Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965

By Timothy J. Botti | Go to book overview

1
SAYONARA SANITY?

These tearjerkers, these fellows who are always saying what oughta been done and they weren't there and they don't know a damn thing about it. . . . They keep crying their eyes out about those people who were killed by those [atomic] bombs. I haven't heard any of them crying about those boys who were in those upside-down battleships in Pearl Harbor!

-- Harry S Truman, September 22, 19611

After the United States trumped the Japanese Empire in August 1945 with two atomic bombs, American leaders could have accomplished in the next several years what kings, city-states, nations, and empires have been attempting to do since the time of the Roman Republic--conquer the world. The fact that they did not attests as much to a lack of world-girdling ambition in the American character as to the relatively benign nature of American traditions and values. On the other hand, Potomac strategists were quite willing and determined to extend politico-economic hegemony over key regions of the earth and risk war to maintain that ascendancy. Thus they established alliances and defensive perimeters to contain the Soviet Union, and when in the next two decades the Communists tried to break through the containment barrier, they overreached to deploy military power even to the mainland of Asia.

First in Korea, then in Indochina, presidents were sorely tempted to flex America's growing nuclear muscles and deal the Communists a crushing defeat. Neither Harry S Truman, who had made the wartime decision to smash the Japanese, nor Dwight D. Eisenhower, an avowed advocate of relying on the atomic arsenal, nor John F. Kennedy, who faced the most dangerous crises of the Cold War era, nor Lyndon B. Johnson, who had at his disposal nuclear power of varied and overwhelming strength, made that decision. Instead, they chose to face down the Communists with a combination of politico-economic power backed by conventional military forces, with the nuclear ace held back in case of need. The price of nuclear abstention--or, more correctly, overexten

-1-

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Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Sayonara Sanity? 1
  • 2 - War Scare 7
  • 3 - The Soviets Draw an Ace 17
  • 4 - Strategic Error 23
  • 5 - First Forbearance 31
  • 6 - The Cart Before the Horse 44
  • 7 - French Chestnuts in the Fire 55
  • 8 - The President Vacillates 66
  • 9 - Muscling Up 78
  • 10 - Sword of Damocles 95
  • 11 - The Last Sideshow 102
  • 12 - The Autobahn to Armageddon 109
  • 13 - Cocked Gun 121
  • 14 - Amateur Hour 138
  • 15 - Harebrained Schemes 151
  • 16 - Muddling Through 163
  • 17 - Multilateral Folly 171
  • 18 - High Noon 185
  • 19 - Two Bluffs 201
  • 20 - Best-Laid Plans 216
  • 21 - Strategic Incompetence 230
  • 22 - Unplayable Card? 243
  • Notes 253
  • Index 301
  • About the Author 313
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