Buck Rogers on the Plains

Paul Olson
UNL Emeritus Professor

Speaking Our Peace Graphic

My parents didn’t believe in comic books or Big Little Books. They were frivolous, unchristian and expensive. In the age when Superman, Batman, Captain Marvel and Mary Marvel came to life (the 1930s), I had to bum books off my friends, read them at recess and dream the rest of the day of rescuing the world from evil. One of my favorite comics was Buck Rogers, a space warrior repeatedly forced to battle the villainous Killer Kane and his paramour Ardala. Fighting with Buck to save the world were Lieutenant Wilma Deering and Prince Tallen of Saturn.   

What made the comic so interesting to a young boy was not only the voluptuousness of the heroine, but the idea that human beings could lift themselves off the earth in the 25th century and fight interplanetary and intergalactic wars. The idea seemed so outrageous as to fit with the most distant of fairy tales I was reading—say, East of the Moon and West of the Sun—and the very madness of the idea generated an excitement all its own. 

But the idea was not that crazy, and the century should have been the 21st rather than the 25th. Since 2001 (in the aftermath of 9/11), U.S. Strategic Command here in Nebraska has aggressively pursued the goal of military and commercial dominance of orbital space. The command’s space and cyberspace missions are integral to the… 

Piloting of drone aircraft over Afghanistan and Pakistan and delivering their deadly payloads 

Satellite- and cyber-surveillance programs eavesdropping on our private phone and email communications 

‘Missile Defense’ systems being offensively deployed in Eastern Europe and the Asia Pacific 

Anti-satellite weapons intended to dissuade rivals who would challenge our superiority in space… and the 

Targeting and execution of the U.S.’s now offensive, first-strike nuclear arsenal. 

All of these menacing activities fall under StratCom’s direct authority. The command center for waging the Pentagon’s international ‘War on Terror,’ StratCom today is a living manifestation of what Buck Rogers’ creator had only imagined.

To try to rein in this menace to peace, NFP has been actively working the past four years with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like the United Nations Association-USA, the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom and the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space. We’ve been urging U.S. support for a new international treaty for the ‘Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space’ (PAROS). Since 1985, the White House (under Democratic and Republican presidents both) has annually blocked negotiations at the U.N. on just such an agreement. 

We may have complacently felt that our dominance of space was so complete, so absolute, no other nation would dare contest our authority. 

But it turns out that we were wrong. 

In early November, about the same time the military aerospace industry and StratCom’s brass were gathering in downtown Omaha for their annual arms bazaar and schmooze fest (the so-called ‘Strategic Space Symposium’), the head of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force publicly declared for the first time that China intends to put weapons in space and to put more emphasis on offensive capabilities. The air force, General Xu Qiliang stated, will extend its reach “from the sky to space, from defense of Chinese territory to attack as well.” 

Breaking the official line which touts peaceful use of outer space, Xu stated that, “The competition between military forces is moving towards outer space… this is a historical inevitability and a development that cannot be turned back.” In a line that could have been taken right out of a StratCom commander’s speech, Xu said, “only power can protect peace,” noting that “having control of space and air means having control of the ground, the seas and oceans and the electromagnetic space.” 

The days of the U.S.’s unchallenged military supremacy in space are cyberspace are past. Short of the Obama Administration sitting down at the U.N. negotiating table to hammer out a PAROS treaty tomorrow, an arms race in space is all but preordained. That race will cost us in dollars any chance we have of dealing with world hunger, green development, world water problems, or the endemic oppression that stands in the way of peace. The futuristic world of Buck Rogers (or more accurately, his nemesis, ‘Killer Kane’) now stretches from Omaha to Beijing to the heavens above. 

If Nebraskans for Peace ever had a personalized mission, a private bane and obligation all its own, alerting the world this new, even more dangerous StratCom is it. Who better than us, who live in its shadow, to spread the message of this planetary threat?

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