History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 4: Into the Missile Age, 1956-1960

In This Review

History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Vol. 4: Into the Missile Age, 1956-1960

By Robert J. Watson
Historical Office, 1997
1,024 pp. $50.00
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The period 1956-60 comprises only five short years, but few stretches of peacetime history have had larger consequences for American defense policy. The Eisenhower administration's New Look (a shift in emphasis to nuclear over conventional weaponry), the crises in Eastern Europe, the Far East, and the Middle East, the Gaither Report (a pivotal re-estimate of the American nuclear posture in the face of growing Soviet strength), and the launching of the space and missile races -- are all covered in this massive volume. Not least in importance is the treatment of the 1958 reorganization of the Defense Department, which prepared the way for Robert McNamara's bold departures of the 1960s, and in particular his radical strengthening of the management role of the secretary of defense. Stolid prose and a ponderous pace do not diminish the value of this meticulous work of scholarship, which, like others in the series, will probably never be displaced as a standard work on American defense policy.