Thursday, April 24, 2014

So It Has Come to This

One of my most entertaining friends finds occasion to say this, and shared the comic. It’s true; it works in more situations than you would expect.
I was thinking about this, to lighten the mood following a book I recently read for book club. I can’t recommend the book as great literature. It was, however, a novelized way of discussing a scenario maybe we need to look at. The book was One Second After, by William R. Forstchen. It’s about what could happen following an EMP strike, or electromagnetic pulse.
by William R. Forstchen
In case that term doesn’t mean anything to you, here’s a definition from the foreword:
When an atomic bomb is detonated above the earth’s atmosphere, it can generate a “pulse wave,” which travels at the speed of light, and will short-circuit every electronic device that the “wave” touches on the earth’s surface. It is like a super lightning bolt striking next to your house and taking out your computer, except infinitely worse, for it will strike our entire nation, most likely without warning, and could destroy our entire complex electrical grid and everything attached into that grid (pp. 11-12).
The book explores what would happen if we were suddenly plunged into a pre-electrical world. Cars stop running and roll lifeless to the sides of roads (or until crashing into something stops them). Planes fall from the skies. Communication ceases. Water pumps—gone. Refrigeration—gone. Sources and transport for food and medicine—gone.
Some of the gruesome parts of the book happen at nursing homes and hospitals, where death in disgusting lack of dignity ensues. There's also gang warfare and mayhem of various savage sorts.
People have to come up with new ways to survive, to ration resources, to protect each other and the resources. They have to rethink all kinds of ethical issues, often on life and death issues.
I don’t really like conspiracy theory worries. (This book was, coincidentally, mentioned just a couple of days ago on Glenn Beck’s show, which sometimes goes that direction: here, if you're a subscriber.) So a few weeks ago I asked son Economic Sphere, who has interest and information on such things, hoping for assurance that this was unlikely. Instead he said, yes, it could happen. And it could conceivably take from a few months up to one to three years to rebuild technology to where we are now (if unhindered in the effort to rebuild). So that was disturbing.
Meanwhile, I happened to read the March issue of Hillsdale College publication Imprimis, with an article by Brian T. Kennedy, called “Early Warning: The Continuing Need for National Defense.” Kennedy mentions several recent attacks as evidence. One was The San Jose Attack. I only vaguely remembered this news story:
Last April 16, just outside of San Jose, California, a group of terrorists or soldiers, operating on American soil, attacked the Metcalf transmission substation in a military action aimed at disabling a part of America’s electrical infrastructure. The operation began at 1:00 a.m., when the attackers cut underground fiber optic cables, disabling communications and security systems. Thirty minutes later, using high-powered rifles, they began a 20-minute assault on the substation’s extra-large transformer and the cooling system that supports it. Police arrived at 1:50, but the shooters disappeared into the night. To this day there is no trace of them.
John Wellinghoff, then chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, would call this attack “the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involved [America’s electrical] grid that has ever occurred.” Obviously it was a professional operation by skilled marksmen… with training in reconnaissance, stealth, and evasion. That the plan went undetected, the casings from the spent shells bore no fingerprints, and the perpetrators have not been caught, suggests a high degree of intelligence. Damage to the facility forced electricity to be rerouted to maintain the integrity of power transmission to the Silicon Valley, and repairs took several months.
The political response to the attack ranged from an immediate dismissal by the FBI of the idea it was a terrorist act—puzzling given its sophistication and its proximity in time to the Boston bombing [the day before]—to recognition by a bipartisan but small group of U.S. Senators and Representatives that defending America’s electrical grid is an urgent priority….
Kennedy also mentions the EMP possibility:
Such an explosion placed over the center of the U.S. could destroy the infrastructure that distributes electricity to consumers and industrial users in every state except Alaska and Hawaii. This phenomenon has been well understood sing the 1960s….
He also mentions that a severe solar storm, called Coronal Mass Ejections, could cause similar damage, and we’re overdue for such a storm. We had a near miss just last July.
Why should we worry? According to a 1990s EMP Commission, without electricity the US “has the industrial infrastructure to provide for only 30 million of its 300 million citizens.” Let that sink in a moment. Kennedy adds this question:
Given the potentially devastating consequences of failing to defend our sophisticated but vulnerable electrical grid, citizens might well wonder how it is that our government, which doesn’t bat an eye at spending billions of dollars on the most frivolous and wasteful projects, fails year after year to do so.
So, what can we learn from this electrical vulnerability?
·         Government isn’t reliable to “take care of” all our needs.
·         We’d better learn to be self-reliant and prepared.
In Forstchen’s book, he looks at what might have been:
Anyone with even the remotest understanding of EMP and the threat to the nation should have been going insane before it hit….The threat was a hundred times worse [than the possibility of saboteurs during WWII] and they did nothing, absolutely nothing….
If people knew the simple things to do on Day One, [a leader] already trained to react to an EMP, mobilize his forces and react quickly…if they had but a few simple provisions stocked away, the same way anyone who lives in hurricane or tornado country does, would they be in this mess?...
Food, bulk food, just a fifty-pound bag of rice or flour, shoes, batteries, an additional [insulin] test kit… dog food, a water filter so they didn’t have to boil what they now pulled out of the swamp green pool…I should have had those on hand (p. 258).
At least this makes me feel a little better. We live in hurricane/tornado territory. Especially since 2005 when Katrina hit, followed a couple of weeks later by Rita, people have paid attention. Plus, our Church has spent the last century encouraging members to gather a store of food. Start with a three-day emergency supply, a 72-hour kit. In fact, it was our Church that first taught people at the annual hurricane preparedness conference, about 72-hour kits. Now everybody seems to have caught on, and most people have some version of a go-bag for emergencies.
We were also taught to build up a month or two of stuff on hand. And then build up to a year’s supply. We were told it would be today’s version of Noah’s Ark, to have that supply on hand. Obedience, rather than fear, is the motivation. But, still, there’s some fear involved.
We resupplied our food supply back when we had the larger family living with us. There’s still some fear involved for me; I can’t eat any grains. There aren’t very many canned foods I can eat. Some that I used to be able to eat are now (just recently) starting to explode in my pantry. So I have some re-supplying to do.
We have a good freezer, but that requires electricity. During Hurricane Ike, 2008, when we lost power for eight days, we used a generator to keep our freezer, and our neighbors’, going for about ten hours a day. But we still lost a lot of food. Mr. Spherical Model says next time he will evacuate me, because I’m a lot of trouble to worry about.
That was short-term. It’s hard to picture getting through one or more years. And, while we garden, it’s not easy here in the clay-soiled back yard. Still, Mr. Spherical Model has a lot of experience as a Boy Scout leader and camper. He’s resourceful. We wouldn’t be the first to go. Although, I might need a couple of medical miracles once my three-month supply of certain things run out.
My real concern is civilization. It would take some serious readjustment to live without technology. But people have done it before—most of the millennia mankind has existed. And we have people among us with needed experience. Civilization is helped along by infrastructure, but it isn’t dependent on it. Civilization requires a people who are accountable to God first, and good to each other—by choice. In order to rebuild, we will need a people who choose to be good, and caring toward one another, and willing to work together.
Government could help protect us, better than it does. But, failing that, it’s not likely we can turn to government to inculcate us with needed humanity. We have to find that within ourselves.
It’s harder to be kind and thoughtful of others when we’re stressed, hungry, tired, hot or cold. We get irritable. We might get desperate. So, maybe we can use this relatively secure time to build our reserve of inner civilization—so it will be there when it’s most needed.


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