Going Antiballistic

Five entertaining, if unscientific, takes on missile defense

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While Strategic Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld sermonizes about space-based weaponry, President Bush has made a missile shield the centerpiece of his defense policy. We find it fitting that these systems, inspired as they are by science fiction, have returned the favor on occasion by spawning their own creative flights of fancy.

 

The Cardinal of the Kremlin
Tom Clancy. Putnam. $27.95.
Cold Warnographer Tom Clancy delves deeply into the intricacies of missile defense in this 1988 “page-turner.” The CIA’s highest-ranking mole—code-named Cardinal—has gained access to the Kremlin’s plans for a missile-zapping laser that could shift the global balance of power. Unflappable protagonist Jack Ryan globe-trots in pursuit of Cardinal, desperate to reach our man before KGB goons do.

SDI
Sega. 1987. (Download at Classicgaming.com)
In this arcade game, you find yourself immersed in the Gipper’s Dream—or is it his nightmare? Controlling an SDI satellite, you must destroy an endless stream of Soviet nukes. In a touch of realism, the satellite proves ineffective against the massive enemy arsenal—and is as apt to crash into space junk as to intercept a warhead.

Colossus: The Forbin Project
Joseph Sargent. Universal. 1970. 100 minutes.
In this missile-defense epic, Dr. Charles Forbin invents a supercomputer—Colossus—to operate U.S. nuclear defenses. But once plugged in, the machine detects its heretofore unknown Soviet counterpart and demands the two systems be networked. The combined computers soon grow so awesomely powerful that the president orders them decoupled. Enraged, Colossus demands to be reconnected, and, as blackmail, launches two missiles. The reconnection is completed, but only in time for Colossus to intercept one of the nukes. Proving the point: Computers don’t stop ballistic missiles; people do.

Star Wars With the Gipper
In this oddly addictive Web game, you’re Ronnie, and Ronnie’s a superhero! Use your laser-beam eyes to destroy the Evil Empire’s war satellites. This game is kinder to Reagan’s pipe dream than Sega’s SDI is: Crippling the Soviets is child’s play, and at each explosion the Stetsoned Gipper lets loose a “Yee-haw!”

Airborne Laser
Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. In this honest-to-God Air Force project, a laser will be mounted inside a 747 jumbo jet to fry missiles leaving enemy airspace. If the weapon sounds kooky, the official Web site is all the more so. On the homepage, the airliner’s laser-equipped nose cone tracks your mouse, firing whenever you click. There’s also a collection of technical drawings (above) that suggests the masterwork of a G.I. Joe-addled 13-year-old.

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SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

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