Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frances FitzGerald (Fire in the Lake) offers a history of the politics surrounding American antiballistic missile technology. She focuses most of her account, appropriately, on President Reagan's efforts to establish a Strategic Defense Initiative (popularly known as "Star Wars") to provide the United States with umbrella-like protection from nuclear attack. FitzGerald, like many of her fellow Reagan detractors, is relentlessly critical of this initiative. Her book, in fact, is partly a psychobiography of the 40th president. She makes the familiar claim that Reagan's acting career had a profound effect on how he governed. Yet she takes it a step further by arguing that specific movies had a deep influence on his political decisions. "SDI was surely Reagan's greatest triumph as an actor-storyteller," she writes, and goes on to suggest that Reagan was favorably disposed to spending billions on ABM technology because, in the 1940 film Murder in the Air, he played a secret agent assigned to protect a new weapon "capable of paralyzing electrical currents and destroying all enemy planes in the air."
Although much of Way Out There in the Blue covers recent history, the controversial debate over missile defense continues today. An epilogue covers developments in the 1990s and mentions a pair of successful tests that occurred in 1999. Yet FitzGerald remains a skeptic, believing a workable ABM system is too complex, too expensive, and too easy to defeat. Conservatives will chafe at her condescending appraisal of Reagan; liberals will appreciate her aggressive attacks on a defense strategy they have never liked. --John J. Miller [via]