Section One

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April 17, 1985: “Onward!”
Washington Post

During the 1980 presidential campaign, Ronald Reagan promised to strengthen America’s national defense. Military spending jumped 34 percent during his first term, and a new generation of weapons, including the MX missile, was developed. Reagan also believed it was necessary to confront communist insurgencies in the Western Hemisphere—hence, his administration’s promotion of aid to the Contra movement in Nicaragua.

But leading the charge, in Herblock’s view, was the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or as critics derisively called it, “Star Wars,” the title of a science-fiction movie. Reagan’s interest in SDI stemmed from his nightmare of an Armageddon-like war with the Soviets, in which there were no defenses against incoming nuclear missiles. From discussions with scientists, Reagan believed in the feasibility of space-based weapons—lasers, particle beams—that could shoot down incoming missiles. Although this vision was not shared by most scientists, Reagan believed that U.S. technology was up to the challenge.