Letters to the Editor. `Star wars'

Rip van Winkle slept for 20 years. The juxtaposition on Nov. 8 of ``Star wars: Will it work?'' and Thomas DiBacco's recounting of the expectation for lasting peace in November 1918 suggests the shock that a modern-day van Winkle would experience.

Imagine the disappointment of a 1920 Rip waking to a new world war in 1940. Imagine the greater shock of a van Winkle who fell asleep after the Partial Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and returned today to find us talking seriously about particle beams, satellite-killers, and fast-burn missiles in a world of 50,000 nuclear warheads on six-minute notice to launch.

James Joyce presaged our current condition: ``History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awaken.'' Perhaps the question Rip van Winkle would now ask us is: ``Who is it that has been sleeping for the past 20 years?'' Joel C. Taunton Los Angeles

To the gaggle of scientists at Cornell and a few other universities who claim SDI can't work, I would cite parallel historical postures: Charles H. Duell, US Patent Office director, 1899: ``Everything that can be invented, has been invented.'' Harry Warner, head of Warner Bros. Pictures, 1927: ``Who wants to hear actors talk?'' President Grover Cleveland, 1905: ``Sensible, responsible women do not want to vote.''

Also Robert Millikan, Nobel laureate in physics, 1923: ``There is no likelihood man can ever tap the power of the atom.'' Lord Kelvin, president of the Royal Society, 1895: ``Heavier-than-air flying machines are impossible.'' And major league baseball star Tris Speaker of Boston: ``Ruth made a big mistake when he gave up pitching for batting.'' Marvin Alisky Arizona State University Political Science Professor Tempe, Ariz.

Thanks for the SDI series [Nov. 4-8, 12]. We need more than understanding of its technology.

The profound objection of many Americans to SDI is on the grounds of principle: Neither the US nor the USSR has the right to preempt space for its narrow military purposes. Space is a ``commons'' for all the people of earth and should be used for peaceful purposes and benefits.

What many would like to read is a series on constructive uses of space for all humankind. That would lead to discussion of one or more international regimes: for satellite monitoring of environment, agriculture, health, disaster anticipation and relief; for cooperative scientific research and exploration; for industrial operations. John E. Forbes Webster, N.C.

Discussion of ``star wars'' gives us a unique opportunity to assess the limits of technical solutions and ask, ``How can we apply our God-given creativity in the human realm?'' It is a challenge to explore nontechnical routes to security with the vigor (and a small portion of the cash) we are now devoting to ``star wars.''

We could get the US Peace Institute (approved by Congress more than a year ago) staffed, funded, and operating. Congress could hold joint hearings exploring the many programs and proposals for alternative means of security that already exist. Experts in think tanks and the general public could engage in the most useful burst of brainstorming ever conducted. Ernest Lowe Porterville, Calif.

As excellent as each of the articles in the Monitor's ``star wars'' series has been, the authors made a glaring omission. As they detailed the Soviet star-wars program, they did not mention that the Soviets vehemently deny that they are carrying on such R&D.

This is important because the Soviets wish to pose as the guiltless of the pair of superpowers, only one of which, the US, violates the pristine reaches of space with its plans for SDI. Albert L. Weeks Defense Science 2003 Editor International Affairs, New York

The proponents of ``star wars'' do not seem to have addressed one issue of vital importance: whether there is a far greater potential for developing new and extremely dangerous offensive weapons capable of being readily used to strike selected stationary targets than for developing ``defensive'' weapons capable of stopping high-velocity missiles.

The program would surely develop new and extremely dangerous offensive weapons, long before development of any such ``defense'' to existing types of missiles. The Soviets would follow our lead, as would other nations. We would then be asked to start another trillion-dollar ``Strategic Defense Initiative'' to stop these nations from using terrorist weapons which we developed. Van Metre Lund Northbrook, Ill.

Letters are welcome. Only a selection can be published and none individually acknowledged. All are subject to condensation. Please address letters to ``readers write.''

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