Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense

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Feb. 21 2001 9:00 PM

Bush Unveils Faith-Based Missile Defense

Illustration by Robert Neubecker

WASHINGTON President George W. Bush announced an initiative to develop a faith-based missile defense. "For too long, military planners have been denied the use of the supernatural in attempting to protect American citizens from attack," Bush declared today in a speech to the National Association of Amateur Submarine Captains. "There is no reason why we cannot maintain a healthy separation of church and state while still calling on divine intervention for the Pentagon budget. Faith-based missile defense will be constitutional and fully consistent with the way the Founding Fathers expected this great nation to handle ICBM threats," the president said.

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The faith-based defense would be nondenominational and designed to protect Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and Wiccans, as well as Christians, officials said. (For technical reasons, it is unclear whether nonbelievers can be protected.) Pentagon sources say the system is code-named Rapture.

Initial plans call for Rapture components to be hidden in the steeples of churches, which are about the size and shape of rockets, and possibly in Catholic cardinals' miters. "If we put a Rapture anti-missile missile in every church steeple in America, even small towns will be defended, and the spending will be distributed to all congressional districts," an informed official said. The schedule for development and construction is uncertain, depending on how quickly cost overruns can begin.

White House officials insisted the system would pose no threat to the religions of other nations and said that leadership at the Vatican, Constantinople, Mecca, Amritsar, and other key world-faith sites would be fully briefed on the project. "However there is some concern about what would happen if this technology fell into the hands of the Lubavitchers," one senior aide said.

While operational details of the system are apparently still being worked out, during an attack by an ICBM launched by a "rogue state" or possibly by Marc Rich, computers for the faith-based system would rapidly activate a "prayer circle" of persons who will register with a database as being willing to pray for national survival. Automated cell phone and instant-messenger messages would instruct the persons in the prayer circle on the altitude, azimuth, velocity, and orbital trajectory of the incoming threat; they would then employ prayer to guide the Rapture defensive missiles to the intercept point. "It's a pretty cool concept technologically, although there is a danger of fire when each missile blasts out of its housing in the steeple," one official said.

Critics said the system could be fooled if incoming warheads were surrounded by a cloud of Torahs, Korans, Upanishads, and Gospels as decoys. In secret tests conducted last month on a remote Pacific Ocean island, a prayer-circle guidance team proved unable to distinguish between a dummy nuclear warhead and a specially reinforced hymnal when both were re-entering the atmosphere at speeds in excess of 8,000 miles per hour.

President Bush also authorized the creation of an Office of Faith-Based Research and Development at the Pentagon and named evangelist James Dobson to head the project. (Lockheed Martin will provide management services.) Dobson told reporters that he envisioned moving the Defense Department beyond tanks, fighters, and aircraft carriers into an entire new generation of faith-based munitions. "Lightning and swords will be the weapons of Armageddon, so America must begin to stockpile the most lethal, technologically advanced blades and energy-bolt projectors that our science can design," Dobson said. "Saddam Hussein isn't working on plutonium, he is trying to develop seven-headed dragons and gigantic armored locusts. We're going to have a little surprise ready when he tries to use them."

Dobson displayed a prototype faith-based infantry weapon—a gilded staff that, he said, could hurl a powerful lightning bolt, scorching into powder whatever it was pointed at. He urged onlookers to try the weapon at a hastily arranged demonstration range. But when several reporters attempted to fire the staff, nothing happened. "That's because you're all journalists," Dobson said. "It only works for believers."

Separately, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said that George W. Bush favored changing the slogan on U.S. coinage and tender from "In God We Trust" to "God Help Us." This phrasing "better reflects the president's feelings about the coming four years," Fleischer said.

Gregg Easterbrook is a fellow at the Brookings Institution. His most recent book is The Progress Paradox: How Life Gets Better While People Feel Worse.

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