Campbell Craig: professor of international relations at the University of Southampton, where he teaches nuclear history, U.S. foreign policy, and international political theory.

In Destroying the Village, University of Hawaii professor of US diplomatic history Campbell Craig argues through the mid-1950s Eisenhower believed  waging all-out war against an enemy threatening to end the nation’s existence was right and necessary, but then changed his mind with the advent of thermonuclear weapons because destroying America to save it was absurd. Eisenhower had to develop a plan to prevent the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union without abandoning basic US national security policy. The book has three parts: (1) defines the predicament Eisenhower found himself facing after taking office – US policy to defend its presence in unresolved areas (Berlin) with the threat of general thermonuclear war, (2) how Eisenhower used American military policy to devise his strategy of evading war, and how he implemented this strategy, particularly In Quemoy-Matsu crisis of 1958 and the Berlin crisis of 1958 – 59, and (3) an account of the Kennedy administration planning for a possible showdown with the Soviet Union over Berlin during the period January – October 1961 and how Eisenhower’s strategy to evade war extended into this period. “If this books makes only one point, it is that the American avoidance of nuclear war, like everything else that takes place in history, did not just ‘happen.’ Actual people, above all Eisenhower, sought to evade nuclear war.” (xii)


Fundamental dilemma presenting itself to Eisenhower: he fought WW2 and authorized the bombing of civilians, but with the advent of thermonuclear bomb, for the first time in history any war would be likely to issue only losers: (estimates, 1/3 to ½ of casualties, with collapse of American institutions, society entailed). On the other side, as a president, he couldn’t abandon American security.

Strategy: to develop a plan to prevent the outbreak of a war with the Soviet Union without abandoning American interests and national security. A regime of mutual deterrence was necessary but not sufficient: his strategy aimed at automatizing the way towards a compromise.


Situation after WW2: the war issued 2 antagonistic superpowers at the en of the war (usually, only the winner…)

New US policy  stemmed from 2 factors:

-          Memories of the war (renouncement at Munich and analysis that Europe got itself dominated by Hitler despite its superiority for its lack of resolve; Pearl Harbor showed that technology could give totalitarian regimes the ability to attack the USA)

-          Assessment of the USSR (Kennan’s long telegram)

Strategic priorities after WW2:

-          Contain the spread of communism

-          Get sure that the East would not attain military capabilities that could threaten the US directly.

1 The Predicament

Berlin crisis and the urgency of the situation in Europe. The US atomic superiority prevented the Russian from escalating the conflict.

Truman administration and the bomb: all the means available would be waged in the advent of a war with USSR. 21 in 1948 the US had no formal atomic policy: “there was no statement indicating over exactly which stakes the United States would wage general war, nor was there a strategy that specified under what circumstances the United States would use atomic weapons.”23

2 General war becomes thermonuclear war, 48-52

Kennan’s assessment of weapons of mass destruction in strategy: warfare as a means of politics. But WMD don’t have this characteristics because they don’t allow to shape the adversary, merely taking lives (31)

2 prosecution of espionage led the US to think that the USSR would quickly be nuclear – and thermonuclear (Rosenbergs and Fuchs). Race for the ops capability: importance given to Lemay’s SAC (51), build the bomb and later work on the ICBM.

37:the experimental bomb was more powerful than the sum of all bombs dropped during WW2

Part 2 Eisenhower strategy to evade Nuclear war

3 the rise and fall of nuclear retaliation

Dulles versus Ike’s Cold War strategy:

Dulles: ideological struggle above all. Belief that American duty was to spread good, not merely resist evil (42).

Use of Nuclear weapons: shall not be at the hands of the military but of that of the statesmen. Use of Nuclear weapons in strategic bombing, not on the battlefield. 43

Eisenhower: belief that war had a natural tendency to escalation (Clausewitz) Agreed wit massive retaliation.

When took office in 53, 3 teams played 3 scenarios: (45)

-          Traditionsl containment

-          Containment based on nuclear strategy ( retaliation if the East went beyond a given line

-          All-out roll back strategy (including nuclear and traditional warfare, propaganda and covert action

First NSC was a synthesis of th e3:

-          3rd world policy stemmed from C

-          Kept the general ideology of containment from A

-          New look (military strat) was inspired from B

March 54, after the clues of experimental USSR detonation, Eisenhower thought:

-          Chaotic outcomes of general war were impossible to foresee, but would be cataclysmic

-          In such event, the only purpose of USA would be to destroy USSR as completely as possible (I think, for defensive purposes)

-          Abandoned preemptive / preventive thermonuclear attack

This all-out (all or nothing) nuclear strategy competed against Dulles’s flexible response.


-          Flexible response looks safer but does not prevent escalation anyways (its safeness is even a greater risk that it be used more lightly)

-          On the other side, Eisenhower wanted both competitors to be aware of all the consequences that any direct confrontation would entail anyway: general destruction.

On top of this problem, lays the fools game of rhetoric: deterrence is based on the showing and expressing of resolve when the enemy tests the limits (cf. Shelling).

4 Eisenhower takes over

ICBM significance p 54: unlike bomber, it is deterministic, almost instantaneous and virtually unstoppable.

Arms race to deny the East an opportunity to have ICBMs first and dictate their agenda.

Dulles’s concern with Ike’s “all or nothing”: besides being dangerous from a military perspective, it could have a deleterious effect on US allies on the reality of US deterrence on non vital targets (Europe): would the US risk their existence for Berlin, for instance? 58

“ Human Effects of Nuclear Weapons Development” report p62: 40% of population dead, 13% injured, no more economy or institutions (Eisenhower stated that USA should become an authoritarian regime in the advent of nuke war).

Irrelevance of passive defense policy: the economy and institutions would be destroyed anyways, so diverting resources to build shelters was not useful (would save lives but not the country).

National security policy 1957: spell out the purposes of national survival. The whole point of having a security policy was to preserve not only the physical survival of the United States but its “fundamental values and institutions” as well. 65

Military policy:

-          Main but not sole reliance on nukes (is it communication?)

-          Limited wars (conventional or nuclear) restricted to local wars: in place of limited interest to the USA. In such case, force applied to avoid broadening of hostilities.

-          No more flexible response.

Eisenhower dilemma and priorities p67-69

6 Berlin, Nov 58-July59

Khrushchev’s ultimatum: said he would leave control of East Berlin to East Germans and asked allies to do the same. West stated that they were ready to defend Berlin. (problem: if left Berlin undefended, would be taken quickly, and moreover without NATO troops, the taking of Berlin without US/allied casualties would make retaliation unlikely).

97: Eisenhower planning: without consistent allied support, unlikely to reopen access to Berlin by force. Therefore, get ready to send bombs on Moscow.

106: “Had the advocates of flexible response been successful back in 1956 and 1957, the United States would have had n place a strategy for fighting limited war in Europe and, presumably, the forces there to make that strategy viable. In that event it is difficult to imagine Eisenhower successfully steering the United States away from war.”

Epilogue: McNamara’s dialectic

Kennedy administration, despite its initial feelings, perpetuated this all-or-nothing strategy (Cuba missile crisis). Mc Namara was the first to make it evolve towards flexible response (61-62).152

Problems with flexible response: how to stop escalation when still have powerful weapons at hand

Schelling’s thesis: the threat of retaliation rests on the ability to persuade the other side of the automaticity of the response (take probabilities away from the calculation).

Risky strategy: “there is the strategy of risky behavior, of deliberately creating a risk that is credible precisely because its consequences are not entirely within our own and the Soviets’ control.”’ 155

Underlying dilemma: conflicting understanding of warfare and human relations:

-          One side derived from enlightenment: rational actor

-          On the other side: emotions routinely overtake reason during times of violent crises (162)

Logic of conflict makes self-restraint harder when stakes are getting higher and winning / losing is at stake.

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