Arc Light (novel)

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Arc Light
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 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 Russian missiles strike.
  • Major David Chandler, US Army Reserve as he is activated and sent to Europe where his unit spearheads the allied advance towards Moscow.
  • 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. This will initially involve the use of tactical nuclear weapons to clear paths through the Chinese defenses. 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 U.S. 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 the U.S. be trying to evacuate their government officials when the fight is between Russia and China and no threat to America? This tragic misunderstanding of U.S. 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 counterforce strike is thus underway.

In response, he orders a counterforce second strike against Russia's nuclear forces. 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 those of Russia or the U.S. and require too much 'lead time'. Lambert informs him of the President's 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 that they had 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 U.S. becomes embroiled in a Constitutional crisis as political questions about the President's leadership push themselves to the front of the agenda. The U.S. 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 U.S. cities and U.S. SLBM's firing at Russian cities), and thus to nuclear winter and all the consequences that might follow 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 U.S. 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 President's 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 President's 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, 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 U.S. 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.

External links[edit]