Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race: The Truman Administration and the U.S. Arms Build-Up

By Conversino, Mark J. | Air & Space Power Journal, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race: The Truman Administration and the U.S. Arms Build-Up


Conversino, Mark J., Air & Space Power Journal


Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race: The Truman Administration and the U.S. Arms Build-Up by Raymond P. Ojserkis. Praeger Publishers (http://www.praeger.com), 88 Post Road West, Westport, Connecticut 06881-5007, 2003, 248 pages, $65.00 (hardcover).

The thesis of this fine book can be found in one of its quotations from Pres. Harry S. Truman. Discussing the impact of the Korean War with a journalist in 1953, Truman said that the communist invasion of South Korea was "the greatest error he [Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin] made in his whole career." Without that invasion, Truman continued, "we'd have done what we did after World War I: completely disarmed. And it would have been a cinch for him to take over the European nations, one by one." Raymond P. Ojserkis masterfully supports this thesis throughout Beginnings of the Cold War Arms Race, utilizing an impressive array of archival materials in the United States and Great Britain, personal papers, memoirs, contemporary press accounts, and secondary sources. The author, who holds a DPhil degree in international history from the London School of Economics and History, demonstrates a thorough understanding of both the men and events that shaped America's awakening to the dangers of the Cold War.

Ojserkis emphasizes the American arms buildup following the outbreak of war in Korea in 1950, but he places that within the broader context of US domestic and foreign policy. He is certainly not the first scholar to argue that the Korean War marked a major turning point in recent American history. But he parts company with scholars such as Samuel Huntington, who, in his classic work The Soldier and the State, claimed that Truman accepted the robust military and containment strategy outlined in National Security Council Report 68 (NSC 68), United States Objectives and Programs for National Security, 14 April 1950, and personally desired an arms buildup that he also deemed politically impossible prior to the Korean War. Ojserkis disagrees, building upon an analysis of Truman's own words, budget plans, and the positions of his cabinet members to show that the president planned to cut defense spending right up to the very day North Korean troops poured south across the Korean demilitarized zone.

More importantly, Ojserkis convincingly demonstrates that Truman's reaction to the outbreak of war in Korea was not limited to the defense of the government in Seoul. Within the next two years, the US defense budget tripled in size, and America embarked on a massive conventional- and nuclear-arms buildup. Much of that resultant armed strength went not to Korea but to Europe-prompting Gen Douglas MacArthur, the US and UN commander in Korea, to complain that, as in World War II, his Pacific operations were once again secondary to those in Europe!

Readers may wish to consider this book in tandem with Thomas P. M. Barnett's The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century (2004). Both consider the challenges and options facing the United States and its presidents at critical moments in the nation's history. Barnett, in fact, compares Pres. George W. …

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