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

9
MUSCLING UP

We are now living in an age when it can no longer be an issue of morality that a nation must receive the first physical blow before it can respond with force. In fact, the first blow can now signal the end of a conflict rather than the beginning. Therefore certain enemy action short of war should constitute sufficient threat to the non-aggressor nation that it would be justified in launching direct attack at least on enemy strategic air power to forestall its own disaster.

-- Curtis E. LeMay, July 16, 19551

At Quantico, Virginia on July 16, 1955, Curtis LeMay boasted to an audience of DOD civilian and military officials that with only 12 hours alert time, he could launch 180 intercontinental bombers to attack the Soviet Union. With as little as three days alert, he could launch all 1,000 bombers under his command. If other steps were taken, such as allocating a larger percentage of the nuclear stockpile to SAC, permitting loading of bombs at storage sites with first alert of an enemy preparation to attack, deploying complete weapons with units rotated overseas, and building more bases for bomber dispersal in the U.S., Canada, and Greenland, SAC could penetrate the enemy radar line in just six hours from takeoff in the American Zone of Interior. He made clear that he was fully in favor of a doctrine of preemptive war to defeat the USSR.2

After Eisenhower authorized dispersal of high-yield bombs (above 600 kilotons) to SAC that year and because Soviet ability to strike back was in grave doubt, a preemptive strike almost certainly would have succeeded. Their fleet of medium bombers still did not have an aerial refueling capability, and ballistic missiles their scientists were developing, particularly intercontinental range rockets, were several years from deployment. Moscow did possess enough nuclear firepower to ravage Western Europe, however. While struggling to develop a credible threat to the American homeland, Kremlin leaders could have responded to sneak attack by SAC with a nuclear holocaust over NATO cities. LeMay could not guarantee that the allies would survive a war.

-78-

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