Since the first nuclear weapons were exploded in 1945, Americans have been reminded with drum-fire regularity of the horrors of nuclear war. Familiar to all who witness television, or who attend motion pictures, is the awesome spectacle of the rising mushroom cloud, accompanied by fiery, crackling sound effects, with doomsday music playing in the background. So thoroughly has America been frightened by the specter of nuclear war that some appear ready to submit to almost anything to avoid it. Never before in the history of our republic has peace at any price sounded so reasonable and logical.
The Communists are aware of the American state of mind in regard to nuclear war. It has played directly into their hands. What is often overlooked, however, as we take counsel of our own fears, is that the Communists themselves, despite their attempts at nuclear blackmail, don’t seem to relish the prospect of nuclear war any more than we do. It is this, perhaps more than any other factor, which has set the pattern for the big power struggles which have been underway for so many months in the Middle East and the Western Pacific. The significant thing about these struggles is that military forces have been more carefully controlled and restrained in their employment than at almost any time in recent history.
The United States, unfortunately, appears to be at some disadvantage in this precarious struggle of wits and nerve now going on in the world. Most of our country’s best talent and effort over the past ten years have been concentrated on the all-out nuclear war threat. Comparatively little time has been devoted to thinking and preparing for struggles in which the military effort was kept under restraint. It wasn’t supposed to happen that way.
After the end of World War II Americans were assured that the best way to deal with this difficult, complicated matter of national security in the new nuclear age was with a strategy of instant retaliation. After Korea it was the strategy of massive retaliation that was to handle our security problems for us. Later a strategy of deterrence was put forward as the answer to our defense needs.
Advocates of the deterrence and retaliation strategy seemed to be able to state categorically how a future war would be fought and approximately how long it would take to fight it. They seemed to be able to see quite clearly into the future. They contended that any war in which the United States became involved in the future would be a nuclear war, and very probably an all-out nuclear war. They argued that if we concentrated on preparing for all-out nuclear war, we would be able at the same time to take limited wars easily in stride. They maintained that if we “gave priority” to deterrent forces for all-out nuclear war, these same forces would also deter limited wars. Their clear- cut, uncomplicated approach to our security problem attracted wide support from laymen throughout the land.
Americans have gradually been conditioned to spending big money for an enormously powerful nuclear war machine. Meanwhile, the Communists proceeded to inch their way toward world domination by other means. They have not been deterred appreciably by the threat of instant retaliation or massive retaliation.
While the resulting cold war and limited war crises crowded in upon us from all directions, sloganized defense strategy directed public attention to the all-out nuclear war threat. Strategies which visualized the limited use of military force were cast aside as unmodern and therefore not worthy of serious attention. Few Americans saw occasion, in this age of fantastic new weapons, to concern themselves with the labyrinths of move and counter-move, pressure and counter-pressure, which have historically been characteristic of human conflict. Responsible officials who saw the danger found it difficult to arouse public concern over the prospect of defeat through a series of limited politico- military setbacks.
Another factor which has had its influence on the American attitude toward national defense is the impact that the unprecedented post-war defense spending has had on our thinking. Defense and matters related to defense now absorb about two-thirds of our total annual budget. The economic power represented by today’s defense spending has grown to exert considerable influence on the economy and the politics of Free America.
Russia’s navy has been built up into one of the means for exerting pressure short of nuclear war. The author of the accompanying Honorable Mention essay discusses the need for keeping our wits and nerve in pursuing our best interests despite the pressure that the Communists are exerting.
It makes a big difference in many sections of the country these days whether defense funds are concentrated on weapons for all-out nuclear war or whether a good proportion of them are allocated to the needs of more limited types of conflict. How this matter is resolved from year to year not only determines what industries and areas get the big-money contracts, but also what kinds of forces and bases are to be maintained, and where they are to be located—at sea, overseas, or within the economic orbit of one of our communities here at home.
With so much of the national budget going for defense, it is natural that enormous pressures should be brought to bear in the competition for the big-money defense contracts. This competition has led to the use of the most modern advertising methods to promote public support for various types of weapon systems. This promotion, in turn, has had its effect in shaping the public attitude in regard to defense strategy.
A quick examination of recent defense budgets shows that the big money goes for weapon systems designed primarily for all- out nuclear warfare. Meanwhile, we are actually confronted with the task of matching wits and nerves with our totalitarian opponents in a series of cold and limited war struggles. Since Americans find themselves in a type of struggle for which they have had little advance preparations, they are likely to have difficulty in grasping what is at stake in time to give our government the support it needs in the struggle of wits and nerve and limited military force.
Failure to devote more attention and effort to the cold-war limited-war threat has cost the Free World heavily since World War II. While America was preoccupied with the nuclear war threat, the Communists compiled a long series of politico-military coups. They were able to move just about as they pleased, provided they did so in a series of little steps, each one small enough in itself to be deemed “not worth fighting for” in the eyes of the West. The result is that the Communist powers now enjoy a considerable amount of military, as well as political, prestige in the eyes of the world.
The situation we face today is somewhat similar to the one which existed in the days when Hitler strode through one bloodless coup after another. His untested military power rode along on the coattails of his psychological offensive and gradually took on an aura of invincibility. It was only a few years later that we were to look back and wonder why the western democracies had been unable to muster up sufficient courage to stand their ground before the situation degenerated into a major war.
The reluctance to face the challenge of the totalitarian aggressor is of course nothing new in the experience of free people. It has historically been a great temptation for people who enjoyed a high standard of living and who still had a voice in their own government to seek shelter behind powerful defenses and to offer concessions to the warlike barbarians knocking at their gates.
The Communists today seem to be confident that in the long run free people will run true to form and will again be unable to stand the pressure when the chips are down. They apparently believe that at the crucial moment they can persuade free people to back down in exchange perhaps for a promise of peace. But responsible men in our government know that we can no longer afford to back down until we are forced into a corner from which there is no escape except capitulation or a last desperate plunge into nuclear war. All- out nuclear war would undoubtedly blast the barbarians from the gates, but it would blast other things, too. It seems to offer no solution for either side—at least not on this earth.
In view of the serious problems confronting our government today on the cold-war limited-war fronts, it appears that Americans have a lot of catching up to do in their understanding of the nature of human conflict. The task seems to be one primarily of recognizing some of the things which have long been known about war—things which were perhaps forgotten temporarily in the aftermath of World War II, as we searched for a more “modern,” automatic approach to our defense problem.
It is known, for example, that human beings have long had a built-in capability of surprising or outwitting other human beings and that no strategy has yet been devised in the mind of man that cannot be defeated or out-maneuvered by other men. It has long been known that when a nation’s over-all defense strategy becomes systematized and “agreed upon,” its general outline soon becomes known to an alert enemy, who can then begin work on the development of an effective counter-strategy. The Communists, for example, have done quite well thus far in getting around our well-advertised strategy of nuclear deterrence and retaliation.
It is also worth noting that most wars of recorded history can be classified as limited wars in one sense or another. In almost every case some limitations on the use of force were recognized and accepted by both sides, each side for reasons of its own. Familiarity with some of the more obvious types of limitations would make us all better able to give our government the support it must have in the long, bitter, and always dangerous, struggle with the Communist tyranny.
One of the most important factors that determines whether a conflict is to be limited or all-out is the objective for which each belligerent is fighting. It makes a big difference whether the objective is one of resolving an immediate, local argument or whether an attempt is to be made to solve all outstanding difficulties with one mighty bang.
In the Lebanon landings, the United States moved with great care to assure the world that our landings constituted no threat to the security of adjacent areas, particularly the Soviet Union. The Soviets, at the same time, conducted military maneuvers on their side of the border. They, too, maneuvered with great care.
In the recent Quemoy fighting, the Communists apparently attempted to apply an artillery blockade which would force the Nationalists to withdraw their forces because of their inability to support them. Our objective in this test of strength was similar to our objective in the Berlin Blockade—to prove that the blockade would not work unless it was enforced by greatly expanded military action. Neither side saw it in its own interests to expand the conflict, even though both sides were fully capable of doing so. The purpose on both sides was to attempt to influence the opponent’s actions in a limited area.
In Korea, the fighting was limited to the Korean Peninsula. Both sides had the capability of expanding the conflict to all-out proportions, if either had considered it profitable to do so. On the United Nations side there was a large group which sought authority to bomb the Yalu sanctuary. There were perhaps those on the Communist side who also sought authority to attack the United Nations sanctuary in Japan, or the sanctuary our forces enjoyed on the high seas. The general conclusion on both sides seems to have been that any advantages to be gained from expanding the areas of fighting were not worth the costs or risks involved. It was generally recognized on both sides that it was more in the national or coalition interests to confine the test of strength to the Korean Peninsula, even though this seemed to be unpalatable or inconvenient from the technical military point of view.
When the Korean invasion began, the immediate Communist military objective was limited to the conquest of the Republic of Korea. United Nations forces, on the other hand, entered the conflict for the purpose of repelling the North Korean aggression. After the decisive victory over the Communist forces at Inchon, the United Nations objective was expanded to include the military liberation of all of North Korea from Communist domination.
As fighting wore on, however, both sides began to indicate a willingness to settle for something less than their respective maximum objectives. This paved the way for the Korean armistice, which was eventually worked out under terms acceptable to both sides.
The United Nations decision, after the victory at Inchon, to continue on north and liberate North Korea, appears to have been designed to exploit the military opportunity which opened up when the Communist armies to the south suddenly went to pieces. Some are now beginning to wonder whether it was a good decision. It enabled the Communists to pose as “defenders” of their own North Korean soil and thereby claim some semblance of respectability for their cause. It enabled them to assume the role of belligerents and to enter into armistice negotiations with United Nations commanders on that basis. The over-all effect was to raise the political and military prestige of the Communist invaders in the eyes of the world. The influence on subsequent world events has been incalculable.
Looking back on the Korean conflict from the shelter of hindsight, one may now wonder what the relative prestige of United Nations arms might have been today had the fighting been quickly terminated after Inchon. This might have been done by sealing off the 38th parallel, rounding up the bewildered and routed North Korean invaders to the south, and casting them into prison as common criminals.
Based on the experience of Korea, it is perhaps fair to say that the exhilarating flush of military victory does not always provide the best atmosphere for the formulation of sound strategic objectives. A more limited military objective promptly attained can often result in more far-reaching gain than an overly ambitious military objective.
There must always be a readiness to expand or scale down original objectives, even after military operations are underway, if a cool, calm appraisal of all the circumstances indicates that to be the best thing to do. It must be recognized, however, that a “cool, calm appraisal,” is usually a very hard thing to achieve in the heat of war.
Another limiting factor which has affected most wars, particularly those of recent history, is what has come to be known as the laws of civilized warfare. Even in World War II, which is regarded by some as the classic example of all-out war, the laws of civilized warfare had significant influence on the conduct and tactics of all belligerents.
In the majority of cases in World War II, for example, some efforts were made to care for prisoners and to exchange them in accordance with various interpretations of International Law and Custom. Prisoners were not, on the whole, deliberately murdered. Non-combatants were not, in general, deliberately murdered or sold into slavery, even though a considerable number of shocking exceptions came to light. Hospital ships, hospital areas, and similar non-combatant structures were generally spared from deliberate destruction. While some terror destruction of cities and populations did take place, this practice fell far short of receiving general approval of thinking persons on either side. During earlier stages of human development, all these things were generally accepted practices in war.
Not all the laws of civilized warfare have been scrupulously observed by every combatant in the past. Their enforcement over the centuries has depended on little more than the jury of world opinion and the judgment of history. Nevertheless, they have gathered sufficient strength and stature as time went on until today no society, however mechanically powerful or morally uninhibited, can any longer place itself completely above them.
It is safe to say that man has possessed from the beginning the capability of annihilating his opponents down to the last living being, whenever he chose to do so. As he progressed beyond his original state of savagery, however, he has tended to shrink more and more from the unrestrained use of this capability, even in the heat of battle. In the majority of cases thus far, he has been able to rein in his military forces and weapons in time to avoid complete annihilation of his enemies. He has gradually achieved greater success in controlling his violent emotions. In this sense particularly, most wars of recorded history have been limited wars.
Of considerable importance in this connection is the progress which has been made in recent years in keeping national tempers under control. There was a time when the shooting down of an aircraft would have been sufficient cause for touching off a general war. Blockade, which has long been looked upon by many as “an act of war,” was used by the Communists at Berlin and at Quemoy without touching off general war. As war becomes more dangerous, the level of provocation required to set one off continues to go up. New precedents are being set as to what constitutes a cause for war. A political assassination is said to have touched off World War I. The world has come a long way since then.
The possibility always exists, of course, that the human race, like many individuals in it, may some day lose its collective sanity and upset those delicate balances which have enabled it to progress beyond its original state. Barring the presence of a mass suicidal motivation, however, one would normally expect mankind to continue to work consistently, and at times instinctively, for the preservation of his species. If this is so, the laws of civilized warfare will probably continue to gain in strength and stature as time goes on— rapidly enough, one may hope, to preserve the fundamental values and institutions of our present civilization.
Arguments concerning the shades of morality in war have somewhat less effect in the heat of close-in combat than they have in safer, non-combat environments. Whether one regards a war as limited or all-out depends very much on where he is. To the Korean, whose country was overrun and his home and family destroyed, it was all-out war. To the soldier in the foxhole, or the pilot in the airplane, who knew he had to kill the enemy in front of him, or he himself would be killed, it was also all-out war.
The over-riding concern of the fighting man is to be able to survive and fight successfully under any conditions imposed upon him by circumstances. He must concern himself primarily with the efficient use of his weapons. He has little time to reflect on the long-range effect of his weapons and fighting techniques on society as a whole. Consequently, he usually has little sympathy for those who would restrain his use of force. To the fighting man, who must face such clear-cut issues as who wins and who loses, who lives and who dies, war is a highly emotional undertaking. It is perhaps for this reason that individuals who spend an entire career in combat, and in training for combat, sometimes find it difficult to regard war as anything but an all-out proposition. Therefore, all-outness in the arena of close-in combat is a necessary, understandable concept.
Governments on the other hand, responsible as they are for the preservation and advancement of the society as a whole, must deal coldly, carefully, and logically with intangibles, such as objectives, and national gain versus risk. Governments, like individuals under most circumstances, usually succeed only to the extent that they are able to keep their violent emotions under reasonable control. Governments which fail to do so sometimes do themselves great harm.
It is perhaps fair to say, therefore, that all-outness in war is typical of the experience of the fighting man. The experience of successful governments, however, is that the limitation and control of the war-making capability is a necessity. The survival of peoples and governments today seems to depend very much upon their ability to keep their military emotions under some degree of control. In today’s world this means, among other things, the cool, firm hand of statesmanship on the nuclear weapon stockpile.
The degree to which all-outness pervades the thinking of individual officials in government may be a reasonable way of distinguishing between the statesman and strategist on the one hand and the battle tactician on the other. This is not to say that any of these types is less important than the other. Each is important in the scheme of things but each functions best in his own sphere.
It has been said recently that human beings seem unable to pass along the hard economic facts of life from one generation to the next. Of equal or perhaps greater seriousness in this nuclear-missile age seems to be the inability of human beings to pass along the military facts of life from one war to the next.
A fact of life today is that we are actually involved—right now—in limited politico- military tests, which, when taken together, are determining the fate of our free way of life. The Waterloos, the Trafalgars, the Ver- duns of modern times may indeed already be in progress—in Africa, the Middle East, and the Western Pacific.
The Communists continue to show great resourcefulness and diversity of action in the pursuit of their objective of world domination. Even with all the modern technology and intelligence-gathering facilities at our disposal, we are still unable to depend on any single, clear-cut plan for dealing with them. On the other hand, few situations they can create will remain completely unfavorable if we develop the technique of applying our best talent and resources to the situation actually at hand, rather than holding them in reserve for some theoretically more clear-cut test of the indefinite future.
While some emphasis is obviously needed in the area of limited politico-military operations, this does not necessarily mean that more billions should be added on top of the vast sums already being appropriated for defense. Nor does it mean that highly-specialized nuclear warfare capabilities should be neglected. The important thing is that the American people be psychologically capable of adjusting successfully to any crisis, whether it be cold, politico-economic war, limited hostilities, or nuclear war. Our success in the continuing world struggle depends upon the prompt application of our national intellectual capacity and resources—spiritual resources, as well as political, economic, and military resources—to winning within the framework of the circumstances in which we find ourselves at the time.
Meanwhile, adequate preparations for the final all-out holocaust must still go forward, recognizing of course that differences of opinion as to what constitutes a reasonable level of readiness for this contingency will always exist. Many are convinced, for example, that our preparations for all-out nuclear war have already gone well beyond the realm of the reasonably adequate.
More emphasis on the philosophy and techniques of limited warfare will provide our government greater freedom of action to pursue a course in world affairs consistent with our fundamental values and institutions. A course based on the controlled use of military forces is the only one which seems to offer any reasonable hope for survival of free government in the nuclear-missile age.
The ability to keep a dangerous situation limited and to move ahead successfully within those limitations is a politico-military art of the highest order—an art which can be cultivated in a free society only with the full understanding and support of the people. To achieve this understanding America needs to hear more from her statesmen and strategists, as well as from her battle tacticians and weapon system advertisers.
All-out nuclear war is not inevitable, at least, not yet. But it would very well become so if too many responsible people, whatever their motivation, continue to “give priority” to all-out nuclear war in their collective thoughts and preparations.
One of the tragedies of our time is the manner in which the American people have been psychologically frightened over the past decade by the horror-dramatization of all-out nuclear war, and have been led to regard that threat as more terrifying or more imminent than defeat through a series of limited politico- military setbacks. Tragic also is the manner in which Americans have been led to believe that if they appropriated enough money their thorny security problems would somehow be solved by others, who had come upon a neat, fool-proof formula for victory.
It is axiomatic that the survival of a society depends upon how well it adapts itself to new situations and upon its ability to face up to and solve the problems confronting it. If this Republic of ours is to survive at all, it will be because we Americans have marshalled our wits, our nerve, and our resources to the task of dealing successfully, and courageously, with the limited politico-military problems with which we are now being confronted from month to month and year to year. The ability of our people to participate fully in the sacrifice and the long-term, nerve-wracking struggle of wits and power which lies ahead may very well be the key factor in determining our right to survive as a free society.
The defense of freedom is still everybody’s business, just as it has always been. Everybody’s wits and nerves are involved, as well as everybody’s money. The big question today is not how much the country can afford to spend for defense but how good are the wits and nerve of Free America.
The experience of all ages is that the blessings of liberty are not for the spiritually weak or the timid.