SFWRITER.COM > Nonfiction > Isaac Asimov (Toronto Star)
Why Isaac Asimov is Against Reagan's Star Wars
by Robert J. Sawyer
Copyright © 1985 by Robert J.
All Rights Reserved.
Abstract: A 900-word article by Nebula-Award-winning SF writer
Robert J. Sawyer interviewing
Isaac Asimov about why he is against the Strategic Defence
Initiative ("Star Wars"). Originally published under the title
"Author Has Harsh Words for Star Wars Plan" in The Toronto
Star on 18 August 1985, based on an interview Sawyer
conducted in Asimov's home in the summer of 1985. Copyright 1985
by Robert J. Sawyer. All rights reserved.
The Strategic Defense Initiative. It's right out of science
fiction: a shield of orbiting ray guns disabling nuclear
missiles. Even the project's nickname, Star Wars, comes from a
But what do science-fiction writers think of Star Wars? Isaac
Asimov is the author of more than 300 books, including the SF
bestsellers Foundation's Edge and The Robots of
Dawn. He realizes that many SF writers, including several
who are also working scientists, support Star Wars.
"They tend to be the same ones who were in favour of the
Vietnam war," said the former biochemist in his Manhattan
apartment. "Maybe it's because a great deal of hard science is
sponsored by the Defense Department which, God knows, has more
money than anybody else. Who else would buy ashtrays for $600?"
Dr. Asimov, 65, is a severe critic of Star Wars. "I'm
against it, not because I'm a science-fiction writer, and
therefore have special knowledge, but because I like to think I'm
a sane human being."
He believes Star Wars is a dangerous waste of money.
"They're talking about spending $33 billion on research related
to Star Wars. We're going to withdraw money from needed aspects
of developing knowledge in order to set up something that
probably won't work and even if it does work, won't do us any
Part of the problem with Star Wars is that it will take
years to develop. "If I were the Soviet Union, I would have
spent all this time trying to work up methods to penetrate the
shield," said Asimov, who was born in Russia but grew up in New
York. "I have a strong suspicion it would be cheaper to
penetrate the shield than to set it up.
"And if we're in real danger of a nuclear war now, trying to
set up something for the middle of the 21st century isn't going
to do us any good. In fact, by filling us full of false
confidence, we're not going to make a strong enough effort to
prevent war now."
Jerry Pournelle is the most vocal of the SF writers who
favour Star Wars. He is editor of a series of SF anthologies
collectively titled There Will Be War.
"The reason Jerry Pournelle is for Star Wars is not because
he's a science-fiction writer," said Asimov. "It's because
according to him, he, among others, wrote the speech that Reagan
gave in first advocating Star Wars. He's supporting himself."
Short-term self-interest is at the root of much Star Wars
support, according to Asimov. "Lots of scientists are going to
make a lot of money out of the government involvement, so they
give it a spurious air of scientific value. But purchasing kind
opinions isn't going to make Star Wars any better, saner, or more
"There are science-fiction writers, notably myself and
Arthur C. Clarke,
who were anti-Vietnam and are anti-Star Wars," said Asimov.
Clarke, the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey, was born in
England and lives in Sri Lanka. "Clarke was howled down once by
someone saying as a non-American citizen he had no right to make
comments about Star Wars. That's an extremely stupid remark.
"If you have no right to decry the policy of a country
unless you are a citizen of that country, why the hell is Reagan
always yelling about the Soviet Union? Is he a Soviet citizen?"
A PEACEFUL FUTURE
"Science fiction is riddled with war and weapons of war,"
admitted Asimov. "Just as unhappy endings are more dramatic than
happy ones, suffering and suspense make for more drama than
having it easy.
"But just because a story involves war, doesn't mean it's
pro-war. If you're against war, you have to write a war story
which shows how cruel, wicked and stupid war is."
Asimov's own stories paint a peaceful future. His 19th
science-fiction novel, Robots and Empire, will be
published by Doubleday in September. "I have as my theme that
violence is the last resort of the incompetent. In other words,
a good leader gets his way without war."
Asimov feels there's more to Ronald Reagan's wanting Star
Wars than just a misguided view of national defence. "If you
render the Soviet Union helpless to attack you, does that mean
you can then dictate to them exactly what they should do to
become a good Republican country?"
He's afraid Reagan desires Star Wars so that he can say,
"`If you don't do what we demand, we're going to smash you with
our entire nuclear armory and you won't be able to respond with a
But Asimov knows that America will gain nothing through Star
Wars. "If the Soviet Union can't penetrate Star Wars, all they
have to say is `Go ahead. Bomb the hell out of us. You'll get
destroyed by the nuclear winter that follows.'"
Dust kicked up by a nuclear war could blot out the light and
heat from the sun, plunging the world into the freezing darkness
of nuclear winter. "I'm convinced nuclear winter is actually
something that will happen," said Asimov. "Unless we're
completely insane, we don't dare take the chance. So what the
hell good is this whole damned thing?"
[2005 bionote] Robert J. Sawyer is the author of sixteen science
fiction novels. He won the
Nebula Award for Best Novel of the Year
for The Terminal Experiment the
for Best Novel of the Year for Hominids. He lives in Toronto. Visit his website at
More Good Reading
Rob's memorial tribute to Isaac Asimov
Rob's interview with Donald Kingsbury
Rob's profile of Terence M. Green
Rob's profile of Edo van Belkom
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