Star Wars: The Myth Unfolds

Six years ago President Ronald Reagan launched the so-called Strategic Defense Initiative, or Star Wars, proclaiming his objective of a "peace shield" that would protect the people of the United States from attack and make nuclear weapons obsolete.

In Star Wars, Reagan promised freedom from fear and a way out of the nuclear trap to a public well-educated about the threat of nuclear weapons. Many of us remember the ads on television that featured a crayon-drawn image of this protective shield at work. A child's voice expressed her belief that the barrier would protect her -- and the rest of us -- from attack. Her simple faith in technology seemed to parallel Reagan's.

From the beginning, however, there were those who expressed doubts about the practicality of Reagan's dream. The nation's leading scientists seriously questioned whether anti-missile weapons could actually protect our population from a nuclear attack. Despite the growing misgivings, the Reagan administration never admitted that it was impossible to create an invulnerable system against missiles, and each year Congress was asked to spend billions of dollars toward its development.

But now, only a few short months since Reagan left office, there has been a quiet but significant shift in the way Star Wars is being talked about. Case in point: President Bush's secretary of defense-designate, John Tower, testified in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee that the Bush administration did not consider it possible to "devise an umbrella that can protect the entire American population from nuclear incineration. I think that's unrealistic."

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