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
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6
THE CART BEFORE THE HORSE

In such circumstances, we would be forced to consider whether or not our duty to future generations did not require us to initiate war at the most propitious moment that we could designate."

-- Dwight D. Eisenhower, September 8, 19531

By January 1953 the American atomic arsenal numbered approximately 1,600 warheads. The Soviets had about fifty, doubling to one hundred by mid year. According to the consensus opinion of the intelligence community, fifty atomic bombs on target would kill 9 million Americans and destroy one-third of American industry. It was not foreseen that the Soviets would take the risk. Rather the Chinese Communists would prove to be the sharpest thorn in Uncle Sam's side over the next several years. After Stalin died on March 5, 1953, Mao Tse-tung pressed his claim to leadership of the world Communist movement.2

Eisenhower saw the struggle with Communism in as much economic as military-strategic terms. An important part of his New Look reliance on nuclear deterrence was development of tactical atomic warheads for the battlefield. Radford, who would take over from Bradley as Chairman of the JCS on July 1, 1953, enthusiastically approved the new defense strategy, as did Secretary of State Dulles. The only significant strategist who objected was Ridgway, SACEUR until replacing Collins as Army Chief of Staff, also on July 1. He deplored cutbacks of ground forces and dissented repeatedly from Radford's urgings that the U.S. go after the Chicoms with atomic firepower. Aside from Japan and Korea, he did not view territory on the periphery of Red China as vital to the U.S.

The British too continued to oppose an aggressive American policy in the Far East. Churchill and Eden maintained that use of nuclear weapons in Asia meant doom for the British Isles. Although the Prime Minister and his Foreign Secretary never had a veto over American nuclear decision making, their refusal

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