Security with Solvency: Dwight D. Eisenhower and the Shaping of the American Military Establishment

By Gerard Clarfield | Go to book overview

8
"I Tried to Persuade the President That It Would Really Be Better for Me to Take Another Year on This."

On October 4, 1957, a Soviet rocket successfully placed Sputnik, the world's first man-made satellite, in Earth orbit. Two more Russian satellites soon followed. 1 The news of these Soviet achievements sent a shock wave reverberating throughout the world. Prior to Sputnik, it had been widely assumed that America's technological superiority was unassailable. Eisenhower was well aware of the importance of this. In fact, two years before, when it became clear that the Soviets were making rapid advances in the ballistic missile field, he ordered a speedup in America's missile development programs. From a psychological point of view, he believed it would be a disaster if the Soviets even appeared to challenge the U.S. claim to scientific and technological preeminence. Unhappily, the speedup came too late. Now every night, a large portion of humanity could see and even hear the Soviet satellite as it made its way across the heavens.

The history of the Eisenhower administration's reaction to Sputnik and the so-called missile gap has been well told elsewhere. It is also generally understood that the president, who gauged the significance of the Soviet achievement better than his critics, refused to be carried along on the wave of panic that for a time gripped the nation. It is less well known, however, that Eisenhower saw in the Sputnik crisis a golden opportunity to move further down the road toward the unification of the military establishment and simultaneously reduce the exploding costs of preparedness. Yet there can be no doubt about this. Shortly after the Sputnik launch, he instructed Nelson,

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