Posts Tagged ‘Curtis LeMay’

How could we accept nuclear doom as an option?

February 7, 2019

A friend of mine responded this way to my review / essay on Daniel Ellsberg’s The Doomsday Machine, which quoted Bertrand Russell as saying that President Kennedy was “mathematically” worse than Hitler because he was willing to put the whole human race at risk during the Cuban missile crisis.

Thanks for this. I lived through that time too.  I guess that my perspective is a little different, although I see Russell’s point.  Kennedy was a cold warrior, among the coldest. And Khrushchev was as well.  

And while Kennedy would not have launched unless launched upon, he inherited the nukes and he had a hard game to play. The darkest devil was Curtis LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff, who enthusiastically pushed for bombing Cuba.

Thank God Kennedy resisted, because those tactical nukes in Cuba would have been raining down on us and then both sides would have launched the ICBMs, and we wouldn’t be here.

Kennedy created some of this tension with his ridiculous missile gap rhetoric during the presidential debates–there was no missile gap, at least not one that favored the USSR, and he certainly knew it.

Again, thanks for your review. It was a terrible time, and there have been many close calls since that the general public has been mostly unaware of.

I liken Kennedy to someone who lives in a house with a basement filled with TNT.  He was able to resolve the Cuban missile crisis without letting anyone get their hand on the detonator.  But he never considered the possibility of getting rid of the TNT or the detonator.

Kennedy was a cold warrior.  So was Daniel Ellsberg.  So was I for many years after Ellsberg saw the light.  I never understood the justice of Bertrand Russell’s words during his lifetime.

My thinking back then—and I was not alone in this—was that the world faced a choice of two equal evils.  One was nuclear warfare.  The other was the triumph of totalitarianism.  I did not think it was better to be red than dead.  I admired President Kennedy for managing to avoid a victory for totalitarianism without waging war with nuclear weapons.

I came of age reading the literature of anti-totalitarianism—George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Hannah Arendt’s The Origins of Totalitarianism, Arthur Koestler’s Darkness at Noon.  I thought there was a real possibility that Orwell’s SF dystopia could come true.  I thought that Soviet foreign policy was equivalent to Hitler’s and that conditions in the USSR in the 1960s were equivalent to conditions under the height of Stalin’s Great Terror.

I continued to believe these things long after I was exposed to facts that indicated otherwise.  It is amazing how hard it can be to change an opinion once you’ve committed to it.

I did not know the U.S. military’s secret estimates that nuclear war could result in the deaths of a quarter or more of the human race.  The thought of “omnicide”—the death of all—did not enter my thinking.   Daniel Ellsberg, by the way, does not advocate total nuclear disarmament, at least not to begin with.  He only advocates disarmament to the point where no country has the power to destroy the human race or human civilization.

(more…)