The following communication from Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Phillips, USA (Ret.), is offered in amplification of the editors’ note with which we preceded Michael Amrine’s review of the book, Strategic Surrender, in our October issue. In the note we said there was “no such report as General Phillips implied” (in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch). In all fairness to General Phillips, we must point out that there indeed is such a study but it is not the Kecskemeti book, as readers of the Phillips article on Capitol Hill and other places have inferred. – The Editors
The great storm over surrender that blew for a few days in the middle of August was caused unintentionally by the writer when he reported in an article in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that three nonprofit scientific agencies working for the Defense Department were making “studies as to whether the United States can survive and continue to fight after an all-out nuclear attack.”
“One is studying the conditions when surrender would be advisable,” the last sentence of the first paragraph stated, “rather than to try to continue a war that is already lost.”
The studies referred to were:
¾ A civil defense study made by ORO (Operations Research Office of Johns Hopkins University), a scientific agency operated for the Army.
¾ The Rand Corporation study, Strategic Surrender. Rand is a scientific agency operated for the Air Force.
¾ A study by another scientific agency that was not identified because the information concerning its study was obtained in the course of an interview which concerned the general method of operation of the agency, rather than discussion of specific projects.
The failure to identify this agency led many to believe, due probably to the connotation of the title “Strategic Surrender,” that it was the Rand study by Paul Kecskemeti that was the study of survival and surrender.
Many assumed that, because the Rand study did not deal with this subject directly, although it did by implication, no such study existed. An Associated Press dispatch of August 14, printed in the Congressional Record the same day, quoted a Senator as saying that “Secretary of Defense Neil H. McElroy and Deputy Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles had assured the President and Republican Senators that “there is no thought or plan for surrender and the studies were only theoretical.’”
The Senator continued: “The directive for the study had been made by John B. McCauley, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. McCauley made the trip to the Senate,” the Senator said, “to explain that part of an over-all study of all possibilities of an all-out war between this country and Russia had included the conditions under which either Soviet Russia or this country might be forced to surrender.” This was the unidentified study referred to, not the Rand book.
The ORO study, which was the basis for testimony by Dr. Ellis A. Johnson, ORO Director, before a subcommittee of the Government Operations Committee of the House of Representatives, made an estimate that under varying conditions of attack and defense effectiveness the number of US dead could be from 15,000,000 to 90,000,000.
No valid study that reaches such conclusions can be imagines without thought of national survival and consideration of whether to quit before the magnitude of destruction destroys the loser’s bargaining power.
The Rand study was called in the article that raised the furore, “a straw in the wind, showing the direction of some thinking.” Dr. Kecskemeti was quoted as follows: “full-scale nuclear warfare threatens its target with a level of destruction so high that coordinated activities must largely come to a stop. In such a situation, the loser cannot offer ‘surrender’ in the shape of handing the winner control over cohesive residual capabilities and over a society that is a going concern.” By any sort of rational inference such a statement applies just as much to the US as to a possible hostile power.
The director of the agency that was not identified said their studies cast doubt on the ability of the United States to survive and to continue to fight after an attack where 40,000,000 people might be killed.
In lengthy discussions with a highly placed air Force general, who had called my attention to the studies of survival (or surrender), he made the point that “if the Soviets destroyed most of our counterforce in a surprise attack, say seventy-five percent of SAC, the US from then on would be trading ten American cities to one Soviet city. On the other hand,” he said, “so long as we have the means to resist, we have something to bargain with.”
The article on surrender was one of a series dealing with the relative military position of the S and the Soviet Union. The idea of relating our situation to survival and surrender was to call attention to the fact that for the first time since the War of 1812 it is possible for an enemy to gain such a great military lead that the US may be faced with the ultimate consequence of its present inadequate military policies – surrender.
A friend in the State Department explained the almost hysterical reaction in the Congress and the Administration to publication of the Post-Dispatch article as the expression of a subconscious feeling of guilt. The Administration, which has been determining military expenditures on a budgetary basis, rather than on military requirements, and the Congress, which had generally gone along with the Administration, were suddenly brought face to face with the ultimate consequences of their policies.
Daily Report: Read the day's top news on the US Air Force, airpower, and national security issues.
Tweets by @AirForceMag