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Citizen, At Large
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The American Spectator : One Second Too Late: America's Fate?

By John C. Wohlstetter on 5.1.09

One Second After
By William D. Fortschen, with a foreword by Newt Gingrich
(Forge Books, 352 pages, $24.95)

Author William D. Forstchen, who has co-authored six books with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, has novelized one of America's worst national security nightmares in One Second After. The nightmare -- a rogue state's dream -- is that of a single missile launched from a barge several hundred miles off the coast of the continental United States, its atomic warhead arcing to a point 300 miles above Dorothy's Kansas and detonating. (The author uses three missiles; one can suffice.) The normal effects of a nuclear explosion close to Earth would not harm us from space: The resulting blast would be far too distant to send a lethal shockwave destroying anything on the ground beneath, a thermal pulse to incinerate anything, and would not create noticeable radioactive fallout.

But a little known effect of nuclear explosions would cause instantaneous, catastrophic harm to the entire continental United States. The blast would generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) series, striking a geographic circle 2,940 miles in diameter. Traveling at the free-space speed of light, EMP would reach ground in about one millisecond.


This is a terrifying and all too plausible page burner of a novel. Some additional reading:

Physics - By Category
The Compton Effect

By Andrew Zimmerman Jones

The Compton effect (also called Compton scattering) is the result of a high-energy photon colliding with a target, which releases loosely bound electrons from the outer shell of the atom or molecule. The scattered radiation experiences a wavelength shift that cannot be explained in terms of classical wave theory, thus lending support to Einstein's photon theory. The effect was first demonstrated in 1923 by Arthur Holly Compton (for which he received a 1927 Nobel Prize).
As you can see, EMP is nothing new and has been prety well understood for quite some time, but here's the rub...

When we first started testing nuclear weapons, we noticed that the blasts produced an Electro-Magnetic Pulse, or EMP at the moment the weapon detonated, but in primitive tube-based electronics, the EMP had little effect. Once integrated circuitry became more widely used, the EMP's effect was noticed, but the atmosphere pretty much absorbed the pulse, and if the blast was at ground level, and under a heavy blanket of atmosphere, the EMP was insignificant.

Then we did a couple of tests in the high atmosphere, and the Compton Effect produced a dramatic increase in the scope of the area effected as well as a focusing and intensification of the pulse down through the atmosphere and onto the ground. If you read about these early high altitude tests, you'll find out that the EMP fried a great deal of Las Vegas.

One of the very good reasons that we quit testing nuclear weapons in the open atmosphere is because of EMP and the damage it could and was doing.

Like the book review says, if you detonate a nuclear warhead about 300 miles over Chicago, the EMP footprint on the ground is about 3,000 miles in diameter, horizon to horizon, and will destroy every computer and power transmission line in the area affected. The atmosphere below acts like a lens to intensify the effect.

300 miles is very high. The International Space Station orbits at right around 200 miles up, and the Hubble Space Telescope orbits at 300 miles. That's the limit for the Space Shuttle to safely travel and return. It takes millions of pounds of thrust and a sustained 9 minute powered flight for the shuttle to reach orbital velocity of 17,500 MPH...

But shooting a missile straight up, or on a high ballistic arc that has a 300 mile apogee is another matter. If you can guide the missile properly, even an old Soviet era Scud missile like Saddam Hussein used is almost capable of going that high. It's a matter of having a nuclear warhead that will fit the missile. Anything higher than 70 miles or so and the weapon is above the heaviest atmosphere, and the higher you can get it, the more area you affect with it.

If you read this book, especially the forewords, there are many Defense experts who think this scenario is a likely way that an enemy with only a couple of warheads to put into play, could "level the playing field" with only one successful shot. An EMP at altitude over the Midwest would instantly destroy most of the electrical grid not only in the US, but probably most Canada's too, especially around the Great Lakes. High voltage transmission lines would act like enormous antennas, directing the EMP into everything electrical in your house. Surge protectors and circuit breakers don't blow fast enough to protect anything, and if you aren't "hardened" to military specs, you're fried.

I know, nobody wants to consider these kinds of things, (and that is part of the problem...) and there have been innumerable disaster scenarios in books and movies over the years, but this one is a bit different. It's scary to consider how quickly civilization could break down around our ears, but think about how many things are computerized which makes them completely vulnerable to an EMP attack, and think about what it would be like without any electricity nationally, for a year or more.

They never do say specificazlly who it was that attacked the US in this book, but the sure lowers the Country's carbon footprint, instantly.

A quote from the novel....

"People are hungry, scared. We are spoiled unlike any other generation in history, and we forgot completely just how dependent we were on the juice flowing through the wires, the buttons doing something when we pushed them. If only we had some communication. If only we knew the government still worked, a voice that we trusted being heard, that would make all the difference.

"My grandfather used to tell me how back during the Depression the banks started to collapse; there was panic, even the scent of revolution in the air. And then FDR got on the radio, just one radio talk, reminding us we were all neighbors, to cooperate and help each other, and though the Depression went on for seven more years, the panic ended.

"Same thing on nine-eleven. I think it's the silence that is driving people crazy now. No one knows what is going on, what is being done, if we are indeed at war, and if so, who we are fighting and whether we are winning or losing. We are as isolated now as someone living in Europe seven hundred years ago and there is a rumor, just a rumor, that the Tartars are coming or there is a plague in the next village."
Buy the book...scenarios like this one are why websites like this exist. If this doesn't motivate you, nothing will.


22 Posts

I don't know much about electronics, electricity, the grid, etc., but would this event take out the communications and appliances of people living off the grid? I guess it would if it affects cars made in the last 30 years... :cry:

The Skeptic
280 Posts
can you make the font a little bigger? I can see it fine at 15 feet but I'm having a hard time seeing it from 20 feet away
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