Posts Tagged ‘President Eisenhower’

The doomsday machine was (and is) real

December 7, 2017

Daniel Ellsberg is famous for leaking The Pentagon Papers, a secret history of U.S. policy in Vietnam.   Now he has written a new book, The Doomsday Machine, which reveals the history of how close the United States came to all-out nuclear war.

The war policy of President Eisenhower was “massive retaliation.”   That meant the only U.S. response to Soviet or Chinese aggression would be all-out nuclear war.

Secretary of State John Foster Dulles went to the brink of war at least three times, Life magazine reported at the time.  There was even an argument during the Kennedy-Nixon debates as to whether nuclear war would be justified if the Chinese government took over the tiny coastal islands of Quemoy and Matsu.

That was known at the time.  What wasn’t known was that the authority to order a nuclear strike was delegated to military commanders in the field.   We the people thought the decision rested solely with the President.  That wasn’t so.

U.S. plans called for the complete destruction of every city in Russia and China.   Pentagon planners told Ellsberg that this would result in 325 million casualties in Russia and China, plus an additional 100 million in Communist-ruled countries in eastern Europe, 100 million in neutral countries and 100 million among western European allies.

As Ellsberg said, this is the equivalent of 100 Holocausts.  It doesn’t include the number who would die as a result of Soviet retaliation.

Evidently it was thought necessary to credibly threaten to destroy Europe in order to defend it.

Defense Secretary Robert McNamara’s ideas about escalation during the Kennedy administration can be seen as an attempt to create an alternative to immediate massive retaliation.

But while, in a way, well-intended, McNamara’s ideas were illogical.  Once launching a nuclear war is an option, the logic of game theory says you should be the first and not the second to escalate to nuclear warfare.

Ellsberg said every Cold War President through Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan gave military theater commanders the authority to use nuclear weapons.   He doesn’t know the situation now.

One difference is that U.S. presidents now threaten nuclear attacks against countries without nuclear weapons—a crime against humanity in and of itself, even if you don’t consider the deaths of neutrals and allies.

The U.S. government should join with the Russian government to resume the process of gradual elimination of nuclear weapons that was begun in the Reagan-Gorbachev years.   In the meantime, Congress should enact a law to forbid a U.S. nuclear first strike without a formal declaration of war.

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Hungary 1956 and Ukraine 2015

February 26, 2015

I was at the end of basic training in the U.S. Army in 1956 when the Hungarian people rose up against the Soviet occupiers.

hungarianfreedomfighter.timemanoftheyearIt would have been right and just for President Eisenhower to send me and other young Americans to stand with the Hungarian freedom fighters, especially since their uprising had been encouraged by the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe.

It also would have been reckless and foolish, because it could have provoked a nuclear war that would have destroyed the USA, the USSR, Hungary and much of the rest of the world.

The USA and USSR still have sufficient nuclear weapons to destroy each other and much else.  A military confrontation with Russia over Ukraine would be as reckless and foolish as defending the Hungarian rebels would have been then.

A truce, or a freezing of the Ukraine conflict, would not be to the benefit of the Ukrainian people, any more than the Cold War division of Europe was to the benefit of the Hungarian people.

Russia would be left in control of its vital naval base in Crimea and with a presence in the eastern Ukrainian industrial heartland.   Ukrainians ruled from Kiev would be forced to submit to the IMF’s harsh austerity requirements and to sell national assets at bargain prices.

The best that can be said is that it is better than nuclear war.