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A total nuclear war happens between two superpowers, and destroys most of the northern hemisphere and parts of Oceania and South America. 42,000 nukes are used, and hit dozens of cities and cause mass destruction. Humanity survives, though it was a challenge. My story takes place mostly in the southeast, Midwest and southwest regions of the United States. Most people live in small farming communities, with technology equal to 17th century tech. They mostly trade with other nearby cities, though it is a challenge, as wild animals and occasionally marauders attack settlements. The fastest method of transportation is a horse, and no one has seen a car move in generations.

Some settlements have banded together into United City states, but that is fairly rare. Though modern medicine doesn’t exist, germ theory still does, so it’s not as bad as it was back in the Middle Ages, but not as good as today. The human population is only about 2 billion; in the United States 200 million people live. Most people are subsistence farmers, but large plantations do exist in states like Alabama and Georgia, and use slave labor (not specifically of African Americans) to do the work. It’s been about twenty human generations, specifically 497 years.

My question is, what would be the main challenges of rebuilding modern or close to modern civilization, and would they even be able to do it?

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closed as too broad by sphennings, RonJohn, L.Dutch - Reinstate Monica, Tim B II, Rekesoft Mar 14 '18 at 10:31

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  • $\begingroup$ When did this war happen? (There have only been 15,000 warheads for about 20 years.) $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 14 '18 at 1:47
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    $\begingroup$ Just as an aside, 200 million survivors in the united states seems like a very high number for what is essentially a semi-irradiated and infrastructurally shattered country. $\endgroup$ – Mothermole1 Mar 14 '18 at 4:03
  • $\begingroup$ This question is a near-duplicate of worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/105379/… and I not-so-humbly recommend reading my response to it. $\endgroup$ – JBH Mar 14 '18 at 4:45
  • $\begingroup$ I told this guy last week, 10,000 warheads is already enough to totally destroy the earths biome. Besides, nuclear war isnt measured in "warheads" its measured in megatons. 1,000 megatons is about the upper limit of what we could hope to survive as a species. $\endgroup$ – TCAT117 Mar 14 '18 at 4:49
  • $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Industrial Prerequisites for Mechanized Warfare (Post-Apocalypse Edition) $\endgroup$ – Rekesoft Mar 14 '18 at 10:31
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what would be the main challenges of rebuilding modern or close to modern civilization

Cheap energy. For the past 180 years or so, the civilized regions have been powered by cheap energy: first coal, and then oil and gas. But it's taking a lot more effort now to find that fuel. Not just "effort", but high tech equipment backed by a massively complex infrastructure all in places that are hard to get to (deep water, far underground, etc).

would they even be able to do it?

I don't think so. We'd still have much knowledge (from books), so you'd get to an odd mix of Early 19th Century technology and Early 20th Century medicine.

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer unfortunately does not provide a complete answer to the question. If you could expand it, that would probably keep it off the deletion queue. $\endgroup$ – Azuaron Mar 14 '18 at 14:57
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    $\begingroup$ @Azuaron a complete answer to "what's the main challenge to rebuilding after a GTW?" would require a very large report from the RAND Corporation. Anyway, I think I did answer it. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Mar 14 '18 at 15:12
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Well, their ancestors did it, so there's no reason they couldn't if they chose to. The main technical challenge, I'd think, is simply working through all the baby steps required to get back to a higher technology.

All the books will still be there: books on microbiology, medicine, pharmacology, physics, biology, chemistry. A lot of the stable technology will just be sitting around waiting to be used again. Probably quite a lot will have been collected by some future monastery in those far off United City-States just the way Aristotle and Pliny and Pythagoras were collected by the monasteries in our own past. They won't really have to "discover" anything, so much as chug through dusty old tomes and apply what was written there.

The main challenge, as I see it, will be the inner moral challenge. That is, getting all that old science and technology back on line but with some kind of guiding principles that the ancestors lacked. That is, recreating what was truly wonderful about the Old World, but without the irrational madness to use all that science and technology to try and eradicate their own species from the planet.

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The biggest challenge will be recovery of normal society after massive destruction of infrastructure. In wars, destruction is not random. It is carefully focused to take away the enemy's ability and/or interest to wage war.

With the breakdown of social order and disabled or destroyed infrastructure, people band together for safety. Band (militia, tribe, extended family) affiliation becomes more important than national affiliation. Look at just about any place in the middle east today.

At Chernobyl we can see that radiation effects rapidly fade into the background noise. While Chernobyl is not a favored haunt of humans right now, the renewed presence of alpha predators (bears and wolves) in the city tells us that it has a thriving ecosystem just a few years after the nuclear event.

A nuclear bomb is a weapon of terror, but is incredibly inefficient for most purposes. It focuses too much destruction in one spot. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it was determined that a conventional bombing campaign, that cost a fraction of what the nuclear weapons did, would have caused more destruction for equivalent explosive power.

What the nuclear weapons did was add an element of terror to the equation - "one bomb can do this?" . This was in an age when bombing campaigns were essentially drop the load and pray you have enough coverage that one of your bombs hits close enough to your target to do significant damage.

In contrast, modern weaponry is designed to be used as a scalpel. Destroy what you want with the minimum expenditure of energy and firepower. Drop a GPS guided concrete block on a bridge you want to destroy instead of carpet bombing the area around the bridge.

You don't just attack the enemy's tanks, you attack his fuel supplies. You don't attack his soldiers, you attack his food supplies. You don't sabotage his weapons, you destroy his means of producing ammunition. In war, the amateur thinks tactics, but the professional thinks logistics.

When the US struck Iraq, the press was less than impressed by the "shock and awe" campaign. However, the military was impressed. In a 5 minute span, exactly three missiles struck every military base in Iraq. One missile each for the main and backup communications closets, and one for the commander's bedroom.

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what would be the main challenges of rebuilding modern or close to modern civilization

Radioactivity could be a problem, as in the average human would be born with either a little bit less or a whole lot more limbs than usual, and die of cancer at 20 or so...

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  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Radioactive dust would in the air, water and all the food. It's unavoidable. $\endgroup$ – Thorne Mar 14 '18 at 2:25

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