11/30/2006 04:27 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Wild Fire: Fiction stranger than Truth?

DO WE need a nuclear deterrent to terrorism?

Nelson DeMille makes the suggestion in his new book, "Wild Fire," whose sales are spreading like, well, its title. It debuted at No. 2 on the Times bestseller list, No. 1 at the Wall Street Journal and No. 1 at Publishers Weekly.

It's another work of fiction by the man who already has more than 30 million books in print. But this one has people talking about a very real subject: How to stop Islamic extremists from attacking American cities.

"It sounds radical, but what we're trying to do is keep Washington, D.C., and midtown Manhattan from being nuked. We're not trying to obliterate another part of world because we don't like them. But we have between 10-20,000 nuclear weapons, we're the most powerful nation on the planet, and, in the history of mankind, and we're being bogged down by guys with AK-47s and plastic explosives. We've got to rattle nuclear sabers. Not because we're bad guys, but because we're good guys," DeMille told me.

Remember MAD? Mutually assured destruction was the cold war policy that if either the United States or the Soviets launched a nuclear strike, the other would respond in kind. That secured the peace.

Wild Fire, the plan that the book is named for, is a version of MAD for the new millennium.

Like MAD, Wild Fire eliminates a president's need for moral choices. If there were to be a nuclear strike against an American city, it would prompt an automatic response. The weapons once trained on the USSR would thunder down on the Arab world.

"Wild Fire is a pro-active response. It is a gun to the heads of Islamic countries - a gun that will go off if they fail to keep their terrorist friends from going nuclear," DeMille writes.

"This is a great deterrent because nobody wants to end the world as we know it," he told me.

"In 'Wild Fire,' I pose that we have something very similar to MAD. Meaning, that if a nuclear bomb went off in America, the presumption of guilt against Islamic terrorists would be very strong; we wouldn't need the proof, we'd never have the proof.

"We would automatically launch against the nation of Islam, specifically against the cities of Mecca and Medina, and other places like Damascus where we don't care for the government, and this would be a deterrent against a nuclear bomb going off in America."

Under what circumstances?

"It would almost have to be nuclear. Chemical and biological attacks are scary and will kill a lot of people but don't rise to the level of nuclear. It's the 800,000-pound gorilla that would obliterate midtown Manhattan or Washington, D.C., even a small suitcase nuke.

"In the book, I mention that there are 67 Soviet suitcase nukes missing from Soviet arsenals... What happened to them, we don't know. Maybe it was just bad record-keeping by the Soviets."

In the book, DeMille explores the possibility that suitcase nukes end up in hands of Islamic terrorists, and if they do, why wouldn't they use them? Well, maybe because Wild Fire threatens to blow up their holy shrines.

"Even the most radical Islamic terrorist would not want to see the revered holy city of Medina go up. It would be like losing the Vatican in Rome," he told me.

As he says in his author's note, "As for the secret government plan called Wild Fire, this is based on some information I've come across, mostly online, and can be taken as rumor, fact, pure fiction, or some blend thereof. I personally believe that some variation of Wild Fire (by another code name) actually exists, and if it doesn't, it should."

I told him that sounds like the stuff of his alter ego, former NYPD detective John Corey.

"I was there on 9/11. Every New Yorker was there in a sense. My suburban town lost 11 people, and I was in Manhattan the first time, in February of 1993, when the towers were attacked.

"As a citizen of this country and the world, we are trying to keep it from happening, and the only way is to say, 'If it happens, we will retaliate in a nuclear way.' What else can we do, say we will launch an investigation and find out who blew up midtown Manhattan?

"That is a game we have played for too long. We never played that with the Russians, why play the same silly game with Islamic terrorists? Some say they don't have a country, but that is not true, they know where their homeland is and so do we."