18. SURPRISE! THE MX MISSILE IS HEADED YOUR WAY

You would think that one of the largest public works projects in American history, which will take more than 100,000 construction workers several years to build and cost at least $ 33 billion, would be a well publicized subject of national debate. But it wasn't.

It wasn't, that is, until early in January, 1980, when an elite team of Air Force generals and Pentagon officials started conducting several weeks of public relations presentations to tell thousands of people how little they would be affected.

The decisions to go ahead with the project had already been made, and approved by President Carter, and now all that remained was to convince many residents of Nevada and Utah to accept the massive project.

The project is the MX missile - a mobile intercontinental missile system that would cover thousands of square miles. Plans call for 200 individual missiles, each located on a 15-mile road loop, which would travel around the loop and dash into any one of 23 separate shelters. The idea is to make it harder for them to be detected and thus less vulnerable to attack.

Long before residents of the area knew what was heading their way, the Air Force had decided that 47 valleys in the Utah-Nevada "intermountain area" provided ideal sites for the missiles.

Most observers concede that the new weapons system would create huge environmental and economic problems. In late March, 1980, the governors of the two states complained that local authorities were being "stampeded" by the Pentagon into accepting the weapon.

Nonetheless, Pentagon and Air Force officials believe that the potential economic fallout of the MX will overcome local environmental reservations and that the patriotism aroused by events in Afghanistan and Iran would lead the residents to accept the system.

Social and environmental concerns aside, the missile system itself has been criticized on Capitol Hill and by private defense experts as too costly, too complex, and, ironically, potentially too vulnerable to a missile attack.

The failure of the mass media to put the MX missile project on the national agenda qualifies this story for nomination as one of the "best censored" stories of 1979.

SOURCES:

Inquiry, Mar. 5, 1979, "Citizens Versus the MX," by DeFeldman; The Nation, Nov. 10, 1979, "Derail the MX," by Gordon Adams and David Gold; N.Y. Times Service, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 18 and Mar. 27, 1980.