The Endless Fantasy of American Power
Neither Trump Nor Biden Aims to Demilitarize Foreign Policy
IT IS now three years since an explosion over Hiroshima revealed to the world that man had been given the means of destroying himself. Eight atomic bombs have now been detonated—assuming that the three "atomic weapons" tested at Eniwetok were in fact bombs—and each was in itself a sufficient warning that the promise of eventual benefits resulting from the peacetime use of atomic energy must count as nothing compared to the awful menace of the bomb itself. The good things of earth cannot be enjoyed by dead men, nor can societies which have lost the entire material fabric of their civilization survive as integrated organisms.
Yet the dilemma nevertheless faces us that the enforcement of tolerable behavior among nations will continue for an indefinite time in the future to depend at least occasionally upon coercion or the threat of it, that the instruments of coercion against Great Powers will most likely be found only in the hands of other Great Powers (who can dispense with them only by acknowledging their readiness to forfeit whatever liberties they may happen blessedly to possess), and that those instruments appear fated, largely because of those same imperfections of our society which make power necessary, to include the atomic bomb and perhaps other comparable instruments of mass destruction.
Individuals may retreat from this dilemma behind a barrage of high moral protestation, usually combined with glowing predictions of a better world to be. Such retreat is rendered doubly sweet because it is more often than not accompanied by applause, especially from the intellectual wing of our society. But the nation as a whole cannot retreat from the problem, and those who desert simply leave the others to think it through as best they can.
The impact of the atomic bomb on United States policy has thus far been evidenced most clearly in the almost frantic effort to secure the adoption of a system of international control of atomic energy. It is difficult if not impossible to find an historical precedent for the eagerness with which this nation has pursued an endeavor which, if successful, would deprive it of the advantages of monopoly possession of a decisive military weapon. To be sure, the monopoly is bound to be temporary, but that has always been true of new weapons, the monopoly possession of which has usually been jealously guarded for as long as possible. The United States is even now behaving in the customary manner concerning all new weapons other than those based on the explosive release of atomic energy, a fact which in itself sufficiently demonstrates that the exceptional American position on atomic energy control is based on something other than national generosity. That "something other" is of course a well-warranted fear of living in a world which morally and politically is little different from the one we have known but which in addition is characterized by multilateral possession of atomic weapons.
But the fear which engendered the pursuit of international control also provoked the resolve that any control scheme must contain within itself practically watertight guarantees against evasion or violation. That was and remains a wholly reasonable resolve, but its inevitable consequence is that it greatly reduces the chance of securing the requisite agreement. Two years of work by the United Nations Atomic Energy Commission have resulted in some illumination of the problem but almost no progress towards a solution. American initiative in securing formal suspension of the activities of the Commission is a plain acknowledgment of that fact.
But where does that leave us? It leaves us, for one thing, with the unwanted bomb still in our hands, and, so far as we know, still exclusively in our hands. It leaves us also under the compulsion to go on building more bombs, and better ones if possible. We must continue our search for a workable and secure international control system by any corridor which reflects even a glimmer of hope of success, but we must also begin to consider somewhat more earnestly and responsibly than we have thus far what it will mean for the nation to adjust to an atomic age devoid of international controls.
The ramifications of that adjustment process are legion, but certainly they involve above all a continuing reconsideration of the effects of the bomb upon our plans for the national security. For those to whom "national security" appears too narrow a concept for an atomic age, there are at least three observations that might be made.
In the first place, as the world is now organized, and as it now operates, American security is for all practical purposes synonymous with world security. It is no longer a question whether our political leaders understand that to be the case, though there is much evidence that in the main they do so understand. It is simply that we have reached a stage where large-scale war without American participation borders on the inconceivable. Secondly, national policy, which is perforce concerned primarily with national security, is the only policy upon which we as citizens can hope to exercise any direct influence, and it is our only channel for affecting international policy. Thirdly, the projects of policy planners are much more likely to prosper if they conform at least occasionally to aspirations which the man on the street fully shares and understands. To him, and to the politician who serves him, the security of the United States is supremely meaningful and important. World security, on the other hand, is an abstraction which gains meaning—at least meaning sufficient to induce him to pay a price for it—only to the extent that he is persuaded that American security is enhanced thereby. The difference may seem superficially a semantic one, but it is more than that. It affects very profoundly the question of the kind and degree of risks one will accept and the character of the price one will pay to achieve security. It certainly affects the basic method by which we proceed to our goal.
Lest we adopt too patronizing an attitude towards the convictions of the layman or the politician, let us consider for a moment the propositions, however dimly he may perceive them, upon which those convictions rest. At least four such propositions may be listed, all of which are basically unaffected by the existence of the atomic bomb.
I. International organization at its existing level of development is obviously inadequate to guarantee either world or American security. This fact explains and partly justifies the preoccupation of most students of international relations with procedures for developing and improving existing bases for international coöperation. But exclusive preoccupation with such ends leaves a large gap which it is inexcusable to ignore, and that for a reason which provides our second proposition.
II. It is clear from any dispassionate and realistic appraisal of the forces at work in international relations today—the kind of appraisal which it is the first responsibility of the specialist in the field to provide—that a highly reliable and effective mechanism for the collective guarantee of security can hardly be deemed to lie within the range of conditions reasonably to be expected within our time. At any rate, the degree of probability is not high. The atomic bomb makes that circumstance more tragic, but it does not otherwise alter it. However much the mechanism described deserves working for, it is certainly a matter of ordinary prudence to take heavy insurance against failure or even against too slow a rate of achievement.
III. Whatever our predictions concerning the future of international coöperation, they must take into account the following basic dilemma: The pursuit of security against war—the objective which takes precedence above all others in the modern world—is not inevitably identical with the pursuit of smoother and more intimate international coöperation, the two being especially divergent where the latter holds out little promise of significant success. Where conciliation fails, one must take steps which may make that failure more certain and more complete. Where the opponent refuses to reason, one can only appease or threaten. There are wide variations in the flexibility and subtlety with which the statesman may either appease or threaten, and the degree of skill which he brings to his task is supremely important. However, it is in the main true that appeasement tends to encourage further unreasonable or "impossible" demands; while the threat or warning, however effective at the moment, tends to wound the opponent and to stimulate in him the desire to be less vulnerable to threat in the future. Nevertheless, the statesman may at any time be faced with a choice between these two alternatives and these alone. He will do well to guarantee for himself in advance the maximum of freedom of choice between them.
IV. For the purpose of threat or warning, adequate national strength is indispensable. The statesman who possesses it can choose whether to appease or warn; the one who lacks it can only appease. As General Eisenhower so neatly put it, strength is required to coöperate, weakness can only beg.
In a world in which none of the Great Powers felt threatened by one or more of the others, we could expect to see a salutary neglect of security devices resting on the above propositions. But it is clear from the recent behavior of our Government that it feels itself exposed to a threat from the Soviet Union, and it is almost equally clear that the measures which it is pursuing in response to that feeling of exposure enjoy the broadest popular support. Moreover, some of those measures undeniably entail aggravation of the tensions between the Soviet Union and ourselves. Is it possible to look past the difficulties of the moment to see the basic reasons for that concern?
A senior American naval officer told this writer not so long ago that "American strategic calculations concerning the requirements of great wars must envisage the Soviet Union as the opponent, if for no other reason than that she is the only foreign Power whose defeat would require great exertions on our part."
That is a good, simple working rule for an admiral. It recalls the old doctrine of the "natural enemy." It reminds us also that there would still be a problem to concern us even if the Soviet Union were something other than what it is; and that the fact that the power system of today is a bipolar one has dominant implications of its own. The main trouble with a bipolar system, as a colleague has so tersely put it, is that the target is all too unambiguous. The admiral's statement reminds us also that concern with security is a concern with possibilities, and not necessarily with high probabilities or certainties.
Nevertheless, if the reason which the admiral gave were the only one which counted, there is no doubt that our attitudes and our efforts concerning security would be profoundly more relaxed than they are. There are special reasons residing in the character of the Soviet state (or, if one insists, in the difference between our two systems) and in the events resulting from that character (or difference in characters) which account for the special dangers and the present acute degree of tension.
There is not space here, or competence on the part of the writer, to permit any analysis of the character of the Soviet state or of Soviet-American relations during the past three years. Nor is such analysis necessary for our purpose. All we need to guide us are a few general observations which will be obvious when pointed out but which may nevertheless strike the reader as having some flavor of novelty.
First of all, one might suggest that students of international relations have perhaps muddied the waters unduly by a somewhat excessive concern with Soviet motives, particularly with the question whether the motives behind Soviet obstreperousness, and worse, are primarily defensive or aggressive. That is not to argue that motives are unimportant. Nor is it to complain that motives are always difficult if not impossible to fathom, which is certainly true. The psychoanalyst is obliged professionally to reach conclusions about motives, and it is noteworthy that his interpretations usually differ from those of the person whose behavior he is examining. What is being suggested here is simply 1, that the act may dwarf in importance, so far as counteraction is concerned, the motive from which it leaps; and 2, that a motive which stems from convictions which we cannot appreciably influence or alter by any reasonable acts on our part ceases thereby to be of much operational significance to us.
The significance of the facts that the Soviet Union is a police state and that its organizing ideology posits among other things the necessity of world revolution has been sufficiently elaborated elsewhere. But a point which is generally overlooked and which is of at least equal significance is the following: the distinctive ideology being all-pervading, it quite naturally includes a special interpretation of previously existing patterns of international relations. That fact means, among other things, that the reassuring analogies which one can draw from western history concerning long periods of amicable relations between states of widely differing ideologies are of much diminished relevance. In almost all those instances we find ministers who otherwise represent the most widely differing persuasions holding a common approach to the conduct of foreign affairs, a common respect for the rules of the game.
Those rules, we are often told, elevated hypocrisy to the status of a first principle. "A diplomat," as the old saw goes, "is an honest man sent abroad to lie for his country." But there is another aphorism to the effect that hypocrisy has at least the merit of giving lip service to virtue. The "hypocrisy" of western statesmen has frequently enough been self-deception. The constant appeal to higher principles in the instruments of diplomacy has almost always been something more than window dressing. The margin of difference between declaration and performance, though wide, nevertheless had limits which the statesman well understood and upon which he could base his expectations. It is a common pattern in all civilizations that behavior falls short of the aspirations reflected in the norms, but the norms are not thereby bereft of importance.
The Communist philosophy explicitly and systematically rejects the previously accepted norms of international conduct. The principle of expediency in the approach to the existing pattern is not simply indulged in, it is avowed and exalted.
The final and conclusive point relevant here is that the Soviet Union is a military state if not a militaristic one. Welfare, in the form of consumers goods and services, is subordinated to military requirements to a degree which also has probably never before been approximated in modern history—certainly not in Nazi Germany, which vaunted "guns before butter." While the milder kinds of Socialists have often been pacifists, no real Communist philosopher from Marx to the present has ever had the slightest use for pacifism. Marx, indeed, and Lenin too, took frequent occasion to bend their matchless scorn upon it.
The points just stated are not matters of opinion. They are the kind of conclusions which any normal intelligence operation provides, except that the factual evidence which supports them is far more abundant and incontrovertible than is usually available to the intelligence officer in his general run of problems. It is the kind of evidence upon which policy, as distinct from hope or yearning, must be based.
These conclusions do not point to the inevitability of war. They do point, however, to a policy the realization of which will at each recurrence of crisis serve to persuade the Soviet leaders that the expedient solution is the peaceful one. Such a policy would no doubt also serve to reduce the frequency of crises. For the saving grace of the Soviet philosophy so far as international relations are concerned is that, unlike the Nazi ideology, it incorporates within itself no time schedule. Hitler had to accomplish his ultimate goals not only within his lifetime but within his years of vigor. The Soviet attitude appears to be much more opportunistic. The Soviets may be unshakably convinced that ultimately there must be war between the Communist world and what they call the "capitalist" one. Since that conviction is a cardinal doctrine of their faith, we can probably do nothing within the present generation to alter it. What we can do, however, is to persuade them each time the question arises that "The time is not yet!"
The problem to which we now return is the problem of how to accomplish this act of persuasion in an atomic age, when the already precious objective of peace is made immeasurably more precious by the immeasurably enhanced horror of the alternative. However, since preoccupation with the horror has brought us nothing positive thus far, and offers exceedingly little promise of doing so in the future, it is time for a shift to a more sober position. There are a large number of questions pressing for an answer, and consideration of many of them requires appraisal of the atomic bomb as an instrument of war—and hence of international politics—rather than as a visitation of a wrathful deity.
No doubt the first question concerns the effect of the atomic bomb upon the basic power relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union. Postponing for a moment such qualifying considerations as stem from our present but admittedly temporary monopoly, we see at once that one of the most fundamental changes created by the atomic bomb is that it makes possible for the first time decisive military action between the two great centers of power.
In a brilliant study published during the recent war, Professor William T. R. Fox based much of his analysis of Great Power relationships on the proposition that a war between the Anglo-American bloc on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other would be almost inevitably bound to result in a stalemate, and that common recognition of this fact by both sides would powerfully influence (presumably for the better) relations between them. His explanation follows:
The pressure which either the Soviet Union or the Western powers can bring to bear upon the other in its main centers of power is surely much less than is implied by the statement that the two are the strongest forces in the world. Not only are the points of direct contact few and inaccessible but the centers are widely separated. The armed power of each can be effectively carried only part of the way to the other. American control over the seaward approaches to the New World will in any foreseeable future render a transoceanic operation by the Soviet Union impossible. The massive superiority of its land army should on the other hand discourage the Western powers from attempting a large-scale amphibious operation against hostile shores controlled by the Red Army.[i]
That proposition was not only true at the time of writing, but it could also be argued that no conceivable evolution of the instruments of war then publicly known could have significantly modified it. To be sure, strategic bombing was gradually developing in effectiveness, and the striking range of bomber aircraft was slowly but steadily increasing. However, with the experience of World War II, none but extremists could argue that strategic bombing was sufficient unto itself for winning a war against a great nation. Moreover, despite the increasing range of bomber aircraft, there were a variety of technical reasons, quite impressive in the aggregate, to support the conclusion that a comprehensive program of strategic bombing over what might be called intercontinental distances would not become practicable "in the foreseeable future." That conclusion assumed, of course, an evolutionary improvement in known types of bombs and incendiaries, roughly approximating in magnitude the developments of the preceding score of years. At any rate, it was as nearly certain as any military prediction can be that a conflict between the two major centers of power would be a prolonged one—comparable in duration to the two world wars—and not promising the same finality of decision achieved in each of those instances.
The atomic bomb has changed all that. Unless the number of atomic bombs which it is possible for any nation to make in, say, 10 years' time is far smaller than the most restrained estimates would indicate, there can no longer be any question of the "decisiveness" of a strategic bombing campaign waged primarily with atomic bombs. Also, for a variety of reasons which cannot be reviewed here but which are readily available elsewhere,[ii] distance no longer presents the same kind of barrier to effective strategic bombing with atomic bombs that it does with chemical bombs. With atomic bombs, planes already in military service could effectively attack from bases within the continental United States important targets in the Soviet Union, which the same planes could not do if they carried only chemical bombs. Thus, there is no absolute necessity to wage great campaigns merely to secure advanced bombing bases. Finally, it is difficult to see how the decisive phases of a war fought with substantial numbers of atomic bombs could be anything but short.
The corollary of the point made in the previous paragraph is that the atomic bomb has deprived the United States of what amounted almost to absolute security against attack upon its continental territories. Its naval supremacy was sufficient to guarantee it both against direct invasion of hostile land forces and against enemy seizure of bases close to our frontiers for large-scale bombing attack. A potential enemy might count on token raids, but nothing more. America's invulnerability was akin to that which Britain enjoyed through the centuries until the perfecting of the submarine on the eve of World War I. The language which Francis Bacon applied to superior sea power in his own time, that it might take "as much or as little of a war as it liked," still largely held for the United States, alone among nations. But with effective intercontinental bombing available to any enemy who holds in substantial numbers the tools already in our hands, that treasured position is gone. The atomic bomb has in military effect translated the United States into a European Power.
However, though Heaven is lost, not all is lost. There is still the issue of superiority to contend with. Three questions especially concern us. Is clear and conspicuous military superiority possible in an age of atomic bombs? If so, is it possible for the United States to maintain it vis-à-vis its major rival? And what will be the political consequences of an effort to maintain atomic superiority?
It is not possible in a few paragraphs to do more than outline the nature of the problem contained in each of these questions and perhaps to indicate the fallacy of certain prevalent suppositions concerning it. Let us take the third question first.
There has long been a fashion among academic specialists in international relations to deprecate as futile and worse the quest on the part of any nation for military superiority over its rivals. As the argument runs, the attempt is bound to provoke a similar pursuit on the part of the rival, the net result being an armaments race which inevitably results in war. Historical support is of course not lacking, especially if the historical instances be chosen with discrimination. The prevalence of this doctrine has had a great deal to do with our frenetic pursuit of international control of atomic energy at almost any cost, including the cost of neglecting to consider any possible alternatives.
There is of course an important element of truth in the idea. But there is also much taken for granted in it which is not true. It is not true, for example, and has not been true at least since the industrial revolution began, that the so-called Great Powers have been on an approximately equal footing in terms of their ability to compete in the production of those instruments of war that really counted. It could be said, for example, that it was the Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 which made the Pacific phase of World War II possible, for it assured to Japan something much closer to naval parity with the United States than would have been anywhere near her reach in any real building competition ensuing from the absence of such a treaty. The Treaty did avoid for a time a "costly" naval building competition. But was not the war with Japan immeasurably more costly? And would Japan have dared embark upon a war against an America boasting a naval power which was—as it easily could have been, without any untoward strain upon the American economy—two or three times her own?
General propositions should not be pushed too far, including the one just stated, but there is much cant in the field of international studies which needs to be brushed out. Those to whom armaments competition appears disastrous as well as wicked are somewhat inconsistent when they look back nostalgically on the relatively peaceful nineteenth century and on the marvelous rôle played by Great Britain in helping to preserve that peace. They will speak vaguely of Britain's invulnerability as a contributing factor, as though that invulnerability were something handed down from on high. It was indeed Britain's invulnerability at home which enabled British statesmen to play such an active and on the whole beneficent part in helping preserve the peace of Europe, but it was not simply the accident of the Channel which made Britain invulnerable. It was her clear-cut naval superiority over the Channel and adjacent seas, the impairment of which Britain would not brook, which gave her that enviable position.
Returning again to the atomic bomb, the issue is not whether our country ought to seek to maintain its present superiority in atomic armaments but whether it has any chance at all of succeeding in such an effort. It has been argued by some (including at one time the present writer) that it was in the very nature of atomic armaments that the kind of clear and decisive military superiority that was feasible in the past—conspicuously in the case of naval armaments—could no longer be realized. The argument was based fundamentally on two considerations: first, that there was "no defense against the atomic bomb," and second, that when a nation had enough bombs to overwhelm its opponent in one surprise attack and was willing to make such attack, it would make little difference whether its opponent had two or three times the number.
There is now reason to believe that the situation is not so simple as all that. A great deal depends on the total number of bombs which it will be possible for the various Great Powers to make in any given period of time. Clearly, a three to one superiority in numbers of bombs would mean one thing if the numbers of bombs on each side were numbered at most in the scores or hundreds, and something quite different (and much less significant) if they were numbered in the thousands. Information which would enable private citizens to make intelligent estimates concerning rate of bomb production has not been made public, but there appear to be hints in various quarters that the maximum feasible rate of bomb production is substantially less than was being generally assumed two years ago. It is also clear that the richer of the known deposits of uranium and thorium are much more accessible to the United States than to the Soviet Union.
One may also assume that the enormous technological lead which the United States has over the Soviet Union—and which shows no conclusive signs of diminishing—is bound to mean a great potential advantage for the United States in the design of the instruments for using the atomic bomb. The bomb by itself has no military utility. It must be delivered to the target in some kind of vehicle which, unless it is a free-flying rocket, is subject to various kinds of attack. Marked superiority in the vehicle or in the means of shooting down the enemy's vehicles may be no less important than superiority in numbers of bombs, especially if those numbers are something less than gigantic. If those several types of superiority are concentrated on the same side, the disparity in atomic fighting power may be sufficient to warrant comparison with outright monopoly.
The Soviet Union has been able, with the assistance of German technicians, to build several types of jet-propelled fighters, and she has also built several large bombers patterned after our B-29, some models of which were impounded by her during the war. But a few German technicians are not going to make the difference between a backward technology and an eagerly progressive one. Our lead in types of aircraft, in the ordnance of combat aviation, and in anti-aircraft matériel should, or rather could, be as great during the next 20 years as it was in the recent war. The only question is whether we will make the necessary effort to keep in the lead in our military technology. That the Soviet Union will spare no effort within her capabilities to overtake us goes without saying.
We are often told that our monopoly of the atomic bomb is a wasting asset. It is, to be sure, in the sense that some day it is bound to end and we are constantly getting closer to that day. But is our superiority similarly a wasting asset? In one respect, at least, we know that it is not, for our fund of bombs is increasing steadily during the period in which the Soviet Union remains without any. On the day that the Soviet Union produces its first bomb, we will have many more than we do at present. What happens thereafter depends on a large number of variables. But looking forward from the present, we may say with a good deal of assurance that our present superiority in atomic armaments will increase considerably before it begins to wane, that it may continue to increase even after the Soviet Union is producing bombs, and that it may be a long time in waning thereafter. At any rate, we know that merely to distinguish—as is usually done—between the monopoly period (in which we are safe) and the post-monopoly period (in which we are lost) is not enough.
One might incidentally point out that it is easy to be oversubtle concerning the political consequences of our present monopoly of the bomb. The duty of the intellectual to get behind the obvious too often betrays him into ignoring the obvious or even denying it. We have heard a good many references to the fact that the atomic bomb, being a weapon of mass destruction, is not really handy for diplomatic manœuvring. We have been told also that since we would never use it against cities inhabited by friendly peoples, it would not help us one whit in stopping Soviet armies from overrunning Western Europe. The latter observation happens not to be strategically correct, since the destruction of Russian cities and industries would make a great deal of difference in the ability of the Soviet armies to overrun Western Europe, or to maintain themselves in that area if they got there. But the fact remains that the atomic bomb is today our only means for throwing substantial power immediately against the Soviet Union in the event of flagrant Soviet aggression. The Soviets may underestimate the power of the bomb (as may, indeed, our own military leaders), but they cannot be entirely oblivious of that fact. If they choose war now it will be either because they underestimate the bomb even more grossly than they appear to or because they would rather face the hazard now when our bombs are few than later when they are many.
Concerning the effects of the atomic bomb upon our military organization and strategic plans, we must recognize first of all that, to paraphrase Clemenceau, the matter is much too important to be left to the generals—or to the politicians either for that matter. Formulation of security policy demands anticipation of probabilities with due regard to what is politically possible or feasible. But consideration of the latter may too easily degenerate into preoccupation with what is politically safe. Political leaders, moreover, have neither the time nor the inclination to preoccupy themselves with the long-term significance of changes in military technology, and rarely the competence to make anything of it if they do. They must rely upon the advice of their military aides, who belong to a profession long recognized as markedly conservative—though it is easy to exaggerate the degree and character of that conservatism—who have vested service and personal interests which influence them consciously or unconsciously, whose talents are not primarily dialectic, and who are saddled with tremendous responsibility. The responsibility powerfully reinforces the conservative tendencies already present as a result of nurture and training. We are therefore not likely to find military leaders, or the civilian officials whom they advise, accepting readily upon the advent of some revolutionary military device that drastic adjustment which free and objective inquiry may indicate as necessary or at least desirable.
It is a little startling, some three years after Hiroshima, to find the military departments of our government still apparently unprepared to think in terms of what strategic effects are to be expected from the use of any given number of bombs. The national safety will of course demand close secrecy concerning conclusions reached, but in this instance there is reason for believing that "security" is concealing the absence of thinking rather than the import of the ideas derived. For example, in the paper prepared by the War Department in March 1947 on "The Effects of the Atomic Bomb on National Security," there is a reference to something called a "significant" number of bombs. The meaning of "significant" is then explained only as indicating that number of bombs which would "provide an important military capability."[iii] The military profession is not the only one which habitually betrays itself with catch phrases, but when we think of the absence of logic usually inherent in such sacrosanct phrases as "balanced fleet" or "balanced force," we cannot be too optimistic about the precision of thought behind the "important military capability."
We know that one bomb will not win a war against a major Power, since it took two to produce the surrender of an already defeated Japan. The same may reasonably be held to be true of five or ten. But there appears to be little idea anywhere what number would be "significant" and even less conception of how many it takes to make the weapon "decisive." Much will of course depend on how the bombs are used, but then the significance of the whole issue is that the number available and the estimates concerning the capabilities of that number will in large part govern the way in which they are used.
It is not easy to extrapolate the strategic effectiveness of atomic bombs from the experience with strategic bombing gained in the recent war. There are too many differences, besides that of magnitude of destruction per bomb or per plane, between bombing with chemical bombs and attacking with atomic bombs. It is not even a simple matter to determine the factor of increase in power of the atomic bomb over an equivalent load of chemical bombs. But we do have enough data to provide the basis for some intensive research which might throw some light on the problem. What we need to know is: "How many bombs will do what?" And the "what" must be reckoned in over-all strategic results rather than merely in acres destroyed.
The evidence is presumptive only, but nevertheless impressive, that our military planners are thinking of an atomic bomb which is an "important military capability" but nevertheless only an ancillary rather than a decisive weapon. The chief danger is that the inevitably transitory nature of the conditions presumed will not be recognized sufficiently or in time. Regardless of what the Soviet Union may accomplish in the field, our own production of atomic bombs is proceeding apace, and the justification for regarding the weapon as an ancillary one is bound to evaporate as our stockpile accumulates.
If we consider national defense policy in its broader aspects, and look beyond the period of American monopoly of atomic weapons, we see that recognition of the loss of American invulnerability to overseas attack and expectation of quick decisions in the event of war will no doubt entail a violent wrench to our defense traditions. Preparedness in the old sense of the term, which meant mainly provision for great expansion of the military services and of military production after the outbreak of hostilities, will appear even less adequate than it has been charged with being in the past. What will that mean for the costs of military preparedness?
Unquestionably the costs will increase, as they have already begun to. But we should not assume that the restraints which have always operated on the growth of military budgets will become inconsequential. There have been no systematic studies of the various factors governing the size of military budgets. It is obvious that periods of international tensions generally stimulate increases in military expenditure, and historians have dwelt on the scale of the armaments races preceding the two world wars. But they have scarcely considered the significance of the fact that in each case the extent of the arming, though large in comparison with more tranquil periods, was relatively small in contrast to the expansion of the war period itself.
We are speaking here partly of ordinary human inertia, even under circumstances where war appears imminent, and in so far as that inertia can be relied upon to be both pronounced and universal it should definitely enter into our calculations. But there is more to the matter than simple inertia. Wartime economies are characteristically fat-consuming. Both the toleration of them by the public and the physical possibility of maintaining their inordinate pace depend on the fact that they are temporary and recognized to be such. If there is to be fat to consume it must first be accumulated. In other words, even from the point of view strictly of defense needs, war economies can be inaugurated too soon as well as too late. And if the relevant comments of General Eisenhower while he was Chief of Staff of the Army can be taken as representative, that fact is recognized by the military themselves.
There is also the problem of avoiding military expenditure which is improvident not only because it is too large but also because it is misdirected. We have heard much, for example, of the business of dispersing our cities as a defense against atomic attack. It is clear that such dispersion would result in a tremendous loss of fixed and sunk capital and, in all probability, in a less efficient spatial arrangement of industries than previously existed. Thus, even if one should make the wholly untenable assumption that wholesale dispersion of our cities and the losses resulting would be tolerated by the public, the project might still appear to be militarily wasteful. A great many combat airplanes could be provided with what it would cost to disperse even a relatively small city. There is no doubt a margin for the dispersion of key industries and services which would not loom large in terms of the economy as a whole but which would nevertheless have important security results. If so, the accomplishment of that objective should remain a maximum as well as a minimum goal.
These observations are of course not very reassuring to those who, like the present writer, deplore the necessity of spending on military protection even so substantial a portion of our national income as we are spending today. The limits referred to are fairly flexible and we are still far from having reached them. And what will occur in this country when the conviction settles upon it that the Soviet Union is producing atomic bombs is the big question of the future. But the error for which we are now paying was after all perpetrated some three centuries ago, when Galileo was permitted to escape burning. Our problem now is to develop the habit of living with the atomic bomb, and the very incomprehensibility of the potential catastrophe inherent in it may well make that task easier.
[i] "The Super-Powers: The United States, Britain, and The Soviet Union -- Their Responsibility for Peace." New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1944, p. 102.
[ii] See especially "The Absolute Weapon: Atomic Power and World Order," edited by Bernard Brodie (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1946), p. 34-40; also "The Atomic Bomb and the Armed Services," by Bernard Brodie and Eilene Galloway, Public Affairs Bulletin No. 55 (Legislative Reference Service, Library of Congress), p. 42-45. The reasons why the same plane can be effective over much greater distances with atomic bombs than with chemical bombs concern basically the intricate relationships between such factors as the amount of bombs which a plane can carry over any given distance, the total military effort expended in carrying it over that distance, and the tolerable rate of loss of attacking planes. Since the atomic bomb does enormously more damage than an equivalent load of chemical bombs, the cost per sortie which is acceptable with atomic bombs is also proportionately greater—great enough, in fact, to include 100 percent loss of planes on successful attacks. The greater acceptable cost; the fact that the plane itself need not be retrieved (whatever the arrangements made for the rescue of the crew); and the additional fact that a single atomic bomb, whatever its weight, is always a sufficient payload for any distance which the plane is capable of carrying it, will have the effect of at least doubling the maximum effective bombing range of any plane of B-29 size or greater.
[iii] The War Department Paper was published in the Public Affairs Bulletin No. 55 already cited. The specific reference above is to page 67 of the Bulletin.