31st Anniversary of Reagan's "Star Wars" Speech

It’s amazing to me to contemplate that it’s been thirty one years since Ronald Reagan gave his speech on March 23, 1983 that kicked off the Strategic Defense Initiative, in what has been called his “Star Wars Speech”. Here it is:


I recall sitting in my grad student basement apartment, in my ratty pink armchair, listening to it with growing disbelief – What the hell doers he know that I don’t?. Immediately after, I started collecting papers, books, reports, and letters. Even knowing, today, what he did know about at the time, I’m amazed that he made this speech, which apparently took a lot of people in the government by surprise.

It was also many years later that I learned, from several sources, that Reagan had starred as Treasury agent “Brass” Bancroft in a series of films, the fourth of which, Murder in the Air(1940), concerns the invention of a ray device – the Inertia Projector – that can stop airplane motors in mid-air, making them crash.


This wasn’t a science-fiction idea at the time – there were several people claiming to have built 9or to be on the verge of building) such a device, and it showed up as the McGuffin in more films than his. Five years earlier a Ralph Bellamy movie – Air Hawks – had the same device (It was called Le Rayon Diabolique in France).

This is a bit of a tangent, but related.

The other day I was talking with my father about career stuff. He said something along the lines of ‘I went from not knowing much to being a world expert three times. Once for nuclear safety, once for programming*, and once for Star Wars’.

We discussed the Star Wars thing for a bit. He was working directly with the head guy, whose name escapes me.

Anyway, it was a bit of an odd conversation.


*Dad did a lot of programming back in the punch card to early mainframe days. He also ran a nuclear reactor safety division for the bulk of his career. He has a PhD in math and has the ability to sit there and power through problems which is quite impressive.

And yet, we still lack a genuinely effective ballistic missile defense system against strategic threats.


Ain’t it the truth?