Times Staff Writer

Last May, a scientists’ group took to TV in Washington to oppose the Reagan Administration’s “Star Wars” proposal for a space-based missile defense system. Now, a group supporting the Strategic Defense Initiative, as the concept is formally known, will make its case as did the scientists--with a TV commercial.

The two opposing sides are the Union of Concerned Scientists and the Coalition for the Strategic Defense Initiative. The former contends that a space-based missile defense system can’t be perfected, would militarize space and increase the possibility of nuclear war. The latter argues that such a system would work and prevent nuclear war.

Although light years apart in their beliefs, the two organizations have one thing in common: Their 30-second commercials each use the powerful emotional appeal of a child facing a nuclear holocaust.

The coalition says it will begin airing its child-and-bomb commercial on Tuesday and Wednesday in eight states, at first mostly in smaller markets but also in Los Angeles.


(A spokeswoman says the organization hasn’t yet decided from which Los Angeles station it will try to buy air time for its commercial.)

Formed in September and headed by retired Army Lt. Gen. Daniel O. Graham, the nonprofit group is keying its campaign to President Reagan’s Nov. 19-20 summit conference with Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Its commercial, which had a local TV test run in Washington on Oct. 12, opens with a child’s stick-figure crayon drawing of a family and a house, with a large sun shining above.

A little girl is heard saying that she had “asked my Daddy what this ‘Star Wars’ stuff is all about. He said that right now we can’t protect ourselves from nuclear weapons and that’s why the President wants to build a peace shield.


“It would stop missiles in outer space so they couldn’t hit our house. Then nobody could win a war . . . and if nobody could win a war, there’s no reason to start one.”

As she speaks, a dome is drawn over the house and family. Incoming missiles strike the shield and are destroyed. The dome turns into a rainbow. Frowning faces become smiles, and the girl concludes with: “My daddy’s smart. Support the peace shield.”

The ad ends by giving a telephone number and the Washington address of the coalition.

Graham, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, says next week’s TV campaign seeks in part to encourage donations that will be used to buy air time for more broadcasts of the ad this month in large cities around the nation.


“We’d like to hit 40 major markets with at least four showings per station, which runs us up to about $1.7 million,” he says. He says there have been no real problems in raising money so far and estimates that “we’ve got about a third of that ($1.7 million) now.”

The coalition, which says its members include 137 organizations and 100 members of Congress, hasn’t tried to buy air time on CBS, NBC or ABC because of network policies against so-called advocacy commercials, Graham adds.

He says the coalition’s ad has three aims--the first a contention that a defense-in-space system is feasible right now. Another is to drum up public support for congressional backing of the Strategic Defense Initiative, or the “peace shield” as he calls it.

The group also wants to air its ad, he says, “to offset the anti-SDI propaganda, such as has come from the Union of Concerned Scientists with their 30-second thing, which says what SDI is about is blowing up little children.”


He referred to the union’s TV effort last May. That $10,000 commercial showed a little boy watching the night sky, singing a snatch of “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” Suddenly, a star explodes like a nuclear blast and an announcer says: “Heavens are for wonder, not for wars. Stop ‘Star Wars.’ ”

Each ad is a variation on a heart-tugging theme that harks back to the election year of 1964, when the Democrats briefly ran a controversial commercial suggesting that Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater, the GOP’s candidate, would be quick on the nuclear trigger.

That commercial, which didn’t mention Goldwater by name, showed a little girl picking petals off a daisy and counting each one. As a man’s voice picked up the count, the camera zoomed in on one of the girl’s eyes.

A nuclear blast suddenly filled the screen.


Nancy Stockford, a spokeswoman for the Union of Concerned Scientists in Cambridge, Mass., says her group’s child-and-bomb commercial isn’t being brought out again to do television combat with the coalition’s TV appeal.

However, she says, it does plan to air a new paid commercial--in Washington and New York only--starting on Tuesday. Like the coalition’s ad, that commercial is keyed to Reagan’s coming summit conference with Gorbachev.

But the new commercial doesn’t mention “Star Wars,” Stockton says. Instead, it shows a man standing in front of an American flag, wondering aloud about prospects for lasting peace.

“It’s just to raise expectations,” she explains. “It says to Reagan, ‘Don’t blow it.’ That’s the gist of it.”