By Charles Matthews

Friday, June 25, 2010

3. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan, pp. 40-77

Book I, Becoming an American: 10. The Test of War. Book II: Inheriting a Different World: 11. Atomic Diplomacy; 12. Spies Inside the Barbed Wire; 13. "The Balance Has Been Destroyed"; 14. The State That Was Stalin
As chief of maintenance and engineering, Schriever initially clashed with Brigadier General Ennis Whitehead, the deputy for combat operations, by taking initiative on some matters and thereby violating the chain of command. But his skill at his job won Whitehead over, and in March 1943 he was promoted to lieutenant colonel and in August became chief of staff of the Fifth Air Force Service Command. In December, at the age of 33, he was promoted to full colonel.

The success of the Air Corps led to its expansion and in September 1944 Schriever was put in charge of the Advance Echelon of the Far East Air Service Command, tasked with solving supply problems and constructing new airfields and depots. But the European war took priority over the Pacific, and the Navy seemed to take priority over the Air Corps. Schriever was good at scrounging, and when he somehow came in possession of a supply of toilets, he used them to barter things he needed.

When the war ended, Schriever got a good look at the devastating power of the bombers he supplied when he flew over Tokyo, which had been laid waste by Curtis LeMay's B-29s. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal, "the highest noncombat award an officer can receive." And on September 24, 1945, he returned to his family, which except for a two-week break in 1943, he hadn't seen for three years and three months.

Schriever's story is interrupted at this point for background on the beginnings of the Cold War and the arms race. President Truman, Sheehan notes, was "much more militantly anti-Communist" than FDR had been, and in September 1945, at a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers in London, Secretary of State James Byrnes responded to some stalling tactics by Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov, "I'm going to pull an atomic bomb out of my hip pocket and let you have it." The joke acknowledged the United States' new trump card in international diplomacy.

The Soviets had, however, already started the race to catch up: "On August 20, 1945, just five days after the surrender of Japan, Stalin had ordered an all-out, no-expense-barred program to build a Soviet bomb." They were able to do so because they already had well-placed spies in the Manhattan Project. At Los Alamos there were two physicists, Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall, who were spying for the Soviets, though neither was aware of the other. Another spy, George Koval, worked at the atomic research plants at both Oak Ridge, Tenn., and Dayton, Ohio. His story went unknown until 2007, when he died in Moscow and was named a Hero of the Russian Federation by Vladimir Putin. Fuchs confessed when he was arrested by the British in 1950, and was imprisoned for nine years; after his release, he went to work for the East Germans. Hall was undiscovered until the Venona documents were made public after the fall of the Soviet Union. His own brother, Lt. Col. Edward Hall, who was an Air Force engineer who worked on the development of rocket engines, was unaware that Theodore was a spy until then.The success of Soviet espionage reveals the considerable flaws in security at the time. Fuchs had been approved by the British before it became apparent that the British Foreign Office and intelligence services were riddled with Soviet spies such as Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, John Cairncross and Anthony Blunt. But the Americans also failed to do background checks on spies like Ted Hall, who developed simple but ingenious ways of delivering his information to his Soviet contacts.

Stalin made Igor Kurchatov "in effect the Soviet equivalent of J. Robert Oppenheimer in the Manhattan Project," and proceeded to spend enormous sums on the development of a weapon, even though the Soviet Union had been devastated by the conflict with Germany. It was not just a matter of "bombs not butter," but of completely neglecting reconstruction of the devastated country. Sheehan goes out of his way to portray Stalin as a figure of monstrous evil: "after Adolf Hitler, the second great monster of the twentieth century," citing Stalin's "suspicion virtually to the point of clinical paranoia and cruelty to the point of sadism" and his "sick imagination."
He wanted the bomb as quickly as possible, not because he was worried about any immediate threat of war -- relations [with the United States] were only beginning to become strained -- but because he was concerned that Truman and Byrnes, through their atomic diplomacy, might succeed in imposing a postwar settlement inimical to Soviet interests. Stalin understood the political implications of the atomic bomb.
No one, of course, argued against Stalin, not after the purges of the 1930s, although Peter Kapitsa, the internationally known Soviet physicist, did point out to Stalin that an American-style effort to create a bomb "would put too great a burden on the war-ravaged Soviet economy" and suggested a less costly and expensive approach. Stalin disregarded the advice: He rewarded nuclear physicists and engineers with the perks given to the Soviet elite, but also kept them under threat of reprisal for failure. They knew that tried another approach than the one the Americans had taken, that if they "sought a different design and it fizzled, the senior physicists and engineers involved would be shot." He also put the sadistic Lavrenti Beria, the head of the NKVD, in charge of overseeing the scientists. And he enlisted thousands of slave laborers to create the facilities at Arzamas-16, the Soviet equivalent of Los Alamos, and to mine the uranium in Soviet Central Asia. The miners were worked literally to death and the few who survived the construction and the mining were "shipped to the Gulag's worst camps, the gold mines of Kolyma in the Far East, where they died." 

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