedness

In any event like this, history teaches us, that it doesn’t appear out of nowhere. Instead, we do see a series of events that, at least in retrospect, can be seen to be leading toward the final calamnity. Many events could be heralds of other appalling events, and, we cannot respond to each every one, as if it were inevitably going to end with such dire consequences. Moreover, there are many paths, and just because one appears to end in disaster, it does not mean that that is the path which will be taken.

So, a sensible approach, is to have a series of progressive responses, each designed to minimise the time and cost expended, to avoid latching in an assumption that the calamity will happen, allowing a resumption of normality if it doesn’t, but to ensure key and critical things take time or need to be done early are done or are in place. If it is going to take a month to build the shelter you need, then you want to be starting to build it at least a month before. If it needs materials that may run out, you want to secure those materials before they run out.

So, one of the reasons for these articles, is to try to identify the critical items, and those that have to be in place well before any crisis.

The risk of such an approach, is that the crisis may loom up a lot faster than we imagined, leaving us no time to finalise the preparations we intended. The other risk, is that we may exaggerate the risk and over-prepare and waste time and resources preparing for a disaster that does not happen. The third risk, is that we may listen to the media who are always wrong about such things, and never start to prepare.

We can be reasonable certain that it is beneficial to have the following:

  1. Knowledge of what we could be facing
  2. Knowledge necessary to deal with what we are facing
  3. A means to monitor what is happening, so as to be aware of impending disaster and be able to estimate its likely timing, scale, etc..
  4. A plan for dealing with it (a flexible plan)
  5. A shopping list of critical items that may easily be in short supply
  6. A shopping list of  important items that are likely to be readily available even as some become aware of the potential disaster
  7. A plan for resource or time intensive activities (like a shelter)

Of these, the only ones that actually involve expenditure, is the time to do the above, and the cost of a few critical items (5), and building up knowledge (2).

The psychology of leaving the mainstream

In the first months of covid SAGE (the academic committee advising government) went through a series of denials. The first is that they simply denied it was a problem calling it a “VERY LOW risk to the UK”. I was already in January, increasing the normal long life food I bought and ensuring I had “fully topped up”, supplies of things like toilet paper. (in the event I did fail to stock up on one thing: dental floss!)

Then, in February (after the first cases) SAGE were saying: “Track and Trace would stop it”. That was clearly wrong, because no other country, no matter how draconian the measures, had been able to stop it. In retrospect, what we were actually seeing, was not the virus spreading, but the use of the test kits spreading, because covid had been around long before the academics in SAGE realised it was here. But, it was just like an ordinary flu and no one was bothering about it, till the media hysteria. It was just an ordinary flu … until the media decided to turn it into a story about a deadly plague.

By that time, however, the data was coming in showing the death rate was rapidly decreasing as more and more of the population were being tested. In other words, as the testing went from the small tip of the ice-berg who sought medical help because they were quite ill, to people, whose only symptom was a mild cold, or even no symptoms at all, the death rate plummeted to around that of flu. So, by the time the media were getting hysterical, the reality is that the scare should have been on the wane and we should have been treating it like a bad, but ordinary flu.

The lessons to be learned from this are:

  1. The “mainstream” are always late to spot disasters coming
  2. When they do spot “disasters” they are often nothing of the sort
  3. When there really are disasters, they will first deny them and say there is nothing to worry about … and then they will flip to headless chicken mode and create panic which will cause panic buying & panic behaviour, almost none of which will be what is actually required.

So, we ignore the mainstream and follow the preppers? NO!!!

The side stream is filled with idiots. It is also filled with salespeople trying to encourage the idiots to buy things like guns or other “prepper” equipment that is of no use.

The reality of leaving the mainstream, is not that there is some Utopia where everyone knows better than the mainstream, but that the mainstream are filled with idiots who know nothing except how to lure people in with stories of disasters to sell their channel. The “mainstream” are a monoculture of like minded people with almost no skills in practical living. They are the last people to get advice from in an emergency (except maybe academics) Outside there are a lot of people with much more skills, diversity of backgrounds & experience, and amongst them you will find some with some sense. But working out who they are, is not easy.

You have to think. You have to stop gullibly accepting the rubbish that journalists push out to you, both on the obvious “TV” channels (most of it which is now being paid for by big corps to encourage you into some action), but less obviously through social media where these big corps are pushing us to do their bidding by pretending to be “us” . And you have to learn to find your own sources of information, learn how to work out what you can rely on, and learn how to use the information intelligently.

In a world where big tech and government are deliberately using social media to distort what we believe other ordinary people believe, we cannot anything we see. We have to test it, work out the motivation, check whether it is pushing us toward something that big tech or big government want us to do, and reject it, if we suspect they are behind it.

e.g. why am I writing this? Am I someone with an interest in pushing the scare about nuclear war? Am I some government agent trying to tarnish the reputation of those who reject their wars, by suggesting the other side are conspiracy theorists? (most conspiracy theories are invented by government or big corps to tarnish the reputation of others). What idiot would spend a lot of time writing an article like this without getting paid? So, what’s in it for me, giving you all this free info? Or is it really being paid for by someone with an agenda?

The psychology of the event

No matter how well prepared, when it comes to nuclear war, we will all be shocked at what happens. There is no getting away with that. There is a strong likelihood of being so overwhelmed by events, that we unable to think clearly. But having a plan, will speed up our response.

Between the first blast, and the potential fallout cloud, there may be about 15minutes of utter panic, as we try to gather everything together and shove it in a shelter that is way too small. It takes me an hour to pack the car when we already have packed suitcases. To pack for an entirely new life in 15minutes is going to be shear blind terror.

In those fifteen minutes, we will imagine that we have totally failed. Our planning was for nothing, our preparation did not work. Or worse: “why didn’t I prepare anything”. We may end up with half the water we planned, we forget a radio, there is no light. The “shelter” is totally inadequate … why didn’t we do more?

Meanwhile 99.99% of the population are still trying to find a way to find out what is happening. They are clueless, they have done nothing. They get exposed to the full dose of initial fallout radiation. They are already on a pathway to death.

Hopefully, if we are subject to the fallout cloud, we will see it coming and know when we must get into the shelter. And, then we will sit in the damp grave we have created for ourselves, wondering what is happening to us. We will almost certainly have forgotten to take into the shelter many thing we consider key, and the temptation to leave to get them will be overwhelming, but that is a temptation we have to resist for the first hours or even days.

The last time I remember such a situation, was going into hospital with my pregnant wife, and she was hooked up to lots of monitoring devices. Every so often the monitoring device would slip, and the baby heart beat would fade away. It was a very painful experience. The midwife went away, and neither of us knew what to do. We just sat silently looking at each other fixated on the instruments. Eventually we asked for the monitoring device to be removed so that we could relax.

It will be very similar for the first few hours: we will be imagining the worst possible scenario, we will be thinking our bodies are being destroyed, that we are being slowly killed by radiation. We have to force ourselves to stop thinking about what may be happening, and relax and start thinking about other things. Luckily, the shelter will almost certainly have had a load of items chucked into it at the last minute. It will start as a complete mess, and the first thing we have to do, is to start putting some order into our living quarters. So, it may not be so bad as we will have a lot to occupy us for a while.

But, then we’ll start counting up all the things we forgot to do. The urge for recrimination will start: “why didn’t you … “… “where is the … “, “I thought I asked you to get … ” We have to hold back.

The psychology of invisible radioactivity

Most people have no idea about radioactivity beyond the freakish stuff in films. If they still see single-headed birds singing, they will not believe there is any danger from radioactivity. It could take 1 hour to a week, for radiation sickness to start, which is the first most people will be able to detect they HAVE BEEN affected.

My guess (and I have no knowledge on the tolerance of birds to radioactivity), is that after the event, if it’s the right time of year, and if your area has not had blast damage, and e.g. heavy foliage protected most birds from the intense burning heat, that the birds will get back to singing in couple of hours, even where there is deadly fallout. At that point, to most people, it will seem normal. People will start being active, dogs will be barking, cats demanding food. Even people who protected themselves from the initial fallout, will start to believe that their area did not get any fallout.

Then, perhaps a couple of hours later, in the worst places, or one of two days later in severe areas, the birds will stop singing and other noises from people and animals will slowly diminish as they begin to suffer from the effects of radiation sickness. It will feel as if everyone else has gone away leaving you behind. You may feel compelled to follow.

Dealing with other people

Getting a lot of people involved before the event, to prepare, is a great idea, because you can build a much bigger shelter and that will make life much better. But, getting a lot of people wanting to join you after the event, after you have entered your shelter, is not going to be good.

Fortunately, most people will still be trying to work to normal rules. So, if you firmly say “no”, they will go away. But, it will be hard to say no.

A small percentage of people, the ones who normally break the rules, will not accept a “no”, and nor will it be difficult to say “no”. Fortunately, those people are very unlikely to want to sit for days in a shelter. Fortunately, they are unlikely to want a confrontation and there will be a lot of other empty houses which are less hassle. Even if they do want something, they will almost certainly be content to steal what they can from your house and then go. Let them take what they want from outside, but don’t let them in the shelter. They will likely take the low hassle option.

The best way to avoid such situations, is to avoid putting your shelter where it can be easily seen and to leave no sign you are there.

The next group of people, will be those you know, who took your advice and got some form of shelter, but who after a couple of days, find they are running out of things. They will seem essential to them … they won’t be. They can live without them  …  instead they will be mind tricks, things that give them an excuse to leave their shelter, which seem to become important because they are so desperate to leave and contact other people.

The psychology of doing nothing

Having got ourselves into the shelter, after a few hours, things will start to appear normal again. Birds will be singing, there may be cars on the road, because some people will be unable to stay and they will feel compelled to pack their cars and leave.

You will no doubt feel stupid, sitting in a hole in the ground or in your cellar, whilst other people are packing cars. Indeed, if they see you, they may casually come and ask what you are doing. “Why are you sitting in this hole?” “why aren’t you leaving?” … even “can you look after our cat?”

Some days later, you may be extremely sick from radiation poisoning and wonder why you stayed. It will seem that everyone else successfully left the area leaving you in your stupid, and if you are sick, “useless” hole, the truth is they will be dead or on a quite pathway to death. If you are below ground and suffered radiation enough to be ill, there is no way someone walking around would survive … but it takes days to die from exposure to radioactivity, indeed it can take months. The horrific part, is you do not realise the seriousness of your exposure until after the exposure.

The psychology of not knowing

One of the first things to go in a nuclear war is knowledge of anything but the immediate world around us. And, when we get in the shelter, that includes even our own houses.

One of the biggest problems, will be not knowing if we are in a radioactive area. And, even if we are, not knowing when it arrived and when it will be “safe” to leave. The simple answer to that, is it is never safe to leave, and it is never safe to stay. However the least unsafe changes, so that at some point it is safer to leave, if we know where we are going and how to get there avoiding hot spots. But how will we know where the “hot spots” are? The honest answer, is that most people won’t, and nor will the “government” … if anything even close to that name exists.

Likewise, not knowing what has happened to friends and family. There will be an overwhelming compelling need to find out.

The psychology of dark

An underground shelter without power, is going to be very dark, or pitch black. The temptation to use battery power will be immense. The temptation to get out into the light will be immense. You will not be able to read, you can’t play cards, the temptation to turn on the radio and have something to hear, will be extremely strong, and you will almost certainly run out of batteries.

The psychology of toilets

On the one hand, you have to sit there and listen to other people going to the toilet and smell them. On the other hand, they cannot be seen. The temptation to go/tell others to go out of the shelter will be strong.

The psychology of waiting for the next attack

Typically, you will not yourself be injured in the first attacks, but it will nevertheless be a shock. But immediately after you will be extremely busy, first preparing and then improving your shelter (from inside). Then there will be another attack. To most people, that could be a far bigger shock than the first. Because the general concept of nuclear war is a single strike. The idea that it might go on and on, will tip people from the “we’re alright if we stay in this shelter from the radiation”, to “at any moment we could be hit”. After the second, people will become fixated on future attacks.

The psychology of moving

So, you managed to convince yourself that your dank hole was the only safe place, and you stayed many days. You know logically you have to move, but if you were convinced enough to stay in the hole for days on end without moving, then you will find it hard to convince yourself to get out of it and start moving.

It might not help, that your location could have become eerily silent as the local wildlife dies off. At least you know the shelter worked! But it will take some nerves to get moving. If the wildlife has died, it could be quite grim, with dead bodies and flies everywhere.

The psychology of dead and dying

There may be very grim sights. If you are in one of the worse areas, but got into an underground shelter, when you come out, you are likely to find a lot of people who are seriously ill with radiation sickness or dead. But, anyone in the fallout zone who cannot get themselves out, is almost certainly so ill with radiation that they will die whatever you do. You cannot help them. But it is not going to be easy to keep going so you rapidly get out. But, your job, having taken shelter and given yourself the opportunity of living, is now to make the full potential of that opportunity and to get yourself out of the fallout zone. If people can come with you, yes let them follow, but do not slow down or stop.

It is quite possible, on your route out, that you come across those who tried to leave, who became stuck in the enormous traffic jams of everyone else trying to leave, and that they were overtaken by the fallout cloud. If they were exposed to the initial high dose radiation, there could be mile after mile of traffic jams where the occupants are extremely ill and dying and asking for your help. You cannot stop to help them. All you can do, is tell them where you are going and invite them to follow. You must not stop.

Likewise, there may be areas where huge numbers were subjected to the initial flash and seriously burned. It will be very difficult to keep going, but you must not stop in the fallout zone.

The psychology of the new world

So, you have escaped the fallout zone. You imagine you have reach the promised land. You think your problems will be over,  but they are not. You imagine some kind of welcoming committee. Instead the moment you meet officialdom, they treat you like a tiresome unwanted problem. You think you will get medical care and food. Instead, you are shoved in a corner and largely ignored. They do not respond to questions, you get no information, they aren’t interested in your problems. You find there is a very slow moving queue for everything. A sense of dejection and hopelessness. Welcome to the new world!

What can we do?

First, start preparing, but start with knowledge and avoid wasting time and money on anything that you don’t need. So, work out what you do need, when you need to do it, or get it, and try to stick to your own plan, not one someone is telling you to do (which I bet involves spending money on their product).

Realistically, even people who have prepared for the event will find it EXTREMELY DIFFICULT to stay in their shelter. Realistically most people will also be EXTREMELY WORRIED about leaving.

Emotions will run high. It will be the stress of Christmas, combined with the funeral of both parents, the loss of your job, your house, being told you have cancer, and a lot more all on the same day. So group hug, pat yourself on the back. Tell everyone how well they have done to get into the shelter.

Focus on the day to day. So, start making schedules. Decide who gets into the “warm area” (aka bed) and when. Even if you are alone. Set a schedule. Work out a place for everything and keep it there unless being used. Keep yourself busy by making new storage locations, by tidying and cleaning. The space will be extremely cramped, you may well be unable to do more than sit up. Make sure you exercise. Make sure you keep clean, fed and hydrated.

Try to give yourself the material to work on the shelter from inside (without using contaminated soil outside). So, an army style trenching tool and building timbers.

Preparing Psychologically

Hit the floor! Now!

Why not?

Because it seems stupid in the middle of normal life to do something so abnormal. That is the biggest hurdle we face … trying to trigger ourselves into action when things are still so normal.

The next key, is to get out of your normal life. Do something completely different. On the next dry night, grab your bedding and put your bed outside and go to sleep there. Not in something you bought, which permits you to sleep outside, like a tent … not in some place that is allocated for outdoor sleeping, which “permits” you to sleep outside such as “camping”. Do, what you are not “supposed” to do, and do something abnormal.

That will help you in one of the biggest psychological problems: coping when your normal life disappears.

Camping, also teaches you how to cope without our normal equipment. It also teaches us what is essential and what is not.

Learn how to praise. I was watching Naked and Afraid and trying to work out why some did well and others did not. And, one thing I started noticing, is that those couples who succeeded were shown to praise each other far more often than those that failed. They were also louder in the praise, more enthusiastic in their praise. They also were far more likely to yell shout or otherwise express joy at their own achievement. There was clearly a link between giving praise, expressing obvious enjoyment at your own success and the ultimate success with the challenge.


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