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    Missile Defense

Nazi engineer and Disney space advisor Wernher Von Braun helped give us rocket science. Today, the legacy of military aeronautics has many manifestations from SDI to advanced ballistic missiles. Now there is a controversial push for a new missile defense system. What will be the role of missile defense in the new geopolitical climate and in the new scientific era?


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rshowalt - 06:20pm Sep 29, 2000 EDT (#344 of 396)

Morality is a big political issue these days. I think the Americans concerned about the moral health of the country are right to be concerned. Americans are less loved and respected than we'd like to be, and aren't sure why. Many outside our country dislike us because they consider us slippery, a point sometimes made clear in the recent gathering of world leaders at the U.N. A nation led by people who profess to do especially careful moral bookeeping (according to standards different than ours) are the Iranians. The Iranians have taken to referring to the U.S. as "the great Satan." Their major objection is that Americans seem to be able to justify anything at all, to undermine any possible consistent morality. I think these clerics, though I don't like them, have a point, and we should fix it.

However, I think the clergymen and concerned citizens looking for reasons for American moral difficulties have settled on the wrong reasons. I believe that the core moral difficulties in American moral culture, since World War II, that have persisted through both Republican and Democratic administrations, can be traced to a particular cultural sin and blindness. We've claimed for ourselves the "right" to first use of nuclear weapons. We've tried to convince ourselves that actions that are inherently more reprehensible than anything Hitler did are somehow all right for us. We've not, thank God, used nuclear weapons since WWII. But we often threaten to do so.

In World War II we reacted to the crimes of the Germans and the Japanese and stepped over some moral lines. We bombed civilians indiscriminately. At then end of the war, we used atomic weapons, after achieving a similar degree of slaughter with firebombing. Hitler lowered the standards of military decency, and that lowering has not been reversed. In this sense, Hitler lives on in us.

After that war, we did not step back away from these moral violations. Instead, we continued those violations, with ever more lethal bombs, and more and more of them, and more and more ways to deliver them.

We should have stepped back from these violations, so long ago, but we did not. Counting deaths, agony, and the ugliness of unburied bodies, almost all credible scenarios for nuclear war are worse than what the Nazi Germans did.

Now, after fifty years of trying to explain how dropping a bomb on defenseless civilians is less of a moral violation than fraud or adultery, we find that many, all through our society, have become moral nihilists. Unfortunately (and one might look back at Lunarchick's cites on obedience here, lunarchick 9/27/00 9:38pm it has been held to be a violation of American norms to discuss the blazing contradictions leading to this nihilism.

Attempts to fashion reasonable moral standards, by a careful ordering of better and worse, are frustrated by the fact that America supports and praises enterprises that are, on any careful accounting, morally indefensible. The United States of America claims the right to use nuclear weapons first, whenever it chooses, and its diplomacy explicitly disclaims the applicability of morality to nation states.

I feel sure that Jesus would disagree, and any other reasonable moral leader would disagree. If one goes to the United Nations, and asks representatives of non-nuclear countries, or Russians, they all disagree. The Russians, so victimized by the Nazis, are especially horrified, and even disoriented, by the American claim that morality is inapplicable to nation states. rshowalt 9/29/00 12:12pm I am too.

rshowalt - 06:24pm Sep 29, 2000 EDT (#345 of 396)

The Republicans are special champions of America's "nuclear leadership", and especially severe in criticising people who question our country's "right" to use nuclear weapons. Yet this year, Americans concerned about morality in America sometimes back Republicans, on the grounds that American moral degeneration is somehow a failing that is particularly characteristic of the democratic party, rather than a bipartisan national failing. Much of the most passionate backing that Bush and other Republicans has this sort of moral feeling as a motivation.

People against changes that the Democrats have advocated and implemented sometime seem to argue that the Democrats made the changes by means of some sort of foul play, by some sort of cheating. People especially concerned about abortion sometimes claim, and sometimes passionately believe, that American abortion policy is so immoral that it explains moral difficulties all through the society, even ones that seem unrelated to abortion.

People who feel that the Clintons too lucky and too conspicuous, and who are unsympathetic with them, direct a degree of hostility to the Clintons that I can only understand as scapegoating. One doesn't have to consider Bill Clinton an angel to find the anger the Republicans show disproportionate.

Could these people hate the Clintons for the good things they have tried to do, and that they have done, more than for the bad. To me, it seems likely.

Rick Lazio, the Republican opponent to Hillary Clinton in the New York Senate race, has now taken that Clinton demonizing position strongly. Here are quotes from an ASSOCIATED PRESS story that ran today:

WATERTOWN, N,Y. (AP) -- Rep. Rick Lazio on Friday said his Senate race against Hillary Rodham Clinton "may determine the moral compass of our country.''

he goes on ....(People) "look at this race and they say, "This is a race that may determine the direction America goes, that may determine the moral compass of our country," the Republican said.

Lazio went on to say this "I think this is the most important race of my generation. ... This is a race that will determine whether or not character still counts in public service; whether or not integrity matters; whether the rule of law applies to all or just to some privileged people.''

It seems that a main theme of the Lazio campaign -- is that the first lady cannot be trusted and that she and her husband have "embarrassed the nation." This may be true in one way, but Clinton's works have been an enormous credit to the nation in many other ways. The country is running very well.

I think that morally sensitive people have a right to be appalled at Mr. Lazio. A now obsolete line from H.L. Menken (standards have degenerated since his day) occurs to me here . "unfortunately, all this happened in the United States, where the word honor, save it be applied to the anatomical integrity of women, has only a comic significance."

Where is Rick Lazio's sense of proportion?

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