Here's a "man-caused disaster" for Napolitano to consider, while the Obama administration is signaling its disinterest with missile defense and pooh-poohs the nuclear threat from North Korea and Iran because, in America's worst-case scenario, they could deliver only a "few" nukes against the West.
In One Second After, (Forge, $24.95), however, William Forstchen — the co-author of Newt Gingrich's alternate history novels — shows how one nuclear weapon could kill hundreds of millions of Americans and finish the United States as a world power.
Forstchen, who lives in a small college town in the North Carolina mountains, takes a devastating and grimly realistic look at what would happen to his hometown if an enemy took out America's electric grid — and anything run by a computer — with an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) weapon.
Suddenly, former Army Col. John Matherson, now a history professor, and his townfolk find themselves without refrigeration, automobiles or electrical power of any kind. Without refrigeration or transportation, food, medicine and drinking water become in short supply overnight. Anyone with a life-threatening illness feels the clock ticking. Meanwhile, the resulting anarchy and desperation mean the community must make decisions about whom to help and whom to fight.
Fans of TV's Jericho will find much more to chew on in One Second After, which is more substantive and hopeful than such made-for-TV movies as The Day After or Testament — but not too much more. One might argue that the book should account for a little more American ingenuity and a little less Malthus. One Second After, however, is easily the literary equivalent of Nevil Shute's On the Beach or Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon, though I always thought the former was tremendously over-rated.
Forstchen theorizes that the problem would not even begin to be solved for about a year. While some contend that his scenario is too pessimistic and an EMP would not fry electronic devices as badly as Forstchen supposes, a pre-release copy of the book has provoked discussion in the Pentagon. Congressional studies have theorized as many as 100 million people would die within weeks of such an event.
As an entertainment, One Second After is gripping. It's a chiller that will make you look at the world differently while you read it and will stay with you for long after you finish.
Late in the book, John Matherson curses the politicians who sealed the fate of millions of their fellow citizens because they could not be bothered to invest in "better surge protectors."
Indeed. But the ability to shoot down a single warhead with certainty wouldn't be a bad start, either.