– 1982, North American Air Defense (NORAD), Colorado.
General: “All these screens show the launch status of Russia, Mr. President. If Communists try to squeeze a shot off, our long-range radar will notice the second they light the fuse.”
“That’s very neat, general,” Ronald Reagan mumbles, “what happens next?”
“Well sir, if we receive confirmation of a Russian ICBM missile launch, we call you for permission to reduce the commies to radioactive piles of goo.”
“Excellent,” Reagan says, “but what about the missiles coming in?”
“Well, um, sir,” the general hesitates. “That’s why we have NORAD. All major cities will be turned to wasteland. But you’ll be safe in here under all this granite.”
Reagan was deeply disturbed. America – the most powerful country on earth, a shining freedom beacon in a sea of tyranny – could be atom-raped at any moment. Reagan remembered an old acting gig where the plot involved a radioactive shield that protected the heroes. “Star Wars” was born.
Right now Washington D.C. Republicans are so crazy with power that the capillaries have begun bursting in their retinas. It is 1954 all over again, and the first thing to do is pick an enemy, then a fight. This time the enemies are “rogue nations” like North Korea, and the fight will be over the most dangerous, unreliable and ignorant piece of military hardware ever conceived.
Attempt to fathom the $60 billion price tag for a national missile-defense system. The best imagery I can evoke is Scrooge McDuck’s giant money vault times a thousand. Another way to think of it is giving $10 to every last, wretched human being on earth. … Hmm. Do you think if we gave everyone in North Korea $10 they would cross their hearts, hope to die, stick needles in their eyes and promise not to vaporize one of our cities? Probably.
The missile-defense money will be spent, and the hardware will be built, regardless of how often it fails or how much it pisses off the rest of the world. It will be built for the same reasons the first ICBM’s were built, and no one short of the Lord can stop all three branches of America’s government from acting on their historic sense of hubris.
Keep in mind our missile defense won’t work, initially. The Dept. of Defense will spend more money to fix it and by then, other countries will have counterdeveloped. China will think up long-range missiles that will fake our interceptors like Kobe Bryant versus a busload of nuns. But this is irrelevant at any rate.
Today it is possible to Fed-Ex a small nuclear weapon to Washington D.C. and have a White House intern sign for it. Millions of truckloads of cargo come into the United States every day, and customs cannot keep up. America will always be wide open to the blinding flash of nuclear attack no matter how we try to cover our eyes. Something subtler is at work, something like a generation gap in logic.
Protecting the country against nuclear strike doesn’t inspire me or my generation the same way it does our power-crazed elders. Children of the ’80s were raised with sudden nuclear attack as a given commodity in a very dangerous world. The nuclear specter didn’t descend upon us like a shadow of doom over what was once a safe, sane world; we grew up under that shadow in a world that appeared wrought and crazy from the start.
My father once told me how terrified he became while showering one day in the ’80s. He had just finished reading a newspaper story about the invention of the neutron bomb when lighting struck just outside the window. Standing in the shower with a brilliant light and a terrible boom, my dad thought it was time to do the vaporization dance, and it scared the shit out of him.
I, on the other hand, saw my first real nuclear explosion while watching “Terminator 2,” and I was enthralled. The mushroom cloud cleaning Los Angeles was so wholly manmade, so evil, so us, I had to love it. The little Homo sapiens had finally learned to fuse atoms and snap their fingers like God.
As far as I’m concerned, America drew first blood when it nuked two cities full of civilians. Karma will never forget that unforgivable score no matter how much we tithe in defense. Things have to change to stay the same. We will inherit a new arms race courtesy of the existing government, just like our dads inherited theirs. It’s just a shame all that money will be wasted when we could give everyone a ten-spot instead.
Staff writer and columnist David Downs is editing hours of H-bomb test footage into a continuous loop, which will play 24 hours a day in his house as an active piece of art. His column appears every Wednesdays.