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Work toward peace, oppose Star Wars

[mk1]To the Editor:

On September 23, 1985, a day before he was hospitalized, my husband prepared the following message to his colleagues at MIT, faculty, staff, and students:


Dear Colleagues:

We at MIT are considered to be in the lead of technological thought and strategies, and our opinions are given much weight. A crucial present issue is the Strategic Defense Initiative, better known as Star Wars. I am asking you to join me in not collaborating in that enterprise.

For the past two months I have been studying the topic, for example, as described in the spring and summer issues of Daedalus (which makes very good reading). I am convinced that Star Wars is counterproductive. Here are a few good reasons:

1. It will not work

[fs50u]O+ [ix]It is against ICBMs only, and does nothing vis-a-vis either cruise missiles or most other missiles that could be launched from submarines lurking near our coasts.[xi]

[fs50u]O+ [ix]Even against ICBMs, it fails in detail.[xi]

[fs50u]O+ [ix]It is necessary to catch most of the Ussr missiles in their launch phase outside the atmosphere. That requires high-orbit sensors, plus either pop-up nuclear explosion x-ray laser counter-weapons and/or vast, delicate, low-orbit satellites continually travelling over USSR territory. All this can be defeated either by simple ASAT devices that are much cheaper, and/or quick-burn launch vehicles.[xi]

[fs50u]O+ [ix]Destruction of war-<>

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heads in mid-course can be made very difficult by simple active or passive decoys, chaff, etc.[xi]

[fs50u]O+ [ix]Terminal phase re-entering warheads overcome the defense if they have a little (even random) evasive motion or other cheap strategies, except when they are specifically targeted onto super-hardened sites (which lead some to think that Star Wars is really planned as a missile site protector, hence part of nuclear war-fighting, and not a people protector at all).[xi]

[fs50u]O+ [ix]The software difficulties seem almost beyond comprehension.[xi]

As a result of all this, Star Wars is destabilizing and will escalate the arms race.

2. Star Wars diverts critical resources.

[fs50u]O+ [ix]Resources and manpower are sorely needed in many other sectors. Star Wars produces nothing that we can use to live better, or sell overseas. Many of our industries languish for lack of stimulus, attention and innovation. We work on a laser that might destroy a missile; our industrial competitors work on smarter personal computers, better cars, etc., and sell them to us. Meanwhile, we marvel at our trade deficit.[xi]

3. Star Wars is academically corrosive.

[fs50u]O+ [ix]As presently envisaged, the program treats very ambiguously the questions of classification and academic freedom.[xi]

The unfortunate fact is that the offense will maintain the technological initiative in this business; we must avoid war by other means, and Star Wars robs attention that should be paid to take other means. Therefore, it is bankrupt morally as well as technologically.

President Gray said at our 1985 graduation exercise that MIT will not be used corporately in support of Star Wars. That is a splendid statement. At our personal level, I feel that translates into not accepting support for or giving support to Star Wars.

I hope that you will join me in signing the following document and encouraging others to do likewise. Professors Vera Kistiakowsky (24-522) and James Melcher (38-377) are collecting the signed statements for the Schools of Science and Engineering.

David J. Rose->

Professor of Nuclear->

Engineering Emeritus->


I hope that those who cherish his memory and have expressed admiration for his vision of a reconciled humanity, will sign the petition and take up the challenge of working even scientifically toward a more peace-making global society. When witness becomes part of scientific work, we may be able to build a better planet.

My profound thanks go to those who will heed David's appeal.

Renate Rose->

(Editor's note: The text of the petition follows.)

We, the undersigned graduate students and research staff of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's science and engineering departments, believe that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program (commonly known as Star Wars) is ill-conceived and dangerous. Anti-ballistic missile defense which is sufficiently effective and reliable to defend the population of the United States against a Soviet attack is not technically feasible. Efforts to develop a system of more limited capability will only induce a build-up of offensive missiles by the Soviet Union, jeopardize existing arms control agreements, stalemate current strategic negotiations and, consequently, accelerate the nuclear arms race and undermine international security.

Participation in SDI by individual MIT researchers would lend the University's name to a program of dubious scientific validity, and give legitimacy to this program at a time when the involvement of prestigious research institutions is being sought to increase Congressional support. Researchers who oppose the SDI program yet choose to participate should therefore recognize that this would contribute to the political acceptance of SDI.

The likelihood that SDI funding at MIT would restrict academic freedom and blur the distinction between classified and unclassified research is greater that for other sources of funding. SDI officials openly concede that any successful unclassified project may become classified. The structure of SDI research programs also makes it likely that MIT will be part of a Research Consortium with other universities and industries who will be doing classified research. Moreover, the potentially sensitive nature of the research may involve may invoke legal restrictions required by the Export Administration Act.

The SDI program and its political acceptance depend crucially on the participation of individual scientists and engineers at all levels of research. As one step towards halting this program, we pledge neither to accept SDI support nor work on projects funded by SDI, and encourage others to join us in this refusal. We hope together to persuade Congress and the public to support this deeply misguided and dangerous program.