Once upon a time, a madman and an amiable dunce (who happened to be king of a large and powerful country) were trying to figure out a way to protect the kingdom from an evil empire across the sea. The madman -- who was, well, mad -- filled the head of the dunce with visions of fanciful and exotic weapons that didn't yet exist and very likely could never be made to work. The dunce was ... well, a dunce, but in his amiable way, managed to convince many people that the madman's unfeasible ideas were not only practical but absolutely necessary.
Over time, many unscrupulous people (and their friends in the king's court) realized there was a whole lot of gold to be made by pushing for the madman's ideas. All the king's soldiers clamored for the fanciful and exotic weapons as well (as soldiers are wont to do). As the years passed, and even as the old king forgot that he ever was a king at all, the weapons were still struggling to get built, costing more of the people's money. Even the new king, who really didn't believe in the madman's ideas but wanted to appear tough in the eyes of the people, worked hard to follow in the footsteps of his duncelike predecessor.
And so, even though test after test of the weapons failed miserably, and the evil empire itself had long since faded away, the madman's ideas took on a life of their own, pushed along by more and more unscrupulous people (and their friends in the king's court) making more and more gold by convincing more and more people that the madman's unfeasible ideas were not only practical but absolutely necessary -- just the thing to protect the kingdom from the evil ... no, from the "rogue states" that had replaced the "evil empire."
When amiable dunce Ronald Reagan gave his March 1983 "Star Wars" speech, in which he pledged to launch a program designed to render nuclear weapons "impotent and obsolete," he was acting primarily on the advice of madman Edward Teller, the infamous "father of the H-bomb." Teller sold Reagan a fantastic new doctrine, based on the alleged technical wonders of his latest brainchild, the X-ray laser. But the X-ray laser was largely a figment of Teller's imagination, composed of scientific speculation, wishful thinking and outright deception.
The unscrupulous people in the tale are actually America's four major defense contractors -- Boeing, TRW, Lockheed/Martin and Raytheon -- who already have made $60 billion designing, building and staging patently rigged tests for various Star Wars systems, and who have, not surprisingly, spent tens of millions of dollars lobbying and supporting their "friends in the king's court" -- the projects' boosters in Congress.
Weak new king Bill Clinton was the one who signed the scaled-down National Missile Defense (NMD) Act after his first Secretary of Defense, Les Aspin, declared Star Wars "dead" early in his first term.
Keeping the spigot open for the military contractors, and working hard to convince his detractors that he is not "soft" on defense, Clinton has promised to decide on NMD deployment this summer, though many voices are pushing for a delay, hoping the next president can render the final verdict. George W. Bush has been a strong cheerleader for the original Reagan Doctrine. Gore, as usual, is waffling.
Russia, the "evil empire," has been replaced by "rogue states," most notably North Korea, whose successful launch of a "Taepo Dong" ICBM, considered capable of reaching Alaska and probably California, has raised the level of hysteria among Pentagon-friendly legislators, and given NMD supporters a useful potential enemy to spend against.
Clamoring soldiers include everyone from Colin Powell, who developed the "rogue state" strategy when he was head of the Joint Chiefs, to Lt. Gen. Ronald T. Kadish, present director of the Pentagon's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, who commented on the failure of last week's NMD missile test with the piquant observation, "This is rocket science ... so there's a lot of things that can happen."
Lastly, the people who are footing the bill, being hoodwinked and largely left out of the decision-making loop are ... well, the people.
That's you and me.
The real jest is that all this knavery is being performed for our "safety" and in our names.
Now, that's a fairy tale.