The popular trope of an evil genius who has mastered the technology of ultimate destruction and wields a death ray he is preparing to unleash from space has long entertained us. We don’t take it seriously, of course, and relegate it to the realm of a diverting fiction. But what happens when such comic book-and-James Bond-type scenarios leak into the real world? Unfortunately, we tend to make what philosopher Gilbert Ryle, in The Concept of Mind, calls a “category mistake,” which he defines as the tendency to represent certain facts “as if they belonged to one logical type or category…when they actually belong to another.” For the death ray is real; it exists in the empirical world. To assume that it is merely a feature of an imaginary realm that has no purchase on concrete, everyday life is, to quote Ryle, “one big mistake and a mistake of a special kind.” In the case we are considering here, it is a mixing of categories which issues in the kind of misunderstanding that can be fatal.
For the facts are these:
The “evil genius” is an Iranian ayatollah, who may go by many names. He is the de facto political leader of the Shi’a branch of Islam. His intention to destroy the United States of America and obliterate Western civilization is on record. Indeed, as historian Emmanuel Sivan has warned in Radical Islam: Medieval Theology and Modern Politics, the igniting of a planetary conflagration is an integral part of Shi’a Islam’s belief and thought. Known as Shi’ite Twelver theology, it posits that Allah’s kingdom will be established on earth by the Twelfth or Hidden Imam, whose advent can be hastened by kindling an act of apocalyptic violence. This is why the concept of M.A.D. (Mutually Assured Destruction) is idle when applied to Iran; as the astute Canadian blogger Bill Narvey points out, Iran’s leaders believe that their “religious prophecies [for] world supremacy can only be realized by…a deadly apocalyptic showdown with the non-Muslim world.” The Muslim death count is immaterial since all good Muslims are assured of eternal life in Jannah, the Islamic paradise or heavenly garden. As for the death ray, it is no fantasy; it is an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, that can literally demolish the electrical grid of an entire nation. An attack of this nature can be launched undetectably from, for example, a nondescript vessel in the Pacific or the Gulf or via “satellite” trajectory. The social and economic devastation would be massive and likely terminal. As Newt Gingrich and William Forstchen? write concerning the possibility of a high-altitude EMP attack over American territory, “There is a sword of Damocles over our heads. It is a threat that is real but has been all but ignored.”
William R. Graham, chairman of the Congressional Commission to Assess the Threat to the United States from Electromagnetic Pulse Attack, testified that Iran has already conducted EMP missile tests from frigates in the Caspian Sea?. Additionally, Graham draws attention to Iranian military writings that “explicitly discuss a nuclear EMP attack that would gravely harm the United States.” And Iran could get away with it since it is almost impossible to identify the origin of what—especially if it is carried out by sea—would be essentially an anonymous attack. As Bob Owens indicates in a recent PJM article, “the most likely avenues of attacks are locally launched missiles from submarines or freighters in the Gulf of Mexico or off either coast, where distance to detonation from launch is measured in seconds, and which are not the focus of our outward-facing early warning and detection systems. Such vessels could be easily scuttled after launch, and the rogue agent responsible for the attack may not be found until well after the attack is over, rendering our nuclear counterstrike abilities utterly moot.”
As mentioned above, the damage to the nation’s electrical grid following an EMP assault would be catastrophic. The cascading effect on major infrastructures would result in the destruction or critical impairment of the financial system, the communications network and cybernetic functioning, farming, distribution of food and water, fuel production and delivery, all forms of transportation, law enforcement, medical care, trade and industry and, of course, military defense. The state of civilization in America would be peeled back by hundreds of years and a state of nature in all its raw ferocity would supplant it.
This is no mere pipe dream. It is what the ayatollahs appear to be planning. Iran has already put a satellite into orbit, demonstrating that it has the means and the technical know-how to launch a nuclear or EMP payload. The accumulating death toll would be astronomical. Gingrich and Forstchen direct us to studies which “estimate that 90% of all Americans might very well die in the year after such an attack.” German director Wim Wenders’ film Until the End of the World?, as well as William Forstchen?’s recent novel, One Second After, depict in their different ways what such an event would entail. It is hard to assimilate so unthinkable a prospect, and inertia or dismissal is a natural response to the probability of cataclysms. Nevertheless, in today’s explosive world, and in the light of the developments I have outlined, it is a realistic picture. We would be foolhardy to ignore it.
There is no question that the electrical network that powers the nation must be hardened and rendered resistant before it is too late. This is precisely Graham’s argument. Alternatively, one way to neutralize the threat would be to initiate an EMP strike over Iran from the Persian Gulf, turning the tables on an enemy state that presents an imminent danger to the U.S. Properly conducted, the source of the attack could not be identified and the gander will have trumped the goose. The fact that oil prices would spike temporarily is something that would happen anyway when war breaks out in the Middle East, an event that is clearly inevitable. Better sooner while we still have the upper hand than later when the ayatollahs will have cut off our hands entirely. Those who minimize the likelihood of such a catastrophe, like The New York Times William Broad, are living in the cloud-cuckoo land of leftwing political complacency. An upholstered reverie is no consolation when the lights go out.
An EMP attack is distinctly possible, perhaps even probable. To regard such an irruption as merely fictitious, as nothing but a celluloid fable or the wild imaginings of sci-fi enthusiasts rather than an appalling aspect of enemy calculation, is to make a category mistake whose consequences we might not live to deplore.