Arc Light (novel)

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Arc Light
Arc-Light-cover.jpg
Author Eric L. Harry
Country United States of America
Language English
Genre Techno-thriller
Publisher Simon & Schuster (hardcover)
Jove Books (paperback)
Publication date
September 1994
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback)
Pages 625 pp (paperback edition)
ISBN ISBN 0-671-88048-9 (hardcover)
ISBN 0-515-11792-7 (paperback)
OCLC 30355388
813/.54 20
LC Class PS3558.A6753 A89 1994

Arc Light is the debut novel by Eric L. Harry, a techno-thriller about limited nuclear war published in September 1994 and written in 1991 and 1992.

As China and Russia clash in Siberia, and war brews between the US and North Korea, a series of accidents and misunderstandings lead to a Russian nuclear strike against the United States. The U.S. retaliates against Russia, and World War III begins.

The novel becomes part military techno thriller, part political drama as heated internal debates concerning the right course of action in the war unfold on both sides while each government tries to deal with the colossal damage the nuclear strike has done to their countries. Moderate voices try to prevent a second nuclear exchange by taming the hawks and working behind the scenes to arrange a ceasefire. Meanwhile, the on the ground consequences for civilian and military alike are explored in depth.

The novel focuses on four key groups:

  • President Walter Livingston, his successor, and his National Security Council, particularly National Security Advisor Greg Lambert.
  • The US Air Force crew of an ICBM silo who receive the firing order and are then stuck in their silo when the Russians retaliate.
  • Major David Chandler, US Air Force reserve as he is activated and sent abroad.
  • Chandler's wife, Melissa, as she struggles with their first child in the midst of a nuclear war.

Plot summary[edit]

Russia: A Risky Move and a Coup[edit]

As North Korea invades the Korean Demilitarized Zone, Russian General Yuri Razov makes a phone call to the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Andrew Thomas, informing him of Russia's intent to recapture land lost to China in a previous conflict. The beginning of this invasion will involve the use of tactical nuclear weapons to clear the way for the Chinese army advance. Horrified, and fully aware of the dangers of escalation from regional nuclear conflict, General Thomas tries to talk him out of it, and fails.

Meanwhile, a radical Russian general, Zorin, seizes control of the Stavka and Russia's Strategic Missile Forces, including the Cheget Nuclear Briefcase and thus gains access to Russia's nuclear-launch codes.

United States: An impulsive Presidential decision[edit]

General Thomas, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, refusing to take Russia at their word, takes the precaution of recommending the President go to DEFCON 3, which triggers the 'Joint Emergency Evacuation Plans' (JEEP) which evacuate and disperse key government personnel to ensure Continuity of Government after a nuclear strike.

Helicopters evacuate key personnel from the White House. One, 'Crown Helo', brings the President and National Security Advisor to the Doomsday Plane.

The President, not wanting to be complicit to an unprovoked nuclear attack, orders the Secretary of State to warn the Chinese Government of the coming strike. National Security Advisor Greg Lambert tries to warn him not to, but the noise of the helicopter prevents the President from hearing him.

Russia: A Tragic Misunderstanding[edit]

On the news, the Russian coup plotters see the JEEP evacuation in the US and wonder why it's happening. Outside their building, the Russian government forces cut the coup plotters communications from the outside as a prelude to taking the building by force. The coup plotters then see the Russian Missile Defence Networks nuclear tipped ABM missiles firing. In reality, this is because the Chinese, having received the US warning, are retaliating against Russia. However the coup plotters, led by General Zorin, think the US has taken advantage of the confusion to launch a first strike against Russia, believing this is why the JEEP evacuation is underway, why else, they wonder would they be trying to evacuate their government officials when the fight is between Russia and China and no threat to them? This tragic misunderstanding of US procedures and motives leads to disaster. Still in control of the Cheget Nuclear Briefcase, in a panic they launch Russia's western ICBMs at their pre-programmed targets on the Continental United States.

US: Under Attack[edit]

Meanwhile, aboard Nightwatch, the President is informed that the Chinese have retaliated against Russia, but that also there have been launches from 'European Russia' aimed at the United States, a Russian counter force strike is thus underway.

He orders a counterforce second strike against Russia's nuclear forces in response. The Nuclear Football is opened and the orders sent.

As the President heads to his cabin to collect his thoughts, the national security team ponders the sequence of events. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs cannot understand how the Chinese got their missiles off so quickly as their forces are not as advanced as Russia or the US and require too much 'lead time'. Lambert informs him of the Presidents warning and the misunderstanding then becomes clear.

The Russian government retakes control and assures the President, via the hotline, that it was all a mistake and there will be no more launches from Russia. The President cuts Moscow off in disgust telling them they better keep their word regarding no further attacks, he then attempts to order a ceasefire.

US & Russia: Post-Attack[edit]

The President and his team conference call with FEMA and plan for the aftermath of the nuclear strike, dealing with everything from wheat harvests in the midst of fallout, to housing to disaster management.

The US becomes embroiled in a Constitutional crisis as political questions about the Presidents leadership push themselves to the front of the agenda. The US congress, meeting in a secured bunker in emergency session, passes a Declaration of War that instructs the President to prosecute the war until all of Russia's nuclear forces are disarmed or annihilated.

The President believes that an invasion of Russia proper and an attempt at forced disarmament will lead to a second nuclear exchange (Russian SLBM's being fired at US cities and US SLBM's firing at Russian cities), and thus nuclear winter and all the consequences that might follow on from that.

He thus continues to try to arrange for a cease fire. He asserts that he has the constitutional right and powers as commander in chief to make the decision alone.

Frustrated, Congress orders an investigation into the causes of the war, and calls Greg Lambert before the investigating special committee, who refuses to testify as the information is classified. This causes the US Supreme Court to meet in the bunker to resolve the issue, and they direct Lambert to answer all questions put to him.

The public revelation of what is seen as the Presidents blunder by warning the Chinese, coupled with his refusal to prosecute the declaration of war, triggers calls for his impeachment after he demands his Vice - Presidents resignation, who refuses to go.

Articles of Impeachment are then brought against the President, which pass, and he is removed from office.

In his final hours of office, the President begs national security adviser Greg Lambert, who wants to quit the job after finding out his wife died in the attacks, to continue on, and try to control the new President's aggression towards Russia, terrified as he is of a second nuclear exchange.

The new President intends to succeed where Napoleon and Hitler failed by launching a successful invasion of the Russian Federation, and to press that invasion until the Russian ability to make war is ended and its nuclear forces disarmed.

He must do this, as NATO cracks apart, with some members refusing point blank to honor Article 5, leading to the creation of a new Euro-American alliance to replace it.

President Paul Constanzo and his generals must come up with a new and innovative plan to do what other great powers spectacularly failed to do before, while making critical decisions regarding disaster management and use of limited US economic resources.

Suddenly, the new President sees the decisions are not as simple as they appeared from the other side of the desk, and he is forced to perform delicate economic and military balancing acts to avert Armageddon and win victory, or peace, or both.

See also[edit]

  • Invasion, a 2000 novel by Eric L. Harry portraying a future Chinese invasion of the US after China becomes a global superpower.
  • The Third World War: The Untold Story by General Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking.
  • Team Yankee, a 1987 novel by Harold Coyle set in Hackett's scenario
  • Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow building crises that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Trinity's Child by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare.
  • The Last Ship by William Brinkley. Portrays a sudden massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers, with further escalating exchanges over a four hour period leaving most of the northern hemisphere choked in radioactive fallout. The ship loses contact with the U.S. Navy, and then investigates various sites around Europe and Africa starting with Naval Station Rota in Spain, making contact with other stray ships, military and civilian. All the consequences of the exchange for the crew, and humanity as a whole, are explored.
  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the style of simulated news broadcasts
  • Countdown to Looking Glass, a TV movie made in the form of a news broadcast following a deterioration in NATO-Warsaw Pact relations that ends in nuclear warfare.
  • The Day After, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about a NATO-Russian nuclear war.
  • Damnation Alley, a 1970s movie about a sudden Soviet nuclear attack.
  • Deterrence, a 1999 French-American movie about a Walter Emerson, about a man who's just become US President in the same manner as Gerald Ford, without having been elected. Emerson is on a campaign tour, trapped by a storm in a small town diner, when he gets word Iraq has invaded Kuwait a second time, and is poised to do the same to Saudi Arabia. With US troops committed in a separate engagement on the Korean penensula, Emerson decides the only way to stop Iraq is to threaten to air-burst a 25 megaton nuclear weapon above Baghdad.
  • Fail Safe, a 2000 film about a computer malfunction at the NMCC in the 1960s giving false Emergency Action Messages to B-52 bombers to penetrate Soviet airspace and commence strategic nuclear strikes. The President, Joint Chiefs, US Strategic Air Command and national security council all try to stop the bombers by various means. They find it hard to get through to the bombers who have been trained to ignore recall signals that are not properly encoded, and at the same time, the Russians are not sure if this is deception warfare or a real malfunction.
  • Miracle Mile, a 1988 movie about an ordinary group of people, who learn, via a phone call from someone in an ICBM silo (who was trying to reach their father at the diner) that a nuclear exchange is about to take place, thus within the hour Soviet missiles will reign down on them. Some believe it and try to flee, others scramble around the city to find loved ones in a desperate attempt to join those already headed for the airport.
  • The Sum of All Fears, a 2002 movie with Ben Afleck and Morgan Freeman. Terrorists plant a nuclear weapon in a US city in an attempt to frame the Russians for the attack and prompt the two powers to wipe each other out.
  • Threads, a 1984 UK film about a major Soviet nuclear attack on the United Kingdom.
  • The War Game, a 1965 film about how well civil defense and homeland security would cope in the event of nuclear war.
  • On The Beach, a 2000 film about the aftermath of a series of major nuclear exchanges between the US-Russia-China choking the northern hemisphere in fallout which is slowly spreading to humanity's last refuge in Australia.
  • Testament, a 1983 American film which tells the story of how one small suburban town near the San Francisco Bay Area slowly falls apart after a nuclear war destroys outside civilization.
  • When the Wind Blows, a 1986 animated British film that shows a nuclear attack on Britain by the Soviet Union from the viewpoint of a retired couple.
  • Able Archer 83, NATO command post exercise that resulted in the 1983 nuclear war scare and changed thinking about nuclear war in Britain.
  • Operation Square Leg a military analysis of the effects of a nuclear war on Britain.
  • Protect and Survive, the 1970s British government information films on nuclear war.

External links[edit]