The Wall Street Journal

  • DECEMBER 19, 2011

Gingrich’s Worthy Brain Pulse

An electromagnetic pulse attack is not a fanciful notion.

  • Newt Gingrich’s rise in the polls has brought attention to his various “big ideas,” and plenty of derision from other GOP Presidential hopefuls and the media. Among the most undeserved targets is the former Speaker’s concern about an electromagnetic pulse (or EMP) attack.

In speeches and articles over many years, Mr. Gingrich has sounded the alarm about this vulnerability. A single nuclear explosion high in the Earth’s atmosphere would create an electromagnetic pulse that could do enormous harm by destroying electronic circuits on the ground. “Such an event would destroy our complex, delicate high tech digital society in an instant and throw all our lives back to an existence equal to that of the Middle Ages,” he wrote in an introduction to “One Second After,” a 2009 science-fiction novel by William Forstchen. He has returned to this theme during the campaign.

The usual media suspects have recently run skeptical stories on his “doomsday vision” and “silly science.” They claim that terrorists aren’t close to getting a nuclear weapon and that no country would dare try an EMP attack. But then few imagined a terror attack using airplanes against the twin towers or anthrax in letters.

A single nuclear weapon detonated above the U.S. might not kill anyone immediately. But in the worst case millions could subsequently die from a lack of modern medical care or possibly food, since farmers couldn’t harvest crops nor distributors get food to market. Access to drinking water could be cut if many of America’s dams, reservoirs and water-treatment facilities were shut down. The U.S. would also then be more exposed to a secondary attack by conventional weapons.

These scenarios aren’t Mr. Gingrich’s inventions. They come from a commission created by Congress in 2000. In a 2008 report, the commission called EMP “one of a small number of threats that can hold our society at risk of catastrophic consequences.”

Mr. Gingrich deserves credit for bringing EMP to public attention. The commission recommended better intelligence, especially in coastal waters from which a Scud missile with a nuke could be launched, robust missile defenses, and hardened protection for the civilian electrical power grid. Denial of EMP, or scorn for the messenger, offers no protection


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