Way Out There in the Blue: Reagan, Star Wars and the End of the Cold War

Frances Fitzgerald, Author
Frances Fitzgerald, Author Simon & Schuster $30 (592p) ISBN 978-0-684-84416-9
Reviewed on: 04/03/2000
Release date: 04/01/2000
Paperback - 592 pages - 978-0-7432-0023-3
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Anyone who thinks that Ronald Reagan's ""Star Wars"" program is dead should read this shocking book by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Fitzgerald (Fire in the Lake, etc.). The former president's ""Star Wars"" plan--for laser weapons and space-based missiles intended to make the U.S. invulnerable to nuclear attack--was pure science fiction, writes Fitzgerald, and she notes that no technological breakthrough has occurred that would make Clinton's modified SDI program remotely feasible. Yet the U.S. has spent $3 to $4 billion a year on ""Star Wars"" in almost every single year since Reagan left office (and, as Fitzgerald observes, there has been almost no public discussion on this issue for several years). Why? The answer, suggests Fitzgerald in this painstakingly detailed study, lies partly in the way ""Star Wars"" was sold to the American public. By her reckoning, Reagan adroitly filled the role of mythic American Everyman endowed with homespun virtues. Prodded by the Republican right, by military hardliners such as limited-nuclear-war advocate Edward Teller and by deputy national security adviser Robert McFarlane (who, ironically, intended SDI primarily as a bargaining chip with the Soviets), Reagan wholeheartedly embraced the Star Wars concept for ideological reasons; he persuaded the people of its necessity by tapping into America's ""civil religion"" rooted in 19th-century Protestant beliefs in American exceptionalism and a desire to make the U.S. an invulnerable sanctuary. Part Reagan biography, part political analysis of ""his greatest rhetorical triumph,"" Fitzgerald's study offers a withering behind-the-scenes look at the Iran arms-for-hostage crisis, the Iran-Contra scandals, Reagan's sparring with Gorbachev, arms-control talks such as the Reykjavik summit (at which both leaders almost negotiated away all their nuclear arms but were stalled over SDI) and the grinding of the wheels of the military-industrial establishment. Her book is sure to trigger debate. Agent, Robert Lescher. Author tour. (Apr.)
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