Saturday, November 4, 2017

Is the President driving us towards nuclear war ?

No no, not the present POTUS.   There is commentary by the bushel about that, you don’t need more from me.

Rather, this is simply another noticing of historical precedents and parallels, for the benefit of those who were born yesterday.


There is no high-ranking military officer serving the current administration, remotely as scary General Curtis E. LeMay, a proponent of pre-emptive all-out nuclear war, and commander of the SAC (which was in a position to carry out his dream at a nod from their commander).  JFK didn’t like him, but didn’t fire him;  rather, he promoted him to the Joint Chiefs of Staff.   (Partly along the lines of the old maxim, “Better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”  But that's a risky strategy. )   It would be anachronistic to call LeMay “a character out of Dr Strangelove”;  rather, that movie classic partly based its characters on him.

As McGeorge Bundy phrased it in July of 1961:

The only plan the United States had for the use of strategic weapons  was a massive, total, comprehensive  obliterating attack upon the Soviet Union -- an attack on the Warsaw Pact countries and Red China, [with] no provision for separating them out. … An attack on everything Red.”

Quite different from using a bunker buster on Pyongyang’s missile sites.

As indicated, JFK was not as hawkish as LeMay, nor even as his hot-headed brother RFK.   But he too could be provocative.  Re a June 3, 1961 head-to-head meeting with Khrushchev, which Kennedy prefaced by saying “This is the nut-cutter”:

“Force would be met by force,” Khrushchev warned Kennedy …
“The President concluded the conversation,” noted the transcript, “by observing that it would be a cold winter.”
-- Richard Reeves, President Kennedy:  Profile of Power (1993), p.  171

What -- switching the subject to something less controversial, like the weather, to avoid confrontation?  No;  then as now, there was a problem with self-censured news.

What Kennedy actually said was stronger:  “Then, Mr. Chairman, there will be war.  It will be a cold winter.”
-- id.

And, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, 18 Oct 1962:

Acheson was appalled when he met alone with the President, and heard him use the same phrase, “Pearl Harbor in reverse” -- as if the United States were planning a sneak attack without provocation.
“I don’t know where you got that,” Acheson said to John Kennedy. “It is unworthy of you to talk that way.”
-- id, p. 378


Stevenson was shaken by the President’s casual manner, as two years before  Kennedy had been shocked by Eisenhower’s casual talk of nuclear weapons.
-- id, p. 275


As always, our purpose is neither to trash JFK, nor to excuse the present fellow, but simply to provide a spot of perspective.

For the full roster of posts on this theme, click here.
For the post that launched the series:

1 comment:

  1. The problem with a USA/DPRK war (if it happens) is that a country with nuclear defences is going to �������� and have its government deposed.  Such a war cannot be allowed to start because it would be bad for nuclear-arms sales, which apparently matter more than anything else.