WASHINGTON -- Democrats criticized President Reagan's call for a space-age missile defense system as science fantasy Thursday and the Soviet Union warned the proposal would violate arms control treaties.
Reaction from Republicans generally was subdued, but Democrat after Democrat rose in the House to criticize the plan, comparing the idea to the fictional weaponry of the movie Star Wars.
Former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara said the president's plan - offered without details or a pricetag -- is 'literally pie in the sky.'
Rep. Edward Markey, D-Mass., the chief backer of a nuclear freeze resolution in the House, told his colleagues the president's Wednesday night speech offered new insight to the true Reagan philosophy.
'The force of evil is the Soviet Union and they are Darth Vader,' Markey said, referring to the villian in the blockbuster movie. 'We are Luke Skywalker and we are the force of good. We will follow the original 'E.T.' -- (nuclear scientist) Edward Teller -- to outer space to fight some pinball nuclear war between the force of evil and the force of good.'
Rep. Ken Kramer, R-Colo., said he would introduce a resolution calling on the House to support the president's 'bold new initiative,' and objected that some members were trying 'to make fun of what is possibly the greatest hope for mankind.'
Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., joined in attacking Markey's speech, 'I think he (Reagan) held out an olive branch to the nuclear freeze advocates, and they threw it back in his face.'
Reagan called for a crash effort by the nation's scientists to develop advanced technology that could destroy incoming Soviet missiles and end U.S. reliance on retaliation as a deterrent to nuclear war.
The president said such a system could add impetus for arms control, and assured his listeners he intends to keep present American defenses strong.
In Moscow, the official Soviet news agency Tass said American installation of an anti-ballistic missile defense system in space would violate Washington's Strategic Arms Limitation Treaties with Moscow.
Tass said Reagan's proposal means the United States is trying to upset the military balance between the superpowers by achieving superiority in nuclear arms.
In the Democratic Party's official response, Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, criticized Reagan's effort 'to raise the specter of a Soviet armed nuclear attack, and to divert our attention from the dismal failure of his economic policies.'
'A gathering majority (in Congress) is preparing to reduce the extaordinary defense expenditures proposed by the president,' he said. 'America is getting weaker on the Reagan program,' he added, pointing to cuts in social programs.
House Speaker Thomas O'Neill, D-Mass., said, 'The president ... suggested that our military commitments should not be related to overall economic considerations. The key to American military power is not just our strategic weapons but our economic power -- and we must never forget that fact.'
Randall Kehler, national coordinator of the Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign, called the president's speech a 'dangerous hoax,' and said Reagan 'is deliberately misinforming the American people to justify the implementation of his 'Star Wars' military buildup.'
Criticism in the Senate came from both sides of the aisle and included attacks on the main thread of Reagan's address -- that an escalting Soviet military threat demands every cent of the nearly $239 billion he wants for defense spending in fiscal 1984.
The president 'has, in effect, called for the militarization of the last great hope for international cooperation and peace -- outer space,' said Sen. Mark Hatfield, R-Ore. 'The president's advisers must be called to account for these terrifying proposals.'
Lawrence Eagleburger, assistant secretary of state for European affairs, called Hatfield's reaction 'flat wrong.'
'I think what the president has done is offer a new hope to our own people, to the people of Europe and, in fact, to the people in the Soviet Union,' Eagleburger said on NBC's 'Today' program.
Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., accused Reagan of presenting 'an unbalanced view of Soviet military strength with his exaggerated rhetoric and use of one-sided information,' referring to Reagan's decision to use top secret intelligence photos to support his arguments.
McNamara, appearing on ABC's 'Good Morning America,' said, 'I would strongly support carrying out research, but we've been working on anti-ballistic missile research for 25 years and we haven't been successful yet. I don't think we will be in the next 20 years.'
Reagan said the system he envisions may not be in place before the 21st century.