by Rod D. Martin
July 4, 2006

Every day brings news of the Minutemen on Mexico’s border; and on this 230th birthday of the American idea, we recall the original Minutemen, who stood ready to meet the British threat at a moment’s notice.

But little noticed even by those conservatives who hungered for its creation since long before Ronald Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” speech, another Minuteman stands ready this Fourth of July. And in its job, minutes are the difference between life and millions of deaths.

In 1776, the British were determined to strangle America’s freedom in its cradle; but even so, they shared more values with the colonials than not, and defeat, however tragic, would not have meant the wholesale slaughter of the U.S. population.

Today the threat is very different indeed. An evil assortment of equally resolute foes — foes of both our liberty and that of the rest of the world — directly seeks our annihilation. Just this Monday, North Korea, that sick cross between 1984 and Atlas Shrugged, threatened America with nuclear war. Iran looms, the Indian Subcontinent seems forever on the brink, and weapons technology continues its spread.

But finally, we’re ready.

Late last month, George W. Bush “turned on” America’s missile defense. For the very first time, Reagan’s vision is a reality: America’s small but growing missile shield is fully operational. And the best is yet to come.

When Bush was sworn into office on January 2001, despite large majorities who believed the contrary, America had no defense against incoming missiles at all.

That’s because we were legally committed to the deranged doctrine of mutually assured destruction (MAD). Embodied in the 1974 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, MAD proposed that the best defense was none at all. Rather, the superpowers relied on a “balance of terror” to deter one another, with each holding the other’s civilian population hostage to instantaneous vaporization.

MAD was, well, mad, and utterly morally reprehensible. But even more relevant for today, MAD took two to tango: rational leaders playing a complex global game who could realistically be deterred.

But what if there are more than two players, with radically different goals and endgames in mind? And what if the enemy is demonstrably unstable or irrational, like the leaders of North Korea and Iran? Who really knows what Kim Jong Il, purposely presiding over an unending North Korean famine, or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, seeking to bring about the firey return of the Hidden Imam, might do?

This much is certain, though: nuclear blackmail is a lot harder against a country which can shoot your missiles down.

Thus, in December 2001, President Bush scrapped the ABM Treaty, a courageous step even Ronald Reagan never took. And this was no idle thing: he immediately began deployment of a missile shield, today consisting of 11 ground-based interceptors at sites in Alaska and California. Talks are under way for a third site in Eastern Europe (to protect against Iran), and Japan just signed on as well. This is just the beginning, both in quantity and quality; from the Airborne Laser (ABL) program to the sea-based, upgraded AEGIS system this column has promoted for years (and which was successfully tested off Hawaii just last week), the President is moving rapidly to make a nuclear 9/11 as unlikely as humanly possible.

He’s not a moment too soon. Amid recent reports that North Korea is preparing to launch its Taepodong-2 ballistic missile — its first true ICBM, capable of reaching Hawaii, Alaska, or even California — the shield’s necessity couldn’t be clearer.

Some question the system’s accuracy; and while Lt. General Henry “Trey” Obering, the builder of our system, says he’s “very confident” that our current shield can shoot down any missile launched from North Korea, questions certainly remain.

But some missile defense is self-evidently better than no missile defense. It adds uncertainty to the calculation of any potential attacker: who really wants to bet against America’s technical proficiency? And as the technology keeps improving, and more layers of redundancy are added to the system, accuracy will grow better and better as well.

Bottom line: our wives and daughters are safer this week because of George W. Bush. Like the famed Minutemen on the eve of the American Revolution, his missile shield stands ready to defend us at a moment’s notice. As one Pentagon official told Reuters, “It’s good to be ready.”

Indeed. As we celebrate our day of independence and freedom, we should be thankful for our new minutemen and the men most responsible for them — Ronald W. Reagan and George W. Bush.

Happy Independence Day.