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Thursday, May 26, 2005 01:04 pm

Star warrior’s adieu

art2107
Robert Bowman (right)examines a model of a B-25, which Bowman flew early in his Air Force career. He is with Bob Warman of Springfield, who invited him to the capital city.
PHOTO BY JOB CONGER

In 1977, Dr. Robert M. Bowman, head of advanced space programs for the Department of Defense, authored a report describing a new missile-defense shield system called the “Star Wars Defense.”

Six years later, President Ronald Reagan announced that his administration was pushing “Star Wars” — Reagan named it the Strategic Defense Initiative — but, by then, Bowman was having second thoughts.

Star Wars, he concluded, was not a defensive strategy at all but an offensive threat that would fool none of this country’s potential adversaries.

In 1983, Bowman took his opposition public and founded the Institute for Space and Security Studies, which became a sounding board for people interested in space and other high-technology issues affecting national security. In short, Lt. Col. Robert Bowman (Ret.), a combat pilot who flew 101 missions in the Vietnam War, became a peace activist.

Last week, Bowman met at the Holy Land Diner with a small group of friends at a dinner honoring his efforts for peace. Springfield is the “launching pad” of Bowman’s 60-city, 75-day national tour. Bowman calls it his farewell tour because he has been battling a virulent form of cancer — “a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma,” he says — that’s temporarily under control but likely to require aggressive treatment in a few months.

Bowman, who ran for president in 2000 and endorsed John Kerry in 2004, is an old hand at public appearances. “During Reagan’s administration, I gave my anti-Star Wars speech over 5,000 times,” he says. The arguments he gave then are the same ones he uses today in an effort to stop the Bush administration’s continued support for the program: Star Wars only works if the United States is the aggressor.

“The great problem with the system is vulnerability. Whether the system uses orbiting mirrors in space, laser battle stations in space that attempt boost-phase intercept, it will be totally useless if you’re an innocent party sitting back and waiting to be attacked. Any country that can build an ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] has the capability to take out your Star Wars system. Today’s systems that are taking their place — the airborne laser [flown on modified Boeing 747s] and ship-mounted missiles on Aegis cruisers — have to be within 300 miles of the ICBM launch sites, and when they’re positioned there, they’re sitting ducks. The only way to limit that vulnerability is to preempt, not be the innocent party sitting back. When you position the equipment, your intention to first strike becomes obvious.

“The only reason for Star Wars is as a backup in case we miss a missile launch pad or two, after our disarming first strike, to take out the retaliatory response when they launch it. You have to be the aggressor for the system to be of any use.”

Bowman says that weapons detonated on the ground, not delivered by guided missiles, pose a greater threat to national security. “The existence of [Star Wars] only increases the fear and hatred, which is the cause of terrorism, which is the big threat to us today. The last thing a nuclear terrorist will do is start a 15-year development program to build an ICBM and dig a hole to shoot it out of.

“He’s going to float it up the Potomac River on a barge or smuggle it into the University of Illinois wrapped in a bale of marijuana.”

So what’s Bowman’s program for national security?

“The American people are not secure because we deny democracy, freedom and human rights to Third World people. The solution is to change our ways.”

For more information, visit www.rmbowman.com/ssn/index.htm.

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