richard chilton

"It is never too late
to become what you might have been."

                     -- George Eliot

Portions of the following essay first appeared in Check It Out, the Newsletter of the New York City Coalition Against Registration and the Draft (NY CARD), in 1982.  It was rewritten and greatly expanded for Chelsea Against Nuclear Destruction, United! (CANDU) in March, 1985, a few days after publication in the New York Times of a six-part series, Weapons In Space (March 3-8); the latter received a Pulitzer Prize for “explanatory journalism” in 1986.

Readers who had followed the matter carefully were not fooled by the award, however; this “bland, uninspiring, and . . . insignificant” series remained grossly inferior to individual articles which had been published throughout the course of the year preceding its appearance in the newspaper’s own Science Times section.  A brief End Note updating this essay follows its conclusion.

                                     Margery Coffey Protest

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) 
(a conceptual approach)
 ©1985, 1999, 2003 richard chilton

Origins of a Conventional and Nuclear Arms Race,
and a critique of Weapons In Space,
a six-part series of the New York Times (March 3-8, 1985)

richard chilton

The concept of “High Frontier,” a multi-tiered, space-based, ballistic missile “defense" system(s) termed by the Reagan Administration in 1983 as a "Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI)" -- but coined by the general press as early as 1979 as so-called "Star Wars" -- has been a serious endeavor by those engaged with American military applications of science for nearly thirty years.

The Manhattan Project

To understand its implications, one must consider the "Initiative" in broader perspective.  In the late 1930s, the international scientific community knew in common the splitting of atoms releasing vast amounts of energy -- a process of nuclear fission -- would occur within a generation, perhaps earlier.  By l940, four countries -- Great Britain, the Soviet Union, Nazi Germany, and the United States -- were involved in advanced research. 

On 6 December, l94l, the United States formally established the Manhattan Project to construct an atomic weapon, fearing the Nazi regime might do so first.  A year later, the first controlled nuclear reaction took place at the University of Chicago, under the guidance of Enrico Fermi.  In 1943, the Soviet Union suspended its program for the duration of the war (but continued in earnest its espionage ring buried deep within the Project).  That same year a Japanese transport carrying raw uranium ore from Indonesia was sunk by an American submarine, indicating Japan was also pursuing research.

When the Dumbarton Oaks conference met in August-October, l944 (setting up a United Nations to be a pre-l939 structure in a post-Second World War era), Niels Bohr had written to President Franklin Roosevelt in July, “. . . the terrifying prospect of a future competition between nations about a weapon of such formidable character can only be avoided through a universal agreement . . . reached in true confidence." 

Late in the year, American intelligence confirmed that Nazi attempts to construct a device had ceased; yet activity on the Manhattan Project intensified.  As early as l942, questions as to actual use of such a weapon had been raised among some scientists involved in the project, but General Leslie Groves, the Director, successfully stifled debate for over a year.  As late as April, l945, Dr. J. Robert Oppenhiemer, head of the (Los Alamos) New Mexico facility, persuaded a group of dissident scientists to put aside, for the moment, their reservations about simply testing the “gadget."  In that same month, American intelligence first learned of a Japanese suit for peace.


At no time were considerations either to test or use the weapon in a conventional “theatre" (as was the case in World War II) brought to bear on any American government official higher than Secretary of War Henry Stinson.  The Secretary received (but did not pass onto President Harry Truman) on 10 June, 1945, the Franck Report, that recommended "...the use of nuclear bombs for an early unannounced attack against Japan inadvisable," for reasons noted at least a year earlier by, among others, Niels Bohr, but outlined in more detail in the report. 

A month later, the first test of a plutonium device occurred at the Trinity site, Alamogordo, New Mexico, 16 July, l945.  In that same month, both American Army and Navy intelligence concluded that the Pacific war “theatre" would last, ". . . but a few more weeks, beyond mid-September," perhaps, but this information was never passed onto either Secretary Stinson nor the President.

Speculation is warranted upon whether an invasion by American troops of the Japanese mainland would have been necessary without use, but the events at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, 6 and 9 August, l945, did not happen primarily because the cities were viewed, as President Truman observed, as "military bases." 

After four and a half years of intensive, government-sanctioned scientific research and industrial technological development, at a cost of $2 1/2 billion dollars employing over 120,000 people at more than forty sites around the country -- the largest effort of its kind undertaken up to that time -- use of the invention was a foregone conclusion. Testing (and use) were simply a matter of momentum, or inertia, that had evolved into an "inevitability," easier to complete than to stop.  General Groves himself acknowledged, "It was easier for Truman to say 'yes' than to say ‘no.’ it would have taken some nerve for him to have said 'no' at the time.”

Origins of a Conventional and Nuclear Arms Race

After the war, the worst fears of the scientists were realized.  The United States, having a monopoly on the invention but not technology, floated before the United Nations in l946 the Acheson-Lilianthal, or Baruch Plan. If member states were willing to share their present status of nuclear research, the United States would place "control" of atomic devices under an international commission (whose proposed members were predisposed to American interests).  The Soviet Union countered with a proposal to discuss "general and complete disarmament," nuclear and conventional, which the United States declined.  After more than a year of fruitless posturing by both sides, and thwarted by American intransigence on this issue, the Soviet Union resumed its atomic program in earnest.

Thus, the two themes of a conventional and nuclear arms race dilemma were set by the end of l947, and have remained virtually unchanged ever since.  'The role of scientific research, as applied militarily through state sponsorship, harnessing technological development through industrial capacity, is a prime basis for the incessant character of an arms race, whether Soviet or American design. 

Economic determinism and political rational(s), supported as they are through cultural inducements to define a social ideology (or arrogance) premised on appeals to nationalism and perceived (or real) fears, are essentially created -- or carried over from previous times -- after emergence of the scientific invention.  The drive for invention, in a world where scientists readily admit there are no secrets (only time lags, at best) technologically undermines the diplomatic posturing of a modern nation-state whether of a conventional or nuclear context, socialist or capitalist model.

As already noted, use of nuclear weapons in a conventional theatre effectively closed off further considerations of acceptable military application in the use of force, and theory of waging war.  There was and remains virtually no way to contain such scientific research on these inventions, thus facilitating a policy of retrenchment, or "deterrence," developed over a period of years beginning in the late 1940s. 

Such deterrence strategy presupposes by definition an acknowledgement of diminishing purpose as the advance of technological refinement and scientific invention progresses. Hence, discussions of theory to practice through development of research of so-called "tactical” (regiona1) and strategic (global) military policies, their weapons and delivery systems, is in point-of-fact, moot.  From strictly a military point-of-view, nuclear weapons have always been, with actual use, "impotent and obsolete;” they serve no useful military purpose beyond intimidation, or THREAT of "use.”

This is understood through National Security Document #68, authored by Paul Nitze (a current arms "control" advisor for the Reagan Administration), who in 1950, advanced the concept of 'first-use" being a valid military "option" with a main emphasis, as such, on population centers.  Such a deterrence posture was first underscored in a secret Department of Defense memorandum issued in 1956, and later publicly announced by then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara in 1962.  The concept of Mutually-Assured Destruction (MAD) was invented only after technological refinement of the Soviet Union's scientific research had progressed where the option of “first-use" was considered possible on their part.

Further Considerations

Yet even President Dwight Eisenhower recognized the true implications of an arms race dilemma when he observed in his Farewell Address to the Nation (16 January, 1961) an American culture "pervasive" with a 'military-industrial complex" (a phrase EVERYone quotes), beholden as he said but several paragraphs later, to "a scientific-technological elite" (that no one EVER quotes), gives credence to British historian's E. P. Thompson' s remark in his important, pre-Protest and Survive essay, Extermanism, the Last State of Civilization, May, 1980:  "The increasingly expert literature on weaponry, militarism, and peace research remains unread, (italics added).

This situation was, and remains, a bipartisan venture of the Congress, thoroughly supported by both political parties, Democrat and Republican, and advanced by all Presidents, from Truman through Reagan.  Furthermore, competition between the armed services for a "piece of the action,” as it were, is fierce and intense, well understood, and acknowledged among all advocates and detractors of weapons and delivery systems technologies. 

Rather than a coordinated, overall military posture in the name of "national interest," insular re-enforcement and narrow partisanship, with all the expected normal suspicions and intrigue, persists among the nature and extent of military procurement and budgetary decision-making, whether of the civilian government, and Pentagon alike.  It is know the same circumstance exists, with different emphasis but no less similar outcome, within the Soviet bureaucracy.

Consequently, the methodology of scientific research itself fuels the state-sponsored industrial pursuit of military technological development, among whatever economic or political system, Capitalist or socialist, state-imposed or "democratic."  Science has been seized upon by entrenched institutions of power for purposes other than those intended or perceived by the original researches and inventors themselves.  Thus, knowledge has often remained elusive for all but the most determined, privileged or independent of the curious.  Techniques of scientific inquiry can be utilized in other areas, but specialization, as has been increasingly shown of late, has its limitations.

Predecessors to the “Initiative"

The concept of drone (missile) defense against both aircraft and ballistic 'missiles was first explored with the ground-based Nike-Zeus and Hercules in the late 1950s.  During intervening years, research and development, testing and production of an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system occupied both Soviet and American scientists and industrial bureaucrats, so that by 1970, both countries began to deploy and maintain such systems. 

These ABM systems were basic ally more sophisticated versions (or refinements) of the Nike Zeus/Hercules program, with state-of-the-art command, communications and control (C3 -- C “cube") capabilities, utilizing both satellite and computer technologies. In 1972, both governments signed an ABM Treaty halting further deployment, the United States dismantling their system, the Soviet Union allowed to retain theirs surrounding Moscow.

Research into more exotic technologies however, had always intrigued certain quarters of an academic and corporate scientific community, who had their advocates among the government and military establishments, enabling contracts to be awarded as early as the late 1950s, examining the possibilities of x-ray and the concept of highly concentrated beams of light or lasers.  In these early years, research amounted to only a few tens of hundreds of thousands of dollars, and it was recognized that no breakthrough would be forthcoming; rather, the emphasis was merely exploratory.

At least eight different conceptual problems of logistical physics and engineering, each equivalent in sufficient complexity to the Manhattan Project emerged from this process review.  By the early 1970s, technological development through industrial applications of scientific research originally designed under government military contracts (most notably, the laser), brought together a variety of these technologies into three conceptual systems that could be based primarily outside the earth's atmosphere, in space.

This multi-tiered, ballistic missile defense (BMD) concept, termed late in the decade by its proponents a so-called "High Frontier, "could work only if the appropriate refinements to computer technologies -- a qualitative need for "super" computers capable of literally millions of decisions made near-simultaneously -- were essentially complete.

Components of "High Frontier" and related technologies

The "High Frontier" and related space-utilization technologies is basically a conceptual goal to defend the United States and its Allies (notably Europe) against a ballistic missile (and perhaps, sub-ballistic vehicles, such as aircraft, or the cruise missile) attack launched by an adversary, generally perceived in this instance to be the Soviet Union.

Its most important consideration remains use of these system(s) in space itself, against C3 satellites and related facilities, power sources, relay apparatus, and weapons platforms, giving the so-called "defensive" intent of its construction a decidedly offensive characteristic.

Beyond this, and the essential need for the concept to rely on the near perfect functioning of super-computers, committing up, to ten million decisions near-simultaneously each moment, in a real time-frame of perhaps longer than thirty minutes duration, the envisioned "defense” would be a three-tiered structure of these varied technologies, both earth-bound (including air-launched) and space-based, to achieve maximum efficiency; and effectiveness in thwarting an attack.

The first of these would be during the three-to-five minute launch, or "boost” phase of a ballistic missile's flight, before the vehicle leaves the earth's atmosphere, the time when a rocket is most vulnerable to being jarred off its course, or destroyed outright, and likewise most difficult to intercept due to the density of the atmosphere in deflecting the concentrated, pellet-like, particle beam technology perceived to be a most likely (but technically extremely complex) possibility for this part of the defensive triad. 

The second would be in mid-flight of about 20 minutes duration, when the reentry vehicles (or warheads) break off from the missile, a time when each would be easiest to intercept in space, but more likely to take evasive action or established decoy "targets” for the concentrated laser technology considered most appropriate for this phase of a defensive tier. 

Finally, during a last two minutes of flight as the warheads re-enter the atmosphere, interception with more conventional weapons technology would again, be more difficult, because of high evasive action and numerous decoys that could be mounted through last-minute) commands and pre-determined flight scenarios.

In addition to the necessity of super-computer apparatus, huge platforms several football fields in size (that in themselves would qualify a defensive system of its own, being extremely vulnerable through its sheer size) would be constructed and maintained in space.  Some of these would serve as solar and nuclear power sources for the extreme concentrations of energy needed by the particle beam and laser technologies, as well as bases for giant mirrors that would reflect earth-generated lasers being thrown back from space through the atmosphere to the missile then emerging from the murky condensation.

Conventional capabilities would be simple refinements of present technologies, updated with state-of-the-art C 3  interfaced with super-computer facilities.  The Soviet Union, successful with but one technology (that of their ballistic missiles lifting larger payloads into space, with refinements and modifications to others that are more primitive, but comparable to the United States), is known to be engaged in similar advanced, exploratory scientific research and technological development.  Yet it is nowhere near the production, testing, and contemplated development, maintenance, operation (and use) capabilities of the United States.

“Star Wars” and an SDI

"High Frontier” and its related technologies -- termed “Star Wars" by a general press as early as 1979 -- had been procured through bipartisan appropriations of the Congress, expenditures since 1978 alone of at least $7 billion dollars (through fiscal year 1983), a responsibility of the Ford and Carter Administration's budgetary process. 

In 1982, advocates first met with officials of the Reagan Administration, who then briefed the President (who himself apparently had been aware of the idea for some years) and his aides on the broad parameters.  Discussions were held within the Executive that coalesced on a comprehensive plan that Ronald Reagan first "understood" as late as February 1983.  On 23 March, in a surprise conclusion to a nationally-televised address on relations with Nicaragua, he implored of the American people, “. . . (let us ask) the scientists who gave us nuclear weapons (to help render them) impotent and obsolete." 

Later that year the concept was termed by the Administration a "Strategic Defense Initiative," but even Secretary of State George Schultz, in remarks to the press after the second of two, initial meetings (held 7-8 January, 1985, with Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko) that set up the troika of negotiations on intermediate range, strategic, and space technologies begun at Geneva, Switzerland this past week, referred to the program as “space arms."

Warrant lines present among budgetary figures published in testimony before the Congress in July, 1981, show the "High Frontier-SDI" concept estimated to cost $5OO billion dollars, while former Secretary of Defense/Energy James Schlesinger insists in flatly declaring the cost to be at least $l, 0O0 billion (one trillion) dollars.  Since fiscal year 1984, the Reagan Administration has increased approximately one billion the appropriations Congress has ratified (specific expenditures of $l.4 billion for SDI for fiscal years 1981 with an additional $7OO million being allocated to other related programs a total of $2 billion per term. 

The proposal is to be increased another two billion for fiscal 1986, with $3.7 billion directly to SDI endeavors, and another $3OO million for related activities. Projected expenditures over fiscal years 1986-90 approach a total of $30 billion. In a six-part series entitled Weapons in Space, (3-8 March, 1985), the New York Times reported, "this fiscal year (1985), research on missile defense constitutes about 5 cent of the Pentagon's research and development budget.  By 1990, the Congressional Budget Office estimates it will rise to 17 percent."
(March 3).

No credible scientist, even among staunch proponents, claims 'High Frontier-SDI" to enable nuclear weapons to become "impotent and obsolete."  Some may observe its potential to envelope the continent with a perceived "shield of "near-impenetrability,” including the protection of population centers, and all scientists acknowledged at least some probability of "leakage," or success of adversary missiles reaching their targets in the United States or Europe. 

The Times (March 3) recorded the remarks of ". . . former Defense Secretary (Harold) Brown, a nuclear physicist . . . (who) wrote recently, 'The combinations of limitations -- scientific, technological, systems engineering costs and especially the potential countermeasures make the prospect of a perfect or, near-perfect defense negligibly low . . . '”  "Other experts,” the Times noted  (8 March), "assembled by the Union of Concerned Scientists, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the Stanford Center for International Security and Arms Control, have judged that the likelihood of developing a near-perfect defense is exceedingly remote."  Times correspondent Charles Mohr concluded his dispatch (March 6), "Even a tiny leak might, in the end, render it (the SDI) useless."

"Research," Deployment, and Diplomatic Posturing

Advocates both without and within the Administration claim the SDI/“High Frontier" effort to be at present, a mere "research" program.  Yet by the time SDI "research" reaches the stage of being considered "deployable, " in the early 1990s, its "testing" and "development" would have shown the parameter of industrial "production” capacity. 

“Research" implies development as a concurrent process.  "Production" necessitates testing of the developmental research prior to it being considered 'deployable, " the end product of a State policy premised on the results of military applications of original scientific invention(s). Even the drafters of a bilateral nuclear weapons freeze, recognizing its technical limitations toward "testing, production, and deployment of weapons and delivery systems" (rather than inclusion of operational maintenance," and "use" on the one hand, and "development and research" on the other) understood these concurrent processes.

The diplomatic posturing first seen on this issue at the United Nations in 1946 remains entrenched through these second round of discussions opened with the Soviet Union through a "benevolence" of the Reagan Presidency.  An example is procurement of the cruise and Pershing missile technologies, first pursued vigorously in the early 1970s. 

By the end of the decade, development research, preliminary testing of components, and industrial production capacity could anticipate deployment and maintenance through the American-imposed, so-called “two-track” decision rubber-stamped by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in December, 1979 -- thus sealing the fate of the freeze concept even before its advocates were able to market its singular, public relations objective of failure (beginning in 1980 to the present moment) before the American people.

Likewise, there should be no illusion with regard to the “umbrella" discussions commencing this past week between Mr. Max Kampelman (a former Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Democratic Vice-President Walter Mondale, and a co-founder in 1976 of the bi-partisan Committee for the Present Danger, a private group advocating an American military response to a presumed Soviet military build-up) and his Soviet counterpart, Viktor Karpov. 

Although talks are to be welcomed and encouraged, disinterested observers of this problem will recognize that the shift in Administration emphasis from more narrow concerns (separate forums on different weapons and delivery systems for instance), to broader parameters -- separate forums with interrelated interests that were not acknowledged years ago, even during the SALT process, and before (such as a Comprehensive Test Ban, discussions that were on-going and concurrent, but separate from SALT) -- may create a situation of extreme delicacy between the two nation-states should an impasse develop). 

Upon closer scrutiny Mr. Reagan's Intermediate range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Strategic Arms Reduction Talks (START') proposals were already weighed toward an eventual breakdown in negotiations, not so much due to the inflexibility of either side's stated positions, but rather because the setting of the talks themselves did not recognize these interrelated interests, nor admit their placement in the context of the American-imposed, “decisions” of December, 1979, already referred to.

The Times' series (March 8) summed up opening negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States as ". . . seem(ingly) irreconcilable.  Top Soviet officials are insisting that there can be no progress in limiting strategic and intermediate-range missiles that are the prime American goal, unless there is also progress in limiting space and defensive weapons.  The American team however, appears to have ruled out any concessions that would reduce the Star Wars research program or hinder later development of a defensive system." Continuing, the Times reiterated (March 3), "The Americans will try to persuade the Russians to accept a three-stage approach:  radical reduction in offensive forces, then a transition to a mix of offensive and defensive weapons and finally the total elimination of nuclear weapons and deployment of full-fledged defenses."

Inertia and the Legacy of Scientific Method

In its insistence that these discussions be expanded to include the immediate situation of missile deployment in Europe by the Soviet Union in the Warsaw Pact countries (to counter deployment in the nations of the Atlantic NATO Alliance of refined American technologies developed years before such deployment was perceived by the Soviet Union as "necessary”) while remaining intractable toward broadening the talks to include SDI-related technologies as a so-called "bargaining-chip," the Reagan Administration is injecting several unnecessary political determinates, all-at-once, into what are essentially at this stage, discussions (primarily) technological substance on advanced, pre-testing, research and development, or scientific questions regarding the SDI. 

Such needless banter as that enjoined in this fashion by the present American political regime displays a preoccupation with a particular view or ideology, placed before a greater "national interest."

In 1946, American intransigence in viewing scientific questions as politically manipulative displayed not merely a basic ignorance of science, but a diplomatic arrogance thoroughly in-step with a cultural approach, over the last two centuries, toward use of the varied natural resources of the continent upon which the nation rests, and a State policy that bluntly practiced systematic genocide against the nations of Indigenous peoples. 

In his Inaugural Address, delivered March 4, 1873, President Ulysses S. Grant stated flatly:  ". . . the Aboriginals shall either become civilized, or face extermination," and then went on to remark how "we should be benevolent toward the Indian,” understanding his needs in the context of full assimilation into a (perceived) American "society.”

Such hubris -- exemplified by the circumstances of 1946 -- has unfortunately, not changed in the conduct of foreign policy as the United States has entered upon the world stage.

Cultural arrogance of both the Soviet Union and United States -- indeed of most nation-states, and of the various social, fraternal, economic, and religious institutions that re-enforce each other through the coalescing of governments and the concentration of power (noted politically in the conduct of both diplomatic and foreign policies) -- reflects a similar arrogance of Western science toward itself, that is:  the weight of its own inertia, oriented as such toward a "technical fix," or resolution of all seemingly intractable problems of nature (and hidden within the deeper "objectivity" of a supposed, benign "method"), exacerbates an ultimate bankruptcy of science.

This is understood through a prevailing theme of the recent bland, uninspiring, and relatively insignificant New York Times series, already noted. Discerning readers will observe a tone of resonance, and texture of voice and language that is distressingly similar through all six, supposedly different, and engaging personalities represented as such by appearance of individual by-lines. 

The Times' chief correspondent on national security issues, Leslie Gelb, in his opening dispatch for the series (March 3), put the predominate question before the reader right from the start:  " has the momentum for the proposed program already made it unstoppable?"  Several paragraphs later, Mr. Gelb spoke of, "The critics want to cast the debate in the broadest possible terms now, before the program becomes enormous and politically unstoppable." 

And again, quoting none other than Lieutenant General James A. Abrahamson, Jr., director of the Strategic Defense Initiative  "’That is really happening,' he said, 'is that there are a large number of dedicated, talented working people on this in government and industry.  And when they all have a goal to march to, and that's what the President gave us, you cannot just stop the progress they are making and that progress is what's happening.’”

In the final dispatch of the series (March 8), this theme was yet again related first, as "...chief among them:  Is this really only a research program, or a virtual commitment to deploy a defense should one become technical feasible?"  And again, "Critics say they fear that the program will now steamroller, with support from an ever larger array of military contractors, lobbyists, technologists and Congressmen, to the point it cannot be stopped. 

Still, there is at least one precedent demonstrating that reversal is possible.  In the early 1970s, the nation actually started deploying an antimissile defense to protect American missiles, but then dismantled it as unworkable and expensive. Yet as already observed, this ABM system was essentially, a refinement of the original Nike Zeus/ Hercules technology, while modest research efforts into what is now known as the "High Frontier/SDI” concept had been conducted for nearly a decade before the ABM Treaty was signed.

In a rare homage to candor, however roughly stated, the Times series took pause, as correspondent Wayne Biddle wrote (March 5):  "At a time activity on conventional military programs is already booming and highly trained technologists are in short supply, capitalism has lent a sobering dose of reality to the science-fiction promise of Star Wars." 

Biddle went on to give several instances of the "pervasive" nature of a "military-industrial complex" beholden to "a scientific-technological elite" throughout the various institutions of American life, with such asides as ". . . the Pentagon announced the creation last week of a $l9 million, four-year research program at a consortium of five universities;” or "TRW and nine other companies recently began so-called architecture studies of how the entire antimissile system might look, which will be followed by cost analysis.  'Until the architectures get looked at in a little more detail,' Mr. (Bob) Walquist (TRW Vice President and program executive of Strategic Defense Initiative projects) said, 'I sort of go home at night and worry about what you're going to do in all those phases.'"

Obviously, the same sort of pervasiveness of an elite of scientists and technological engineers among a "military-industrial complex" would be that much more intractable within a State-imposed and thoroughly-monitored, bureaucratic Soviet system.  Yet on this final point (for purposes, due to space, of this paper), the Times diverted reader's attention away from these more important considerations toward a curious and undue recompense history on the role of Dr. Edward Teller -- dean of those few original American atomic scientists who still advocate, at this late date, weapons research as a response to similar Soviet "initiatives’ -- in advancing the 'High Frontier" concept, technology that, for Dr. Teller, envisioned a nuclear-powered x-ray laser. 

In its second installment (March 4), Times correspondent William J. Broad documented the role in recent years of a "scientific technological elite with its academic ties and corporate sponsorship, in this instance, the University of California, and the Hertz rental-car family.  The text reads as if these "elite" men, many of whom have known each other for decades, and had worked closely together on other projects, more or less coalesced upon this idea of "High Frontier" only in the last half-dozen years or so (a decade perhaps, at most). 

Particular emphasis is given to what amounts, seemingly, to a "blow-by-blow" account of the various intricacies and competitive "spirit," in the months prior to Mr. Reagan's remark of March 23, 1983, between special pet interests of scientific research proponents and technological development specialists within both the military and civilian research communities.

This is summed up, apparently, by Mr. Broad quoting an irrelevant passage from an interview with Dr. Teller on William F. Buckley's Firing Line television program -- Buckley addressing, ". . . why someone might invent new weapons to counter the threat of Soviet missiles" -- with Dr. Teller's response to Mr. Buckley at the end of the quoted passage, "You have explained a good part, an important part, of my own psychology." 

Discriminating readers will take note however', that despite Dr. Teller's concurrence with Mr. Buckley's assessment of his "own psychology, " a far more telling view (placed within a context of the Times posing) yet another wrong question to consider, whether 'Star Wars' would have happened in the absence of the x-ray laser is noted by Mr. Broad at the conclusion of his dispatch.


"I can see how Edward was attracted to all this," said a scientific colleague of Dr. Teller's who has long known and respected him.  "The x-ray laser was elegant.  It was beautiful and elegant.  It was technically sweet, just like Oppenhiemer said. But is Edward an engineer? No.  Is he a systems designer?  No. Is he a military planner?  No."

"He was enthralled with the principle and rightly so," he said.  "The principle is in fact that beautiful.  But he is not the kind of guy who ever got hooked on building things.  His first H-bomb was the size of an apartment house.  Edward is a physicist with a fantastic creative mind.  He understands the beauty of a piece of music.  But for God's sake, don't ask him to design a trumpet."

In the transference of scientific vision with "objective" realities into our daily lives, nature is not defined in its totality by the perception that Western man measures.  By definition, a “technical fix" to problems exacerbated by inventions created through refinements and technological "progress based on these inexact measurements cannot in themselves, be resolved.  As the parameters of knowledge increase, so too, does its absolute:  as we recognize our uniqueness as a human species, the interrelated preciousness of ALL life on the planet, we become more insignificant in relationship to the vast possibilities encountered in the far unknown reaches of the universe.

To think we can undo that which has come about through our arrogance as a people, our “pride" as a human race through pursuit of what is considered, “technically sweet" (as J. Robert 0ppenhiemer said, in 1951, of the methodology perceived by those scientists engaged in the Manhattan Project), following that urge in spite of systematic and measured consequences inferred from that very process of supposed disinterest, is sheer folly, and the great tragedy of our time. 

A “recycling” of conceptual thought, of what need not have been invented in order to rectify, not just its mere consequence, but expand its limitations –- soasto broaden the parameters of technological refinement in a way heretofore unexamined or explored - is not progress, and certainly cannot be defined as "pursuit of knowledge for the benefit of Humanity.'

Only when the peoples of the world become aroused to the ignorance and stupidity of their institutional leaders will this situation have any possibility of resolution.  Certainly the attempts at various changing-of-consciousness on a regional and local level -- in the neighborhoods and communities of tens of thousands of village hamlets and small population centers spread throughout the suburban and metropolitan cities of the world -- are a beginning. 

The movements of Solidarity in Poland, and of the late Maurice Bishop in Grenada (whose assassination was of great loss to the world, a force of personality, and humbleness of mind, that offered much hope to his people and for the rest of blacks in the Americas) are examples of flawed, if remarkable experiments.

Certainly, we as a people and a Humanity can consider nothing less. Perhaps it is not too late for us as a species to transcend this prospect of war, as it is in a pre-Holocaust time, living in our daily lives as do the traditional ancestry of indigenous people of this continent are wont to remind us, "for the Seventh Generation."

End Note

Commencement of the Manhattan Project began a conventional and nuclear arms race that, to date, has spent over five trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and related delivery systems, alone. 

Speculation is warranted about the actual basis behind the collapse of the European “socialist” model in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, which as is known was neither socialist or “communist,” but a bureaucratic oligarchy. 

Those who are staunch supporters of the free market system claim both the triumph of democracy and of the American military-industrial economy essentially spending the Soviets into bankruptcy.  The truth is more likely to have been the inefficiency of the Soviet production and distribution structure, a problem rooted further in the feudalism of ancestral Russian culture. 

Today in the so-called capitalist countries, this same, pervasive disparity is masked from consumers by the vast sums of “hidden” subsidies in corporate welfare that have always been given by these governments to the “Big Business” ventures of their time, whether it be “free land” to agriculture and transportation in the 18th and 19th Centuries, or research and tax incentives during the 20th. 

The shifting of the 1950’s concept of “missile defense” from “containment” of Cold War strategies to “deterrence” of terrorist or so-called “rouge” nations has not diminished pursuit of these exotic technologies well into the 21st Century; the George Bush, Clinton and George W. Bush Administration(s) have spent, or are committed to spend about $4 billion annually on the biggest single “pork barrel” project in the history of the United States - and that was prior to George W. Bush's additional push for what is now termed "national missile defense."

Neither political scientists nor economists have adequately dealt with this important aspect of modern world history.

Likewise those who passionately believe in non-violence as a means of resolving conflict have not understood the revolutionary significance in the success of this tactic and strategy over the last generation. Beginning with Solidarity in 1980 through resistance to Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, the unraveling of the Warsaw Pact and then the Soviet Union itself in the early 1990’s, literally millions took to the streets and overcame military infrastructures steeped deep in obedience to authority and repression; only a few tens of thousands were injured, and but a few thousand lost their lives -- a stunning and unprecedented achievement.

Even in those nation-states where more bloodshed has occurred, as in Israel, South Africa, Northern Ireland and more recently, Indonesia and East Timor, or where the strategy failed, as in China, the greatest, relatively peaceful collective transition of power the world has ever known took place, yet very few have spoken about it in the real terms of this remarkable event. 

Reinforced however, by varying cultural institutions to selectively chose an emphasis on lesser events (such as local crime) rather than the equally important reportage and study of the infrastructure and rationales driving the prison-industry complex, for instance, the same inertia President Truman acceded to with use of the atomic bomb allows these same institutions to stress today genocide in the Balkans, growth of the American economy, the Internet, or apprehension of the new millennium and Y2K rather than the even greater genocide of Rwanda, the devastation of AIDS in developing countries, or how the quickening pace of a surging global economy continues to divest the planet of its remaining resources.

The events of September 11, 2001 and the response of the George W. Bush Administration - reacting to base, psychologically co-dependent fears rather than addressing so-called "terrorist" threats with responsible acts of courageous diplomacy - only exacerbates the irrational violence of an increasingly volatile, global situation.

Again, it must be remembered, fundamentally:  This situation was, and remains, a bipartisan venture of the Congress, thoroughly supported by both political parties, Democrat and Republican, and advanced by all Presidents, from Truman through George Bush the younger.

At the height of the Monica Lewinsky scandal in 1998, for example, President William Jefferson Clinton sent cruise missiles into the suspected enclave of Osama Ben Laden, at Tora Bora, Afghanistan; in lieu of the ensuing history thereafter that President George W Bush has so recklessly pursued the the post 9/11 era, this earlier act alone speaks volumes regarding the bipartisan nature of the inertia of American foreign policy, outlined in this piece.

Yet as the American people face in 2004 the prospect of a desperately weak President amassing tens of billions of campaign dollars (many drawn from individuals who were to become wealthy through investments in corporations)  to solidify his political party's judicially-sanctioned usurpation of the electoral process in 2000, it must be recalled that this circumstance was ultimately bourne of the 1886 decision of the U.S. Supreme Court, Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad; in that ruling, the Court without comment gave corporations the rights of human beings, under the guise of the 14th Amendment. 

It was here that the seeds of what President Eisenhower described in 1961 as the consequences of the Manhattan Project were sown.  "The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – (Eisenhower wrote) is felt in every city, every Statehouse, every office of the Federal government...we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society."

Today, the "Republicrats" of the United States are financially beholden to the "grave implications" of a "free market" system indebted to the transnational "human" corporations that they, in part, created centuries ago, whose "scientific-technological elite(s)" have expanded the conceptual model of the Manhattan Project's collaborative modus operandi beyond "the military-industrial complex" to "the very structure of society" itself; for the sake of profit and greed alone does globalism now exist, with the resultant adverse effects of ensuing national bankruptcies, planetary warming, and literal destruction of the earth seemingly of no consequence to such amoral folk who continue to deny the advance in the reality of their own demise.

So too, must we as a human family vigorously resist encroachments upon the very process of critical thought through such closed control mechanisms as radio frequency identification (RFID) - technologically equivalent to the U.S.Patriot Act and proposed amendments - and the scientific pretense that genetic manipulation can resolve the biochemical crisis now facing the Natural World because of an earlier crude technologically-based manipulation which began the problems in the first place.

A more honest portrayal of the State of the World begins with development of a questioning, critical mind.  This has been the cornerstone of the so-called “liberal arts” education since the first tomes of John Dewey a century ago. Yet increasingly so into the 21st Century, "education" is primarily seen as simply a necessity for employment rather than opening up the intellect and the emotions to the infinite possibilities of both change and a recommitment to older cultural traditions than those invented by "economically-driven science."

"Humanity is in a fix, and there ain't no way to solve the matter without critically thinking ourselves out of the problem."


Imagination has always had powers of resurrection that no science can match.

-- Ingrid Bengis






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