Tuesday, April 05, 2005

The Morality of Shields

I'd like to clarify something I wrote in my post on stupid intel tricks.

Specifically, the tone of the fourth and last item in that list.

It's a very serious topic, and some of you may not understand how anyone could be flippant about it. I understand. With me, it's a coping mechanism, more or less. Those of you of a certain age understand what I mean. Some things, if you can't laugh, you'll start crying and you might not be able to stop.

Atomic energy has, on the balance, proven a boon to civilization. It provides us a way of producing electricity without filling the air we breathe and the water we drink with industrial poison. If it's ever allowed to come into its own here in America, it can change lives for the better.

Atomic weapons ... are more problematic. On the one hand, I probably wouldn't even be alive without them. Had World War II lasted enough, my father probably would have had to participate in Operation Downfall, and may not have lived through the experience. He'd already survived bailing out of two airplanes. There's no reason to think he'd be three times lucky.

On the other hand, they are the most destructive weapons ever devised. Broadly, vastly, indiscriminately destructive. The only value they have is indimidation, the threat of wide scale annihilation.

They did manage to enforce a fragile peace between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War. We knew, they knew, that we could never cross swords directly. That way lay death in unimaginable numbers. The utter destruction of everything either side might have been fighting to protect. It was only imaginable in extremis. And, it stained the souls of everyone that considered the problem deeply.

I can only speak for myself on that. But I do know that I have seen the gates of Hell cracked open, and I have looked inside.

For ten years, I was able to put that nightmare vision aside. Between the end of the Cold War and the recent nuclear ambitions of Iran and North Korea, I was able to forget those visions of horror.

See, here's the thing that I don't like: if some nut lobs a missile at us, even by accident, we only have one option open to us. It's what we've solemnly sworn to do for over half a century, now. We will bomb the perpetrators until they glow in the dark for the next ten thousand years.

I find it morally unacceptable that our only option in such a situation is mass murder. But since it is our only option, we must be prepared to make it happen, if it's forced upon us. I sure as hell don't have to like it, though.

How much better it would be, if we were somehow able to keep a stray missile from finding a home. How much better, if we could swat it down in flight, and keep it from erasing San Francisco, or Los Angeles, or Portland, or Sacramento. We would have so many more options, in such a case. A successful intercept, followed up by a surgical strike on the offending installations, would send a powerful message to anyone contemplating a similar move.

So why in the eternal name of God are so many people so violently opposed to America's attempt to attain such a system? Why is there such knee-jerk dismissal of such research as destabilizing?

Here's a thing that I find both repellent and curious: the most vehement opponents of missile defense aren't the ones who think it will not work. They're afraid that it WILL. They're afraid that it will provide an effective layer of defense, and provoke an arms race. Therefore, they contend that such a defense is immoral.

Again: the status quo is that our only defense against nuclear strike is the promise of swift and certain thermonuclear genocide. How is that more moral than deploying interceptor missiles and laser-armed aircraft?

In the end, I believe that it is always more moral to threaten things than people. It is more moral to swat an unmanned missile out of the air than promise fiery death to millions who've never done us any harm.

For those of you who still oppose missile defense, convince me of what I've missed in the paragraph above.

THEN we'll talk.

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