Photo: James Wesley, Rawles
James Wesley, Rawles, a former U.S. Army Intelligence officer and present-day survivalist, is the author of the novels, Expatriates, Founders, Survivors, and Patriots, all of which deal with the possibility of a coming global collapse.
His new novel, Liberators, is the fifth in his Coming Global Collapse series. When looting and rioting overwhelm the major U.S. cities, Afghanistan War veteran Ray McGregor leaves Michigan's Upper Peninsula and makes his way to remote western Canada, where he meets his friend, Phil Adams, a counterintelligence case officer. Lightly populated Bella Coola is spared the worst of the chaos, but order is restored by a tyrannical army of occupation. Ray and Phil become active in a resistance movement, fighting for their own personal survival and also for the future of North America.
I've met people with hyphenated names. Yours has a comma in it. Tell us about that.
It actually derives from a concept in English common law. There's a distinction between your given name--the one given to you at birth--and the family name, which is common property. So, your given name is your own property, the family name is common property, and I've always made a distinction between the two. The comma is kind of a short-hand way of saying James Wesley, of the Rawles family.
You're a survivalist, also known as a "prepper." Tell us what this means.
A survivalist is someone who foresees a disruption of modern society and makes preparations in anticipation of that event. It's both a hobby and a lifestyle. For me, it's a lifestyle. I live in a lightly populated area. We're surrounded by national forests. We have a river running through the back end of our property. It's idyllic and we enjoy our life here. We homeschool our kids and live fairly self-sufficiently. We're not completely unplugged from the grid, and we're certainly not hermits, but we do enjoy living a wilderness life.
When and how did you become a survivalist?
I grew up in the bomb shelter era and lived in an unusual place--Livermore, California, the home of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. That's where design nuclear weapons are created. So, a lot of my childhood and high school classmates were the sons and daughters of physicists. In fact, my dad worked in experimental physics. Growing up in that environment put us at the forefront of the bomb shelter and preparedness culture. I also come from pioneer stock. My family came out West by covered wagon in the 1850s. That pioneer spirit never wore off through the generations. We've always lived a fairly self-sufficient lifestyle.
As a prepper, this means you are prepared or are preparing for some kind of catastrophe?
That's correct. All of my preparations center around being able to live independently. The lynchpin of modern society is the power grid. There are three in North America: an eastern grid, a western grid, and a Texas grid. Our society is very vulnerable because we're so dependent upon grid power and everything attached to it. We have incredibly long supply chains and a technologically complex society. We have one percent of the population feeding the other ninety-nine percent. We've essentially built a "house of cards." If the power grids stay up, things may continue normally. If they go down, all bets are off.
What are some of the likely scenarios you feel could lead to a global collapse?
Because we live in such a technologically dependent society, anything that would disrupt the power grids could cause socioeconomic collapse. An electromagnetic pulse from nuclear weapons or the wave form created by an X-class solar flare could cause massive disruption of the grids. They would probably stay down for a long time if the pulse was powerful enough to knock out the transformers at substations in the system. Those transformers are massive, very vulnerable, and difficult to replace. The power utilities keep very few spares on hand, and the lead time to order new ones is about two years.
A few years ago, I wrote about pandemics and people thought it was far-fetched. But with Ebola, we're now on the cusp of what may possibly be a global pandemic. We're looking at a disease with high lethality. The transmissibility is still questionable, but even if it isn't easily transmitted now, it would take only one mutation to make it go airborne. This isn't limited to the realm of fiction and imagination. With global air travel, it could encircle the world very quickly.
In your opinion, which are the possible catastrophic events most likely to lead to a collapse of the global order?
I would say the greatest threat is an international credit crisis or derivatives crisis. At any given time, hundreds of trillions of dollars in derivatives are in play. Fifty times more derivatives are in play than all the world's currency units combined. With normal interest rate fluctuations, derivatives are a wonderful form of insurance the investing community uses to hedge its bets. But if things go really sideways all at once, we could see a huge risk, where counterparties cease to exist. Imagine fifteen Lehman Brothers failing in one day. Or imagine interest rates spiking three, four or five percent in one day, which could happen if a major Western nation's debt was repudiated. A number of economic spasms could occur, and cause an immediate meltdown of the stock markets and collapse the bond markets. The cascading effect could topple governments. If that were to happen, we could see entire currencies and governments falling.
If we have a credit, banking and currency collapse, normal commerce would be very difficult. People might have to revert to bartering, or scramble to alternative currencies like bitcoin. Right now, we see that in Greece where they've adopted bitcoin because their currency unit is questionable. We could see enormous market fluctuations and massive unemployment following a huge round of corporate layoffs. There could be civil unrest, riots--primarily in cites--and a panoply of crises spurred by a global economic crisis. A key factor in modern societies is the speed of information transmission, and the lightning-fast speed with which markets react. Markets for commodities now operate twenty-four hours a day. So there would be no time lag or lull during which governments could make policy changes. Things would simply fall apart in less than twenty-four hours.
Liberators, in addition to telling a chilling story, details many survival tactics. It seems to be almost a manual for preparedness. Do you purposely do that when writing a novel?
Yes. Actually, my novels are essentially survival manuals dressed as fiction. When I began my writing career, I intended to write a survival manual. I then realized most people don't want to read a three-hundred page manual, but they will read a novel. So, I decided to dress that survival manual as fiction. It's a formula that's worked pretty well. It's captivated a lot of people, and gets them reading and thinking. Many of my readers find themselves reading my novels twice. The first read is for fun because it's an exciting, roller-coaster of a read. But they go through the novel a second time, with a highlighting pen and notepad, taking notes.
The back flap of Liberators says you live in an "undisclosed location west of the Rockies." Why so secretive?
Well, because as a quasi-survival guru, I don't want to be seen as the go-to guy for the entire nation when things fall apart. I don't want to wake up one morning and find my barnyard is filled with RVs and campers. So, I'm very circumspect about my location.
Either from history or present times, who are your heroes?
Most of my heroes date back to the 18th Century. Our founding fathers were of heroic stature because of what they accomplished, and the risks they undertook signing the Declaration of Independence. It was at great personal peril. In fact, many of them had their homes burned. They would include Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Jay, and George Washington; basically, all of them. Their accomplishments were astounding. Our constitutional form of government is fantastic. It was a grand and noble experiment. The Constitution has shown great flexibility. The separation of powers we enjoy in this country has actually worked fairly well. At times, it's been abused, but when I look at the alternatives, I'm thankful to our founding fathers.
Any contemporary heroes?
Personally, I'm a great fan of the late Colonel Jeff Cooper. He was a firearms instructor, political commentator, and something of a Renaissance man. I've chosen to raise my children following in his footsteps. He felt that every young man should be able to fell a tree, ride a horse, and fly a light airplane. He thought people were capable of great things.
What do you enjoy reading?
I don't have much free time. I intentionally do not read fiction so I'm not unintentionally echoing the writing style or phrasing of other novelists. I read all sorts of non-fiction; but mainly, I read books on practical skills. I'm a student of the Bible and read a lot of history.
As a student of history, do you feel history repeats itself?
It doesn't always repeat, but it often rhymes.
If it rhymes, how do you see the future?
The history of the Twentieth Century, doesn't bode well for the Twenty-first Century. The frequency and ferocity of global war in the Twentieth Century is cause for worry. We live in a sinful and fallen world, where nations go to war. Human nature dictates that people have ambitions beyond their own backyards. Our world has increasingly scarce resources, whether they're oil or water. Over time, there will probably be more wars. The last century showed that civilian populations really suffer in modern warfare. In earlier times, civilian populations weren't as heavily affected by warfare. Modern wars are fought everywhere. That's one of the themes in Liberators: there are no front lines. Given the nature of modern warfare, it's in people's best interests to be prepared, to batten down the hatches and find safe refuges because the war will come looking for them.
You sound realistic and pessimistic
I try to be realistic, but have hope for the future. I hold out hope for our political process, as well as for economic and scientific developments over the long term. While men can be barbaric, they are also creative. So, my long term hopes are positive. Cold fusion may be perfected, and our energy problems solved. Who knows? All I know is that there are men of genius in the world, and despite an increasingly crowded planet, there may be solutions to make life more livable. So basically, I'm optimistic.
Congratulations on writing another entertaining and thought-provoking novel, describing steps people can take in the event of a global collapse.
Author of Mad Dog House, Mad Dog Justice and Love Gone Mad