Curmudgeonalia
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March 14, 2011

One Second After

Wm. R. Forstchen - ISBN - 978-0765327253

This is a rather strained, surreal, philosophic (as noun) which entails the fatal incapacitation of much of the west and virtually all of the U.S. in an electromagnetic pulse attack; the result of a stratospheric nuclear explosion which totally destroys any and all electrical and/or computer faculty over the entire continent. A single nuclear explosion at that elevation presents no conventional risk of fallout, yet does more--though largely non-physical--damage to the country than half a dozen or more such ground level blasts.

This is the apocalyptic capacity which is, or is about to become, possible for nuclear capable terrorist nations: Pakistan, North Korea, and soon Iran; perhaps even China as aggressor or Russia as a last gasp.

It has long been known that such a risk exists, and that government really should undertake to "harden" against the risk. In the event as described, everything is shattered in an instant. Picture, if you can, every vehicle newer than 30 years, suddenly stalling, leaving highways as parking lots; every airplane in the air crashing, including Air Force One--and none will take off again for years; the entire electrical generating capacity of the U.S. is neutralized, along with the distribution grid networks; every computer is useless; the water supply, except where gravitational or artesian is rendered unavailable; food products are unavailable, though if available would be undeliverable. There is no refrigeration, so food preservation is rendered all but impossible. Within weeks mass starvation occurs. Since the disaster is long term, anyone requiring medicine dies within days or weeks; modern medicine is impossible. The money supply is quickly exhausted because our economy depends upon credit, and there are no faculties for its use; soon only precious metal or other valuables are acceptable, since there is no government to guarantee the value of paper money. The list goes on. The scenario is all but unimaginable!

The author lays out the plot lines very well, but as an historian his skill set is not suited to the construction of a novel, and in my opinion he never captures the reader with the gripping story he has to relate. It is fathomable because it requires only a rudimentary imagination. One of the first events to arise is the need to execute a young junkie and his companion for raiding a nursing home and stealing narcotics, making them unavailable to elderly persons in agony because of this theft; what should one do in that event? Having declared martial law, the only appropriate response is to instill fear in the rest of the population by public execution: "Beware, there are severe consequences" for actions which would be relatively minor felonies in other times,

It is an engrossing concept and a riveting tale, but poorly delivered. Furthermore, he takes much to long to make the point.

By the end of year one some of the remaining 10% of the U.S. population is improving its lot in life, and what's left of the military is beginning to visit, assess and unify the remaining outposts of what used to be civilization. Not a pretty sight.

I would strongly suggest another concern, however. The discussion of "hardening" against this capability is simply not possible. One might have hardened Air Force One, an aircraft carrier, or NORAD, the Pentagon, etc. But just how would you protect each and every computerized activity in the country, military and civilian, and at what expense might you harden all of the electric generation facilities, and secure the supply grid for the entire nation?

The point the author makes, without ever suggesting it, is the really serious case to be made against terrorists obtaining this awesome capability! It is the reason this must not be allowed to happen. Protection against such is essentially impossible, and considering alternatives is roughly akin to ducking under one's school desk, as we were all taught, in the 50's and 60's, should a nuclear attack occur.

It is chilling, indeed. And governments in the first world need become a hell of a lot more serious about preventing terrorists from acquiring this technology.

Posted by Curmudgeon at March 14, 2011 4:38 PM