MISSILE DEFENSE: AMERICA'S MAGINOT LINE

Between 1929 and 1940, France embarked on a huge and costly project to build a line of fortifications which stretched from Switzerland to the Ardennes in the North, and from the Alps to the Mediterranean in the South. The aim of the wall was to defend France against any further invasions by Germany. In 1940, even as new pillboxes were being poured along the Belgian frontier, Hitler invaded France.

While Hitler's successful invasion is often viewed as the failure of the Maginot concept, in point of fact the French defenses did all they were designed to do. Hitler did not try to fight the battle the Maginot line had been designed to fight; he found an alternative.

But it was less the Maginot Line than the "Maginot Mind set" that led to France's conquest. France's leadership, having spent a great deal of money and effort on the line itself, placed all of their faith in it, and failed to plan for attacks the Maginot fortresses were not prepared to deal with. Their wargames always assumed that Germany would attack the Maginot Line head-on, and in such wargames, the French always won. When Hitler invaded, he did not try to punch through the Maginot line, he simply went around it.

Today's version of the Maginot Line is the Nuclear Missile Defense System, aka "Star Wars". The concept is that the US will build these anti-missile missiles, which will prevent a head on attack with nuclear-tipped ICBMs, and we will all be safe.

It sounds good, but so far the tests of the system have not been promising. Indeed in the single most important part of the intercept process, that of identifying and tracking the inbound hostile warhead, the tests have often resorted to using radio beacons on the target vehicles to help guide in the interceptor. This is not reassuring. Missile defense is an all or nothing proposition. Anything less than 100% success rates means lost cities. If an enemy launches 20 megatons of warheads at Los Angeles and the missile defense system only kills half of them, that's still 10 megatons that get through. Technology looks good on the sales brochure, but as Frank Borman explained during the aftermath of the Apollo 1 fire, technologists and politicians can suffer from a "failure of imagination".

Setting aside the workability of a missile defense systems, it appears that the US Government has fallen victim to "Maginot Mind set". Having invested so much time and money into a system to defeat incoming ICBMs, the US military planners are seeing all future major wars as consisting of incoming ICBMs.

Of course, any nation seriously planning to wage war on the US (and given recent US invasions, they all are) is going to assume that the Missile Defense System will (mostly) work, and like Hitler at the Maginot (or Achilles at Troy), look for ways around the wall rather than through it.

There is another problem with the "Maginot Mind set", one illustrated by yet another historical figure, the Native American Shaman Wovoka, who promised his people they would be immune to the bullets of the US Cavalry if they would wear a magic shirt and dance the Ghost Dance. The lesson from Wovoka was that people should not always believe their leaders who claim to speak for the gods while promising magic shields.

So here we are; The US is building this missile shield, and once it is finished the US Government will believe itself to be as safe as France before Hitler showed up, or Troy just as they started to drag that horse inside the gates, or Wovoka just as he started walking towards Wounded Knee. Emboldened by this sense of safety, the US Government will likely escalate their invasions of other nations, from behind this modern "Maginot Line". Like the French, like Priam, like Wovoka, they will not realize their mistakes until it is far too late, as they drag their people off the edge of the cliff with them.

For whom the gods would destroy, they will first make proud.


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