THE end of the American monopoly on atomic bombs and the President's decision to develop the hydrogen bomb advance the timetable of the world crisis. Those who say that "nothing has been changed" merely flee reality.

One atomic explosion in Russia does not mean, of course, that the Soviet Government is ready to attack the western world. But it does mean that from now on we must reckon on Russia's ability to use the A-bomb, and on the fact that as the years pass the number of bombs in the Russian stockpile will increase. How long it will be before this stockpile becomes strategically significant is anybody's guess. At the least, however, we shall have to assume that the Soviet Union will possess from 10 to 100 A-bombs within about a year to two years from October 1949. And, if we do succeed in developing the more terrible hydrogen bomb, Russia will certainly do so.

We can take small comfort from our ability merely to maintain a lead in the manufacture of bombs. The time is bound to come when the Russian stockpile of bombs will neutralize ours in a political sense, and perhaps strategically also. This will be even more emphatically the case when Russia is in a position to deliver her bombs to objectives in Western Europe and the United States. This she surely will be able to do. Even before the "atomic explosion" of last summer the U.S.S.R. had created a "Long Range Air Force," composed of three Long Range Air Armies, independent of the regular Soviet air force command. At the present time of writing, she is estimated to possess from 100 to 250 B-29 type aircraft, and others are being manufactured. So far as we know, there still are no other planes in the world equal in range to our B-36. The Russian B-29 nevertheless has ample range to reach Britain and all parts of Western Europe and Asia. Moreover, it could easily reach important centers in the northern United States in one-way "suicide" flights from bases in the Gulf of Anadir region, in Siberia; and possibly it might reach Hanford in the State of Washington, and return.

The truth is that we have not used to the best advantage the years of atomic grace we have had after Hiroshima. We have done things which we ought not to have done and have left undone many things which we ought to have done. We of course expected that our atomic monopoly would come to an end, but we did not expect that to happen so quickly. And even before the news of last September, the timetable of our preparations for the hour when there would be "two atomic worlds" was lagging. When the horror of Hiroshima first made us conscious of the new realities of the atomic age, we felt the urgency of action. Now Russia has conquered the atom. The development of "breeder" piles will provide more fissionable material. More powerful A-bombs than before are planned or being constructed. The development of a hydrogen bomb has been started. Yet much of our former sense of urgency seems to be gone. We linger in a mood part fatalistic, part complacent. The fact of the existence of the atomic bomb and the other mass killers of the new age -- radioactive dusts and poisons, biological agents, new gases -- has lost its novelty. Familiarity has bred contempt.

Although our cities and industries are logical targets for an enemy's atomic bombs, we have made little or no progress toward their defense. Complete dispersion of cities is impossible, for both economic and political reasons. But the Strategic Bombing Survey, with the ruins of Hiroshima before the eyes of its authors, outlined practical measures which could reduce the vulnerability of our large cities. A revision of city building codes to require earthquake-type construction and to set limitations on the height of buildings would reduce damage and casualties. Few communities in the United States have made such revisions. Shelters provided effective protection for people in Japan. Not even experimental shelters have been constructed in the United States, however, and new subterranean structures -- subways, sub-basements, cellars, etc. -- have been built without thought for the new hazards of the present age.

The most elementary care for public safety among those responsible for city planning would foster a gradual process of dispersion. "Green belts" should be provided in the suburbs of growing towns and cities; industrial areas should be more clearly marked off from residential areas; hospitals and police and fire facilities should be decentralized. Above all, the density of population in the central sections of great cities should be reduced. As things are, the streets can hardly contain physically at any one time the inhabitants of many congested city areas. New zoning laws should require that when crowded and cramped dwelling structures are condemned the modern buildings which replace them should not merely be limited in height but should be better dispersed. Overcrowding in business districts should also be guarded against in granting building permits for new skyscrapers.

Not even a start has been made -- except on paper -- toward most of these perfectly practicable and realizable goals. Conditions which would be very dangerous in the event of sudden disaster not merely are not being rectified; they are growing progressively worse. New York, for example, is busy creating modern housing and new office structures which greatly increase the density of population.

The same must be said of the dispersion of American industrial facilities. Dispersion is not impossible with wise guidance, but it has progressed like the frog trying to get out of the well -- one jump up and two down. A single illustration will be sufficient. The Chance Vought Aircraft Division of United Aircraft Corporation, which makes important Navy fighter planes, moved, with the encouragement of the Government, from crowded and vulnerable Stratford, near Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Dallas, Texas. In the recent so-called "recession," Bridgeport was declared an area of acute unemployment, and backed by the state and federal governments the city has been trying (with some success) to persuade new industries to settle there. These include another aircraft company and an important rocket-engine company. Recent attempts to move the bulk of Boeing's aircraft production from Seattle, Washington, to Wichita, Kansas, aroused a political furor.

Most important, there has been little progress -- again except on paper -- toward the development of an adequate civil defense program. Civilian defense measures might be said to have saved Britain during the blitz of the last war, and certainly they minimized casualties. If an atomic war should occur, the fact that adequate civilian defense had been organized in time might mean the difference between ruin and survival, victory and defeat.

In New York State, the Special Committee to Study the Military Law has issued a report (the outlines of which have been approved by Governor Dewey) reproaching the federal government for the administrative red-tape and procrastination that have snarled civil defense planning. It pointed out that some 27 different federal agencies participate in one way or another in civil defense planning but that there has been no real centralized direction or coördination. The report proposed the development of an integrated and well-rounded civil defense plan for New York State, but emphasized that impetus and direction to state efforts must come from Washington.

A thorough study of the problems of civilian defense was made by direction of the late Secretary of Defense Forrestal. The program which resulted, the so-called Hopley plan, though open to criticism in several particulars, was a master blueprint for a reasonable degree of civilian security. Yet virtually none of the measures it recommended has been accomplished. Its major recommendation was for a centralized civilian defense authority in Washington. This has been emasculated by President Truman, who, on the recommendation of Dr. John Steelman, ordered the various functions of civilian defense spread around among a number of different government agencies.

The sad catalogue of errors of omission which involve the safety of the American people can be extended. The National Security Resources Board was established by the unification act as a key agency to dovetail military and civilian economic mobilization planning and to insure the wise use of the national resources in peace and war. It has been to a considerable degree shelved because of the jealousy of established government agencies. In planning for possible mobilization we are repeating today many of the egregious errors that handicapped our rapid utilization of our industrial might in the early part of World War II. The lessons of the past have been ignored as well as the threats of the future.


Our fighting services -- Army, Navy and Air Force -- have made some progress in adjusting themselves to the realities of a world in which two Powers possess A-bombs. They were somewhat demoralized by the over-rapid demobilization, but have now emerged from the depressing experience of the first postwar years. This does not mean that all is well. "Unification" has not by any means unified, but so far has only sharpened division. The creation of an effective, efficient and (so far as possible) economic defense seems further away today than it did in 1945.

The danger of quick and devastating attack in the atomic age demands a greater degree of "readiness potential" in our armed forces than was needed before. So far, however, we have made only limited progress toward this goal; our military system is still based on pre-atomic concepts -- on "mobilization potential" rather than "readiness potential." The National Guard and the Reserves -- "the weekend warriors" -- form the backbone of the "mobilization potential" system. They have most of the faults uncovered by the war. The dichotomy between the Guard and the Reserves remains. "Political" officers are still being appointed to high Guard posts; State politics enter into Guard affairs and national politics into Reserve affairs. Little has been done, moreover, to correct inadequacies in training.

The regular services show many weaknesses also. The morale of a sizeable segment of the Navy's officers is probably worse than it has been for many years. Considerable progress has been made in solving the technical problem of countering the new snorkel submarines, but it still has not been solved completely. The over-all combat efficiency of the fleet is very far from what it was in 1945. The air arm of the Navy, which provides striking power, has been steadily reduced. The British Navy is building ten aircraft carriers; we are building one.

The Army has about ten and a half divisions on paper, but only about three or four of these are approximately ready for combat. Even in 1945, we were outgunned by both the German and Russian tanks. We have not developed a single new production model of a medium or heavy tank since the war; and a new one is still years away.

The Air Force, which rightfully has had A-1 priority since the war, is somewhat better off. The British nevertheless are probably one or two years ahead of us in jet engines; their newest fighters may have an edge on ours; and we have very little tactical aircraft for close-range surface support. The Russians are far ahead of us in this field. Our long-range air force is still greatly superior in range, quality and quantity of planes, technique and training to that of the Russians. And we still have a decided lead, qualitatively and quantitatively, in the A-bomb race. This last has seemed to us, in our complacent mood, to compensate for all else. Our present peril arises from the fact that we do not yet realize that the situation has vastly changed.


Mr. Churchill has spoken of our past monopoly of the A-bomb as the main reason why the Russians did not move into Western Europe in the first years of the cold war. This may be an exaggerated way of putting it. Superior American industrial strength, plus a natural hesitancy on the part of the Communist leaders to resort to military force when they were still making great gains by other methods, must have been important factors also. Yet there is no doubt that the A-bomb was a real deterrent to Russian armed aggression during the series of crises in the past year. It is quite clear that our A-bombs will have much less effect in this respect now that our atomic monopoly is broken. Even if it is true that 1,000 bombs (say) can devastate Russia, and that we have them, could not 100 Soviet bombs devastate us?

In the past our strategy was based upon the assumption that if the Red Army attacked Western Europe, our long-range bombers, flying from bases outside of Europe, would counter instantly by atomic bombardment of Russian cities, industrial centers, oil facilities and communications. This concept is obsolete. It died the day we signed the Atlantic Pact, and the Russian atomic explosion was the nail in its coffin. For the Atlantic Pact committed us to defend Western Europe, not to reconquer it after it had been invaded and conquered by the Russians. To pound Russia into submission after she has overrun the west is no longer enough. We must check and defeat her onslaught on the west. Russia's possession of the A-bomb, and of the means to deliver it, mean, moreover, that she now has two strings to her bow; to the offensive power of army must now be added the offensive power of air force. She cannot only overrun Western Europe on the ground; she can devastate it from the air. Nor is our own territory immune to the Russian air assault.

Clearly, then, time is neutralizing our advantage in atomic warfare; no longer can we depend upon the A-bomb as a major deterrent to aggression, or as the major determinant of our strategy if war should come. The question is asked: What shall we do? In one sense the answer is simple: we must find a substitute for the A-bomb. To do this successfully will require psychological and military readjustments on our part and a clearer understanding of our political goals.

If the psychological adjustment can be made the rest will probably follow. The first step will be difficult, however. We Americans cling to shibboleths. In the years of grace now ended, the atomic bomb and the long-range bomber became a kind of Maginot Line in the American mind. We imagined that they would enable us to achieve a quick, cheap, easy and impersonal victory if war should come. The realization that this was a delusion -- at any rate that it is a delusion today -- is the first necessary step in the needed psychological reorientation.

The second step is a readjustment in our military thinking. In the era of air power it is axiomatic, I think, that the best defense is a good offense; and in the atomic age it is axiomatic that the existence of an atomic bombing force-in-being, ready for instant and devastating retaliation in case of attack, is the keystone of any modern defense system. That is why so-called strategic bombing -- and the provision of the long-range bombers to carry it out, and of the necessary bombs and weapons -- has received priority in our military planning. I do not believe that the Russian conquest of the atom means that our own long-range air force can be neglected. After all, the threat of retaliation by, say, ten times as many A-bombs is still a great deterrent to the atomic bombardment of our own country or of Western Europe. The long-range A-bomb force has become, in effect, a police department ready to act if a crime is committed. On the other hand, it is not an incitement to crime, and on this account it is a real and, as things stand in the world, a necessary instrument of peace. Our long-range strategic Air Force, therefore, must still play an important rôle in our military organization and must continue to enjoy a high priority. But the apparent lesson of the new situation is that this priority has in the past been too high in relation to the other needs of defense, and that the importance of strategic bombing was automatically reduced by the Soviet development of the bomb, and by our obligations under the Atlantic Pact.

Our political undertakings also require that we reorient our military policies. As already noted, the Atlantic Pact and the arms-aid program now commit us to the defense of Western Europe. In view of this, we must shift some emphasis from strategic air power to other tactics and weapons. The A-bomb and the heavy long-range bomber might in time destroy the sources of supply and the communications of Soviet Armies operating in Western Europe (probably at the cost of terrific atomic damage to our own nation); but the bomb could hardly halt their advance, since it is an area weapon of little use against moving troops. Greater attention must now be given to new weapons of delay and harassment; to short-range, tactical air power, with its attacks upon enemy armies and its direct support of our own armies; and to small but highly mobile ground forces of great fire power, incomparably well armed.

All this implies also a fundamental change in the concepts of strategic bombing. Ever since the war, our strategic Air Force has assumed that atomic bombardment would be the spearhead of its attack in case a new war came. In a world where two stockpiles of A-bombs exist, this assumption may no longer be justified; a mutual restraint, bred by fear, may preclude the use of the A-bomb. Instead of "stream" bombing by individual bombers, then, we may return to mass bombing by great air armadas. Instead of bombing by radar and at night, or through overcasts from 40,000 feet, we may have to come much lower to hit precise targets. Instead of attacking areas we may have to develop pinpoint bombing. In the past, the accuracy of "precision" bombing has been measured more by miles than by meters. Modern bombers and their trained crews are much too expensive to be wasted in indiscriminate assaults. In other words, "strategic bombing" must come to mean the most careful possible selection of precision targets -- tunnels, bridges, oil facilities, etc. -- and the most careful economy of force.

Air superiority is clearly essential to the successful defense of Western Europe, and air superiority will be determined in the air battles that will be an inevitable consequence of strategic bombing. In the past war, German air power was defeated in the skies over Germany, rather than by the bombs that fell on German airplane factories and oil refineries (although these also contributed to the result). But it was not until our heavy bombers went out in the company of long-range fighters that our air superiority was established. Daytime (or precision) bombing by unescorted bombers proved prohibitive; these did not produce the enemy air losses which escorted bombers produced and which later bled the enemy white. In spite of this (as Major General Claire L. Chennault, wartime air commander in China, notes in his book, "Way of a Fighter") the Air Force today is repeating our early World War II mistake and is predicating its strategic bombing concepts upon the use of heavy unescorted bombers for deep penetration into vital enemy territory. "It is . . . somewhat appalling in the postwar years," General Chennault writes, "to notice the new independent U. S. Air Force drifting back to the same fallacious doctrine of unescorted bombers so soon after such bloody proof of this error in the air war against Germany and Japan." We have developed a bomber with a 10,000 mile (one-way) range, but we do not possess any fighting plane that can accompany it a fraction of this distance, and none is in view. The difficulties of producing such a fighter are not insuperable, but hitherto conflicts in policy have handicapped the technical achievement.

The defense of Western Europe is possible in the event of war only if American and allied air superiority can be attained and maintained. This can be accomplished only if there is a shift of emphasis from the heavy, long-range bomber costing $4,000,000 to $7,000,000 apiece to long-range fighters, fighter-bombers, and medium and light bombers. The long-range bomber will still be essential in the era of "two atomic worlds," but unless we can meet Russia's thousands of fighters and close-support aircraft on more than equal terms, Western Europe is doomed.


The new military policy which we must adopt to meet this emergency requires first of all, therefore, the reconstruction of our tactical air power, which now is nonexistent except for the Navy and Marine air arm. It requires the development of long-range fighters, or of means of some kind, to protect our long-range bombers during the raids which they will be called on to make deep into enemy territory. It is curious that we have never used Navy fighters, flown from carrier decks close to an enemy's coast, to protect the long-range bombers of the Air Force, flown from land bases far in the rear. The perfection of tactics and techniques of this sort requires practice. The development of tactical air power is possible only through the establishment of the most intimate relationship between ground troops and the supporting air forces. Yet no such relationship has existed in this country since the war. The situation has improved recently, after pressure from the Army and from within the Air Force. It nevertheless remains an open secret that the ground forces are by no means satisfied with the proficiency of the air support available to them.

The new emphasis upon tactical air power also deserves the attention of our Allies. The development of ground-support air power should have a far larger place in the arms-aid program which is intended to restore the military power of Western Europe. This is all the more essential since short-range air power (jet fighters, medium bombers, etc.) cannot be moved quickly across oceans; many of the planes might have to be ferried by ship. Modern air bases are expensive and complicated installations, moreover, and cannot be built in a day. Anti-aircraft guns and fighter planes for the protection of bases, radar warning networks, landing control systems and gasoline and ammunition dumps are all a part of air power, and obviously cannot be provided in a hurry. In other words, some months would elapse after the outbreak of any conflict before strong United States tactical air forces could be deployed in Western Europe. This means that Western Europe must be prepared to take the first shock of air action, and must be able to hold on until American strength can come to its aid.

The development of tactical air power here and in Western Europe must be accompanied by the gradual construction of small but highly-trained ground forces. They should be built in accordance with an integrated concept of mobile defense, emphasizing armor, fire power and air support. Our own contribution to this Allied force need not be large to start with, but what we do plan to contribute should be held in instant readiness. At a minimum, we ought to be capable of putting three or four divisions into Western Europe promptly after the start of any war, in addition to whatever United States forces are normally stationed there. We also should place greater emphasis upon armor in this D-Day force. Today we maintain only one armored division (and that below strength) in the total of ten and a half divisions comprising our ground forces. The spearhead force of the United States Army should include at least one to two complete armored divisions. Western Europe, however, must provide the bulk of those first D-Day forces, and they must be trained to the concept of quick movement -- defense by riposte.

In order to fulfill their task successfully, the Allied ground forces assigned to the defense of Western Europe ought to be trained in all the Fabian tactics of delay and attrition and should be especially equipped for carrying them out. Land mine-fields should be laid in advance, bridges should be wired for demolition, guerrilla and sabotage units should be organized on a large scale, and preparations should be made to use small parties of paratroopers for action against the enemy's rear. These and other techniques of harassment should be prearranged to assist the slashing counterattacks and quick armored thrusts of the Allied ground forces. The tactical air forces should be prepared for their rôle of continuously interdicting the enemy's communications.

The necessary complement to this development of a dynamic air and ground defense for Western Europe is the maintenance of the present overwhelming naval superiority of the western nations. Now that our atomic monopoly has been broken, this is perhaps our greatest military asset. We can use the seas for our purposes and can deny the use of large areas of them to Russia. Bottled up in the Baltic and Black Seas and the Arctic, and denied the free use of the Pacific, Russia is still a formidable enemy, but not unbeatable as she might be if she had free access to the high seas. Our naval programs, therefore, must continue to emphasize anti-submarine measures, but in addition we must be prepared to mine (by air and sea) the entrances to the Baltic and Black Seas and the straits into the Pacific, and close them to Russian naval vessels. We must be capable of launching swift air strikes by carrier against Russian Arctic ports and submarine bases and of seizing and maintaining advanced bases and beachheads in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. Our carrier-based aviation, properly developed, can enable us to exercise tactical air superiority over a limited area of nearly any high-seas coast in the world; the mobility of sea power gives us the ability to pick and choose the places for our amphibious landings. This is why our sea power must not be emasculated. Carrier-based aviation is properly a part of sea power and forms an essential part of the military substitute for the atomic bomb. We must realize, however, that the objective of sea power -- the control of the seas -- might be beyond achievement if Russia's land and air power enabled her to seize the Norwegian and Western European ports for submarine and naval bases. Land and air power are, in the same way, the primary instruments for denying those ports to Russia. For this reason the first priority in our own military development and in the European military assistance program must be given to tactical air power for the support of ground troops, and to the creation of a mobile, hard-hitting ground force.

These essential military measures need to be buttressed by military-civilian measures on the home front, some of which have already been mentioned, and by immediate action to remedy certain glaring military weaknesses in our outposts. While the threat of an atomic attack upon this country exists, we must gradually disperse our industrial facilities and must develop disaster planning, evacuation blueprints and all the other intricate details of passive civilian defense. In addition, we must insist upon greater efficiency in our intelligence services. As Dr. R. E. Lapp recently pointed out: "We must strive to obtain accurate information about enemy intent and capability. To obtain this information we must be prepared to take extraordinary action; our very lives may depend upon it. . . . The Russians developed their bomb at least two years before the date the best official estimates indicated that they would. Here indeed is the palpable evidence of a major deficiency in our national security setup. We were wrong about the first Russian test. We cannot afford to be wrong again. . . ." [i]

Our military establishment in Alaska has grave weaknesses. These result in part simply from a lack of adequate housing for our military forces -- a truly disgraceful situation. Weakness in this area is particularly dangerous, for Alaska is the American soil closest to Russia and it stands guard over the highly important northwestern industrial area. In Okinawa, now our principal western Pacific base, bad housing, bad leadership and resulting poor morale have also created a situation which demands remedial action quickly.

The military readjustment outlined here is the principal part of the answer to the question: What is the substitute for the A-bomb? It is not, of course, a complete answer. Even when we possess military forces and a strategic plan of the type described we cannot count on them by themselves making certain that we would be victorious in any possible war. They would, however, prevent any quick Russian conquest of Western Europe and would provide the "covering force" behind which the great naval, air and industrial superiority of the west could be mobilized and brought to bear with maximum effect. Our attainment of a state of readiness to meet the new requirements of the new world situation should persuade Soviet Russia that the game of aggressive war is not worth the candle, for then she would know that even her possession of the A-bomb would not insure her a blitzkrieg victory. Much must be done if the elementary measures necessary to the security of the United States are to be put into effect; and there is none too much time to do it.

[i] Dr. R. E. Lapp, "The United States, Russia and Atomic Warfare," in a lecture delivered on November 22, 1949, at the University of Puerto Rico.

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  • HANSON W. BALDWIN, Military Editor of The New York Times; author of "Strategy for Victory," "The Price of Power" and other works
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