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Dissent is large part of freedom

To the Editor:

I am perplexed by the letter of Samuel Park and others ["Action opposes individual freedom," Oct. 18] responding to the campaigns against Star Wars (SDI) and the CIA. The letter claims to support freedom by opposing dissent.

Such a strange argument prompts me to ask what kind of society these people truly want. Our right of free speech was established to check the potential for tyranny by allowing people to openly criticize government. Park et al. seem to support freedom as long as it poses no threat to the government's agenda.

Furthermore, their fanatic determination to provoke an escalation in defensive weapons seems completely blind to the potential hazards. I believe that a new word is needed to describe people obsessed with this disturbing technological fixation. In responding to the points of the letter, I shall refer to these people as "defenseniks."

O+ The defenseniks first urge students and faculty not to "see themselves shackled by restrictions concocted by [groups against Star Wars or CIA recruitment]."

To what restrictions are they referring? We merely presented arguments against SDI. If people are affected by listening they aren't shackled; they are convinced.

O+ The defenseniks state that "research is needed because there are many problems involved in constructing a defense against nuclear weapons."

Well, there are many problems involved in developing chemicals to efficiently burn bodies in concentration camps. Should we research that too? Research must be justified by benefits that outweigh costs and risks. But SDI can be underflown with cruise missiles, nullifying its intended benefit. If you think the statement "SDI research won't fuel the arms race" is naive, consider the statement "SDI will work."

O+ The defenseniks state that the SDI pledge aims to "...prohibit research to resolve these difficulties [of defense against nuclear weapons]."

Not so. Some research (perhaps $50 million at a national level) is probably justified. What we want to prohibit is the $2.75 billion SDI program -- $65 million at MIT alone. Such an expenditure is unconscionable when there are pressing, realistic problems that MIT professors want to work on such as acid rain. But they lack funding.

O+ The defenseniks claim "[SDI] research is warranted because it is the legitimate concern of government to provide for the common defense."

But SDI will not defend us. It will possibly destroy us. By wasting fiscal and human resources, thus damaging our economic competitiveness, it will certainly weaken us. It is not the legitimate concern of government to provide national impotence.

Perhaps the defenseniks are simply scared by people such as myself who are "violently" opposed to defense. Well, I have a surprise for them: I am not opposed to defense. Defense is necessary, and people working in the defense industry are probably trying to do a good job.

I am not opposed to the post office either. Most people working for the postal service are also trying to do a good job. But if the post office employed 20 million people and supported 56.5 percent of research performed at MIT, I wouldn't say the postal service as a whole was doing a good job. I would say it was bloated and inef[mk1]ficient. (Unless, perhaps, I was a professor and for twenty years they had been giving me generous grants for "postally-oriented" basic research.)

I believe the defense industry as a whole is doing a terrible job, because it drains federal tax dollars by gearing itself toward high-profit, gold-plated weapons while hurting the private sector by employing too many high-tech people. My belief was reinforced by three summers of work at a defense contractor that is phasing out many civilian research programs, by Senator Barry Goldwater last week, by David Parnas the other night, and by James Ionson, who cited "less money to spend on real weapons like bazookas" as a reason MIT people should work on SDI.

Such a corrupt system can be reformed only if people are willing to confront the system. But there is a tendency for any individual in a large organization to resist questioning the whole organization openly.

For example, many MIT professors I talked to who receive defense money privately agreed there was rampant incompetence, misdirection and waste among defense contractors. Yet they refused to admit they are part of the problem because they help sustain the illusion of credibility by accepting defense funds when they disagree with defense goals.

We should feel proud -- not threatened -- that some professors, like Vera Kistiakowsky and James Melcher, have stood up for their beliefs. I hope other professors will follow their example, and only work on projects in which they believe.

It might be easier to unquestioningly follow the priorities set by government, like sheep. But I would expect more from MIT students. We should be embarrassed by letters that tell us we have the "freedom" to do whatever the government wants us to do, regardless of the consequences of these actions.

Do Park et al. suggest that protesting government action denies people the freedom to be subservient?

Rich Cowan G->