William Forstchen’s latest New York Times bestseller, One Second After, is a cautionary tale that explores the consequences of an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) attack on the United States. An EMP explosion over the continental United States would have devastating consequences for our country. According to General Eugene Habiger, Former Commander-in-Chief of the U. S. Strategic Command, “Our technologically-oriented society and its heavy dependence on advanced electronic systems could be brought to its knees with cascading failures of our critical infrastructure. Our vulnerability increases daily as our use and dependence on electronics continues to accelerate.” Under the right circumstances, an EMP makes every electronic device quit working. This is not the EMP that is glamorized in movies, which usually only temporarily knocks out electronic devices. “[Hollywood] always get it wrong,” Forstchen contends. An actual EMP short circuits electronic devices for good.
Our communication systems, including, televisions, cell phones, radios, and computers, would go out. Cars would halt. Airplanes would stop in mid-flight. The modern age of technology could be thrust back into the Middle Ages.
“Unlike a regional event, like Hurricane Katrina, where aid comes from North Carolina, Chicago etc. We are talking about a nation-wide event. It would be weeks, months before help comes,” contends Forstchen. We have learned from Katrina that you can’t wait for other people to come and help you. “I urge every family to have an emergency plan in place,” concludes Forstchen.
A Congressional study conducted in 2004 assessed the likeliness of such an attack. “Several potential adversaries have or can acquire the capability to attack the
United States with a high-altitude nuclear weapon-generated electromagnetic pulse
(EMP). A determined adversary can achieve an EMP attack capability without having a
high level of sophistication…The damage level could be sufficient to be catastrophic to the Nation, and our current vulnerability invites attack,” cited the study.
In the novel, three nuclear missiles are detonated in the atmosphere above the United States. This creates an EMP that wipes out all electrical devices. The story follows a regular family living in a small town in Black Mountain, North Carolina as they fight for survival in the wake of the fallout. The most significant issues explored in the novel are told through the experiences of the normal family. “The book is about us. It is about my town. It is about my daughter. I focus on what happens to a typical small American family…and it turns into a nightmare.” Once the community realizes that no one is coming to help them they try to put matters into their own hands. The town is forced to ration food and medical supplies as many begin to die of starvation and disease. Later in the novel, the characters face the threat of gangs that try to loot the town.
In order to prevent this kind of catastrophe, Forstchen recommends that the government restore funding to Ballistic Missile Defense. “We need to get out of Cold War thinking where BMD was scoffed because it was impossible to put down 10,000 Soviet warheads. We are now in a world where three small nuclear warheads could do serious damage,” argues Forstchen. “We need to harden our electrical grid to protect from an EMP attack.”
Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House, sums it up this way: “The threat is real, and we as Americans must face the threat, prepare, and know what to do to prevent it. For if we do not, ‘one second after,’ the America we know, cherish, and love, will be gone forever.”