WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War.

Author:Cockburn, Andrew

WAY OUT THERE IN THE BLUE: Reagan, Star Wars, and the End of the Cold War by Frances FitzGerald Simon & Schuster, $30.00

"HE'S GOING TO DO IT," said the navy captain, clutching his companion excitedly. "He's going to do it!" It was the evening of March 23, 1983. In the officers' club at Fort Myer, just across Key Bridge from the District of Columbia, the usual motley assortment of active and retired military and attendant defense contractors and lobbyists were watching President Reagan deliver an address to the nation. His initial remarks in support of his 1984 defense budge request had provoked a scattering of derisive cat-calls from around the room. But now he was moving on to the theme that would make this speech famous: a, proposal to develop a missile defense system in space.

Finally, the old actor on the TV screen called "on the scientific community of this country, who gave us nuclear weapons ... to give us the means of rendering these weapons impotent and obsolete." Ronald Reagan had just fired the official starting gun for that amalgam of fraud and inanity known to history as Star Wars.

"He's done it. He's done it. I'm rich, I'm rich, I'm rich," bellowed the captain in a state of near hysterical exultation, running from the bar in search of a phone.

I have never been able to think about Star Wars without recalling this scene at the launch of the great boondoggle. I don't know what happened to the navy captain, but a lot of people made a lot of money out of the enterprise, and in fact are still doing so. Sixty billion dollars didn't get spent just on New York Times op-ed articles and snappy one-liners from John Pike. It is a pity therefore that Frances FitzGerald eschews the question of money, who wanted it and who got it, in her weighty history of missile defense.

Instead, we get a mixture of Reagan psycho-history, familiar to readers of Garry Wills' brilliant Reagan's America: Innocents at Home, as well as some useful history, subsumed in many pages on Star Wars as it affected arms control policy in the Reagan years. Her account relies heavily on the memoirs of major officeholders at the Reagan court, which may explain why we learn a lot about policy and very little about pork, a subject that statesmen and liberal intellectuals tend to find too undignified for serious discussion. The Lockheed Corporation gets a paltry two mentions in the index, while TRW, briefly described as a company "with a substantial financial stake in...

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