What if Star Wars?

by Fred Showker

In 1983 I was so closely focused on a growing family and an emerging business, that I completely missed President Ronald Reagan's proposal of a new system to end the strategy of mutual deterrence and the threat of nuclear attack. It was the 'golden' era of growth -- who could be concerned with eliminating incoming missiles from unfriendly countries using satellites parked in space?

I also happen to be a huge Star Wars fan. So this morning's news brief footnote recognizing the twenty-fifth anniversary of President Reagan's "Star Wars" speech grabbed my attention. I was reminded of all the controversy stirred by that speech back in March of 1983. So I decided to dig it up and learn more.

As I read Reagan's speech -- about an initiative to build a system to destroy missiles from space -- issues in today's news began to take on a new slant. I'm thinking "wow, if we only had that today." Knowing what we know today, how could supposedly intelligent thinkers back in the 1980s not have seen it -- what were they thinking? Today, even 5th graders could see the value of such a system.

starwars

Reading deeper into the documentation surrounding this simple concept proposed by Regan, a fascinating story began to unfold -- totally relevant to today's political and global state of affairs. Along with talk of x-ray and chemical lasers, neutral particle beams, hypervelocity rail guns, space-based interceptors and even brilliant pebbles*, there also arose an insurmountable wave of public criticism.

Led by Democratic legislators with the help of the high visibility media, the concept of developing the military in space soon became the laughing stock of America. (Sound familiar?) The idea was solidly discredited as "impractical science fiction fantasy". The day after the speech, the Washington Post quoted Senator Ted Kennedy(D) calling the plan "reckless Star Wars schemes". It was thus banished forever as a fantasy.

I kept reading historic accounts and opinions that followed. Throughout the weeks and months after the speech, narrow-minded voices from the scientific community, once again amplified by sympathetic media, convinced America of all the reasons why the plan could never work. The concept was killed dead.

The study of technology today suggests that the views of those small thinkers were ludicrous. These were the same people who called human DNS is an impenetrable mystery. They probably thought the idea of a global network of wireless phones to be insane. They would probably have discredited a tool for pin-pointing specific cancer cells in the human body with a "radiation" beam as "reckless Star Wars schemes." To them, it was lunacy to suggest a robot with video broadcast capabilities the size of a human blood cell could cruise through the body transmitting clear images from within those arteries. Yes, in 1983, these same narrow thinkers would never have approved the budgt to develop a camera so powerful it can read vehicle license plates from beyond this planet's atmosphere. They would vote against allocations to build a remote sensor capable of analyzing human vitals from thousands of feet away to save soldiers' lives -- much less putting robots on Mars. But twenty-five years of technology is a lot of water under the bridge. American ingenuity has made all of these things, and more, a reality. Why were those who blocked Star Wars so pusillanimous* as to endanger the lives of thousands -- possibly hundreds of thousands -- of American citizens?

Today, a personal armor suit has been developed for the military with built-in remote sensors that can identify entities several thousands of feet away. These sensors selectively tag that entity as friend or foe, based on biochemical attributes, and then communicates that information into a strategic defence grid hundreds of miles away. Almost instantaneously, those foot troops can be moved out of harm's way or into an advantaged attack pattern.

In the continuing parade of new technology advancements each day, it becomes painfully clear that, in reality, Reagan's idea was not fantasy at all, but an inspired vision that could have changed history. Those narrow-minded, slow-moving snails of the day couldn't have been more wrong in discrediting the Star Wars initiative. As it turns out, they were dead wrong. What harm are they doing today?

Today, we know that Reagan's Star Wars could have opened the doors to:

* Detection and elimination of the 9/11 threats?
* Immediate neutralization of terrorists (Osama bin Laden and company)?
* Eliminate specific combatants in any arena of conflict (Darfur?)
* Detect, identify, neutralize predatory devices (bombs? Suicide bombers?)
* Stealth maintenance of U.S. borders (suspend or neutralize)?
* Instant pinpointing of ecological threats (pandemics?)
* Advance detection of geological catastrophes (tsunamis?)
* Track, analyze, protect populations (human or animal)
* All without the costs of transporting, feeding and outfitting armies -- all from a control panel safely at home -- all without the risk of even a single soldier's life. Not ONE!

Yes, it's obvious that all of these are easily within the grasp of technology today. With twenty-five years to develop Reagan's concept, these and other wonders would have been developed by now, had those little minds not gotten in the way? What else did they rob us of? They bellyache long and loud about deaths in Iraq, when in reality they blocked the means by which it could have been prevented.

One merely has to read the pages of Technology Review*, Popular Science* or Gizmodo* to realize the awesome advances technology makes each day -- month after month.

So, the next time you hear the body-count of war, just remember how it could have been prevented, and who blocked that solution. The next time someone says "we can't afford it", perhaps the intelligent thing to do might be to project 25 years into the future in light of the current rate of technology development and ask "Can we afford NOT to do it?"

Unfortunately, I've far exceeded my 60-second limit. (You can read Reagan's "Star Wars" speech, and learn more for yourself.)

One of the great thinkers of all times, Albert Einstein once said:

"Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds."

Twenty-five years from now, will our grand children be asking the same questions?

Thanks for reading...

Fred Showker

Fred Showker, Editor, Graphic Design & Publishing


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