Citation: Edit

Campbell Craig, Destroying the Village: Eisenhower and Thermonuclear War (New York: Columbia University Press, 1998).

Author Background / Career / Publications Edit

Career Edit

Professor of international relations in the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University.

Professor of international politics at Aberystwyth University, where he taught nuclear and Cold War history and contemporary international relations theory, until 2016.

Professor of international relations at the University of Southampton (2005-09)

International security studies fellow and visiting associate professor in international affairs at Yale University (2004-05)

Lecturer and senior lecturer in U.S. history at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand (1999-2004)

Senior research fellow at the Norwegian Nobel Institute in Oslo (Spring 2009)

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)

Thesis/Main Point Edit

Having personal war experience, Eisenhower, determined to prevent nuclear conflict and make it unthinkable despite dissent from his closest advisors and learned academics... developed an “all or nothing” nuclear strategy.

Eisenhower's strategy from the mid-50s onward was to prevent nuclear war w/USSR while advancing US & NATO interests, by publicly and unequivocally emphasizing US capability and will to rely upon nuclear weapons to prevail in any direct conflict with the USSR, thereby limiting both US and USSR appetites for direct confrontation. (x, 67, 69)

Preface (ix-xii) Edit

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.

"[Eisenhower] had begun to realize that a general war waged to preserve the United States would not simply be immensely destructive... instead, a total thermonuclear war between the two Cold War superpowers would put a permanent end to everything it was being fought to protect." (ix)

"To resolve this dilemma, Eisenhower, decided in 1955 and 1956 that his primary mission as president must be to develop a plan to prevent the outbreak of war with the Soviet Union without formally abandoning the basic national security policy of the United States." (x)

"If this book makes only one point, it is that the American avoidance of nuclear war, like everything that takes place in history, did not just 'happen.' Actual people, above all Eisenhower, sought to evade nuclear war" (xii)

Introduction (pp. 1-12) Edit

In the summer of 1948, George Kennan claimed there were two 'fundamental objectives' of American foreign policy: (1) "protect the security of the nation from interference by foreign powers; (2) promote a world order in which the U.S. 'can make the maximum contribution to the peaceful and orderly development of other nations and derive maximum benefit from their experiences and abilities." (1)

"From 1815 to 1941, speaking roughly, Americans did not really have to prepare a peacetime security policy for fear of another nation's conquest." (1)

"Nations that prevail in world wars tend to find ways to benefit materially from their success, and the United States was no exception." (2-3)

"For the first time in its history [post WWII], the United States perceived a peacetime threat to its national survival... the American government therefore was forced to develop, for the first time, a basic national security policy." (3-4)

The U.S. Cold War policy consisted of two basic elements: (1) contain the Soviet Union and its main allies; (2) ensure the Soviet Union and its main allies "did not attain a military capability so far superior to that of the U.S. that it could push aside these forces of geopolitical containment and threaten the U.S. directly." (4)

Kennan argued the U.S.S.R. "regarded the outside world in a manner so cynical, fearful, and antagonistic as to be almost incomprehensible to the American mind." (5)

"A Soviet Union contained within its own borders could not threaten American survival. Nor could one that had expanded in a limited way, seizing control over adjacent and undeveloped nations and abetting sympathetic movements elsewhere." (5)

"Containment was about keeping Soviet tyranny at bay, both in its physical and psychological forms." (7)

"Ironically, Kennan's selective, nonmilitarist strategy of containment was quite well-suited to a nation that had the atomic bomb in quiet reserve." (9)

After Czechoslovakia fell to the Soviet's, Truman warned other countries could soon follow. In July 1947, the NSC issued a policy statement claiming the U.S. needed to "strengthen promptly the military establishment" and to "maintain overwhelming U.S. superiority in atomic weapons." (10)

Part 1. Eisenhower's Predicament Edit

Chapter 1 - Casus Belli in Berlin (pp. 13-23) Edit

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

The Berlin blockade forced Truman to decide "whether the United States would be willing to wage general war to defend that city... if the airlift escalated into actual warfare the immense Soviet army could overwhelm the local forces and move rapidly westward." (21)

Initially, Truman asked the Joint Chiefs to prepare a plan NOT to use atomic weapons. Truman's military advisors insisted this was a "poor idea" and agreed (the Chiefs) the "NSC needed to develop an atomic policy that specified under what political circumstances the United States would initiate atomic war." (21)

"Before1948 the United States had no direct policy regarding general atomic warfare: 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)

Chapter 2 - General War Becomes Thermonuclear War, 1948-1952 (pp. 24-40) Edit

"The Harmon report [1949]... was remarkably pessimistic... [it] concluded that a general war against the Soviet Union, despite the American atomic monopoly, would be difficult for the United States to win... it would be very bad for America to lose a war into which it had introduced atomic weapons... the Soviet standing army was too big, and the American defense budget too small." (24-25)

The General Advisory Committee (GAC), led by J. Robert Oppenheimer, the "father" of the atomic bomb argued building a thermonuclear bomb would be an extreme "danger to mankind" which outweighed "any military advantage." (27)

"GAC failed to recognize, or chose to overlook, the advantage that military predominance can provide apart from actual warfare." (29-30)

Kennan suggested that "surrender to the Soviet Union might well be preferable to a thermonuclear war." 30-31)

Kennan argued warfare "should be a means to an end other than warfare... weapons of mass destruction do not have this quality.... they cannot really be reconciled with a political purpose directed to shaping, rather than destroying, the lives of the adversary." (31)

Kennan "acknowledged that nuclear weapons could serve the United States temporarily as tools of deterrence... [but] posed dangers to humanity as a whole." (31)

Kennan wondered "once both sides had attained thermonuclear arsenals, could the United States, or any nation, 'win' a general war in the traditional sense?" (31)

Paul Nitze, the State Department expert, whom took over for Kennan as head of the Policy Planning Staff, completed NSZC-68 on April 14, 1950. He argued the "primary threat to American security over the coming years would be a stronger and more confident Soviet Union, emboldened particularly by its new weaponry.. the best way to keep the Soviets at bay would be to embark upon a vast buildup of American armed forces." (32)

The NSC-68 had three enormous consequences: (1) ready-made explanation of nK invasion of South Korea as a systematic Soviet Cold War offensive; (2) U.S. could tripe or quadruple defensive spending without stifling domestic policy; (3) replaced Kennan's "emphasis upon political and economic means of resisting Soviet expansion with a new and thoroughgoing emphasis upon military power." (34)

"Lemay believed that intensive nuclear bombardment could win a world war pretty much by itself." (36)

The thermonuclear test of "Mike" occurred on 31 October, 1952. "The firepower unleashed by Mike easily exceeded the aggregate blast and heat produced by every bomb America dropped in World War II, including the two atomic ones." (37)

Part 2. Eisenhower Strategy to Evade Nuclear War Edit

Chapter 3 - The Rise and Fall of Massive Retaliation, January 1953 - July 1955 (pp. 41-52) Edit

Dulles argued "instead of deploying nuclear weapons like most weapons of war, to be used in battle as military conditions demanded, why not threaten to use such weapons in order to avoid war in the first place?" (43)   

Eisenhower believed that "a greater threat to United States national interest lay in excessive government spending than in potential military defeat." (44)   

After the Soviets tested or were about to acquire a thermonuclear bomb, Dulles recommend "the United States should make a 'spectacular effort to relax world tensions' while the Soviet arsenal was still small. Perhaps the United Nations could even establish international control of atomic weapons." (46)  

"The moralist Dulles, seeing little hope for a future just war against communism, offered, for the sake of argument, the drastic but logical alternative of "spectacular" arms control. The pessimist Eisenhower, seeing no hope for a future winnable war, replied with the extreme, but logical solution of preventive war." (47)  

On January 12, 1954 Dulles told the Council on Foreign Relations "the way to deter aggression is for the free community to be willing and able to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing. One of these means," Dulles emphasized, was "the deterrent of massive retaliatory power." This expression gained widespread attention, and contemporary of servers of American policy began to talk about the new official strategy of 'massive retaliation." (48)  

In March 1954 the NSC met to revise an old Truman policy statement. Eisenhower put forth four opinions about a war with the U.S.S.R: (1) such a war would create chaotic conditions impossible to plan for or even foresee; (2) the only objective of the United States would be to destroy the Soviet Union as completely as possible; (3) the United States would never launch its thermonuclear arsenal "except in retaliation against a heavy attack;" (4) in the aftermath of a general nuclear war the United States would have to become a dictatorship. (49)   

Recognizing the breach between himself and the president, Dulles set out to provide an alternative strategy to NSC-5422/2. 5o   

Relenting, Eisenhower said that he would "consider this recommendation ..." The reasons why Eisenhower capitulated on this issue are unclear. 51   

NSC 5440 (a) renounced massive retaliation, (b) precisely articulated the strategy of "flexible response" as it would become known seven years later, and (c) predicted, in the last sentence, exactly the dilemma which the Eisenhower administration would face in Berlin four years hence. (52)

In March the world witnessed perhaps the most conspicuous demonstration of atomic diplomacy used during the Cold War, as the president cooperated with Dulles in threatening the Chinese with nuclear war unless they backed off Quemoy and Matsu. 52   

Dulles, in other words, was communicating to Eisenhower, via the medium of national security planning, the message that he did not share his president's understanding of general war in the thermonuclear age. That was something Eisenhower could not dismiss. (52) 


-          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).

Chapter 4 - Eisenhower Takes Over, July 1955 - April 1957 (pp. 53-70) Edit

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

Chapter 5 - Fallout, April 1957 - November 1958 (pp. 71-89) Edit

Chapter 6 - Berlin, November 1958 - July 1959 (pp. 90-107) Edit

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.

<u>Chapter 7 - Intermission, July 1959 - January 1961 (pp. 108-120) Edit

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.”

Part 3. Aftershock Edit

Chapter 8 - Berlin Looms Again, January - July 1961 (pp. 121-136) Edit

Kennedy inherited no solid consensus among the United States and its major allies. (122)   

Eisenhower's stubborn diplomacy during the last year of his presidency had alienated Nikita Khrushchev, (123)   

Between his inauguration and the outset of the second crisis in June, several people vied for control over American policy on Berlin, creating a disorganized decision making process that Kennedy was wholly unable to master. (123)   

Kennedy seemed to be persuaded by his French counterpart, asserting in an afternoon session that "Khrushchev be made to understand that we are decided, if necessary, to wage nuclear warfare." (127)   

Khrushchev crushed Kennedy at Vienna. ;. Instead Kennedy left Vienna with a formal Soviet ultimatum on Berlin in his pocket. (128)   

But the real source of Kennedy's problems in Vienna was his lack of resolve over Berlin. (129)   

By issuing the deadline at Vienna Khrushchev rekindled a direct superpower confrontation that had been smoldering for two years. The Kennedy administration now had to face directly the questions it had danced around for the first half of the year. What, exactly, was the U.S. interest in Berlin? (129)   

"On the same day that Bundy announced it [memorandum rationalizing changing in American policy regarding Berlin] Kennedy announced a new U.S. policy. 'There are two things that matter," he declared during a NSC discussion: "our presence in Berlin, and our access to Berlin.'" (132) 

A second step in the implementation of the new policy was to get the United States position in writing, pass it on to European allies, and declare it officially (134)   

nub of the new strategy, Rusk explained, was to make access to and the security of West Berlin "vital interests" worthy of military action. Less important were the issues of reunification and East German recognition. (134)   

The June ultimatum, then, had forced the Kennedy administration to )me up with a solid diplomatic position on Berlin. Afraid that Acheson's confrontational stance might provoke a war that could not remain conventional, Kennedy signed on to a more conciliatory policy, a plain declaration that the West was determined to preserve its position in West Berlin, but West Berlin only. (135)   

But the revision of American policy had made war over Berlin seem much less imminent. (136) 

Chapter 9 - The Wall and the Prospect of War, August - October 1961 (pp. 137-151) Edit

Epilogue: McNamara’s Dialectic (pp. 152-162) Edit

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.