• Email
  • Print

Counsels of War’: An Exchange

In response to:

Strategy or Romance? from the July 18, 1985 issue

To the Editors:

In writing on a subject as contemporary and controversial as nuclear strategy I expected to encounter critics among reviewers. But I was nonetheless surprised that a scientist of Lord Zuckerman’s reputation would be the author of such an ill-tempered and unfair review [NYR, July 18]. There are indeed errors in Counsels of War—as there are in any book. But those errors are not nearly as numerous, as “telling,” nor, indeed, as tangible as Lord Zuckerman would have your readers believe.

To cite his own examples: It is true that George Kistiakowsky taught chemistry—physical chemistry, incidentally—not physics at Harvard, as my book asserts, and it is technically claiming too much to credit him with “designing the plutonium core” of the Nagasaki bomb. But the memoirs from the Manhattan Project—as well as an interview Kistia-kowsky gave to Los Alamos shortly before his death—leave no doubt that “Kisty’s” scientific talents spanned several specializations, and that his contribution to the implosion design was key.

Regarding Lord Zuckerman’s dispute with William Borden’s sighting of a V-2 in flight: the reviewer’s quarrel is properly with Borden’s memory and not with my research. In his own book as well as in our interview, Borden was quite definite about the inspiration for his epiphany being a V-2 rocket and not a V-1 buzz bomb. (As a bomber pilot, Borden knew the difference. Incidentally, anyone who believes, as Lord Zuckerman evidently does, that it is impossible for a pilot to see a missile rising from its launch pad below would do well to speak to a veteran of the air raids over North Vietnam.) Also, contrary to the impression left by the review, it should be noted that Borden’s involvement in the Oppenheimer case is treated in detail in the book, and was one reason for the focus on Borden.

Concerning RE-8—the bomb-damage assessment center at Princes Risborough—it is certainly true that Lord Zuckerman is the best source for his opinion of that operation and its success, since he was one of its founders. However, the evidence in my book strongly suggests that his view conflicts with that of the Americans who were there, whose collective account (and whose admittedly Americanized spelling of “High Wickham,” by the way) was the source for that section of Counsels of War—which, lest anyone be confused, is a book about the civilian scientists and strategists on this side of the Atlantic.

This gets to my last and most serious objection to Lord Zuckerman’s essay. The errors—real and imagined—that he finds in Counsels of War can hardly account for the high dudgeon of his review. The explanation for that, I believe, becomes evident later in the piece.

Lord Zuckerman objects strongly to the book’s use of the term “expert.” According to his own definition, only he and the handful of others he names in the review—those “pragmatic scientists who knew the hard nuclear realities”—truly belong in that category. A definition so artificially constrained is not only ungenerous—I found Zuckerman’s dismissal of Bernard Brodie and the RAND strategists, for example, stunning—but irrelevant. “Expert” in Counsels of War merely refers to those who—for better or worse—have officially advised the American government on the subject of nuclear weapons. As readers of the book can discover for themselves, it is not necessarily a badge of honor. Seemingly, Lord Zuckerman’s real quarrel is not with the book itself but with one of its subjects—the civilian strategists—who, he plainly feels, have gotten more attention than the “pragmatic scientists,” and hence more than they deserve.

The other cause of Lord Zuckerman’s pique concerns the book’s neglect of the British side of the story. I plead guilty to this charge. Lord Zuckerman is entirely right when he claims that Prime Minister Harold Macmillan provided a vital impetus to the signing of the Partial Test Ban Treaty in 1963. However, Counsels of War—as is noted on its cover and in the Prologue—is a book about the scientists, strategists, and statesmen in this country who have influenced and helped to determine their government nuclear weapons policy. It does not pretend to be a compendium of national contributions to unclear strategy (which a countryman of Lord Zuckerman’s has already written), or an omnibus history of the worldwide nuclear arms race. While it is only proper to hold authors to account for what is in their books, it is unfair and at least a bit absurd to be pilloried for the book one didn’t write.

As an author in an area of literature and politics where polemic has become the rule, I took some ironic satisfaction from Lord Zuckerman’s complaint that he “could find no purpose or message” in my book—since my intent, from the outset, was simply to tell the story of the experts on the bomb and not to argue a case. In an unintended way, however, I feel his review gives support to the modest thesis of Counsels of War—which will be found in the Prologue, on page xvi, by the way—that the nuclear debate “is not primarily or even importantly a debate over secret numbers, mysterious acronyms, or rival technical analyses…[but] is, instead, a competition between deeply held and often unstated beliefs—some of which only tangentially concern nuclear weapons.”

Gregg Herken

Institute of Global Conflict and Cooperation

University of California, Santa Cruz

To the Editors:

So much nonsense has been published in recent times by reputable publishing houses and journals of review about RAND in general, and in particular the RAND 1951-1953 study of how to base strategic bombers in the 1950s that it is worth at least suggesting to readers (not to say editors) the comic extent of the confusion.

Gregg Herken’s Counsels of War seemed to reach the peak of absurdity until Lord Zuckerman’s review of it in The New York Review climbed daring new heights. Zuckerman notes Herken’s woozy way with even simple facts. He devotes over three long columns to Herken’s mistakes about the British (misspelling “High Wycombs,” putting Edmund Burke in the wrong century, attributing to Americans methods of bomb damage assessment which, Zuckerman says, were developed in a British unit co-founded by Zuckerman, etc.). Bad. But minor compared to Herken’s other gaffes: I counted over twenty howlers in three pages about the RAND Base Study, many on essentials.

Zuckerman, however, can’t get straight what Herken said even where Herken got it fairly straight. Where he adds his own twist to Herken’s errors, disentangling all the knots would be an awesome job. He misrepresents Bernard Brodie, Herman Kahn and others, but I will illustrate only some of his key absurdities about the research on strategic forces carried on by Fred Hoffman, Robert Lutz, John O’Sullivan, Harry Rowen and myself.

Zuckerman’s main charge is that such RAND work was done in isolation, far from military and other policy makers (especially at the “upper reaches”), by “instant experts” with no knowledge of “logistics…or the characteristic and limitations of weapons systems” who applied “game theory and probability calculations”; that such work affected “public opinion” but had “no effect whatever on nuclear arms policy or any other kind of policy” and that the Base Study said nothing that SAC didn’t already know. An old tale with new twists. About twenty-five years ago P.M.S. Blackett, a Nobel physicist and able wartime operational researcher, said much the same to an audience of wartime colleagues (C.P. Snow, R.H.S. Crossman, et al.) about the supposed dire effects of game theory and the military irrelevance of my and other RAND work; and I answered a fraction of his many misunderstandings in “Sin and Games in America.”1

But Blackett knew nothing of the RAND Study on the basing of the 1950s bomber force; nor anything about the successor study, R-290, which dealt with protecting a mixed force of missiles and bombers in the 1960s against potential attack by missiles and bombers. He couldn’t. They were then Top Secret with No Foreign Distribution. The Base Study has been declassified since 1962, and R-290 for almost as long, but Zuckerman in 1985 displays no more knowledge of the subject of his comments than Blackett. It doesn’t help Zuckerman that Herken, his source on these two studies, also hasn’t read them. (Herken gets even the number of pages in the Base Study wrong, and Zuckerman repeats him.)

The Base Study responded to a question proposed by the Air Force’s Assistant for Bases in the spring of 1951 on how best to base the bomber force for the rest of the decade in order to meet targeting objectives generated by the need to defend Western Europe. For the programmed force to destroy projected targets while under attack by enemy bombers, fighters and local defenses clearly would be an enormously complex task. The force would consist mainly of about 1,500 B-47 jets with a combat radius of 2,100 nautical miles and much smaller numbers of B-36s or B-52s which were longer range but still of relatively short combat radius for the job they were to perform. The planned alternative target sets varied in distance from US bases along plausible routes of approach and penetration of enemy defenses from a little over 3,000 to over 6,000 nautical miles. One of our tasks was to evaluate the role of the tanker aircraft likely to be available and of overseas bases worldwide.

The questions we and the Air Force asked were not abstract—whether bombers were in general subject to attack on the ground by bombers as well as in flight by fighters and local defenses. Almost everyone knew that, though Herken suggests that they didn’t and Zuckerman that I thought they didn’t. The genuine questions concerned whether the actual bomber force as programmed with its projected bases, radar cover and mode of operation was adequately designed to avoid potential disruption by ground attack as well as to overcome the many other formidable obstacles to accomplishing its mission. And whether radically different methods of basing and operation could be substantially more cost-effective. Such questions could not be answered by casual observation or by counting the number of locations at which SAC was based, or by citing World War II anecdotes. They required concrete and sustained empirical investigation.

For two years, before issuing a summary report and exposing the results to the scrutiny of experienced officers in the Air Staff, SAC and other relevant field commands, and for three years before issuing the final report, we looked systematically and in great detail at the problem of bringing bombs, bombers, bomber crews and tanker aircraft together with equipment in combat-ready condition and getting bombers to targets and back along routes that minimized their exposure to defenses. That included problems of equipment reliability, radar warning, communications and control, and above all logistics. As the very first page of the study’s summary says, we examined the joint effects of these many factors on “the costs of extending bomber radius; on how the enemy may deploy his defenses, and the numbers of our bombers lost to enemy fighters; on logistics costs; and on base vulnerability and our probable loss of bombers on the ground.” We did not begin with any theory about the vulnerability of SAC. The second-strike theory of deterrence grew out of this empirical study; we didn’t start with it. And “game theory” (pace Blackett, C.P. Snow and Zuckerman) played no role at all.

Zuckerman knows almost nothing about the training and experience of the many RAND research men he disparages or their access to Air Force plans. However, the qualifications of the RAND Base Study team at the start of the study compared rather favorably with the qualifications Zuckerman at the outset of World War II brought to the job of selecting targets from his training in medicine and his study of the sex life of apes. One member of the team was an aeronautical engineer, another a civil engineer with much experience in constructing overseas bases, two had done extensive work on logistics and costs of military systems, four had seen military service, one as a combat bombardier. I myself had “spent years of work in industry on quality control and the reliability of military equipment and some years in charge of R & D and construction projects.” In any case we had detailed access to Air Force plans and programs, SAC and Air Defense Command exercises, state of the art studies in many fields, and had the advice and results of work by many able and experienced men dealing with related matters at RAND and in the Air Force.

The long series of briefings we undertook starting in the spring of 1953 exposed our work to question and review at each of the principal Directorates in the Air Staff—Plans, Operations, Logistics, Installations, Intelligence, etc.—and at all the major field commands starting with SAC. An Ad Hoc Committee of the Air Staff reviewed a draft of the detailed final report meticulously for months and accompanied us as we answered the questions raised by members of the various directorates. I presented the study to the Chief of Staff and the Deputy Chiefs on the Air Force Council where it was discussed for several weeks in my presence. SAC adopted our principal recommendation for a new method of operating overseas in a New Emergency War Plan in October 1953. The Air Force Council endorsed the principal recommendation and started the implementation of several measures in November 1953. At the beginning of the following year, to explain the background for the newly programmed method of operating SAC, I briefed the study at various bases in Britain, in Germany, in France and in North Africa. SAC conducted exercises to test and perfect the recommended method of operation in 1954 and 1955.

If the study said nothing that was new, it would hardly have received such attention. If it had been unsound, it could not have survived the extraordinarily widespread and detailed scrutiny it was given by the responsible military men whose work—and lives—it affected. In short, Zuckerman doesn’t know what he is talking about.

Some of his confusions are genuinely funny. Herken mentions the long sequence of ninety-two briefings given in 1953 as having started with a briefing of the RAND leadership. Herken is not a master of English prose but his intent is clear if not his punctuation. Zuckerman says I briefed the same RAND leaders/n ninety-two times in the winter of 1952! One briefing a day including weekends. No wonder Zuckerman thinks that RAND research men talked only to themselves. They would have had no time for anything else.

Zuckerman says I carried a model of an aircraft shelter along on my briefing tour of the Air Force. (Apparently I did find time to leave Santa Monica.) Herken, on the other hand, has said Alain Enthoven carried it. Herken had Enthoven at Princes Risborough picking targets at age twelve! It is not surprising then that he should have had him accompanying me in 1954 when he was a student at Oxford as innocent of military concerns as Herken today or Lord Zuckerman before he made his transition from apes to warlords. But he never accompanied me during briefings of the Base Study or any subsequent study. He never to my knowledge carried models of aircraft shelters. Nor did I. The Base Study evaluated and rejected aircraft shelters as an element of protection against the bomber threat of the 1950s. The subsequent study on protecting SAC in the 1960s against ICBMs did call for missile silos and aircraft shelters (a proposal first made near the start of the study in February 1954), along with some forty-eight other measures appropriate for protecting SAC in the 1960s, many of which were adopted. As in the case of the Base Study many (like the silos and Fail-Safe) are still operational in the 1980s.

Herken persistently confuses RAND’s Base Study, which dealt with the bomber force in the 1950s, with the successor study done between 1954 and 1956 which dealt with possible Soviet ICBM as well as bomber attacks on our missile and bomber force in the 1960s. He says that the work at RAND by Bruno Augenstein (showing that H-bombs could fit in ICBMs and thus compensate for their early extreme inaccuracy) altered “not only the conclusions of the basing study, but also the reception it would receive at SAC. …” Augenstein’s work (which incidentally itself illustrates the foolishness of Zuckerman’s notion that RAND research didn’t affect such things as ballistic missile plans) couldn’t alter the conclusion of the Base Study or its reception. The Base Study dealt with bombers on the two sides in the 1950s. It was its successor study that dealt with the 1960s and covered ICBMs on both sides. Zuckerman is eager to prove that the Base Study could not possibly have shown that SAC was vulnerable in the 1950s. He therefore cites, as if it were a universal proof of the intrinsic invulnerability of strategic forces, the existence of the “triad” of bombers, ICBMs and submarine launched ballistic missiles. But there wasn’t any triad in the 1950s.

Perhaps the most revealing fable in which Zuckerman and Herken collaborate to confuse has to do with what Herken calls “a longawaited showdown with LeMay” involving a Base Study briefing in 1955. Herken says that I “arranged to have the briefing on the Base Study presented at the Pentagon by the Head of the Air Staff” to General LeMay, and that after only a few sentences LeMay interrupted the Chief of Staff whose briefing crumbled “while LeMay argued that SAC’s solution to the vulnerability problem was not shelters and dispersal…but new bombers that would fly higher, faster and farther”; and Fred Hoffman and I “sat helplessly.” Zuckerman embellishes this wild tale: General LeMay “exploded because the RAND ‘strategists were not saying much that was new.”’ No mention that according to Herken it was the Chief of Staff talking. No mention of bombers flying higher, faster and farther as a complete substitute for ways to protect SAC (which suggests erroneously that General LeMay really had no interest in the problem of SAC’s vulnerability). LeMay he thinks, should have ended RAND’s contract.

How to disentangle this Herken—Zuckerman twisted tale? First, there was no such briefing on the Base Study either by RAND or the Chief of Staff of the Air Force. (I’m flattered that Herken believes I had the power “to arrange” for the Chief of Staff to brief the Commander in Chief of SAC on a study of mine while I listened. That story must have severely tested Zuckerman’s notion that RAND had no effect at all “on the upper reaches” of the military.) There would have been no point in such a briefing since both the Chief of Staff and General LeMay had already adopted the principal recommendations of the Base Study a year and a half before this supposed dramatic shootout. I was by then deeply engaged in the successor study.

Second, I never “awaited” and there never was a “showdown” between General LeMay and the RAND men working on ways to prevent the disruption of SAC operations. On the contrary, General LeMay not only found the Base Study worth implementing, but was extremely generous in his praise of the importance of the successor study on methods of protecting strategic forces in the 1960s. Moreover he understood very well, contrary to Herken, that the basing system we recommended for the 1950s could accomplish its military tasks with many fewer bombers and dollars than the system that had been planned. (In fact it saved some 9 billion 1953 dollars.) The briefing and report featured that fact. The successor study made quite explicit that spending more on protecting the strategic force than on simply buying new vehicles was more effective at each of the plausible budget levels considered. General LeMay didn’t miss that. Zuckerman has a way of both fawning over military commanders and diabolizing them. Both the Base Study and its successor—and their reception by LeMay—run exactly counter to Zuckerman’s dark hints that the “strategists” he condemns were simply rationalizing more weapons and more arms spending to satisfy the greed of “their military or political masters or their industrial friends,” the arms manufacturers.

Blackett, after Hiroshima, attacked Bernard Brodie as an “enthusiast for strategic bombing” who failed to see that “a determined people will learn to stand atomic bombardment, if that is their fate, just as Germans learned to stand ordinary bombing.”2 By 1961 his attack on Brodie, myself and other rather disparate American thinkers had swung to the opposite extreme of relying on American threats to bomb Soviet cities. He had espoused the now dominant perversion of the second-strike theory. But that theory grew out of our study of how best to preserve the capability to strike back at targets generated by the need to defend Europe. The real contrast between our views and those of the “pragmatists” Zuckerman praises is that, like Zuckerman himself, the “pragmatists” rely on an American threat to destroy Soviet innocent populations in a suicidal release of uncontrolled mutual destruction.3 That American threat is incredible for any rational purpose, but most obviously for deterring or defending against an attack directed solely at Western Europe.

Zuckerman’s fables are even more remote from reality than Herken’s. He says that our studies in the 1950s had nothing to do with military decisions and had no effect on them, that such work only affected public opinion. The exact opposite is the case. These detailed empirical studies responded to Air Force questions, they evolved through close contact between RAND and experienced Air Force officers at all levels. They were addressed only to the military and had a large effect on military decisions. They were not available to the public in England or the United States for many years. (That’s one reason why the myths which Zuckerman repeats have flourished.) I myself for nearly eight years wrote nothing for the public, not even an essay on principles, like “The Delicate Balance of Terror” which explained the second-strike theory but said nothing of what we had found empirically about the vulnerability of then current or earlier strategic operations.

Lord Zuckerman is tilting at windmills. That may be only suitable since his lance is pure wind.

Albert Wohlstetter

Los Angeles, California

To the Editors:

Lord Zuckerman’s querulous review of Gregg Herken’s Counsels of War does your readers a disservice, suggesting as it does that nine minor errors among thousands of statements of fact somehow invalidate what I think to be an important scholarly contribution to the history of thinking about nuclear weapons. One typical error cited by Lord Zuckerman is a reference to “High Wickham” when High Wycombe (pronounced the same way) is clearly intended. This is a failure of the American ear. Making a big deal of it is ungenerous.

Lord Zuckerman’s real quarrel is with the civilian strategists, at once naive and intellectually proud, who presumed to tell military men how they should conduct the next war. This led to many comedies of misunderstanding—not least the strategists’ confidence that their dominance of the public debate (a fact) meant they were running strategic policy as well (a fantasy). Actual war planning was always (and is still) a jealously guarded preserve of the military. The strategists may have put the occasional toe into those waters, but their real influence was on Secretaries of Defense in desperate need of public language to explain why it was safe to have weapons it was too dangerous to use. Lord Zuckerman is right to stress this point, but unfairly neglects to mention that Herken does too, in abundant detail, with a great deal of new information about the people who struggled with the problem of what to do with nuclear weapons.

There are lots of books about nuclear weapons. Most of them are abstract, repetitive, narrow, and dull. Counsels of War is one of the very few to approach the problem with a sense of history. Another is Fred Kaplan’s The Wizards of Armageddon. A reader coming to the subject for the first time might cure himself of innocence with either of these books. Other reviewers have recognized Herken’s valuable contribution. It was his bad luck, in the present instance, to have written about a group of men who particularly irritate Lord Zuckerman. Your readers should not be put off; Counsels of War is well worth reading.

Thomas Powers

South Royalton, Vermont

Lord Zuckerman replies:

I am sorry that Dr. Herken found my review both unfair and ill tempered. While I understand why he did not like what I had to say, I want to assure him that I wrote it with no feeling of ill will.

He should also appreciate that I was holding him to account for what he had written, and certainly not for what he did not write. I had always assumed that all professional historians check their sources as well as their references. Clearly I was wrong. Like anyone else who has a television set—to take up only one point in Dr. Herken’s letter—I of course know that ballistic missiles can be seen as they shoot up from their launch pads. But that is not what I understood from his reference to Mr. Borden. If there is any “quarrel,” therefore, it is with what Dr. Herken calls his “research.” In late 1944, so he wrote in his book, Mr. Borden “while piloting his B-24 Liberator back from a nighttime mission of dropping supplies to the Resistance…had experienced an instant of revelation as a German V-2 rocket destined to strike London hurtled past him” (my italics). If I understand Dr. Herken’s letter correctly, his research into this particular incident constituted no more than quoting from a book written by Mr. Borden, and from what was said in an interview. If, however, as Dr. Herken now implies, what Mr. Borden saw was a V-2, not hurtling past him, but rising from its pad, he would have had to have been, let us say, within a hundred miles or so from where the rocket was fired. Well, the V-2 had a ground range of some 200 to 220 miles, and its short ballistic path carried it up sharply to a height of 50 to 70 miles at a speed that reached some 3,600 mph. The first V-2 struck London on September 8, 1944, and was fired from a battery that had been stationed near the Hague, some 60 miles from the nearest Allied forces.4 When the ill-fated Arnhem operation began on September 17 (ending September 26),5 the battery was withdrawn for some days. Firing was resumed when it and some two other batteries were moved back.6 One needs, therefore, to ask which Resistance group was Mr. Borden supplying “in late 1944,” by which I take it is usually meant from about October I until the end of the year.

From mid-September no large-scale American drops were made to the French Resistance.7 If, let us nonetheless suppose, Mr. Borden’s drop had been to any one of the French groups, he would not have been anywhere near the northern part of the Dutch coast where the V-2s were stationed. One drop to the Dutch is recorded for November, and one for December, with more following in the new year.8 Had it been one of the former two, Mr. Borden’s Liberator would certainly not have been routed back to his base in the UK over the heavily defended area where the V-2 batteries were sited. Presumably he would have flown a few miles south over territory reoccupied by the Allied forces, before turning for the UK. From December 31 there were several drops made to the Dutch Resistance in the south,9 close to territory that the Allies had reoccupied, and also drops to the Danish and Norwegian underground.10 The best I can make of Mr. Borden’s story is that he might have been involved in one of these later drops, and that he must have been either flying over the North Sea back to his base or, if it was a drop to the Dutch, southwest over Alliedoccupied territory before turning north for the UK. Apart from asking when all this happened, for the life of me I cannot see how, when flying at, say, 15,000 feet at 250 mph, a rocket that had shot up to a height of 50 to 70 miles at a speed that reached 3,600 miles an hour could have “hurtled past him.” It is just conceivable that at some time or other he might have seen a V-2 in the far distance rising vertically from its pad. But hurtling past him? Surely not. Despite Mr. Borden’s insistence, was his V-2 perhaps the V-1 flying bomb? Tens of thousands of people saw those. Or was it all the product of his rich imagination?

My research has hardly been exhaustive, but it is the least that I would have expected Dr. Herken, a professional historian, to have undertaken before citing a statement that was so suspect and even absurd that it reflected on the reliability of its author as a historical source. Dr. Herken should also remember that there are official histories, British and American, of almost all aspects of World War II, including a considerable amount of literature relating to RE8. There is no record on this side of the Atlantic of an American “collective account” of the British institution. A reference would be appreciated.

But having said this, I find that I now owe him an apology, not only for having hurt his feelings, but for having called down upon his head a more copious and, I am afraid, rather offensive pack of criticisms from a member of the category of “experts” to whom Dr. Herken has correctly sensed I have not had occasion to turn for guidance, and my general views about whom are clearly shared by Mr. Thomas Powers.

Mr. Wohlstetter writes that those of Dr. Herken’s errors of fact to which I drew attention were minor in comparison with the twenty “howlers” that he spotted with reference to a “RAND Base Study,” of which he was the principal author. The only solace for Dr. Herken in this sequel to my review is that Mr. Wohlstetter has also taken it upon himself to direct his shafts at me. Let me confess, therefore, that until I read Dr. Herken’s book, I had never heard of the Rand Base Study. I was reviewing Dr. Herken’s book, not something that Mr. Wohlstetter had written, and which I had not read. While I knew of his existence, I must also admit that in the many years during which I was concerned professionally with the nuclear policies of the United Kingdom and those of NATO, not once did I hear either Mr. Wohlstetter’s name or his writings referred to by any one of the many political and military authorities with whom I worked, and who carried the responsibility for such strategic decisions as were taken on this side of the Atlantic. Nor did I ever hear anyone refer to “game theory” in relation to the practical issues of strategy and tactics with which they were dealing. I suppose that such American military staff in NATO as may have been following Mr. Wohlstetter’s counsel did not think it important enough to bring their NATO colleagues into the picture.

I would certainly agree that my training in medicine and my inquiries into the sex lives of apes would have been an inadequate basis for what Mr. Wohlstetter calls my “job of selecting targets” during World War II. Fortunately, the commanders for whom I worked directly as adviser on strategic planning (among them General Spaatz, Air Chief Marshal Tedder [General Eisenhower’s Deputy as Supreme Commander], and Lord Mountbatten) had sufficient sense to wait until I had learned enough about what happened in actual operations before they evinced any wish to hear me comment on military matters. I am sure that “years of work in industry on quality control and the reliability of military equipment” was a commendable activity. But I am at a loss to understand what preparation they constituted for operational planning at the strategic level.

Mr. Wohlstetter has taken umbrage at the implication of my review that the writing of armchair strategists (I was not referring specifically to him) has, to the best of my knowledge, had little influence on the way the armory of nuclear weapons has built up and nuclear policy evolved. He is also affronted because I quoted Dr. Herken as saying that he, Mr. Wohlstetter, carried a model of an aircraft shelter in the course of a briefing tour of the Air Force. And he makes great play of the fact that Dr. Herken wrote that it was Alain Enthoven who carried it, but that the latter was too young to have been involved. Of course I noted Alain Enthoven’s name, but so far as I was concerned, it made no difference at all who carried the model, or whether or not there was a model. For all that it mattered, one might have been carried by Mr. Wohlstetter’s favorite nephew or a nurse. Nor did I say that Mr. Wohlstetter briefed the same Rand leaders several times about his study. What I wrote, quoting from Dr. Herken, was “his Rand colleagues”—referred to by Dr. Herken as “the famous murder board” of Rand’s leadership. If, as he now informs us, he talked to a different group, I doubt this was of grave importance to many aside from Mr. Wohlstetter. Nor do I regard the issue as historically important, any more than I do the exact number of pages in his reports.

And I was certainly not so foolish as to wish “to prove that the Base Study could not possibly have shown that SAC was vulnerable in the 1950s.” Let me repeat, I knew nothing about Mr. Wohlstetter’s study, although I was certainly aware that all military airfields and air forces, British and American, and not just SAC’s, were, and still are, regarded as vulnerable, and therefore have to be defended. I did try to check another one of Dr. Herken’s references to Mr. Wohlstetter, namely that he was the author of an eighty-five page memorandum which was written for Dr. Kissinger as a basis for a so-called Option E in the SALT negotiations. But unfortunately I failed to find any reference to Option E in Dr. Kissinger’s detailed account of the negotiations.11 Nor is Mr. Wohlstetter’s name referred to in relation to Options A to D, which are discussed.

I sense that Mr. Wohlstetter is well pleased with what he has done as a “strategic consultant,” but highly sensitive to what he regards as criticism. He drags into his letter the name of the late Lord Blackett who, he correctly notes, was a Nobel laureate, and whom he then condescendingly describes as an “able wartime operational researcher.” He writes that Blackett had no more knowledge than I had about the Rand Base Study. But what matter? Who, apart from the author and those in US Air Force circles whom he had to persuade that vulnerability was an issue of major importance—and not, I now understand, Dr. Herken—has read it? Blackett did, however, criticize some of Mr. Wohlstetter’s pronouncements on strategy, criticisms a fraction of which Mr. Wohlstetter tells us he disposed of in an article published in 1964. Unfortunately Blackett is no longer with us to say what he thinks of Mr. Wohlstetter’s present diatribe.

Perhaps it is in order for me to tell your readers that Blackett is rightly regarded as having been not just an “able wartime operational researcher,” but the “father” of operational research as it applies to real, not imagined, events. Blackett applied his brilliant scientific mind to what he had learned during his training and life as a young professional naval officer in World War I. In the Thirties he helped in promoting the radar chain which was to prove critical in the Battle of Britain, and later, in the early part of World War II, he played a major part in the organization of Britain’s anti-aircraft defenses. But the contribution for which he is best remembered is his success in helping devise the convoy system to deal with the U-boat offensive in the Atlantic.

Later Lord Blackett warned, as have many others, that the answers that can be derived from the analysis of abstract models of military situations are determined by the assumptions on which they are based. I have reread some of what he wrote about Mr. Wohlstetter, and find that he pointed out that “one of the doctrines of the academic theorists” is that “the West must plan on the enemy’s capability but the USSR should plan on the West’s intentions,” i.e., that it must assume that the West has no hostile intentions toward the USSR. With reference to Mr. Wohlstetter himself, Blackett then went on to say that

It is, of course, perfectly correct to bring into the analysis of the global situation the broader considerations of expediency, morality, and common sense. But these broader considerations must be brought in consistently and not arbitrarily just when it suits a particular argument. It is wholly correct that a nation should believe in, and pride itself on, the morality of its behavior. It is an amiable and common conceit that one’s own behavior is better than that of one’s opponent, and it may even be true on occasion. What is absurd is that we should expect an enemy to base its military policy on our own estimate of our moral character.12

Whether or not the writings of armchair strategists have had any influence on those who have to carry the responsibility for decision, Blackett, like me, did believe that they influence public opinion.

One last point. Mr. Wohlstetter is wrong in saying that I “collaborated” with Dr. Herken. That I have not done at any time. But I am immensely sorry that my review has provoked this attack on his book in prose which, in contrast to what Mr. Wohlstetter observes about Dr. Herken’s, I find both intemperate and in bad taste.

If Mr. Powers found my review of Gregg Herken’s Counsels of War merely querulous, and if it did him and some unspecified readers a disservice, its publication was clearly a waste of some of The New York Review’s valuable space. So let me assure your readers that there were others who must have found it interesting. Among the letters I have received is one from a distinguished European public servant who thanks me for giving what he calls “the Rand-Kahn complex of armchair strategists the come-uppance they have long deserved.”

Mr. Powers also seems to imply that my adverse review of Dr. Herken’s book was essentially inspired by the fact that I discovered “nine minor errors among thousands” of what he calls “statements of fact.” As it happens, I never counted the number of errors I did cite, nor did I cite all the errors which I spotted. The first one about Edmund Burke shook my confidence in Dr. Herken as a careful historian. I suppose an equivalent observation by an English historian would have had Mr. Acheson helping to phrase the Declaration of Independence, or President Eisenhower joining with those who thwarted President Wilson over the League of Nations. What errors, as I asked in my review, would other informed readers discover? Obviously I have not devoted any time to seeking an answer, but I might confess that I did get in touch with one person—it certainly wasn’t Mr. Wohlstetter—who appears prominently in Dr. Herken’s book. He told me that so far as he was concerned, the book was full of mistakes. I did not tell him about those I had discovered.

Where I agree with Mr. Powers is in his statement that it is fantasy to suppose that the armchair strategists about whom Dr. Herken writes and whom, as I said, he glamorizes, are those who determine strategic policy. In all my professional and often close dealings with those in the United States, the United Kingdom, or NATO who have been, or who are still concerned in the formulation of actual nuclear policy, I have not come across more than a handful who have ever bothered to concern themselves with the works of the authors who are the main subjects of Dr. Herken’s book.

I have read The Wizards of Armageddon, and found it more interesting and far less pretentious than Counsels of War. It is not, however, for me to advise which of the two your readers should pick up if they need to be cured of nuclear innocence.

  1. 1

    Printed in Game Theory and Related Approaches to Social Behavior, edited by Martin Shubik (John Wiley and Sons, 1964).

  2. 2

    Fear, War, and the Bomb (McGraw-Hill, 1948), p. 61.

  3. 3

    One of Zuckerman’s “pragmatists” would launch ICBMs at Soviet cities on the basis of electromagnetic warnings of a Soviet attack; or after 100-kiloton bombs buried near our silos as an ABM defense had exploded and destroyed incoming Soviet warheads; or would simply have both superpowers bury their bombs under each other’s cities.

  4. 4

    Basil Collier, The Defence of the United Kingdom (London: Her Majesty’s Stationary Office, 1957); Basil Collier, The Battle of the V-Weapons (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1964).

  5. 5

    Cornelius Ryan, A Bridge Too Far (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1974).

  6. 6

    Collier, The Defence of the United Kingdom.

  7. 7

    W.F. Craven and J.L. Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II, vol. 3 (University of Chicago Press, 1951).

  8. 8

    Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II.

  9. 9

    E.H. Cookridge, Inside SOE (London: Arthur Barker, 1966).

  10. 10

    Craven and Cate, The Army Air Forces in World War II.

  11. 11

    Henry Kissinger, White House Years (Little, Brown, 1980).

  12. 12

    P.M.S. Blackett, Studies of War (Edinburgh: Oliver and Boyd, 1962).

  • Email
  • Print