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A helpful program on `star wars' - but you may have to ask for it

Star Wars: The Bottom Line PBS, Wednesday, 10:30-11 p.m., check local listings. Host: Hodding Carter III. Producer: The Press & the Public Project Inc. Is President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (``star wars,'' or SDI) a potentially reliable shield against nuclear attack, or is it a dangerous delusion? Is it a program we can afford, or a plan that will bankrupt us?

These are just a couple of the weighty, seemingly unresolvable questions posed vividly in this valiantly informative attempt to clarify the issues for the average citizen, without making a partisan pitch for or against.

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That is not to say there are not definite points of view expressed, but the program tries to carefully balance the pros and the cons.

The focus is on the economic consequences of SDI. So there are many legitimate financial questions. The two main ones are: What will it cost? And how will it affect our economic future?

Using skillful animation and straightforward interviews with experts (including Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, former CIA Director William Colby, Rep. Jim Courter (R) of New Jersey, and Rep. Charles Bennett (D) of Florida, both members of the House Armed Services Committee, business executive Felix Rohatyn, as well as many research scientists and armed forces officers, Hodding Carter delves into areas not often presented to the public openly:

Is there a race to deploy SDI before President Reagan leaves the White House?

Are we going to break the ABM Treaty?

While there is talk that star wars research could bankrupt the Soviets, might it also do the same to us simultaneously?

Is the projected $800 billion price tag too high a price to pay for the system and its questionable technological spinoffs?

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While these questions are not really answerable specifically, they are investigated honestly. And the final question, posed by Mr. Rohatyn, proves to be one of the most disturbing: Might the battle to attain SDI make us a leading military power but a second-rate economic power?

``Star Wars: The Bottom Line'' is a thoughtful, insightful examination of an issue that needs to be understood better by the American public as the battle for further development is fought in the halls of Congress.

People on both sides of the SDI fence will undoubtedly claim bias in the presentation of their opponent's cases.

But that will only prove that the Press & the Public Project has managed to step gingerly through the cooperation of such organizations as Business Executives for National Security and the Council on Economic Priorities.

With the always dependably fair Mr. Carter, it has performed a top-priority public service in balancing this quietly startling report on the star-wars issue.

Viewer alert: Although this important program has been offered to all PBS stations, it is expected that many will not air it, because they may consider it of ``limited appeal.''

The best way to make certain it airs in your area is to phone the program directors of local PBS stations and request it. They listen.

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