A History of Our Time: Readings on Postwar America

By William H. Chafe; Harvard Sitkoff et al. | Go to book overview

NSC-68: A Report to the
National Security Council (1950)

Following the detonation of the Soviet Union’s first atomic bomb and the communist victory in China in 1949, President Truman asked his advisers for a comprehensive analysis of the course of world affairs and the foreign and military policies of the United States. Largely the work of Secretary of State Dean Acheson, NSC-68 was officially a report to the National Security Council by the Departments of State and Defense in April 1950. It defined the Soviet– American conflict as global in scope and primarily military in nature. Predicting continued, perpetual conflict with international communism, NSC-68 called for a vastly enlarged military budget to counter the Soviet’s alleged ambition for global domination. How to sell such an expensive, militaristic policy to a war-weary American people and a budget-minded Congress worried proponents of NSC-68. “We were sweating over it, and then—with regard to NSC-68—thank God Korea came along,” recalled one of Dean Acheson’s aides. Do you think Russian and/or Chinese actions as of April 1950 justified the tone and recommendations of NSC-68? What were the costs, financially and otherwise, of the “eternal vigilance” called for by NSC-68? What practical alternatives to NSC-68 did President Truman have in 1950? What were the implications of this pivotal report for the wars in Korea and Indochina?

Within the past thirty-five years the world has experienced two global wars of tremendous violence. It has witnessed two revolutions— the Russian and the Chinese—of extreme scope and intensity. It has also seen the collapse of five empires—the Ottoman, the AustroHungarian, German, Italian and Japanese—and the drastic decline of two major imperial systems, the British and the French. During the span of one generation, the international distribution of power has

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