2 October 2004
BOURNE - They are not "Star Wars" fans, but they are carefully watching the episodes in the U.S. military's ongoing pursuit of a missile defense system.
As the Pentagon continues to install and test two missile interceptor programs on the West Coast and in Alaska, local activists will protest outside the Massachusetts Military Reservation, home of the Air Force's PAVE PAWS radar system.
PAVE PAWS scans the Eastern skies for ballistic missiles and tracks satellites and space trash.
The protest, which will begin at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow at the gate of the radar station off Route 6, is part of an international campaign against the militarization of space that includes more than 60 events and protests worldwide this week.
This year the event coincides with the upgrade of the United States' missile defense efforts, first proposed under President Reagan in the 1980s and dubbed by critics "Star Wars," a reference to the blockbuster movie franchise.
A protest event last weekend at Fylingdales, a phased array radar station in North Yorkshire, England, drew Thom Yorke, lead singer in the popular rock band Radiohead, and a few hundred other people, according to published reports.
The Cape protest is expected to draw between 30 and 50 people from three local groups - the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, Cape Codders for Peace and Justice, and Action for Nuclear Disarmament. It should last about 11/2 hours, organizers said.
Although Air Force officials have said the Cape Cod radar station is not a part of the system upgrade that it is hoped will one day be ready to shoot down missiles that might be coming at the United States, local activists worry that the base may be used in that capacity in the future.
"We do not believe that PAVE PAWS should be upgraded to be part of the missile defense system," said Sue Walker, a protest organizer with Action for Nuclear Disarmament.
The protesters are concerned that the multibillion-dollar missile defense system will be the beginning of weapons proliferation in space.
"These are being put up there to control space rather than as a defense," said Lynn Hiller, of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. "It's really to take over space for us to control so no one else can use it."
Tomorrow, activists will read a statement of protest at the gate of the base, which is across from the entrance to the outlet mall near the Sagamore Bridge. They will sing songs, tie ribbons on the fence and plant flowers.
They invited 6th Space Warning Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Nina Armagno to come and accept their statement, but she has declined.
"They certainly have the right to say what they want to say. They have a right to protest, but it certainly does seem like because the radar is helping warn of an incoming missile that we would be viewed as protectionist," Armagno said.
The PAVE PAWS facility has its share of critics on Cape Cod. Since the station was built in the late 1970s, locals have worried that the radar could be causing health problems.
That concern was echoed a few years ago by Texas scientist Richard Albanese, who argued that not enough was known about the phased array radiation used in this system to rule out the possibility that it could pose a health risk to the populace.
While those claims have never been proved, the Air Force has commissioned several studies to measure the radiation from every angle.
A current study will compare disease rates in the area around the station with estimated exposure to the radar.
(Published: October 1, 2004)
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