Soldier of Fortune Magazine: /k/ before the Internet
To be honest, I hadn’t discovered Soldier of Fortune until I first visited /k/, and even then didn’t know anything about SOF in earnest until I reached enough time on the image board for this comparison to really jump out at me. It seemed like every article, picture, and detail I found in the pages of SOF was like a thread, reply, or an image post from the infamous forum (if it existed in the 80’s). So that’s what I wanted to touch on here: The lineage of culture between this periodical for bitter Vietnam vets, paramilitary larpers, weebs, and a few serious self defense/training enthusiasts doomed to inhabit the weapons board of an online Mongolian basket weaving forum until they are finally granted the sweet release of death.
What is Soldier of Fortune?
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, Soldier of Fortune (the “journal of professional adventurers”) was a magazine first published in 1975 by Lt. Col. Robert K Brown. An interesting figure himself, Brown was an Army intelligence officer, gun runner, and combat correspondent before settling in Boulder Colorado and co-founding Paladin Press (also a very /k/ minded, pre-internet publication I plan on covering more deeply in a later article). His shares in the firm were bought out 5 years later and he used the funds to start Soldier of Fortune, hot on the heels of the Fall of Saigon which ended the Vietnam War. Whether this event was the catalyst for him founding SOF, or had been planned before his stake in Paladin was bought out, I can’t be sure. It certainly set the tone for what the magazine was, and who had subscribed to it throughout its history, especially in its early years.
From the Founder Himself
Brown said in an interview that the purpose of SOF was to be a publication for Vietnam veterans who deserved recognition for their service and weren’t getting it due to the attitudes about the war at home. But these veterans were not straight laced paragons of virtue from the Greatest Generation, they were angry and ostracized soldiers who rejected the counter culture aspects (read: Marxism) that they felt had lost America the war and held a similar distrust and disrespect of the Federal government, especially federal law enforcement (read: BATF).
This was true for the non-veteran subscribers too, who while not having served, had a deep abiding respect for combat and what combat represents. In the interview with Brown I mentioned earlier he tries to explain this further. There was an element of anti-Marxism to it, and to a lesser extent money (although Brown disclaims that in most cases the mercenary was receiving no more money than a normal soldier would), but above all the goal was adventure: to travel to a foreign land, feel the rush of shooting people and being shot at, the esprit de corps, and all other elements of being in the military that these people craved, without the dull, repetitive, garrison duties of a peacetime soldier in the US.
While this was the vision, it didn’t really represent the reality of SOF’s readership outside of daydreams. The vast majority of readers were simply normal US gun owners who didn’t fit in with the majority of the shooting culture who participated in things like competition shooting, hunting, and their local chapter of the American Legion or NRA sponsored events. They were a hidden and non-mainstream subculture that was a lot edgier and a lot weirder than the norm (sound familiar?)
In order to more closely research the connection between the connection though, I thought it would be best to visit my local used bookstore in an attempt to find some physical copies. I wanted to comb them over and get the full experience. The lot of 8 issues that I found followed a rough timeline between March of 1981 to June of 1983 and unsurprisingly appeared to have not been touched since they were put on the shelf. I poured over them, taking in articles of particular note but also just enjoying the unabashed, unapologetic, and unrelenting 80’s aesthetic that the pages of the magazine can barely contain. I believe my point has been fairly well presented so far, but just to hammer the point home, here are a few shiny gems I found tucked away in my examples that to me, play out much like what a /k/ thread catalog would look like, had it been circa 1982:
Unsurprisingly given Brown’s connection with Paladin Press even after he sold out of it, multiple page advertisements for Paladin made its way into every issue I physically had. Highlights include Paladin’s greatest contributor, Ragnar Benson with “Survival Poaching”, as well as a few other gems like “Secret Weapons of the Third Reich” by Leslie Earl Simon, “Black Medicine” by N. Mashiro, and “Tanks are Mighty Fine Things” by Wesley W. Stout. That said, there are a few classics in here like Jeff Cooper’s “Principles of Personal Defense”, W.E. Fairbairn’s “Get Tough”, and the book that Browns collaborated with prior to Paladin that set the tone for the kind of works they would publish: “150 questions for a Guerrilla” by General Alberto Bayo who was a Republican in the Spanish Civil War who would later flee to Cuba to advise Castro. Fun fact: the book is listed in the mag for $5 while copies today hover around $100.
Speaking of Jeff Cooper, who was actually a regular contributor, you also had a younger up and coming pistoler by the name of Ken Hackathorn who was a contributor as well. I guess these guys could be considered the equivalent of older tripfags that contributed things of value and didn’t suck.
Pictured above is a particular gem from Hackathorn’s column “Combat Pistolcraft” that goes over the Beretta 92s very early testing for US Military adoption. And while his very boomer-esque rant about the inadequacies of the “stopping power” of the 9mm compared to the .45 is pretty laughable today, it was orthodox for the time period and is interesting to read.
However, in my opinion he redeems himself in the June ’83 issue by choosing the Galil as his personal pick for a “survival” (SHTF) weapon. I don’t find his opinion here to be any more correct than his opinions of 9mm, but it’s a cool as hell choice I can respect.
No spooks or skinwalkers here, just general outdoors survival tips. In the March ’81 issue pictured above, there’s an article detailing some cold weather survival tips that were genuinely well presented and easily something you would find in a outdoors specific oriented publication.
Here we have one of my favorite things I found while combing through SOF. It is what I believe to be the first printed example of the term “BATFag” from a letter to the editor, written by a reader who was looking to suggest a derogatory term to SOF in reference to the BATF for subsequent issues. This one technically came from outside my collection but it was too good not to include:
While there are plenty of articles about typical favorites such as the French Foreign Legion, MACV-SOG, Rhodesia, and other African bush warriors including mercenary captains like Mad Mike Hoar and Rolf Steiner, my truly favorite parts of what I found in SOF were articles that are analogous to the rare threads that contain really interesting personal stories. Check this one from a reader who recalls his childhood in Hungary during the Soviet occupation:
And this one about a European machinist behind the iron curtain, who in defiance of the government, not only stashed away a full auto STG45, but one that HE HIMSELF made in his garage:
A Couple More Tidbits I Couldn’t Help But Include
Like I said, this was only an attempt to illustrate the overall tone of SOF from a few physical copies I had on hand. I could have included more details of the bush war stories, the G11 test shoot, or more “I Was There” reader submitted combat or self defense stories but didn’t want this whole article to go on forever as a picture slideshow. If you enjoyed this comparison and are interested in more examples but don’t want to commit to the point where you visit your local used bookstore and drop down cash like I did before I found these links, here are a couple of pastebin/dropbox URLs to a vast majority of the publication history of SOF. My Christmas gift to you, Kommando Blog. Happy reading!
LT COL Brown interview:
I well remember the old SOF magazine. I remember stumbling across this publication quite by accident and buying my first copy at a convenience store in El Dorado, Arkansas in the summer of 1980 while on a short vacation with a high school buddy.
If MAD magazine was considered “edgy” for adolescent boys, SOF was what the edgy crowd graduated to when they entered their high school years. I was blown away, at the time, by the content and was intrigued by the war stories and photography from Cold War hot spots like the Rhodesian Bush War. It was also pretty cool to read the classified ads, many of which sought to recruit former U.S. military servicemen for mercenary work abroad
It was quite a hoot to read, or so my 18-year old self thought at the time! Hard to believe it’s been 41 years since those guilty pleasure days of yore. LOL!
I remember SOF as a kid. It was interesting to see the next door neighbor or dad’s “co-workers” on the front cover from time to time. (this was in the 1970’s and Central America was ramping up)