Until I saw the commercial I had no idea that "Star Wars" was so simple that even a kindergarten child could understand it. I thought you needed physics when all you really needed was Crayolas. The regular box of Crayolas, not even the giant size.
The 30-second television spot, brought to me courtesy of the Coalition for the Strategic Defense Initiative, changed all that. It opened with Crayola figures of Mom, Dad, child and Spot. (I think it was Spot, though it might have been a small brown horse without a mane -- hard to tell.) There was also a black Crayola house and a yellow Crayola sun.
While the school piano tinkled in the background, a little girl narrated her wonderful tale of 10 Crayolas in search of national security. "I asked my daddy what this 'Star Wars' stuff is all about," she began. "He said right now we can't protect ourselves from nuclear weapons and that's why the president wants to build the Peace Shield."
As she reported this, a white line appeared in a huge arc that covered the house, family, horse-dog and even the sun. This was the Crayola Peace Shield. The young narrator went on to explain how "it would stop missiles in outer space so they couldn't hit our house." On cue, little brown Crayola missiles bumped up against the white Crayola shield and were destroyed.
The girl concluded, "Then nobody could win a war, and if nobody could win a war there's no reason to start one." With that, the shield turned into a rainbow and even the sun began to smile.
Frankly, I always liked coloring, not to mention story hour at school. This tale had just enough truth in it to be especially appealing. Creating a "Peace Shield" isn't really much harder, after all, than drawing a gigantic white line around the sun. The real sun.
What is so artistic about the pro-SDI spot isn't just the coloring. It's the timing. The 30-second commercial has already been seen in Washington, and the conservative coalition is planning to air it nationally in the next pre- summit days. It is just a small -- child-sized -- part of the campaign to convince the American public at this critical moment that "Star Wars" defense is too important to bargain away for something silly like nuclear arms reduction. After all it doesn't matter how many nuclear bombs there are if we all have our white Crayolas handy.
This isn't the first cartoon rendition of "Star Wars." The network news shows SDI working with astonishing regularity. It continually offers some artist's concept of an incoming missile being blown up. The artist never misses. The "visuals" contribute to the notion that SDI not only exists (it doesn't), but that it can work.
Nor is this the only commercial. The Defense Department has carefully orchestrated a series of "tests" under the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization. They are really what MIT physicist Kosta Tsipis calls "an unchallenged advertising campaign."
One by one, we have been treated to ever-so-successful reports of engineering tests, complete with dramatic "blow-'em- up" film footage straight out of a video game. They purport to show a new defensive technology in the making. But in fact, as Tsipis and his colleague, Philip Morrison, who have analyzed the tests report, they were "mainly simulations of progress, orchestrated and widely reported for public effect."
In fairness, the Reagan administration needs all the "Star Wars" ads it can muster. SDI may be the sticking point at the summit. The public doesn't share the president's consuming commitment. We remain convinced that any new U.S. weapons program will be inevitably matched by the Soviets in a never- ending arms race. In the latest ABC-Washington Post poll, 74 percent of us would trade the fantasy of SDI for a substantial reduction in nuclear arms.
With a summit around the corner, we can count on a beefed-up advertising campaign to sell Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars." Perhaps a few more spiffy "tests" from the Defense Department, certainly a spate of these 30- second sagas from the coalition. We're off to Never-Never Land. Clap if you believe in white Crayola Peace Shields.