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Space Pearl Harbor

06.13.2001 | POLITICS

As moviegoers throng to Hollywood's politically correct, dumbed-down version of "The Good War," a different kind of Pearl Harbor is being pursued in Bush's "Star Wars" program--and in both, truth is the first casualty.

It's easier to focus on good looking actors and grandiose bomb sequences than on painful realities; why risk box office mega-profits by putting Pearl Harbor in its proper context? Acknowledging the 1930 London Naval Treaty, which denied Japan hegemony in its own waters, or the embargo on oil and scrap metal (which one of the judges in the post-war Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal termed "a clear and potent threat to Japan's very existence") is seen as less important than close-ups of Ben Affleck. Why show the internments and atomic bombs that followed, or deal with racism as exemplified by Harry Truman's description of the Japanese as "savages, ruthless, merciless, and fanatic"? The war is much easier to "sell" by toning down the ugliness that led up to and followed Pearl Harbor, and instead pumping up US nationalistic fervor glorifying "the greatest generation" and the military-industrial complex it supported. Isolationism prefers limited context.

Fast forward almost 60 years from Pearl Harbor, and the US military-industrial complex is now so firmly entrenched that the foreign policy platform of the current US administration has been written by none other than a top executive of Lockheed Martin, Bruce Jackson. The fact that Lockheed Martin is the world's largest weapons manufacturer and a major beneficiary of US space warfare preparations is not seen as a conflict of interest; neither apparently is the fact that Lynne Cheney, the vice president's wife, was a Lockheed Martin board member right up until January of this year.

So it comes as no surprise that the Bush-Cheney administration now plans to arm the heavens, and that 75 corporations (with Lockheed Martin, Aerojet and Boeing at the top of the list) have been chosen to reap obscene profits providing the weapons. The administration's grand plan is laid out in the January 2001 report by the US "Space Commission" ( Commission to Assess United States National Security Space Management and Organization) and related documents put out by the US Space Command: The overall mission is to dominate "the space dimension of military operations to protect US interests and investments," and since under globalization "the gap between 'have' and 'have-not' nations will widen--creating regional unrest" more creative weaponry is needed to protect US interests. It is interesting that the report frequently refers to this perceived threat as "Space Pearl Harbor."

The proposed solution is "multi-layered," including both National Missile Defense (NMD) which most consider at this point a pipe dream, and the more easily attainable Theater Missile Defense (TMD) which places space-based weaponry close to an area of conflict. Referring to the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) as a throwback to "a far different time in a far different world," Bush proposes to isolate the US by withdrawing from this and other international laws on space military activities. For example, even though the US was instrumental in establishing the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which was ratified by 111 nations to "demilitarize space before it got weaponized" the Space Commission sees its current Star Wars program as somehow exempt. And when the UN General Assembly took a vote last November regarding "Prevention of An Arms Race In Outer Space," 163 nations voted in favor and just three abstained: the US, Israel and Micronesia (a beneficiary of US aid).

The theory that negating peace treaties will make the world a safer place is not shared by most governments, which explains why the Bush administration's recent 10-day Star Wars road-show was such a global flop. Some nations expressed strong doubts about NMD technology, others insisted that biological and chemical weapons pose much more of a threat than random missiles from "rogue" countries, and still others maintained that diplomacy and arms control are more effective in preventing nuclear proliferation than isolationist rhetoric. The reaction was summed up by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, "The offered reasoning fails to convince us and the majority of the world nations that potential threats require the dismantling of the entire body of agreements on disarmament."

With all the money at stake, however, there is little chance Star Wars will retire anytime soon. Cost estimates vary from $60 billion to $500 billion, and corporate paybacks are already in place. TRW (for which Vice President Cheney was a board member) is currently testing its hugely expensive Alpha high-energy space laser, and a second laser (a joint project between Lockheed Martin, Boeing, TRW and the US military, slated at $20-30 billion) has conveniently been assigned to Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's home state of Mississippi. And there is the issue that many US voters seem to enjoy the false sense of security promised by missile shields, so much that the political question has not been whether to keep the Star Wars program, but rather by how much to fund it.

The isolationist vision of hiding beneath a protective militaristic umbrella is comforting in times devoid of "good wars." If that vision means losing our global/historical context, however, it may prove suicidal.

About the Author
Heather Wokusch, who is a freelance writer, can be visited at
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