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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10
SWORD OF DAMOCLES

I do not think this [assurance that the U.S. would not misuse its missiles based in Europe] involves a veto on their part any more than an individual citizen has any veto over the action of the policeman on the beat. He is entitled to know that the circumstances under which the security force operates are such to give him reasonable assurance on these matters. I do not think any government can legally, constitutionally, give another government a veto over action which it might deem indispensable for its own national existence.

-- John Foster Dulles, November 19, 19571

From the moment Stalin lifted the Berlin Blockade in May 1949, fear of a renewed crisis hung like a sword of Damocles over the heads of Western Europeans. Only a thin but strong thread--Soviet fear of Massive Retaliation--kept the sword from falling. Even more so than the offshore islands, Eisenhower believed Hitler's capital untenable as a military outpost.

And yet the city had tremendous political and psychological significance which Potomac strategists continued to recognize long after the JCS concluded it was a strategic liability in fall 1948. When the first crisis ended, Bradley and the Chiefs counseled that in the event of new Soviet pressure, the U.S. and its allies should renew the airlift, send an armed convoy toward Berlin, and get ready to fight. While Acheson and State Department advisors were willing to consider probes as a last resort, they wanted to tell the Soviets beforehand that the cavalry was coming. This would eliminate the possibility of a misunderstanding that the U.S. was starting a general war. With Truman's assent, this position was set forth as U.S. policy in NSC 24/3 on June 18, 1949.2

The commitment to fight in Korea in 1950 postponed deployment of U.S. forces to Europe. After Peking's intervention, the JCS recognized that the U.S. would be unable to respond to a second blockade of Berlin with more than a partial airlift, embargo of steel shipments to the Soviet bloc, and chancier measures such as a counterblockade of Soviet shipping at the Dardanelles and Skagerrak choke points and sabotage attacks inside the Soviet empire. They

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