A bit of a book review

One thing that has kept the human race going, even in the worst of times, is hope. There are all sorts of clichés like “hope isn’t a strategy,” that push hope to the side and yet, I believe that faith, hope and love will help guide us through the darkest times, but we still have to be willing to make decisions, work hard and keep trying, even in the midst of failures and adversity.

Back in 2012, when I started this blog, my intention was to write about politics and cultural topics, but even in the first weeks of blogging I was writing posts about preparedness and the importance of learning to be more self-reliant. For as long as I can remember, I’ve believed in learning more skills and trying to become more self-reliant.

For every person in America who is making efforts to be more prepared, with stocking up water, food, basic supplies and trying to learn to be more self-reliant, it’s a safe bet there are literally thousands of Americans who have never given a moment’s thought to emergency preparedness or what they would do in case of a serious emergency or a prolonged crisis situation. They believe the government will take care of them. They have complete trust that the infrastructure and complex systems that make our modern lifestyle possible will always be there. They don’t even believe major breakdowns or a collapse of these complex systems is even a possibility. While I don’t want this to be doom and gloom, this isn’t going to be a rainbows and unicorns blog post.

Back in my teens I read George Orwell’s dystopian novel, 1984 and some other doomsday type novels like, Nevil Shute’s, On The Beach, which was about a nuclear attack. I also went through a period of reading survival type novels like, Alive, The Story of the Andes Survivors, about a rugby team from Uruguay, in 1972 that survived a plane crash in the Andes Mountains and survived in sub-zero temperatures. I’ve read spy novels and novels about international intrigue galore and I’ve often read novels that definitely aren’t something I would ever have picked out myself, but someone highly recommended it, so off I go reading it.

With all the talk about EMPs online lately, I decided to read William R. Forstchen’s 2009 novel, One Second After. The novel is about America’s electrical grid being taken out by an EMP attack triggered by nuclear missiles launched high above the earth’s atmosphere. I’m still waiting for my used copy of the Ted Koppel book, Lights Out, and had heard One Second After mentioned many times by preppers online, so I started this novel expecting not to like it. I didn’t really “like it,” because after the chaos of the past few years, I could actually envision some of this horrific stuff happening here – especially the civil breakdown, chaos and almost everyone being totally unprepared to even have the basics of food and water stocked up to last for a few weeks, let alone months or longer.

What I will say is I am glad I read this book and it’s given me a lot of crisis and preparedness things to think about that I hadn’t thought about before or thought about in the same way as this author did. Creating a culture of preparedness and self-reliance really is a national security imperative, but our government gives wide-berth to encouraging citizens to being able to manage on their own or to be prepared. The culture we actually have is one of self-indulgence and foolish, useless people (celebrities and “influencers”) being idolized. If you weren’t sure about how our officials would mishandle a crisis, just look back to America in 2020, while their media friends spun up non-stop drama and pitting Americans against each other.

The title of the book is the most important message, because “one second after” is too late to prepare and in this fictional story all of America is thrown back into a life without electricity and a total collapse of the modern transportation and supply chains that make our modern lifestyle even possible. That total collapse creates a total communications breakdown too and people are literally clueless what is going on even a hundred miles away, let alone in Washington or the rest of the country. Rumors carried by “refugees” fleeing cities, trying to get back home, or simply stuck due to their cars no longer being operable when the EMP takes out their vehicles electronics system, are the only “information” filtering in from the outside world at first.

The novel was filled with plenty of horrific situations, but most of the characters felt like the types of people you’d find in a small, Southern college town, located in the midst of a rural area, especially the main character, John Matherson, a military history professor and retired Army officer. The author, a military historian, included a lot of historical information and statistics that sounded to me like information from military and government reports, delivered by main characters in the novel talking to each other in town council meetings and conversations between other community leaders. Tom Clancy and many other writers of spy novels and military-themed novels used this same way of including historical and technical information in the plot via characters talking to each other. The town doctor’s morning reports at the town leaders’ meetings in One Second After often sound like he’s reading the “worst case” estimates from a lot of government reports on various dire health crisis situations.

There’s a line, as the story is over two months into this crisis, that sums it all up, as Matherson’s thinking about the situation for his own family, which includes his young daughter, who has type 1 diabetes and a teenage daughter:

“Food, bulk food, just a fifty-pound bag of rice or flour, shoes, batteries, an additional test kit for Jennifer, damn it, even birth control for Elizabeth, dog food, a water filter, so they didn’t have to boil water they now pulled out of the swamp green pool… I should have had those on hand.” (pg. 367)

That said, while fiction is written to keep readers turning the pages, I came away thinking about all sorts of preparedness aspects I hadn’t given much consideration, but also hopeful that since this fictional novel reportedly generated a lot of interest at the Pentagon and in Congress back in 2009, that some strides have been made to harden some of America’s most critical infrastructure from the threat of an EMP attack. My trust with anything concerning our federal government is very shaky though and there are still so many simple things I can do to become more self-reliant and more resilient, so that’s where I want to focus my energies.

One of the interesting parts with the plot in this novel is that people quickly begin to realize they’re on their own and Washington isn’t coming to help. With all the lines of communication down, people have no real idea what is really going on and the multitude of serious problems they find themselves facing daily becomes more critical than what’s happening in Washington. Basic survival becomes the overriding concern, as problems deepen and multiply and death tolls rise. It’s also painfully obvious that almost every character in this novel, even the main ones were not remotely prepared on a personal or professional level for a serious national crisis striking America. The only characters who sound like they were prepared to survive are ones described as family/farmer clans, who live out in the mountains and survivalist types off in the woods, whom the town’s leaders refer to being people they need to approach for help to learn skills to survive.

The small college becomes a hive of activity and innovation to get some older technology functioning, a militia formed for the common defense and even a group of students, who were majoring in outdoor education and biology, referred to as the “granola crew” before the crisis, become vital at ramping up their foraging efforts to boost the community food supply.

The theme of civil breakdown and maintaining basic law and order plays a large role in the plot. A recurring part of the rumors reaching this town is about violent gangs and crazy end time cults taking hold in areas around the country. Gauging by the craziness I see online with wild conspiracy theories spreading like wildfire that take hold among America’s most politically online polarized sides (both left and right wing) this part of the plot seemed totally plausible to me.

There are other books in this series that continue the story in One Second After, but I’m going to read some other happy ending novels for a bit. I’m excited to start my spring gardening effort and some other projects. Rather than get scared or alarmed, I tried to assess situations and information in this novel and think about whether it’s realistic or reliable with doing a bit more reading on these topics.

The town’s doctor talked about making a mixture of sugar, salt and sterile water to give to patients with depleted electrolytes and this reminded me of a drink called switchel, that I read about in a pioneer novel long ago. It’s bits of information like this salt, sugar, water mixture and remembering switchel, that made a connection in my mind of, “hey, this might be good to know too.” Sometimes situations in novels seem totally implausible or I remember something else I read elsewhere that offers an easier or more realistic way to deal with a problem, but thinking about different ideas is always a good thing. That’s my main takeaway from this novel – look for useful things to learn and consider but don’t get scared or get in a panic about the possibility of an EMP event. Just take practical steps, as you have time and can afford, to be better prepared, especially with basic supplies required for everyday survival.

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Filed under Emergency Preparedness, General Interest

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