Of Bombs And Men Abraham ’59-A Nuclear Fantasy

Of Bombs And Men Abraham ’59-A Nuclear Fantasy

JULY 14, 1959

Now that it is all over it is easy to think back and realize that today’s events had been well prefigured, even before the Soviet launching of Sputnik I in October of 1957. I remember having read what was at the time a strange-seeming article. It was just at the beginning of 1958. The author was one of that new breed of military “hardware” experts. He understood about nuclear blast effects, logistical problems, missile capabilities, and the paramount struggle between Russia and America to reduce their comparative “lead-times” between the development of a new weapon and its production for tactical use. This was called the Research and Development lead-time war. We had already lost, he said, the “lead-time” war. From then on out, the rest of the Cold War moves and counter-moves would merely be a series of demonstrations of America’s inferiority as she was forced to back down in area after area.

Of course, such writing was not even dignified by ridicule, those few short months ago. When other new-model theorists of Cold War strategy claimed to have developed a series of mathematical formulas whereby electronic computers could be used to project the outcome of possible military conflicts, everybody found the notion of war as extrapolations from a series of mathematical formulas impossible to assimilate. The historical reminder that General Lee had “proved” to himself the South was defeated before the Civil War began, failed to alert even those of us relatively close to the President to the implications of new methods of analysis which could definitively “prove” in advance the outcome of a hypothetical conflict.

I remember actually laughing when I read one of those futuristic seeming projection papers which concluded a series of proofs with the proposal that we immediately dismantle the Strategic Air Command, our only defense against Russia, and try to bargain with them for anything we could get in return! “Sell out SAC now,” wrote the author, “while it is still worth something. The Russians have indicated that above all they want to be recognized by the West as a mature culture. We can give them that for comparatively little and in addition trade SAC for a number of stabilizing concessions which then may allow us five years of relative freedom to prepare for a potent reentry into the R and D lead-time war.”

This conclusion, which seemed ludicrous to me at the time, followed from an analysis purporting to prove that the Russians had demonstrated with Sputnik I something like a one-year lead-time drop on us. During that interval, which was estimated to go into effect toward the end of 1958, SAC would have become worthless and we would still be over a year away from operational countervailing ICBMs. Should we merely sit by and idly watch the approaching obsolescence of SAC and our ensuing international helplessn...