Russell E. Hershey,
INTERVIEW WITH PROFESSOR WILLIAM KAUFMANN - 30.8.1996
INTERVIEWER: First of all, sir, can I ask for the transcripts, the hardest question of all, can I have your name and title?
PROFESSOR WILLIAM KAUFMANN: My name and title, I'm William Reid Kaufmann. I'm a Professor Emeritus from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
INT: First of all, sir, can I ask you... the program will start in 1960, what was the main difference between the Eisenhower administration's policy on nuclear strategy and the in-coming MacNamara-Kennedy policies?
WK: The difference between the Eisenhower and the Kennedy strategies... were rather substantial. The Eisenhower administration had arranged to consolidate a variety of nuclear plans and to what became known as the Single Integrated Operational Plan, the SIOP, and SIOP '62, which was developed before the Eisenhower administration left office was the first of these integrated plans and effectively it had two options in it. One was to go first and the other was to go second, but otherwise, they were basically the same, in which the Strategic Air Command, SAC, just unloaded everything it could, depending on the circumstances, and bombed a whole range of targets, both in Eastern Europe, in the Soviet Union, and in China and also depended on a lot of fall-out, since quite apart from the Chernobyl case, it's always been assumed that the winds go from West to East and therefore that fall-out would blow over a whole variety of countries, including India and China. The change that was introduced actually in 1962 was to try and break this sort of spasm into a variety of options, in which cities would be avoided, at least initially, depending on what the Soviet programs might be and... so it was an effort the give the President a range of choice and to see whether one couldn't minimize damage, at least in population, and to see whether there would be an opportunity to end the exchange. I should add that a lot of this was based on the notion that it would enhance the deterrent by making it at least somewhat easier for the President to order this kind of use of nuclear weapons, whereas the Eisenhower alternative was so completely horrifying, that it would have been extremely difficult for the President to order that kind of attack or retaliation and that in turn... at least the move toward options and toward city avoidance was also based on the concerns that our allies had been expressing with increasing vehemence, if you will, that the United States could no longer be dependent upon to use its nuclear capabilities in defense of Western Europe in the event of a Soviet attack. So there was a whole series of efforts to try and not only make the deterrent more credible, but also to engage the allies in... a more, what shall I say, accepted view of what the United States was able and prepared to do.
INT: Does that mean then that at the beginning of the sixties, the American military and/or the government believed that a nuclear war was both winnable and survivable?
WK: I'm not sure that anyone really believed that it was winnable or that... survivable is a difficult term. I mean, contrary, I think, to the popular view as far as we were able to determine at that point and based on a variety of studies about blast fall-out, fire storms and so forth, the damage, assuming particularly that cities were attacked, would have been in the range, say in the United States of a hundred million fatalities, that was the sort of standard number. Whereas if cities were avoided and if some civil defense existed, that number would go down still to a terrible ten million, but there is a rather substantial difference between ten million and a hundred million. So in that sense there was a view that this was not as catastrophic as was I think more generally viewed, but still it wasn't a very comforting notion that only ten million, as against a hundred million, and so I don't think that it really made it that much more credible, except in a public relations standpoint. It sounded better this way and it sounded as though the President would be less reluctant to use these fantastic capabilities than under previous... strategies, if you will. I might just add that something that I... occurred to me a couple of nights ago, that one of the ways in which people were trying to deal with allied concerns at the time, was to develop what came to be known as the Multi-Lateral Force. In the Pentagon, it was called the Multi-Lateral Farce, but it was the idea that in order to reassure the allies, they would participate in a force that constituted crews drawn from the various NATO nations, and at one point they even used a destroyer with crews on it from, I forget how many countries, but the Turks were the cooks and that was thought to be rather bad form. But it was an indication of the concern that existed at the time about the views of the allies, that needed somehow or other to be addressed. On another occasion, Chancellor Adenauer, who was coming over - this was in 1961 - and we were told by the State Department that one should not brief him for more than ten minutes, because he would otherwise fall asleep, but at Mr. MacNamara's direction we prepared a forty five minute briefing, but went into considerable detail about what the plans and programs were and he stayed awake for the entire forty five minutes, which was an indication of one of the real problems that we in the United States had simply not confided in any real detail with any of the allies, more so with Britain than anybody else, but, still it was sort of we're taking care of this problem and we won't tell you anything more and it was partly because we decided that we should be forthcoming that we then established the Nuclear Planning Group within NATO in order to lay out in more detail just what the United States' capabilities and plans were under various contingencies.
INT: The new regime came in with Robert MacNamara and there was, I believe, a collection of people, including yourself, around him who were known as the whiz kids. Could you tell me a little bit about what that meant?
WK: The whiz kids that was an out-growth of the group that MacNamara headed after World War Two that went to the Ford Motor Company and MacNamara eventually became President of Ford, I think, for about two weeks before he became Secretary of Defense, and so the label, it was originally quiz kids, I think, but then whiz kids was transferred from this MacNamara group to this group mostly from the Rand Corporation and it was Charles Hitch who had been a don at Oxford and then at the Rand Corporation for about fifteen years and Alan Endhoven and Henry Rowan and a few others, and I think almost without exception, it was Rand, not entirely, but it was a group of relatively young people. I think Hitch and I were the oldest members of the group, I don't think we really qualified as the kids, maybe not even as whiz, but... Henry Rowan was in his early thirties, Alan Endhoven was, I think, either twenty nine or thirty and there were other young people who were recruited who were also very young, from like the Harvard Business School, right out of there and so on and they were in very influential positions and were telling four-star generals what they should be doing and this was not well-received.
INT: I'd like to elaborate on that. How did the military get on with MacNamara and his whiz kids?
WK: The military did not get on well with MacNamara and the kids!, in fact, to this day, I mean, you mention MacNamara's name in the Pentagon and it's seen with great scorn. The problem basically was one of turf, that given that most of the senior officers at that time, from General Lemnitzer, who was at that point the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and General LeMay, General Power, many others, were all veterans of World War Two and some, such as LeMay, had been at least major generals in that war and in the post-War period, certainly from 1945 to 1961, they pretty much ran the Pentagon. I mean, the main control that the civilians exerted to the extent that they succeethere was with the budgets and by putting budget constraints on , they would limit what they could do, but within that constraint they pretty much had a free hand and... when MacNamara came in, he effectively started at least trying to move in on that and to get into much more detail and to demand answers to questions that hadn't even been raised previously and insisted on listening to his whiz kids, if you will, and depending more on them for advice than on senior military officers. So that created an enormous amount of tension. On top of that, but I think it was really secondary, there was a... the younger people especially, but even MacNamara were not very courteous toward senior officers and that simply enhanced the sense of alienation and so there was a constant battle that went on in... During the... war in Vietnam, I started doing some work that entailed interviews with officers returning from Vietnam - this was in, I think, 1964 - and apparently the Joint Chiefs went to MacNamara and complained about this and said that according to prior understandings, the civilians were to keep out of the operational side of the war and the military would leave the budget pretty much to MacNamara and his people. So I was exiled back to NATO [laughs] where apparently it was felt I would cause less trouble and sent on a wild hare's trip to Monterey, California, which I enjoyed immensely. So, there was a... it... this went on all through the MacNamara years and the... when Melvin Laird became Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration, he reversed a lot of the steps that MacNamara had taken in order to control not only the budget, but also the planning of the forces and the war plans themselves. There's been this sort of back and forth that's gone on now for thirty years or more in which the tide has shifted between the military and civilians and I would say, on balance, most of the steps that MacNamara had taken have been reversed.
INT: Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
WK: I think it's a bad thing. It's true that there were a lot of things that I personally wish we might have done differently in the sixties. I mean, there was a document that was called Basic National Security Policy that had originated in the Truman administration and became a very formal statement of high policy during the Eisenhower administration. It was called BNSP, Basic National Security Policy and in the advent of the Kennedy administration, I was asked to start revising this and it went through God knows how many drafts and as usual was reduced to pigeon English or something. But in the course of it had a sentence in it which said we shall place main, but not sole, reliance on nuclear weapons and I just reversed that, which was fun at the time, but it was kind of a silly thing to do, because you could practically feel the Pentagon shake when they read that, which said we shall place main, but not sole, reliance on non-nuclear weapons and that was very shocking to the brass and it was unnecessary and there were a lot of things like that that we just shouldn't have done, but on balance, the United States, owing to myths about the Prussian general staff and so on, has avoided in having a really serious general staff and really what, in our own perhaps unsatisfactory way, we were acting as kind of a staff to MacNamara, because there was no real alternative. There is a Joint Staff and there remains a Joint Staff, but, well, I'm out of touch with things now. In the sixties, it was really a lowest common denominator organization and each individual was watching out for his or her service interests rather than trying to articulate a serious joint policy and so... I think unless we overcome this notion that general staffs are dangerous somehow or other and actually train... junior officers to become staff in that sense, then you're going to have to rely on civilians. I personally would like to see a general staff emerge, but a serious general staff, not where people are serving time for two or three years in order to get their tickets punched, as they say, and then go back to their service, where their promotions are... taken care of and their whole careers depend on the service. Whereas if you had a serious general staff, you had promotions within it and it would... really take care of them independently of a particular service.
INT: So when MacNamara took office and you came along with him, what did you find in terms of the people - certainly I'm thinking of the SAC generals that you had to deal with?
WK: I dealt with a number of them, but I mean most memorably General LeMay and on one sad occasion, General Power. General LeMay turned out to be, for whatever reason, very sympathetic to what I was proposing at the time and... he appointed me to various boards with other generals, who promptly ignored me! Said they didn't understand why I was there. But as far as I could tell, he was then... LeMay that is, was Vice-Chief of Staff, he was seen to be very sympathetic to what I was proposing. General Power, on the other hand, who at that time had succeeded LeMay as the commanding general of the Strategic Air Command, was very bitterly opposed - I'm not so sure that it was with the idea so much, as it was with some rotten civilian coming along and telling this very experienced general from World War Two, who had participated primarily as far as I can recall in the bombing of Japan and the fire bombing of Japan, that telling him that that was the wrong way to do this sort of thing in the future and so he was very resentful. But it wasn't just myself. I mean, he had a terrible antagonism toward anybody from the Rand Corporation and in the one encounter I had with him at the headquarters of the Strategic Air Command, he took a lot of his bile out on me.
INT: There's a story associated...