Tue, 31 Mar 2009 00:00:33 +0000 – By Newt GingrichFormer House Speaker/FOX News Contributor
Alex Berenson and William R. Forstchen have written two bold new novels which warn us that America is threatened by new weapons and new threats which seem "unthinkable" to our national leadership.
These are not threats of suicide bombers, snipers, or even airplanes hitting buildings and killing thousands.
Berenson demonstrates convincingly that a crude Hiroshima-level atomic bomb is potentially attainable by terrorists for detonation within the United States. This would create an impossible security problem for a State of the Union scenario. Recent urban nuclear attack simulations run by William Bell and Cham Dallas and published in the International Journal of Health Geographics show thermal and fallout impacts from surface detonations of "primitive" 20 kiloton atomic bombs with horrific fatality plumes and mass casualties for urban cities.
Forstchen accurately captures the horrendous implications of an electromagnetic pulse attack. EMP can be the product of a relatively low yield nuclear weapon if it is designed correctly. EMP effects have been known for at least 50 years. High altitude tests in the Johnston Atoll in 1962 resulted in electrical disruptions and equipment failures in Honolulu nearly a thousand miles away.
A serious EMP attack would wipe out most-if-not-all electricity generation--transmission capabilities within its effective range (which could extend across the North American continent) and could incapacitate all electricity using-equipments including automobiles, radios--TVs, refrigerators, etc. It is possible to harden equipment against an EMP attack, but very little has been invested in that process -- with the notable exception of the machinery needed by the DoD to wage strategic war -- so most all American equipment is vulnerable, very vulnerable.
Forstchen carries us through the agonizing human problems of a 21st century community suddenly being thrust back into a pre-modern, i.e., pre-electrification-age albeit with none of the survival skills and practical subsistence technologies which earlier generations were used to. It is believable and overpowering.
Before you dismiss such writing as overblown or exaggerated, remember all the people who wondered after 9/11 why no one had thought of it -- or even those who wondered after Pearl Harbor why we were taken by surprise.
The fact is peoplehadthought of using airplanes as cruise missiles to attack and destroy even very large buildings. Tom Clancy had written a best selling novel about it. Of course, Clancy had a 747 hit the Capitol and it was done by an embittered Japanese pilot rather than a group of Islamist extremists -- but the technique had the same result. Clancy compellingly made the case that a commercial airliner, even partly full of jet fuel, was potentially an enormously destructive incendiary bomb.
Similarly, many experts had forecast the possibility of a Sunday morning air strike at Pearl Harbor long before the Japanese actually attacked. In fact, earlier American naval maneuvers had involved precisely such a strike and it had succeeded.
The problem at Pearl Harbor and on 9/11 was not a failure of imagination but a failure of the bureaucracy to take such insights seriously. As Nobelist Tom Schelling memorably remarked long ago:
"There is a tendency in our planning to confuse the unfamiliar with the improbable. The contingency we have not considered looks strange; what looks strange is thought improbable; what is improbable need not be taken seriously."
Now we have two new novels which warn us of the catastrophic dangers which face America. They involve two different dangers delivered in two different ways, but they are equally compelling as serious examples of catastrophic threats which would shatter the American nation.
Every member of Congress should undertake the same reading assignment. Then they should demand hearings on terrorist nuclear threats and on EMP threats. And if President Obama would like to better understand the risks he is guarding America against (the first duty of a president as commander in chief being to protect the country) he would do well to spend a weekend reading these two novels.
Newt Gingrich is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.