TCS Daily

When It Comes to Missile Defense, 'We Can't' - Won't Save Lives

By Amy Moritz Ridenour - July 2, 2001 12:00 AM

When I was pregnant with my twin sons, I had a recurring dream about World War I. It was because of something every parent discovers: With the birth of children comes fear that you won't be able to protect them from the dangers of life.

When our eldest, a daughter, was born, I worried about crime. With boys, my thoughts turned to war. The 9 million men killed in World War I all had mothers. But even the most devoted couldn't protect their children from mistakes by politicians and military leaders who made that war excessively bloody by failing to adapt to then-new military technologies.

Today some politicians are making this same mistake. They don't understand that war with 21st-century weapons will be fundamentally different than past wars. That's the basic factor holding back a missile defense system. Forget talk about budgets, or how well a missile defense system would work.

A potentially catastrophic failure to think ahead is the reason we don't have a full missile defense program in place today.

The stakes are enormous. In a major war, a missile defense system most likely would be the only thing preventing the deaths of hundreds of millions of civilians.

At the beginning of the 20th century, few people thought that flying was possible. Some children born then grew up to die in air battles. Columnist Charles Krauthammer, a defense expert, believes missile defenses will be to the 21st century military what air power was to the first half of the 20th century.

Technology moves much faster now than it did 100 years ago, but politicians haven't changed at all. Missile defense systems would deter war, and they'll save lives if war comes. Morally, they're the best military expenditure ever. But politicians aren't building them largely because they've never built them before.

Critics of missile defense say the systems may not work -- although many experts disagree. But people once said that about airplanes. Science advances fast. A defense against nuclear weapons is the natural next step after the development of the weapons themselves, just as anti-aircraft weapons followed the development of airplanes dropping bombs.

One thing is for certain. Sitting around saying "we can't" won't save lives. I doubt I'm the only mother who worries about war. In a January 2001 McLaughlin & Associates poll, 72 percent of women said they favored building a missile defense system.

That's slightly more support than can be found among men, although missile defense systems are popular. More than 80 percent of Republicans and almost two-thirds of Democrats and Independents want such a system. Seventy percent of blacks want it, as do 58.1 percent of self-described "liberals" -- usually the last people to support any kind of new defense expenditure. Even the Europeans and the Russians, who have had their own rudimentary missile defense system since at least 1968, are warming to the idea.

Throughout all of human history, mankind has never learned to avoid war. It could be fatally foolish of us to assume we've suddenly learned. In reference to World War I, artist Max Slevogt painted "The Mothers," an "endless column of wailing women alongside an endless ditch of dead men."

Without a missile defense system, the column of the dead will be even longer after a future war. But the column of mothers will be shorter, because the mothers will be dead, too.

Ridenour is president of The National Center for Public Policy Research, a non-partisan Capitol Hill think tank

© 2001 Duluth News Tribune, Reprinted with permission.

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