By Charles Matthews

Sunday, June 27, 2010

5. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan, pp. 94-114

Book II: Inheriting a Different World, 17. Neither Rain, Nor Snow, Nor Sleet, Nor Fog; 18. Stalin Gets His Bomb; 19. The Consequences of Delusion; 20. Good Intentions Gone Awry
When the Americans, British, and French started talking about creating a West German state, with a view to rehabilitating the country's economy and controlling any militaristic tendencies, the Soviets panicked. The French were initially opposed also, but were won over by the American promise to keep U.S. troops stationed in Germany for an indefinite period. The first step was currency reform, scrapping the now-worthless Reichsmark and creating a new Deutschmark. When the new currency was introduced in June 1948, Stalin moved to blockade all ground transportation into Berlin. Gen. Lucius Clay, the U.S. military governor in Germany, called on Curtis LeMay, "that Cromwellian wielder of bombers who had leveled Japan's cities, now a lieutenant general commanding the U.S. Air Force in Europe," to mount an airlift into Berlin. Maj. Gen. William H. Tunner, who had been in charge of flying supplies over the Himalayas from India to China in World War II, was put in charge of the airlift.

Bernard Schriever also credits the foresight of Hap Arnold, who had pushed hard for an all-weather air force, and especially for the radar that made it possible to fly supplies into Berlin even in the worst winter weather. "By December, the airlift was supplying 4,500 tons a day, 500 tons more than the city's minimum requirement, the biggest portion bulky coal for heating." The Berlin airlift, which lasted until Stalin lifted the blockade and re-opened land routes in May 1949, was a huge success, not least as an anti-communist propaganda triumph. In the same month that the blockade ended, the Federal Republic of Germany was created, with its capital at Bonn.

On August 29, 1949, the Soviets detonated their first atomic bomb in Kazakhstan. The scientists in charge of the project, Igor Kurchatov and Iulii Khariton, were generously rewarded by Stalin. (The story was told that the greatest rewards went to the ones who would have been shot first if the bomb had failed.) Meanwhile, work had begun on a hydrogen bomb as early as 1948. One of the participants was the physicist Andrei Sakharov, who "believed that our work was absolutely necessary as a means of achieving a balance in the world." Sakharov would later win the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in promoting civil liberties in the Soviet Union, despite persecution by the government.

Stalin for some reason did not announce the success of his scientists. A U.S. Air Force B-29 detected higher radiation levels in the atmosphere in September 1949, confirming the nuclear test. In January 1950, Truman ordered that work be started on a hydrogen bomb, which was detonated on November 1, 1952. The Soviet H-bomb followed in November 1955, after a preliminary test of an intermediate thermonuclear device had been successful in August 1953.

In 1949, George Kennan, who had originally argued that the Soviet Union had expansionist aims, expressed second thoughts about military efforts at containment, preferring political and economic methods. He clashed with Acheson, who replaced him on the state department's Policy and Planning Staff with Paul Nitze, who argued that the Soviet Union was "inescapably militant" and that the United States was being "mortally challenged." He predicted that by 1954 the Soviets would have 200 atomic bombs and the capability of delivering them in a surprise attack. And he called on Truman to add about $50 billion to the defense budget, which Truman had been trying to cut to keep inflation in check. Truman signed off on Nitze's report on the Soviet threat and the need for a complementary U.S. military and civil defense buildup, but he backed off on the budget request.
To comprehend the real postwar world, one had to understand that while it was bipolar in terms of the two major powers, within the Communist sphere, as within the non-Communist one, there were national leaders with their own agendas who were prepared to act on those agendas regardless of what Moscow or Washington thought. The clue that the Communist sphere was also a complicated world, a world of varying shades of gray rather than black, was the phenomenon of national Communism, which appeared as early as 1948 when Tito of Yugoslavia openly broke with Stalin and went his own way.
But Tito was regarded in Washington as an "aberration." The Nitzean view of an "international Communist conspiracy" dominated American politics from Truman through LBJ, even though such blatant fissures in the "conspiracy" as the split between the Soviet Union and China suggested that it was illusory. Even Acheson recognized that there were tensions between the Soviets and Mao Tse-tung, and made some diplomatic efforts toward Mao, partly because it was obvious that the United States had wasted millions of dollars supporting the corrupt Chiang Kai-shek regime. But the right-wing Republicans put a stop to Acheson's efforts by charging that he had "lost China." The result of this continued delusion about the monolithic nature of communism was the Vietnam War: "Given these American delusions, Ho Chi Minh, the Vietnamese national leader in Hanoi, had no chance of being recognized in Washington for what he was, an Asian version of Tito."

Information provided by spies like Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall had speeded up the Soviet Union's development of a bomb, though the Soviet scientists would have succeeded in creating one anyway. Even in the midst of the intense anti-communist hysteria provoked by the Soviet bomb and the Korean War, Hall had managed to escape conviction. He had come under suspicion and had been questioned in 1951, however. He received his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the University of Chicago in 1950, but he had become more interested in biophysics. He went to work at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York and became recognized as a specialist in X-ray technology. In 1962 he went to the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge University and spent twenty-two years there, retiring in 1984. Meanwhile, his brother, Ed, was working with Bennie Schriever on rocket engines, having received the highest security clearances. Ted Hall's espionage was not disclosed until the Venona documents were published in 1995 and 1996. Before his death from cancer in 1999, Hall told two journalists that he had no regrets about what he had done. "I still think that brash youth had the right end of the stick. I am no longer that person; but I am by no means ashamed of him."

But Hall's work, and that of his fellow spies, may have led to the Korean War. Korea had been divided at the 38th parallel by Truman and Stalin after World War II. But because the United States decided that Korea was of "little strategic interest" to it in Asia, it had withdrawn its troops from South Korea in 1949. This emboldened Kim Il Sung to invade the south, with the armaments provided by the Soviet Union and with the backing of Mao. This action seemed to give credence to Nitze's view of the Soviet menace, so Truman ordered MacArthur and his occupation troops in Japan into South Korea. The war lasted three years, and MacArthur would have invaded China if Truman hadn't called him back.

Possession of the bomb gave Stalin the confidence to back Kim in his invasion of the south. Sheehan argues that his previously demonstrated insecurity when the United States still held a monopoly on the bomb suggests that he wouldn't have supported Kim's invasion. And in fact, when Truman intervened, "a surprised Stalin abandoned Kim. He told the Politburo he was prepared to accept a U.S.-occupied North Korea rather than risk war with the United States." He left the job up to the Chinese. Ted Hall argued that by helping give the Soviets the bomb, he had prevented the United States from using it in China during the civil war that led to Mao's conquest of the mainland. But by helping Stalin acquire it sooner than he might have, Hall may have also emboldened Stalin. He also helped Truman get the military buildup budget he wanted.
The Korean War was a strategic disaster for Stalin. The Truman administration took advantage of it to array Western Europe against him.... Worse, by giving Kim Il Sung permission to strike south, Stalin, who was to die in March 1953, had brought to fruition one of his own nightmares. He had made so many West Europeans fearful they might be next that the former victims of Germany were now prepared to accept German rearmament. The Federal Republic of Germany, the new West German state, was being welcomed into NATO, and a new German army, the Bundeswehr, was being formed to march alongside the NATO forces. 

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