Well I’ve sort of been waiting for someone to read at least a bit of Shadow Warfare and send some questions my way for discussion. I’ve found that writing on broader historical subjects is a bit frustrating because it just doesn’t seem to generate as much excitement as writing about conspiracy topics – not that there is any lack of political “conspiracy” or even plots and villains in history.
I was doing a pre-interview to try and get on a talk radiuo show last week and even though I was talking about secret CIA and Justice Department understandings covering up drug smuggling, validating Webb’s Dark Alliance work etc, the response was more along the lines of – so give us sometime contemporary. Well I started in on the covert action project that was really behind Benghazi and the reply was that everyone else had already covered Benghazi – my response that they missed the real story sort of fell flat. Then I moved on to AFRICOM and gray warfare in Africa, SOCOM in Latin America and none of it was moving the entertainment/crowd response meter – so I’m guessing I won’t make it on that show.
In the interim, I’m continue to work on my next book project, a history of America and how it deals with surprise attacks. And as with Shadow Warfare, its a real learning experience, plus it establishes a broader context for the events we often discuss in regard to the JFK assassination. I’m afraid that by focusing so closely on what was happening in 62/63 many of us in JFK research failed to grasp that certain things that seemed unique, hence suspicious, were actually fairly routine in the broader historical picture. For example, if you think JFK had special problems with his Generals, you should really dig into Truman and Eisenhower. Both of the fired Generals and Eisenhower had major problems with the military over his ongoing attempts to cut military budgets. He faced several resignations, brought about some forced retirements and then when the former officers started writing nasty things about him, he wanted to Court Marshall them. As if that was bad enough, you should read some of the remarks by Joint Chiefs of Staff members in regard to Johnson, how badly he would personally curse them out, how disdainful he was of them, etc. The strange thing is that they just sat back and took it, really sort of pitiful when you go into the details.
All of which leads me – finally – to the subject of this post, preemption. I’ve been reviewing the history of American nuclear targeting, the NET evaluation subcommittee of the NSC, the preparation of the SIOP and the entire subject of presidential policy on the idea of an American strike against the Soviet Union. Many readers may well be familiar with the subject in regard to JFK and certain meetings in 1961 and 1962. The impression given is that something novel happened and the CIA and military attempted to persuade JFK to go along with a surprise attack on the Soviets in 1963. In some quarters, his negative reaction is given as sealing his fate and starting a track towards his murder.
The thing is, primary documents are largely lacking on the meetings and much of the commentary that has been presented is anecdotal and after the fact. Clearly JFK was repulsed by the subject the the overall prospect of any nuclear exchange. However in one of the only primary documents, it is clear that it was JFK himself who asked the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs if there had ever been any study of a surprise attack on the Soviet Union, rather than a surprise attack on the U.S. by the Soviets – which was the focus of his briefing. He was told that there had been and that under Eisenhower, since 1957, such studies had been made annually. JFK requested briefings on them and that was about it. As it turns out, the Joint Chiefs and in particular the Air Force – beginning immediately after the atomic tests at Bikini – had been maintaining that a nuclear attack was simply not survivable and that no defense was ever going to be enough to avoid national destruction. The ongoing push for preemptive strikes had grown so strong under the Eisenhower administration that Ike had to issue a national policy statement that American would never strike first. That position brought a very negative response from a number senior military personnel who sincerely thought the Soviets would indeed strike the U.S. at their earliest opportunity.
My own take of the meeting with JFK is that he himself brought up the subject of preemption and wanted details on estimated Soviet losses because the U.S. was entering into a short window of immense strategic advantage and it represented a huge opportunity for him to leverage it into new test ban and other disarmament or nuclear weapon limitations with the Soviets. JFK simply thought outside the box about such matters and looked for new opportunities, such as his back-channel negotiations with Castro. So, to make a long story short, there may well have been something “unique” in JFK himself raising the question of surprise attack against the Soviets, to begin gathering data for negotiations. But in the broader context, military planning for preemptive strikes and presidential rejection of them was nothing at all new at the time the topic was discussed – Eisenhower had had his fill of it as far back as 1954.