Better angels needed

I decided to continue on with the William R. Forstchen, One Second After, saga and I’ve now completed, One Year After and The Final Day. This series is also referred to as the John Matherson novels, named after the main character. While this post is another sort of book report, the bigger theme of vast corruption, cultural, political, and even personal, comes across as more important than the actual doomsday scenario, because there’s no glossing over that crises seem to bring forth the best and the worst in human nature.

I then found Forstchen’s novel, 48 Hours, which deals with an even more horrific Doomsday scenario than the Matherson series. Yes, I thought a total grid-down was the worst, but, nope, not even close. This novel is is about a Carrington-type solar (coronal mass ejection or CME) event that could could wipe out, not only the world’s electrical systems, but also an additional solar flare that is dubbed an “ELE,” an extinction level event with high-level radiation that could end most life on earth. The difference between the Matherson series and 48 Hours novel is there’s no human hand in creating the catastrophe (an EMP strike against the US) and a lot less partisan political themes in 48 Hours. The Matherson series includes a lot of partisan political drama, with a federal government still in secure shelters and a female president, a power-hungry Hillary Clinton type villain.

A disturbing takeaway for me is this fictional saga was published in 2017, before the 2020 pandemic power grabs and before the recent Democrat effort to marginalize and target conservative Americans as “MAGA Republicans” and potential “domestic terrorists.” Every time President Biden sneeringly rails against, “those MAGA Republicans,” I cringe. That doesn’t mean I’m a Trump-supporter either. I just don’t support the constant broad-brush demonizing Americans, trying to cast them as a “threat to democracy.”

The other big theme that emerges in Forstchen’s novels is how vast the corruption is in Washington and that part rang true too. In the second novel, One Year Later, as many communities around the country are still struggling to survive, maintain some semblance of civil order and painstakingly rebuild tiny parts of pre-SHTF infrastructure, the federal government begins pushing to employ US military power and order a “by any means necessary” level of force to reunite a country, which the federal government completely failed to protect or aid after the EMP strike took down the US power grid. I don’t want to ruin the story by revealing the level of corruption and betrayal in this series, but it seemed totally believable to me.

In the second Matherson novel, One Year Later, there’s an exchange between John Matherson and his wife, Makala that sums up the big picture with the corruption:

“His gaze returned to Jennifer’s grave. “Damn this world. Damn what we allowed it to become.”

“We had nothing to do with what happened,” Makala began, but he cut her off with a glare.

“We did have a lot to do with it. We had all grown so fat, so complacent, and we always let someone else worry about such things, even though we knew that those we allowed to be in charge were far too often incompetent–or worse, self-serving and blind in their arrogance.”

– One Year Later, page 85

It’s very easy to play these partisan finger-pointing games and to pretend the “other side” is evil and “your side” is noble and good, but the truth is our endless partisan rancor and ruthless scorched earth politics flourish because “we the people” buy into it and allow it to flourish. These novels highlight how it’s not just one side is good and the other is bad; it’s that most people seem morally adrift, especially when faced with an existential crisis and it’s the few who behave nobly, not the majority. The other common area of moral blindness is how easily many people make excuses for bad behavior, corruption, and especially politically-motivated lying coming from their partisan side, while screaming at the top of their lungs about how evil the “other side” is.

I’m done with apocalyptic fiction for a while, because these novels, while providing me with an understanding of threats I knew little to nothing about, they left me feeling a bit drained. Part of that is that we live with non-stop media drama fueling one crisis after another, all blazing across the news media and social media 24/7, and I prefer to try to keep a positive outlook and somehow “apocalyptic” novels aren’t the happy endings I prefer in fiction. There’s also a lot of things I need to work on in my own life besides partisan political drama, celebrity drama or social media drama.

Forstchen takes a less partisan lens in 48 Hours and it becomes more an exploration of how different types of people facing an almost unimaginable existential crisis respond. Many in his novel behave badly, but some look out, not for themselves, but for humanity. In the Afterword, he explains:

“I wrote it in part out of frustration as well. I believe in America, I believe that as Abraham Lincoln once said we are indeed “the last best hope of earth.” But of late how we all seem to have turned on each other is heartbreaking. Being left or right, liberal or conservative, believer in God or not (at least as you believe in God) is tearing us apart as a nation. So thus a question: If 48 Hours ever did become a reality, what would we do; what would you do? Maybe at such a moment we would see that which separates us has become all but meaningless and that all of humanity has far more in common than what divides us.

I wrote 48 Hours with a belief, a hope that this is something “I know,” that at least some of us, would indeed reveal, as Lincoln once said, “the better angels of our nature.”

I’d like to believe that those “better angels of our nature” still flourish in America, but with hearing so many convoluted partisan beliefs disguised as strong moral takes that I’ve heard coming from both the left and even many of those on the right, well, unlike Forstchen, I have serious reservations about that.

I still hope he is right and that I am wrong. A whole lot of “better angels” are desperately needed, if our nation is to have any hope of moving both our culture and our politics to less extreme terrain and build on some common ground.

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