The Day an E-Bomb Drops on an American City

There is sharp cracking sound in the distance. A moment later a low rumbling sound, like an innocent clap of thunder, shakes the ground slightly and the whole city becomes immobile, as if frozen in time.. All florescent lights, neon tubes, and television sets glow with eerie brightness; even the ones that are turned off at the time. Smoldering plastic seeps from outlet covers, electric wires arc, and telephone wires melt into tangled piles of smoking jelly. Palm Pilots, MP3 players, cell phones, portable appliances, and toys all feel warm to the touch because their batteries have become overloaded and are fried. Computers are toasted, and all the data on the hard drives is burned up and lost forever. Then, the surroundings go deathly still. The background sounds of civilization in a busy city die out without even a whimper. Cars and trucks sit motionless, their internal-combustion engines now stopped, will never start again. What about the people, on the streets and in their houses?

Miraculously, they are all unharmed, at least physically. But as they look around incredulously, unable to adjust their senses to the shock of this strange, silent environment, it suddenly dawns on them that something unexplainable and terrifying has just happened: the entire city is totally without power. Without the electric circuitry to power their modern lifestyle, the civilization they took so much for granted has been thrown back 200 years, to a time when electricity had no meaning other than a lightning bolt flashing for an instant in the night sky. That makes the city vulnerable and helpless. But now, you say, let's get real. This is a hypothetical, a Y2K-type scenario, isn't it? This is just a trumped up tale, a make-believe story in the mind of some Sci-fi writer or wacko atomic-scientist, right? No quite. This is a realistic assessment of the damage the Pentagon believes could be inflicted by a new generation of weapons called, E-bombs. And just to assure you that what you read above is not only possible, investigative reporter Jim Wilson has taken the time and trouble to lay it all out in basic technological terms that most readers will be able to understand. The E-bomb (or electromagnetic bomb) has a myriad of bizarre uses. Initially, the Army wants to use the E-bomb to explode artillery shells in flight. The Navy wants to use the E-bomb's microwave pulses to neutralize anti-ship missiles. And the Air Force wants to equip its strike aircraft with E-bomb capabilities. But, like all innovations, there is a downside. Once the principle is known, a low-tech E-bomb, with nearly the same destructive power of the big baby, could be built for as little as $400, according to an estimate by Popular Mechanics. The downside is obvious: What a boon for the terrorist who wants to shut down a whole city! The formula for making an E-bomb, and the scientific principles involved are obviously too complicated for our lay minds to understand. The power that an E-bomb unlocks, however, can be explained in very simple terms. The principle behind it is the same principle that was a key tool in unlocking the secrets of the atom. And, of course, we all know what happened in WWII when we let THAT genie out of the bottle. As you may know, the phenomenon of atomic weaponry has, like all ongoing innovations, progressed from atomic bombs in 1945, to hydrogen detonations in 1958, to modern nuclear devices that can lay waste to whole cities, to new atomic weapons like the E-bomb. The great difference between A-bombs and E-bombs is that the former demolishes, the latter immobilizes. Just which type of nuclear device is most effective in warfare depends, I suppose, on which you believe is most applicable under each circumstances--to destroy the enemy, or to neutralize him. One decapitates, the other incapacitates. The fact is, with E-bombs you don't really have to kill your enemy to defeat him. And if you can make a "poor man's E-bomb" for as little as $400, a terrorist's attraction to it seems obvious, if inevitable. Wilson tells us that India is making a study of the "poor man's E-bomb" because it fears its perennial enemy, Pakistan, might use E-bomb technology against the city of Bangalore, India's "Silicon Valley." Pakistan would not have to drop their homemade E-bombs directly on their targets. Hitting such facilities as telephone switching centers and electronic funds-transfer exchanges could render a city technologically, it not literally, helpless. As Wilson so ably puts it, "Knock out electric power, computers, and telecommunication and you've destroyed the foundation of modern society. In the age of Third World-sponsored terrorism, the E-bomb is the great equalizer." Are you boy-soldiers in the government, whose duty it is to protect us, paying attention?

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