--The news has been full of stories marking the fiftieth anniversary of the launch of Sputnik. I think that seen in the light of todays “peaceful” space programs, some may miss the point of it all. An article from Matthew Brzezinski gave me a look at the cold war roots of space exploration, and the law of unintended consequences. Here’s some:
“All this is just some of the fallout from Sputnik, the tiny Soviet satellite that Korolev and his team launched 50 years ago on Oct. 4, 1957, igniting a national panic in the United States, the effects of which still reverberate. The little aluminum sphere was not the source of fear but rather the huge rocket that it rode atop, the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile. The 183-ton projectile gave the former Soviet Union an unrivaled capability to destroy any city on Earth within minutes of its launch. For the first time in U.S. history, the American heartland was vulnerable to attack by a foreign government.
For Korolev's Kremlin masters, Sputnik was never about space exploration or cosmic milestones. It was a bold display of military might meant to match — and top — Washington's own frequent exhibitions of firepower. "We simply switch the warhead," boasted Soviet leader Nikita S. Khrushchev, in case anyone missed the point.
The irony of the Sputnik crisis, of the terrifying realization that the Soviet Union suddenly possessed an advanced new weapons system far more lethal than anything in the U.S. arsenal, was that the debacle was largely of Washington's own making — a perfect example of how a nation's best-intentioned policies can sometimes backfire.
The roots of the crisis went back to 1953, when Dwight D. Eisenhower swept into the White House on a platform of securing the country against communist threats. Under the stewardship of John Foster Dulles, his hawkish secretary of state, Eisenhower devised a new defense doctrine to counter the spreading "Red menace," which recently had claimed Eastern Europe and was infecting Asia. The U.S., according to Ike's doctrine, no longer would get bogged down in "minor" wars like in Korea. Instead, it would prepare for "total war," an all-out nuclear holocaust designed, in Dulles' own words, "to create sufficient fear in the enemy to deter aggression."
To keep the Soviets sufficiently frightened and in check, the Air Force's Strategic Air Command, or SAC, began a systematic and sustained campaign of harassment and intimidation. Every day, U.S. planes took off from bases around the world and penetrated Soviet airspace, probing for weaknesses in Russian radar defenses. Huge exercises with ominous names like Operation Power House scrambled hundreds of nuclear-laden long-range bombers that charged across the Atlantic, headed for Moscow. At the last minute, they would turn around, but in some war games, squadrons of B-47 Stratojets would take off from Greenland, cross the North Pole and fly deep into Siberia in attack formation — in broad daylight. "With any luck, we could have started World War III," the SAC commander, Gen. Curtis LeMay, famously declared.
The Russians were not amused. Had the Soviets tried the same stunt, Khrushchev indignantly responded, "it would have meant war."”
-So the modern threat of ICBM launched nuclear warheads came about because Ike had Curtis LeMay’s SAC bombers playing chicken in Russian airspace.
It’s not that simple, of course. Nothing is when you’re talking about the end of the world, but doesn’t it make you think twice when considering the things our government does in the name of our safety?
The Bush administration is proud of themselves for reaching agreement with the North Koreans over their nuclear weapons, notwithstanding that it’s the same agreement that they threw out when they came into office six years ago.
They seek to build new atomic weapons, and to extend the arms race into space with their missile defense systems, having withdrawn from the ABM treaty in 2002.
Nothing this administration has done gives me confidence that they’ve considered the consequences of what they propose. When they turn from obstruction to action, I’m conditioned to assume that they’re currying favor with some influence group or else lining the pockets of some cronies.
I say we vote these bums out, before they sink the lot of us.