If George Lucas's latest installment of the Star Wars series, "Attack of the Clones" achieves one thing--besides earning my Starship Troopers Award for dumbest sci-fi movie of the year-it shows us the nightmarish scenario of an army manufactured from clones. Ten years after Episode One, the Republic-that's the good guys-is breaking into factions, and one of the soon-to-be-warring camps has taken a shortcut to building up a formidable fighting force: cloning perfect soldiers.

Before Henry Ford gave us the assembly line, nightmare fantasies concerned individual monsters, like giants, golems, and walking mummies. But with the assembly line came a new thought: What if evil, dangerous human beings could be manufactured the way Ford made Model Ts? Identical super-soldiers would march out of factories by the millions, ready to go into battle to impose their master's will on the rest of the world.

When cloning became a possibility, people like George Lucas--people who don't think through the logic of their premises--thought, "Aha! This is how the armies of marching morons might be created!"

There are several reasons why this will never happen.

First, and most important, such armies aren't needed. It's simply too easy to persuade human beings who were born in the normal way to become million-man armies. Tell them a good story about why God or their mothers (or both) want them to go out and kill for their country, and voila!--all the cannon fodder you could hope for.

Second, cloning doesn't speed up anything. Clone a human, wait ten years, and you have ... a ten-year-old. O.K., says Lucas in "Attack of the Clones," we don't just leave them to grow alone. As long as we're making up wacky science projects, we'll say we've learned how to accelerate the growth of these clones. They'll reach adult size in, say, five years. Plus, we've genetically modified them to be supermen, aggressive fighters who are strong and quick, but totally obedient to their masters.

Why not? Science can do anything, can't it?

Remember that old paradox "If God is omnipotent, then he can make an object so massive that even he cannot move it. But if he can't move it, then he isn't omnipotent after all." The same absurdity is at work here: Can science manufacture a human without including all the steps that make us human? Cloning, in theory, makes a genetically identical copy of an existing organism. But we are far, far more than our genes, and skipping the non-genetic steps could make a clone useless for fighting or anything else.

Consider natural clones--identical twins. At a genetic level, there are no differences between them. Their physical appearance can be nearly indistinguishable. Yet they can have very different personalities. Almost immediately, they develop different memories, different needs and desires, and they make different decisions. Whatever our genes may provide us with, we're just as strongly influenced by parents and siblings, our communities, and events such as diseases, injuries, and experiences that give rise to fear or guilt, shame or pride.

Even if science could speed up the physical maturation of our bodies, what would it do to a human being if we raced him or her through infancy, childhood, and adolescence? An awful lot of us don't finish with childhood and adolescence until we're years into our adult lives; some of us enter our second childhood without ever graduating from our first. Children who have had adult responsibility or experience thrust upon them too soon are usually damaged by the experience, sometimes quite severely.

So much for accelerated growth. What about obedience?

I'm not sure we need to clone for this trait either. The human race has been selecting for conformity for a long time. Even before junior high school was invented, adolescents have felt a powerful desire to conform to the norms of the surrounding society. That's partly why soldiers do such brave-and-foolish things in battle. Four years into WW I, veterans of trench warfare were still obeying orders to climb out of their trenches and expose themselves to murderous machine gun fire. Like them, we have been socially and genetically selected for honor. Most of us would rather die, literally, than to be shamed in front of our immediate social group.

But the best soldiers can't afford to be docile clones. Every commander knows that at least some of their fighters have to be smart and adaptable. No matter how carefully a battle is planned, unpredictable things will happen; soldiers have to respond intelligently and boldly or the cause is lost.

If Lucas's nightmare isn't necessary or desirable, it's worth asking what cloning is actually good for, in his world or ours. Do we really need large numbers of new human beings? Sexual reproduction has actually been doing an excellent job of filling--and overfilling--every available niche that human beings might inhabit.

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