Monday, September 13, 2010

One Second After

I am currently reading an excellent novel called "One Second After" by William Forstchen.  The story deals with the impact and effects of an EMP (Electromagnetic Pulse) bomb on the United States, particularly a small town in North Carolina, where the novel is based in.  There is a foreword and an afterword in the book (the former by Newt Gingrich, the latter by a naval captain) that stresses the threat that EMPs pose to us.  It's pretty scary stuff, it can be transmissible through a nuclear bomb, but rather than it being launched directly at us, it can be launched a couple of hundred miles above the surface, frying all satellites and electronic devices.  IMO, using a nuclear weapon in this way could hit us even harder than if one were used against a major city. 

Anyway, the EMP bomb is just a narrative device; the story itself deals with how people in one town cope with life after a fast-collapse scenario.  As you know, the subject of collapse fascinates me a great deal, being as I feel that we're in one currently, albeit the slow kind.  But the author is apparently familar with the subject, and details in the narrative the many ways that we are vulnerable and are totally dependent on the mechanisms that make our modern life possible.  In a lot of ways, electricity is like modern civilization's central nervous system.  A "lights out" on a prolonged basis will lead to mayhem and chaos, like what is described in the book.  I really don't want to give the various examples the author gives in telling his story, so I will let you read it for yourself, but I did want to recount one thing I read this morning that did haunt me.  There are some light spoilers ahead, so if you want to read it and come in fresh, you might want to skip this part.

Six weeks into the attack, Black Mountain is struggling to survive, with dwindling food reserves and the less healthy dying off.  But the inhabitants of the town are the lucky ones.  Refugees from other towns are passing through, under the watchful eyes of the town militia.  Those refugees with valuable skills (e.g., medical, carpentry, building, etc.) are picked out and invited to stay.  One of the refugees is a professional businesswoman, who was a public relations consultant with a tobacco company before the attack.  Her business clothing is tattered and her hair is dirty from the walk.  She makes eye contact with the main character and strikes up conversation.  After telling him that she is a PR specialist, she gives him a "sales pitch" in how she can help the town in having a "better interface with the public".  As these "skills" are pretty much useless in a post-industrial age, he apologizes and politely sends her along.  Her professional demeanor quickly collapses, and she begs and pleads with him, offering to spend the night with him if he'll let her stay. 

It reminded me of the views that I now hold on higher education.  Many college students are preparing themselves for careers that simply are not going to exist, or in fields where jobs just aren't going to be plentiful.  I really want to try to steer myself towards something that could be useful and that could help me survive. 

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