Thursday, October 02, 2008

Klaatu Barada Nikto

Remember the early 50s sci-fi classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still? Klaatu and his robot Gort managed to stop all power on the earth and threatened to destroy it because humanity was posing a danger to other planets. Only the above phrase kept Gort from carrying out that task.

The movie was an anti-nuclear screed, but now there are those like China and Iran who want to make this a reality. It's called an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack.

The premise is stunningly simple. You and I are dependent on all sorts of electronics and electricity to run our lives, including in the running of the computer that you're using. But what if a missile detonated an EMP high above the United States and set it off in the precise fashion? Life as we know it would grind to a halt.

No communications systems would work. What few vehicles that could operate would not be able to get gasoline from anywhere. There would be no such thing as emergency services. Hospitals would be out of business. Banks and financial services would all but vanish . . . and your money with it. Airplanes would all have to make emergency landings on dead reckoning, or crash. Bicycle-jackings, anyone? Know how to ride a horse? Got any good Amish friends? (thanks to LC for that last one)

The topic isn't new; it's been explored in various works of fiction, and in one of the few things I commend him for, Rep. Roscoe Bartlett has been sounding the alarm about EMP attacks for some time. But the reason EMP has come to the fore again is that a new draft report from the State Department (!) says the U.S. must go further in space-based missile defense systems because

A simple Scud missile, with a nuclear warhead, could be fired from an inconspicuous freighter in international waters off our coast and detonated high above the U.S. It would wreak near-total devastation on America's technological, electrical and transportation infrastructure. With the explosion masked as a terrorist attack, Iran could plausibly deny any responsibility.

Iran has practiced launching and detonating Scuds in midflight, launched from ships in the Caspian Sea. Iran has also tested high-altitude explosions of its Shahab-3 ballistic missile, a test consistent with an EMP attack. Iran only needs a nuke.

I wonder whether the late Robert Wise and those who made The Day The Earth Stood Still ever envisioned this scenario. I wonder too if those whou would grant Iran unfettered nuclear access really think Mahmoud AhMADinejad and his mullahocracy have no interest in seeing this attack come to pass.

Finally, I wonder whether one day we'll be wringing our hands in despair as we sit in front of our silent TV sets and computer screens, and don't even hear static on our radios, because we did nothing to prevent this from happening.