By Richard E. Bleil, Ph.D.
On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union launched Sputnik 1. Its purpose was presumably atmospheric studies, but launched only 12 years after Hiroshima and Nagasaki were bombed (August 6 and 9 of 1945 respectively). Eight years after the Soviet Union tested their own atomic bomb in Kazakhstan (August 29, 1949), and during the height of the cold war. With air superiority going to the US, and tensions high, the political message of Sputnik I was clear. The ability to launch a satellite into orbit with the approximate size and weight of an atomic warhead, the Soviet Union proved they had the capability to land an atomic bomb in America’s back yard.
The United States had to respond, but the question was how to justify a military program costing tens of billions of dollars to the American people. On May 25, 1961, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech to congress, saying, “I believe that this nation should commit itself to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.” Billed as the “race to the moon”, the propaganda machine convinced Americans that the Soviet Union beat the US to space, but we would beat them to the moon. Reading to this point, it should be clear…if we can build a rocket capable of landing the lunar lander on the moon, then the US, too, could build nuclear missiles.
Labels, in American Politics, are important. They offer bragging rights to major accomplishments, and rallying cries to unite their party. The Apollo mission, and subsequent nuclear missile program, then, “belonged” to the Democratic party. Consider, for example, Abraham Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation (1863). Because President Lincoln was a Republican, the Republican Party used this fact to help secure the minority vote, over 150 years later, in 2016.
In 1984, President Ronald Reagan called for a space-based missile defense shield, colloquially referred to as the “Star Wars program”. This became the Republican signature program of the day. It initially claimed that it would be 100% effective at stopping all incoming nuclear missiles, effectively protecting America from nuclear war. This could have been a program within an existing military branch, such as the Air Force, but instead it became an independent branch of the program. Had it worked, politically it would have been important to be able to continue to call on it, and the politicians did not want to dilute this Republican initiative, but there was another reason. Had it been a program within, say, the Air Force, it could have been dismantled by de-funding it in a future Congressional action. As its own military branch, it would be nearly impossible to get rid of, as evidenced in 1993, when the initiative was pronounced officially dead. However instead of getting rid of the program, it was renamed. The new mission would be a ground based missile defense system, which was allowed in the Anti Ballistic Defense Treaty but limited to one location for such a system in the US and USSR. The program never gained much traction, until 2001 when President George W. Bush took the US out of this program
These political devices can be detrimental. On March 23, 2010, President Obama signed into law the “Affordable Care Act,” designed to give medical insurance coverage for all US Citizens. It was the realization of promises of medical campaign reform of every presidential election for both parties for at least a century. For the first time in history, every American would not only have basic health insurance, but would have to help pay for it as well. With clear problems and flaws, it was a dramatic step up from the chaos that preceded it, wherein people were getting treatment and not paying at all. Although both parties wanted universal health care, the angst is from the fact that President Obama was a Democratic president. This makes the initiative, that both parties wanted, a Democratic initiative.
Today, President Trump has announced another political movement. All along he has been calling for the wall, despite the fact that current statistics show that it is not needed. Now he is calling for a “Space Force”, in a shadowy reflection of the old “Star Wars Defense”. These initiatives are unnecessary expenditures in a runaway budget that has impending deficits unlike anything ever experienced in this nation. However, as political tools, they are valuable. By inciting similar fears that Reagan used in his initiative, these will be tools to unite the Republican base more than having any real value. As people are starting to realize that the caravan of immigrants and illegal Mexican immigrants are no real threat, we are being told that there is a dramatic need to have a military presence in space. Think on this a bit, and ask yourself, is this a need or a device?