Friday, June 26, 2009

A Dark Read, One Second After

I scared myself this week. No, I didn't have a negligent discharge, an almost car accident, a slip in the tub. I read a book.

I read it in about a day and a half. I couldn't put it down and I had the awful sense of passing a car wreck and not being able to tear my eyes away from a sheet-draped mound. The book is William Forstchen's One Second After (link below).

Forstchen's book is not a survivalist novel, but is about TEOTWAWKI (the end of the world as we know it). If you've seen his name before, it was probably because he is Newt Gingrich's writing partner for their series of history-based novels. His protagonist, like Forstchen, lives in a small town near Asheville, North Carolina and teaches history at Montreat College. Unlike, Forstchen, the protagonist is a former Army colonel although most of his career centered around teaching military history.

The words in the title refers to the change in America one second after we are hit with an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP). Terrorists or another country, as is speculated by various characters, have hit us with three nuclear weapons burst twenty-five miles above the Earth and arrayed in such a way that the resulting EMPs destroy our civilization.

Electronic circuits are fried even if they were on a surge protector. No cars or trucks made after the early 1980s will run. Cell phones, computers, land-line phones, municipal power and water systems, ATMs, and everything else that we rely on so much are inoperable (with the exception of gravity-fed water systems).

Grocery stores stand empty in less than two days. Travelers are stranded on freeways, planes fall out of the sky, people with medical conditions are staring the Grim Reaper in the face. Hunting becomes a way of life even as game becomes depleted. Ammo is a medium of exchange.

Even our military is not spared. Some equipment that was thought to be hardened against EMP burns out. Command and control communications are disrupted.

The book goes on in this vein and is all too plausible. Communities come together while others fall apart. Some people prey on others (literally). Food is the biggest problem. Basically, as indicated in the book's afterword, America has returned to the nineteenth century without having a nineteenth century knowledge base. We know how to program a cell phone, but we don't know how to hitch a mule to a plow.

One Second After is a dark and scary read. Forstchen gives his characters some hope, some victories, but all of them are lost in a world that is no longer theirs. All too plausible.

Newt Gingrich wrote a foreword and Captain Bill Sander (USN) wrote an afterword. Both state that One Second After is based on unclassified reports. An EMP strike is a real threat and could be a true TEOTWAWKI unlike other survivalist scenarios. In fact, it could inspire readers to improve their own knowledge base and better prepare for such a terrible event (Foxfire books anyone).

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