Abolishing the Taboo: Dwight D. Eisenhower and American Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1961

By Buchanan, Andrew N. | The Historian, Fall 2013 | Go to article overview

Abolishing the Taboo: Dwight D. Eisenhower and American Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1961


Buchanan, Andrew N., The Historian


Abolishing the Taboo: Dwight D. Eisenhower and American Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1961. By Brian Madison Jones. (Solihull, England: Helion, 2011. Pp. iv, 172. $49.95.)

During the Eisenhower presidency [1953-1961], America's nuclear arsenal expanded from 841 weapons capable of 50 megatons of explosive power to over 18,000 warheads yielding 20,000 megatons. Delivery developed likewise, with intercontinental jets, ballistic missiles, and submarine-launched weapons replacing propeller-driven aircraft. American leaders actively considered using nuclear weapons in Korea and during the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1954-1955. The same period saw the emergence of civilian nuclear power, together with hair-raising projects to move mountains and excavate harbors with atomic bombs. In Abolishing the Taboo, Brian Madison Jones offers a compact and workmanlike review of this dramatic nuclear decade, focusing on Eisenhower's decision making and his efforts to normalize atomic weapons and atomic power. For Eisenhower, nuclear weapons were "simply another weapon" in a comprehensive economic, military, industrial, and moral plan to strengthen national security (7).

Abolishing the Taboo is structured around chapters on these four areas, an approach that allows Jones to explore the interrelationship between military strategy and broader economic concerns. In particular, he effectively demonstrates the way in which the expansion of the nuclear arsenal and the policy of "massive retaliation," codified in NSC-162/2 in 1953, was undertaken not only in response to the problems of limited warfare revealed in Korea but also as an alternative to the crippling cost of maintaining massive conventional forces. Atomic weapons, Eisenhower believed, would provide "fiscal discipline" as well as "military strength" (46).

This is not an uncluttered historical field, however, and on the overarching questions that have grabbed scholarly attention, Jones gets little traction.

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