Saturday, October 02, 2004

Reagan, SDI and Bunker Busting Missiles

I was wrong in 1986.

I grew up under the threat of nuclear war. Our rural grade school actually had nuclear drills, where we would hide under our desks. We took civil defense classes in public school so we would know how to handle our local area should the federal government be destroyed. I don't think people born much later than I can imagine the culture when Reagan was elected. I watched "War Games" and "The Day After" and "Testament" in 1983. I watched "Threads" in 1984. I'm sure there were more nuclear disaster films in the 1980's if I could just remember the titles. It was a scary time.

In October of 1986, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbechev met in Reykjavick, Iceland to discuss nuclear disarmament, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI, Star Wars) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty:

President Reagan: What the hell use will ABM's or anything else be if we eliminate nuclear weapons?

Secretary General Gorbachev: Absolutely right. I am for that. But the point is that under the ABM Treaty the parties do not have a large-scale antimissile defense, and you want to deploy such a defense.

President Reagan: But what difference does it make if it is not nuclear weapons? What difference whether it exists or not?

On the other hand, you know that even in this situation we will not be able to guarantee that someone will not begin to make nuclear weapons again at some point.

Secretary General Gorbachev: Mr. President, you just made a historic statement: What the hell use will SDI be if we eliminate nuclear weapons? But it is exactly because we are moving toward a reduction and elimination of nuclear weapons that I favor strengthening the ABM Treaty. In these conditions it becomes even more important. As for your arguments about the madman who decides to resort to nuclear weapons, I think that we will be able to solve that problem, it is not that serious.

President Reagan: It appears that the point is that I am the oldest man here. And I understand that after the war the nations decided that they would renounce poison gases. But thank God the gas mask continued to exist. Something similar can happen with nuclear weapons. And we will have to shield against them in any case.

At the time, it appeared that Reagan had the chance to vastly reduce the nukes in the world if he would only give up SDI. I was, at the time, working in the Defense industry as a software developer and I saw little hope that SDI would ever work as advertised. Today, 20 years later, we are still struggling to make it work as advertised... that's not what I was wrong about. SDI has worked enough to intercept larger missiles and advancements are ongoing. I was wrong about Reagan's vision. In fact, Reagan's last point in the excerpt above, about the need for gas masks even though gas is illegal in warfare is really President Bush's point about needing nuclear bunker busting bombs.

In 1986, after a lifetime of fear, after a lifetime of feeling like the dustspeck in "Horton Hears a Who" being pulled over the vat of boiling water, I would have jumped at any chance to reduce the Russian nukes. Reagan saw beyond Russia to a time when other enemies (like North Korea and Iran today) might threaten us with their own nukes. Reagan took the heat from those in America like me and much more heat from the Lefties... but he was right and I was wrong.

In the debate the other night, John Kerry said that the USA shouldn't develop nuclear bunker busting missiles, missiles that would be able to strike and destroy enemy bases far underground. Saddam had these bases. Bin Laden had these bases in Afghanistan (and still might). North Korea has these bases. In 1986, I couldn't see ahead beyond my fear of the USSR pointing missiles at us to times like today, when other, possibly more dangerous, enemies exist. If Reagan had stopped SDI, the soviets today might still be a great nuclear superpower. If Gorbechev had gotten Reagan to back down, he might have been able to hold on to his power and all of Eastern Europe. Reagan saw ahead 20 years, but I couldn't even see ahead 5.

If Bill Clinton had been looking ahead when he was in power, he would have been thinking about Saddam's underground bunkers from the 1st Gulf War. He would have been thinking about North Korea hiding missiles underground. He would have been thinking about those mazes of tunnels that Bin Laden disappeared into in Tora Bora. If Bill Clinton had been looking forward, he would have been developing more powerful bunker busting bombs... even nuclear ones. Ronald Reagan, after all, was using lessons he learned from WW I and WW II to shape his thought. Why shouldn't we expect Bill Clinton to use Gulf War I and other terrorist strikes to guide his thoughts? America rules the skies, we can take any city on earth and after the war in Iraq, after Shock and Awe, everybody knows it... and all of our enemies have now moved underground.

George Bush didn't have much time after he came into office in 2001 to think about bombs, but another war with Saddam and Bin Laden, and now showdowns with North Korea and Iran have focused President Bush on the need for underground warfare. The need is far more obvious that any of the tiny threads Reagan relied on to make his decisions in Iceland. The need for underground warfare is clear and obvious.

John Kerry doesn't even today see the need for SDI and even less need for nuclear bunker busters. John Kerry doesn't lack foresight, it's far too late for that... he lacks eyes. Just as the very thought of SDI threw our enemies into disarray, the very thought of America being able to strike underground bases will flush out our enemies and bring them to the bargaining table. Like the blind leading the blind, John Kerry wants to lead the fearful left back to the days of Jimmy Carter, when America was too fearful of herself to use her strength. George Bush has a different idea for achieving peace: overwhelming victory.

Yesterday was the Feast of St. Therese. In our dismissal, we discussed her life and times in relation to Matthew 18. It was a good discussion. St. Therese led a short, holy life.

Friday, October 01, 2004

The 1st Debate 

I watched the 1st debate last night. John Kerry said many times that the USA has suffered 90% of the casualties and paid 90% of the cost and that our allies have been less involved. I do so wish President Bush would have made note of the terrible losses the Iraqis are suffering. All of the bombings of people signing up to be police or in the Iraqi armed forces, all of the bombings in marketplaces, killing of women and children. The USA has had more casualties than the British or the Poles, but for heaven's sake, the Iraqis are our allies in this war, too, and both candidates ignored their losses.

I thought President Bush came out ahead because how can you overcome his logic: "You say this war is a mistake and you want to lead the soldiers? You say this war is a diversion from the real war and you want more allies to join us? You believe soldiers should die for a mistake and allies should join in a diversion?" John Kerry wants to fix an Iraq we broke, George Bush wants to destroy the enemies of freedom. John Kerry said that Iraq didn't attack us, Bin Laden did... but that ignores the years of Iraq firing on our planes trying to enforce the no-fly zone, it ignores Saddam trying to assassinate Bush 41, it ignores the reality of what Iraq was before this war.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

RCIA last night was about the Trinity. Our class has grown and we now have 4 candidates. Along with sponsors and teachers, we had 10 in our classroom last night. This is much better, the conversations are better, the classroom is more robust.

Bottom line: The concept of a tri-une God, the Trinity of God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son and the Holy Spirit, is a mystery beyond the ability of human beings to understand. We can imagine the Trinity as so many things, a shamrock -- one leaf with three lobes; the power of the sun -- light, warmth, growth; a river opening into the sea, etc... but all imaginings leave a lot to be desired. St. Thomas Aquinas has a section on the Trinity if you want to read deeper.

Sunday, September 26, 2004


I had my first dismissal on Saturday. After the homily, our priest called those of us in the RCIA class up front and he said words to the effect that we were working toward full communion and going off to study the word more closely. Our teacher raised the gospel up high and we followed her out to a side room where we studied the gospel reading for the day while those outside took Mass.

The gospel lesson was on Luke 16:19, The rich man and the beggar, Lazarus. Our priest's homily was about watching out for the weakest among us... the unborn. He spoke passionately about using our vote in November to vote for whoever will get us closer to making abortion illegal again. He said Catholics should vote for life, so items like abortion, capital punishment and war are all issues to look at closely, but abortion above all else. Capital punishment and war could be justified in certain cases, but never abortion... not in rape, not in incest, not for the health of the mother. It was a very strongly worded homily.

I'm on a email list for The National Council of Churches from my Methodist days. They just sent me another email discussing the cost of war. I've heard more and more complaints about the cost of the Iraq war and how the money spent there could be better used for health care, or feeding the poor, or put towards AIDS.

Raise your hand if you think Congress could rally the vote to open their purse (our purse) to the tune of $140 billion, borrowed, for any of those problems. Now why, I ask, why have they voted to open their purse for the war and not for social ills?

The USA is split, it seems to me, between the urban and rural areas of the country. Rural people believe, by necessity, that people need to do for themselves and for their neighbors. In rural areas, the government is distant: animal control is not going to come out to your house and take care of rabid skunks, if the electricity goes out, you're going to be late on the list of getting your power back on, you control your own water, your own sewer, your own garbage, you control trimming your own trees, nobody cares if your grass gets long. If you have trouble, you're going to call your neighbor or your family first because they're closer and because they would do the same for you.

In urban areas, people expect, again by necessity, the government to solve problems. You just can't have people in the city blasting away at wild animals, garbage has to managed, water and sewage have to be managed, snow has to be managed, trees have to be kept out of wires, noise and weeds and criminals have to be taken care of. Areas of blight need to be renewed, parks, streets, rivers all have to be taken care of. The people need to be taken care of. People who live in cities agree to live by certain rules and expect certain services in return. If you have trouble, you have a list of service lines to call: animal control, city code control, police, leaf pickup, etc.

Since our country is rather evenly split between rural and urban, we have two competing philosophies. Congress would never vote to spend $140 billion on social problems because they cannot agree on what is needed let alone how to spend it best. But all areas of the country can (and did) agree on war. The vote in congress was 296-133 for the use of force to remove Saddam in Iraq. The Senate vote was 52-47 for the war.

To say that the money going toward the war is shorting social programs is wrong. It's money would would never have borrowed except for war. The point, though, of the Council of Churches, is not really to spend that money on social ills, but to use money to point out another reason this war, or any war, shouldn't be waged.

In 1998, the NCC wrote a letter to Bill Clinton about war with Iraq before he launched a bunch of cruse missiles without a vote from Congress and without the support of the UN. Here's an excerpt:

February 16, 1998
The Honorable William Jefferson Clinton
The White House
Washington DC 20005

Dear Mr. President:

The burden of leadership in the face of the Iraqi government's defiance of UN mandates is now, we believe, especially heavy and it is unavoidably yours to bear. As religious leaders, we write respectfully to offer you counsel rooted in the experience and the deeply held commitments of numerous religious communities both within and beyond our membership:

Continue diplomacy patiently, even doggedly. Insist on UN compliance but practice restraint. Pursue a humanitarian, not a military, option.

The overwhelming reality is that there are no easy or readily apparent solutions to the current impasse. No options appear that are free of risks altogether. Our counsel: Listen to that reality. Quick solutions pursued in a clouded landscape are morally suspect and historically dangerous.

On the other hand, here is a letter the NCC sent to President Bush before the Iraq war. Another excerpt:

It is detrimental to U.S. interests to take unilateral military action when there continues to be strong multilateral support for a new weapons inspection regime and when most governments in Europe and the Middle East resist supporting military action. It is important for the U.S. to cooperate with international efforts to control Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, if possible, through a regional weapons-of-mass-destruction control initiative.

Rather than attacking Iraq, we urge that your priority in the Middle East be an Israeli-Palestinian ceasefire and peace settlement. As do many in the world, we look to the United States government to set an example for the international community. As Christian religious leaders responsible for millions of U.S. citizens we expect our government to reflect the morals and values we hold dear - pursuing peace, not war; working with the community of nations, not overthrowing governments by force; respecting international law and treaties while holding in high regard all human life.

I found the two letters telling: though both called for peace, the letter to Clinton was very nice, very thoughtful and respectful. The letter to Bush was more harsh, with no words about the burden he must be under. In addition, the NCC didn't call on Clinton to solve the Jewish/Palestinian problem before he lobbed 40 some cruise missiles into Iraq, but they added that impossible hurdle for President Bush.

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