Alumni Profile • John Bosma '69
'Thinking the unthinkable' becomes a career

John Bosma '69A teenager living in Washington, D.C., during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the start of the U.S.-Soviet arms race, John Bosma ’69 became fascinated with “thinking about the unthinkable.” That book title by nuclear strategist Herman Khan became a catch phrase for discussions of nuclear warfare. In high school Bosma read everything he could find on defense technologies and nuclear arms control.

When he got to Calvin, Bosma discovered there were no courses in those subjects. A history major, he was encouraged by Professor Charles Miller to write a “huge” paper on limited war doctrine that Bosma said he “had a ball writing.”

This sounds like the beginning of a story about a young man headed for advanced degrees at MIT or the military colleges, followed by a Defense or State Department career. But Bosma, by his own description a “pro-war longhair who barely made it through Calvin,” took a more circuitous route: two years in Islamic studies at Hartford Seminary; odd jobs as a postal clerk, security guard and housepainter; then, on a dare, logging and commercial fishing in Alaska. All the while he read voraciously on defense and arms control.

An old issue of the Wall Street Journal in an Indian fishing village outside Glacier Bay would launch Bosma into the field of his passion. On its front page was an interview with a University of Washington professor whom Bosma remembered as “passionate about Third World hunger.” Months later, Bosma rode a salmon seiner down to Seattle, hitchhiked around the country looking at boatyards, then — broke and jobless in Seattle again — walked into the professor’s office to talk about overseas development. He left with a research job. The professor, it turned out, also had interests in arms control; through him, Bosma met Boeing Aerospace analysts from the SALT (Strategic Arms Limitation Talks) team, who were then-Governor Reagan’s brain trust on strategic policy. “They hired me,” Bosma said. “I tracked Soviet SALT violations and missile programs and became a lonely internal advocate of space BMD (ballistic missile defense) to discourage Soviet arms racing.”

When Reagan became president, Bosma went along to Washington, working on the defense transition team, then for Colorado Springs’ Republican congressman. “He hired me to create Space Command and get space BMD going,” Bosma recalled. “We came up with BMD-enforced missile disarmament and sold Reagan on it.”

After he left the Hill, Bosma became a private consultant and newsletter editor, researching, writing and arguing for what became known as the Defense Department’s “Star Wars” program: space-based ballistic missiles designed to detect and thwart a first strike by Soviet nuclear missiles. It was a defense system he had become convinced was “the only way to stop a massive Soviet arms race — a race the Soviets were winning by 1981 across every metric.

“Ballistic missile defense is, for me, an anti-nuclear policy. If you’re a Christian implementing Christian ethics in weapons planning, what do you do against weapons of mass destruction or ballistic missiles? Non-retaliatory self-defenses, like BMD, resonate with Christian ethics of state and laws of warfare.”

For this reason, Bosma insists that Christians become the military’s chief weapons and policy strategists, and especially Calvinists, he says, in whose theology the Geneva Conventions are rooted. So far, he thinks Christian commentators have ignored the central place the Geneva Conventions could have “in steering defense planning; instead, they’ve basically parroted liberal shibboleths about BMD-type technologies as ‘destabilizing.’”

Bosma says all of this and more in a hopeful staccato. A Washington, D.C, “technology scout,” he sees defense spin-off technologies like medically sensorized undershirts, tent fabrics doubling as computers and windup-powered satellite phones ending global poverty in 15 years. “As a technical optimist, I see solutions all over the place,” he said. “But this demands passionate Christian policy makers who can rethink basics, and who believe in loving — and sparing — their neighbors, even if they’re hostile.”