Madison County Opinion...

FEBRUARY 5, 2003


Column
By Frank Gillespie
The Madison County Journal
February 5, 2003

Frankly Speaking
Space program should keep moving ahead
I was sitting in my living room watching TV on Jan. 28, 1986, when the Challenger exploded. I remember seeing the flame burning between the booster and the space ship and thinking that it didn’t look right. Then came the massive explosion. At first, my mind did not accept what my eyes saw. I remember saying to myself, “I don’t think it was supposed to do that!”
I was in my car running an errand when the announcement came that Columbia had failed to land as scheduled. On my return home, I turned on the TV and watched as a Texas television news camera tracked debris falling from the sky. This time, I knew without thinking what the outcome would be.
Now, as people in three nations mourn their losses, questions about the value and cost of space exploration are intensifying. Should manned space programs be abandoned? Should we push ahead with the three remaining shuttles? Should the space station be left unmanned until a complete investigation is conducted? Don’t forget that three explorers are still onboard and will need continuing support until they return.
Space travel is extremely expensive in both money and human lives. The Columbia tragedy brings the number of known space fatalities to 21, including at least four Russians. (Persistent rumors suggest several other Russian fatalities that were never reported.) I say that as long as brave men and women are ready to fly in space, we give them the best equipment and support possible and let them fly. Every great advance in history has been accompanied by adventurers who died during their greatest effort.
Madam Curie, the lady who discovered the nature of radioactive compounds died of radiation poisoning. Several flyers died trying to cross the Atlantic before Lindbergh’s successful flight. Others died climbing mountains or searching for the South Pole. Unknown thousands of men went down to the sea in ships and never returned. Most of our great buildings, bridges, dams and canals cost the lives of construction workers.
In every case, men and women have paid with their lives for great achievements. In each case, we are a greater, stronger and more knowledgeable people because of their sacrifice. In each case, the results of their sacrifice stand as a monument to their memory. In my opinion, the only valid tribute to them was the completion the work for which they died.
The same is true of the Columbia seven. Their sacrifices are of value only if we finish the work they started.
Obviously, a careful investigation of the accident should proceed. Until it is understood, we should only fly as often as necessary to support the space station. Additional work on the station can wait for additional safety improvements on the remaining three shuttles.
We must greatly increase efforts to build a new, safe, efficient space plane to replace the shuttles. After all, our technology has advanced greatly since they were built.
It is a part of human nature to explore, to reach out for new adventures and new discoveries. It is for this purpose that the 21 space pioneers gave their lives. It is in their honor that we must push ahead.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His web page can be accessed at www.mcga.net. His e-mail address is frankg@mcga.net.

Column
By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
February 5, 2003

From the Editor's Desk
An argument against
pre-emptive war
Is a doctrinal shift toward pre-emptive war — a hit ‘em before they hurt us approach — the right example for America to set for the world?
I answer an adamant “no.” And I don’t think it’s just the so-called “peaceniks” — the derogative term used to equate today’s war protesters to the hippie peace movement of the 60s — who would agree.
If we do accept a pre-emptive doctrine for security’s sake, then we have already embraced a bold hypocrisy, which is the obvious incongruence in our stances toward Iraq and North Korea, the former being a suspected threat, the latter being a clearly established danger, a proven proliferator of ballistic missiles.
Remember, we recently intercepted missiles sent from North Korea to Yemen. Yet we delivered those missiles to Yemen after their government claimed to have purchased them from North Korea. Is North Korea not a threat to global security, a nation with the fourth largest military in the world ruled by an egomaniac willing to starve his own people and sell arms to the highest bidder? Face it, had Iraq — not North Korea — sent those missiles to Yemen we would be in our second month of war.
Of course, we recall both the Korean War and the Gulf War. And, seemingly, therein lies the answer of why we approach the two differently. Obviously, given a choice, we know which one we would rather repeat. We feel confident we can win in Iraq with few casualties. We know North Korea would be a brutal and bloody fight against a million-man army.
And the motivation of our war plans clearly goes beyond security issues. (No, I’m not touching the oil matter, though it can’t be dismissed as a factor.)
Whip Saddam and an easy victory in a pre-emptive war has obvious political weight. It’s this broad, send-a-message-to-the-world ideal that may be the most pressing force behind the war charge. Such a war shouts that we aren’t going to be a sit-back-and-do-nothing nation as terrorists plot against us. A pre-emptive war is also a way — albeit shaky — to justify a transfer of military force from the faceless, elusive terrorists to controllable states. It is a way to develop a “winnable” playing field. Wars between nations have victors, right? But what about wars on terrorists? Can you ever really know that you’ve won?
A pre-emptive war is much more than a remedy to one snake in the sand. It would be interpreted by the world as the U.S. establishing itself as the ultimate world authority on who is morally fit to bear arms of mass destruction. Perhaps this is simple leadership, perhaps it’s an attempt at world governance. It will inevitably be called both.
The unfortunate fact is this: We may prove masterful at pre-emptive wars in coming decades that force unsavory states into compliance with our demands of disarmament.
Yet this may not do much to keep us secure from terrorism.
On the one hand, who cannot concede that eliminating Saddam might save the world from unspeakable horror? But, on the other, who cannot admit that waging war might provoke the very things we’re trying to fight?
It’s all truly disturbing. And we will face years of uncertainty that cannot be assauged with the might of our own bombs.
Our country is truly remarkable in its design and its populace. But our judgment is not infallible; we can be wrong.
And a doctrine that invites war is flawed.
If we see ourselves as world leaders, we must expect that the world will react to how we act. If we act violently, alone, and without direct provocation, then we can’t be surprised when other nations take violent measures without our approval.
In such case, “pre-emptive” may simply mean “prelude.”
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.

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