A few weeks ago I picked up up a book from a library used bookstore - Colonies in Space, written by T.A. Oppenheimer (1977) - which is full of detailed plans (including drawings) for space colonies which the author claimed were within our grasp in the 1970s.
How impressed were others at the time when this book came out? Well, not only was it offered by the Book-of-the-Month Club, the Quality Paperback Book Club, the Macmillan Natural Science and Explorers Book Club, but also the Playboy Book Club.
The Playboy Book Club? How can I be almost 60, and not know that Playboy had a book club? Well, there goes my claim for reading it just for the articles . . .
I immediately thought of the L5 Society, the group which promoted space travel and colonization in the 1970s. The L5 Society later disbanded, and merged with the National Space Institute, which is too bad, really, because L5 just sounds a lot . . . well, cooler.
If you ask most folks today if they have ever heard of the L5 Society - even folks who were sentient beings in the 1970s - many will just give you a blank look.
But though L5 may not have been on the public radar, the idea of putting colonies in space was there for many people. Hell, Moonbase Alpha, the doomed colony on Space 1999 seemed inspired by the L5 folks, who were in turn inspired by the ideas of Gerard K. O'Neill, and the space habitats that he imagined. L5 (and L4) is a point of stable gravitational equilibrium which is located along the path of the moon's orbit.
So, if you’re gonna build somewhere . . .
Though there may be no “national” L5 Society any longer, there are, actually, many small pockets of resistance, folks who have refused to die out.
Good for them!
But as I say, they were exciting times, if you dreamed about space exploration, as I did as a child.
From Moon Zero Two (which I still haven’t seen) to the TV movie Earth II (no, not the 90s TV series) to Space 1999, the future was seen by film makers, and by thousands of writers before them. But the folks in charge?
Like the men and women who lead us today, they lack vision.
But as Ray Bradbury, in his introduction, writes:
Man imprisons himself in own bastille, not noticing he has the key in his hands. Any time he wishes he can unlock, step forth, fly, be free.
Just as long as we can keep idiots in Congress from voting to bury nuclear waste on the far side of the moon. We’ve already seen what happens when that takes place.
What price loyalty? Hired Guns in the War on Terror
Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I had a number of friends who avidly read Soldier of Fortune magazine, and fantasized about running off to join a mercenary army. The mercenary craze was quite the rage in the early 80s; There was even a cheesy series of adventure novels called, oddly enough, The Mercenary.
Mostly, I made jokes at their expense. Little did I know that come the 21st Century, they might very well have their chance. Of course, today we call them “private contractors” - that way we don’t have to consider the implications of hiring others to do our fighting for us.
The use of such hired guns first came into prominence after the United States invaded Afghanistan, but the war in Iraq has offered even greater opportunities for those who offer “security”work. Such work might include providing bodyguard or escort services, or any of a myriad of tasks.
Robert Young Pelton has performed an admirable job of bringing the world of such private contractors to light in Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror. The only problem I have with this informative work is that Pelton sometimes seems to see things from the contractors’ side a little too often.
That’s a minor point, though. We may not find a better work detailing the day-to-day operations of private security firms than this book. Pelton gives the reader an excellent look at the training process, and the daily lives of private contractors in Iraq. One thing you have to acknowledge - these people are serious about their jobs, and their training is top-notch.
Along the way, though, some troubling questions come to mind. Given the born-again nature of the owner of the organization formerly known as Blackwater (one of the leading security firms) and his adherence to the right-wing agenda make one wonder just what he might draw the line at.
And then there is the age-old problem with mercenaries: despite the protestations of their owners that they would always fight on America’s side, they can’t speak for what might happen in the future, under different owners.
And as our own military faces a recruiting crisis, the option of using private contractors in foreign wars may well seem more cost-effective.
And for those who don’t see this as a potential problem, just consider this September, 2005 posting on truthout.org:
“New Orleans - Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force.”
Along with these “deputized” contractors, private citizens were also hiring such firms to guard private homes after Katrina - including Israeli mercenaries from the firm of ISI.
So you have to ask yourself, what price loyalty?
Quote of the Day
Civilization no longer needs to open up wilderness; it needs wilderness to open up the still largely unexplored human mind. - David Rains Wallace