By Charles Matthews

Monday, June 28, 2010

6. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, by Neil Sheehan, pp. 117-142

Book III: The Perils of an Apprenticeship, 21. Hap Arnold's Legacy; 22. Getting Organized; 23. Bomber Leader
After his return from the war, Schriever was sent to the Army Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon where he was assigned to the Scientific Liaison Branch of the Research and Engineering Division, where his job was to forge connections with the civilian scientific community. This put him in contact with Theodore von Kármán, a Hungarian-born aeronautical engineer who had come to Caltech in 1930. Hap Arnold had been acquainted with von Kármán for some time, and in 1944 recruited him for the Scientific Advisory Group that would plan the postwar direction of air power. Von Kármán, whom Arnold made a major general, was among the first to go to Germany after the end of the war in Europe in 1945. There he met Wernher von Braun and Gen. Walter Dornberger, who had been the head of Germany's rocket program, both of whom had surrendered to the American forces.

From what he learned about the advances in rocketry made by the Germans, von Kármán and his team put together a report called Toward New Horizons that laid out a vision of "world air supremacy" (Sheehan's italics) as the key to security for the United States. One of the things von Kármán proposed was an emphasis on research and development, particularly the establishment of a research and testing center that would have to be located near a source of hydroelectric power. The first of these was established at Tullahoma, Tenn., and named the Arnold Engineering Development Center after Arnold's death. Arnold also created a permanent Scientific Advisory Board and put von Kármán in charge of it.

After Arnold's retirement in 1946, however, the Scientific Advisory Board was almost abolished. Arnold had made Curtis LeMay the assistant chief of research and development, and LeMay wasn't interested in anything but bombers. The establishment of the Air Force as an independent branch of the service in September 1947 also led to its being a target of the other branches, which were always in search of something that could be cut from another branch's budget. But the Scientific Advisory Board survived, especially after LeMay was promoted to command the Air Force in Europe and Maj. Gen. Laurence Craigie took over as head of a new Directorate of Research and Development. Craigie had known Schriever since 1923 when Craigie was learning to be a pilot at Kelly Field in San Antonio and played golf on the course where 13-year-old Schriever was a caddy.

In 1949, Schriever was scheduled to spend a year at the National War College, but before then he and some other members of the Scientific Advisory Board invited the Air Force chief of staff Hoyt Vandenberg, whose uncle was the influential Sen. Arthur Vandenberg to speak to them. Hoyt Vandenberg canceled, but his place was taken by his vice chief, Muir Fairchild. And a committee was formed that included the enormously influential Jimmy Doolittle, who supported the aims of von Kármán and Schriever, which meant that Vandenberg would take notice of the committee's recommendations. The result was that in January 1950, the Air Research and Development Command (ARDC), was established under the direction of Maj. Gen Gordon Saville.

After returning from the War College, Schriever was called back to the Pentagon by Saville and given the job of assistant for development planning. But this put him in direct conflict with Curtis LeMay. Curt "Bombs Away" LeMay is best-known today as the right-wing ultrahawk who was George Wallace's running mate in 1968 and who advocated bombing North Vietnam "back into the Stone Age." Sheehan also singles him out as "the inspiration for General Jack D. Ripper in Stanley Kubrick's film Dr. Strangelove," although there were plenty of military men who went into that caricature. At the time, however, LeMay was generally regarded as an American hero for having contributed to the victory over Japan by the ferocious bombing raids that devastated the metropolitan areas of that country. Sheehan calls the attack on Tokyo on March 9, 1945, "the most horrendous fire-bombing in the history of modern warfare." LeMay himself didn't fly in that raid because he had been briefed about the atomic bomb and it was feared that he might be tortured into revealing its secrets if he was captured. Although the dropping of the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were a kind of coup de grâce, Sheehan sees LeMay as "the man most responsible for ending the war with such swiftness."

In October 1948, LeMay was put in charge of the Strategic Air Command, "a languishing organization" that by 1951 he had turned around "into an organization that inspired dread in Moscow" and had earned him a fourth star as general. SAC, with its long-range bombers capable of reaching any point in the Soviet Union, had "become the centerpiece of America's national strategy." But of course, this rankled the other services, which wanted to demonstrate their usefulness, leading to a "Revolt of the Admirals" in 1949 after Truman canceled the Navy's "supercarrier" so it could put more funds into LeMay's B-36s. Truman was forced to sack the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations because of their protests. And even after the Soviet Union acquired the bomb and Truman left office, President Eisenhower continued the policy of relying on nuclear-equipped intercontinental bombers.
By 1954, when LeMay would have 1,500 atomic bombs at his disposal, the estimate was that 60 million people would be killed and 17 million injured within the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China if SAC was unleashed.... While Eisenhower reduced the overall strength of the military establishment by nearly a million men, inflicting most of the cuts on the ground forces of the Army but also shrinking the Navy and the Air Force as a whole, he encouraged SAC to grow.

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