In the final draft of his farewell address as president, Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the growing in-fluence of “the military-industrial-congressional complex.” At the last minute, he struck out “congressional.” It was not fitting, he thought, for a president to criticize Congress. It may also have seemed to him particularly ungracious, since he was about to be succeeded by one of the loudest congressional drumbeaters for higher military spending, Senator John F. Kennedy of Massachusetts.

For years, Kennedy and his Democratic colleagues Stuart Symington of Missouri and Henry M. Jackson of Washington had bedeviled the Eisenhower administration and Eisenhower personally for weakness on defense, warning first of a “bomber gap” and then of a “missile gap” by which, they claimed, the United States was or was about to become strategically inferior to the Soviet Union.

Both gaps were fictitious. Despite the alarm that followed Russia’s launch of its Sputnik satellite in 1957, there was never a point at which the United States could not have used its far superior bomber force or, later, missiles based in Europe and aboard submarines to annihilate the Soviet Union.

What must have been particularly exasperating to Eisenhower is that he knew that his Democratic critics understood the true state of affairs. On February 16, 1959, General Nathan B. Twining, the Air Force chief of staff, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in closed session (with Kennedy present) that Soviet missile tests had not been proceeding “as rapidly or regularly” as once suspected.

Twining’s and Eisenhower’s sources for this information were the U-2 spy plane flights over Russia and intercepts by the National Security Agency. They did not reveal these sources to the Senate and obviously could not reveal them to the public—but they did tell Congress the fruits of their intelligence-gathering operations. In addition Twining pointed out that the rapidly developing US strategic nuclear force of long-range bombers, Polaris submarines, and intermediate-range missiles based in Britain and Italy more than made up for a potential and theoretical Soviet advantage in intercontinental ballistic missiles. “In other words, general, you don’t accept the theory that there is a missile gap and this is a period of maximum peril,” Kennedy said. “No, I don’t,” Twining replied. He reminded Kennedy that “Congress was convinced that there was going to be a gap in bombers and instead we are way ahead of them.”1

Kennedy did not challenge Twining’s assertions, yet both he and Jackson continued to pound away at the missile gap. Then, after election day 1960, the period of maximum peril suddenly ended. In early 1961, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara told reporters there was no missile gap.

Robert G. Kaufman, a professor of political science at the University of Vermont, tells us:

Kennedy discovered just weeks after taking office…that the missile gap he had run on so effectively, and that Jackson had warned about so ominously, did not exist. The Soviets had serious problems with the development of their missile program that American intelligence had failed to detect.

This is not true. The U-2 flights had picked up the delays in the Soviet missile program and Twining had reported them to the Foreign Relations Committee. But then, having asserted that the US failed to detect the delays in the Soviet program, Kaufman immediately contradicts himself and says there was no intelligence failure:

Recent scholarship has established that the Eisenhower administration worried less about the missile gap during the late 1950s than its Democratic critics, because of the secret intelligence about the Soviet missile program obtained from flights of the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft over the Soviet Union. Jackson was not privy to that in-formation, notwithstanding his Q [security] clearance. The Eisenhower administration withheld it from all of Congress for fear of exposing the source: U-2s overflying the Soviet Union.

This is also false. The Eisenhower administration did not withhold the information from all of Congress. Jackson was not a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, but he served on the Senate Armed Services Committee and had sold Kennedy on the missile gap in the first place. Surely Twining’s information was equally available to him, even if the sources and methods used to obtain it were not described. And yet, like Kennedy, he continued to harp on the missile gap.

To compound his duplicity, when Jackson finally agreed, years later, that there had been no missile gap, he blamed his misinformation on briefings from the Eisenhower administration. It is true that CIA Director Allen Dulles had at times given scary scenarios about Soviet missile developments, but in another of the closed Foreign Relations Committee sessions of 1959 Dulles said Soviet leaders feared that America’s nuclear retaliatory capability would threaten Soviet survival in the event of all-out war. Bottom line: no missile gap.

These contradictions go to the heart of any assessment of Jackson’s long and influential career as part of the military-industrial-congressional complex. They resurrect the continuing question of the honesty of a fifty-year-old debate over our national security, a question that is one of the most difficult subjects to study dispassionately even seventeen years after Jackson’s death. Time and time again in his career Jackson made charges or issued demands that put America’s defense capacities, falsely, in the worst possible light. At best, his exaggerations can be considered white lies intended to rouse complacent Americans to meet what he believed to be a mortal danger; at worst, he bullied his opponents and impugned their integrity, if not their patriotism.


Jackson’s career and positions are not merely of historical interest. Of all the principals in the national security debates from the 1950s to the 1980s, Jackson turns out to have the most lingering influence on today’s policies and policymakers. Among his allies and disciples have been Democrats Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Ben Wattenberg, and former ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick. He is revered by conservative Op-Ed writers like George Will, who once pronounced himself to be a “Jackson Republican.” Jackson’s chief aide on military matters, Richard Perle, served in the Reagan Pentagon and, like another Jackson disciple, Paul Wolfowitz, has been a key defense adviser to Governor George W. Bush of Texas. Wolfowitz has been mentioned as Bush’s possible choice for secretary of defense. Yet another Jackson aide, Frank Gaffney, has been a leading public advocate for higher defense spending, including an anti-ballistic missile system, of which Jackson was an early champion.

In their enthusiasm, Jackson’s latter-day admirers have both invested him with abilities and positions he did not have and forgotten liberal beliefs that he held strongly, like universal national health insurance. (His neocon admirers do not mention this.) During the recent presidential campaign, the conservative pundit William Kris-tol urged Vice President Al Gore to drop the US role as an honest broker in Middle East peace negotiations and stand unambiguously with Israel: “In other words, Gore could adopt a Scoop Jackson position on the Middle East.” Kristol (who, as far as I know, is a supporter of Governor Bush) appears to forget that Jackson, who was fiercely devoted to Israel’s security, had no particular sympathy for those Israeli nationalists, mostly in the Likud Party, who claim a biblical right to control Judea and Samaria, not to mention all the land from the Nile to the Euphrates. In his time, Jackson dealt chiefly with Labor governments in Israel and he opposed the Likud government’s expansionist settlements policy.

To his conservative admirers, almost all of them Republicans, Jackson was a prophet without honor in his own party, the last survivor of the tough-minded Harry Truman tradition, a lone Churchillian voice of integrity in the darkest days of the cold war. Kaufman, in this adulatory book, adopts this view without much skepticism.

But consider Eisenhower’s quite different view. There was no reason for Eisenhower to decry a military-industrial-congressional complex that was, in good faith, identifying genuine threats to the United States and devising necessary weapons to counter them, even at high cost. What Eisenhower denounced was a cabal that knowingly magnified threats, relentlessly promoted worst-case scenarios, deliberately belittled the military might of the United States, and defamed opponents to promote spending on weapons that were costly and unneeded.

In Senator Jackson’s case, the ben-eficiaries were the Boeing aircraft company in Seattle, the Bremerton, Washington, shipyards, and the Hanford nuclear processing plant, also in Washington State. His connections with them can’t be ignored when we consider the major national-security initiatives he favored: his relentless demands for increased defense spending, his support for the Vietnam War, his opposition to détente and arms control with the Soviet Union, and his support for an anti-ballistic missile system.


Henry M. Jackson was born to Norwegian immigrant parents in Everett, Washington, on May 31, 1912, a time, place, and parentage that may evoke a rural version of Remember Mama; but the reality was full of conflict. Washington in the early part of the century was the setting of labor wars involving the Wobblies (Industrial Workers of the World) and a variety of company-town deputy sheriffs, American Legion strikebreakers, and vigilante goons.

Jackson’s father, Peter, avoided involvement in any of this, but throughout his life, Jackson was staunchly pro-labor. On domestic policies gen-erally, he was on the left wing of the Democratic Party. He favored universal national health insurance, an increased minimum wage, civil rights, federal aid to education and public housing, public power companies, and aggressive environmentalism. In 1940, after serving as a prosecutor, he came to Washington as an enthusiastic New Dealer. It baffled him that Arkansas’s Democratic senator, J. William Fulbright, an opponent of civil rights legislation, was considered a liberal while Jackson was considered a conservative.


Jackson’s family was sufficiently well off to help him through college and law school; at least, unlike so many immigrant families at the time, they did not demand that he quit school to become another breadwinner. He was nicknamed Scoop as a child, after a comic-strip character who persuaded other people to do his chores.

Kaufman says Jackson’s philo-Semitism came in part from his mother, who abhorred anti-Semitism. A Jewish junkman named Abe Kosher let Jackson have a car for nothing. Kaufman also says Jackson saw parallels between the plight of the Jews and Norway under Nazi occupation, although this last point escapes me. The Nazis indeed shot Norwegian hostages, but Norway’s experience of occupation during the war in no way compares to the Holocaust.

As a congressman, Jackson supported Truman during the Korean War and applauded Truman’s dismissal of General Douglas MacArthur. In 1952, the year of Eisenhower’s victory, Jackson won a seat in the Senate. In Washington, D.C., Jackson remained a bachelor until he was forty-nine years old. Until his marriage in 1961, he lived in a one-room apartment stacked with newspapers. He had no known hobbies and no known vices. He did not smoke, drink, listen to music, or mix socially with his colleagues, except for Kefauver and Kennedy. He was industrious, humorless, and a notoriously dull speechmaker. He was, uncommonly for many members of Congress, gracious and generous to his staff.

While in the House, Jackson had criticized Senator Joseph R. McCarthy for attacking the patriotism of General George Marshall, Truman’s former secretary of state. But in the Senate, serving on McCarthy’s subcommit-tee on government operations, Jackson had little to say that was critical of McCarthy. Kaufman tries, somewhat half-heartedly, to put a positive spin on Jackson’s new-found reticence:

Jackson acquiesced, for example, when McCarthy demanded that [New York Post editor James] Wechsler give the subcommittee a list of everyone he could remember from his youth who had been a communist or Young Communist League member. Instead, biding his time, Jackson waited for McCarthy to make a catastrophic mistake that he and his fellow Democrats on the committee could exploit.

“Biding his time”? Not the most courageous position to take during the McCarthy era. Kaufman notes that Senator Eugene McCarthy, a Minnesota Democrat and one of Jackson’s severest critics, said that Jackson started opposing Joseph McCarthy only when it was safe to do so. Kaufman tells us that Jackson accepted the Truman administration’s early guideline for the cold war, National Security Council Memorandum 68, which portrayed the Soviet Union as a threat so evil and militarily reckless that resistance to it justified spending 20 percent of the GNP on defense—i.e., three times the size of the current defense budget and as much as is now spent on all federal programs put together. Jackson thus became an early critic of Eisenhower’s defense policies, arguing that the United States could afford to spend up to 15 percent of its gross national product on defense without jeopardizing prosperity. He was joined in this hawkishness by Symington, Kennedy, and Senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas.

George F. Kennan, still in the State Department, regarded NSC 68 as overblown in its description of the Soviet military threat, but Jackson did not. He repeatedly described the leaders of the Soviet Union as diabolically clever master strategists, a common idea during the cold war but one that is hard to sustain as soon as one considers closely the generally ill-educated and untraveled Soviet leaders: Nikita Khrushchev, Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, and Nikolai Podgorny.

There could be no negotiation with this evil. To survive, Jackson believed, the United States had to maintain a strategic edge and prevent the Soviet Union from gaining parity. Insistence on US superiority was necessarily at odds with arms control negotiations, and Jackson was a relentless foe of arms control efforts, both Democratic and Republican.

This hawkishness carried over to his support for the Vietnam War, a period when the New Left first branded him “the Senator from Boeing.” By 1968, Jackson was sufficiently at odds with his party that Richard M. Nixon proposed naming him his secretary of defense. Jackson considered the idea, then rejected it and soon began criticizing Nixon’s strategic and foreign policies, as he had criticized Eisenhower’s, as too soft.

We can debate forever whether Jackson was a selfless crusader for a stronger defense, as his disciples suggest, or a cynic who waved the flag while he lined the purses of his home state’s military-industrial complex. The two positions are not necessarily in conflict. He seemed genuinely concerned about the threat posed by what he believed to be a malevolent, expansionist, and reckless Soviet Union. This fixation led him to reflexive opposition to virtually all dealings with Moscow, including the 1975 Helsinki agreements, which, by setting up a mechanism to monitor human rights violations in Russia, helped to discredit and then defeat communism.

Three specific matters raise questions, all of them similar, about whether Jackson interpreted the enormity of the Soviet threat as giving him a license to exaggerate, to bully opposing officials, and to obstruct efforts to maintain a nuclear balance that might prevent both an arms race and an accidental nuclear holocaust.

First, did Jackson know, in the late 1950s, that his public charges about the missile gap were specious? As the evidence above suggests, with his access to military secrets, he must have known that the real strategic balance was in America’s favor. Yet he hammered on the fictitious “missile gap” to justify increased spending on nuclear weapons.

Second, was he entirely sincere in his proposals for arms control agreements in the late 1960s and 1970s or was he simply trying to sabotage any agreement at all? Arms control negotiators during the 1970s felt Jackson’s perennial demands for a treaty prescribing equal numbers of US and Soviet nuclear missiles and then equal “throw-weight” were simply disingenuous attempts to sabotage any accord.

Jackson, an expert on strategic nuclear matters, must have known that the United States had unilaterally designed its nuclear force to meet its own strategic needs and had no reason to match the Soviet Union one-for-one in numbers or size of missiles. The Russians could, and did, field more ICBMs under the agreement reached by the first Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT 1), but their simple numerical superiority made no difference to the strategic balance.

“To put it crudely, the United States stopped building additional missiles because its most senior defense officials had become convinced that the country’s security required no more,” Henry Kissinger wrote in the final volume of his diplomatic memoirs. “The charge that the interim offensive agreement (SALT 1) ‘granted’ an advantage to the Soviets [a charge that Jackson made repeatedly] was basically demagoguery.”

In addition to numerical equality, Jackson insisted on equal “throw-weight” limits on US and Soviet forces. “Throw-weight” is the capacity of a strategic rocket to lift nuclear warheads and their guidance systems in-to space. The Soviet Union, with its less accurate guidance systems, fielded larger nuclear warheads than the United States to make up for the lack of accuracy. The United States could inflict devastating retaliation on the Soviet Union with its lighter but more accurate missiles and had no need to build massive Soviet-style rockets. I suspect it is no coincidence that Jackson seized upon throw-weight as a measure. Even though it is meaningless for estimating a nation’s deterrent capability, it is the one standard that puts the US-Soviet strategic balance in the worst light for the United States. To block arms control agreements, Jackson shifted his demands as needed.

“Before Ford went to Vladivostok in 1974, Jackson said if he [President Ford] didn’t get an agreement on equal numbers of missiles, forget it; no treaty would ever be ratified,” William Hyland, a senior State Department official in those years, recalls. “Well, Ford got equal numbers (an agreement to limit both sides to 2,400 strategic launch vehicles) and Jackson and his camp immediately switched to equal throw-weight. It was just a way to slow things down.”

Kissinger, characteristically in his mellow years, voices his respect for Jackson, who supported him on a number of other issues, most notably the Vietnam War. But you can see resentment of Jackson’s methods in his acid description of Jackson’s top defense aide, Richard Perle:

Far too intelligent not to have realized that some of the charges he was making were more cynical than substantive, Perle proved as steadfast as he was ingenious in pursuing his larger aim: to stymie the [Nixon-Ford] administration’s arms control policies by submerging them in technical controversies, to block trade with the Soviet Union by making it dependent on changes in Soviet emigration policies and to isolate the administration by accusing it of indifference on human rights.

Kaufman writes that it is a mistake to view Jackson merely as the mouthpiece for the wily, engaging, and brilliant Perle. If so, it is a mistake shared by everyone who watched the two of them at work, with Perle ever at Jackson’s ear, whispering and passing notes.

Jackson regarded Kissinger as naive on détente, but nevertheless had to treat him warily. But he was a bully to lower-ranking officials who could not defend themselves. Gerard C. Smith, the chief negotiator in the first strategic arms talks with the Soviet Union, writes that Jackson destroyed the distinguished career of Air Force General Royal Allison, who—correctly, as events have proven—disagreed with Jackson’s views on throw-weight and the vulnerability of silo-based US Minuteman missiles. Jackson had him transferred away from arms control, and Allison was forced to retire.

When Allison asked Jackson why he was being removed, Jackson did not deny responsibility, Gerard Smith writes in his memoirs. Smith then adds this devastating assessment: “Working in arms control is a dangerous business but one in which expert and courageous military advice is needed. The Allison example is not likely to encourage top military officers to take on arms control responsibilities.” Kaufman lists Smith’s memoir in his bibliography, but he does not mention the Allison episode in his book.

Jackson’s most publicized crusade—his pressure on the Soviet Union to allow increased emigration of Jews—was belittled, by Richard M. Nixon, among others, simply as a ploy to attract Jewish campaign contributions for Jackson’s unsuccessful run for the 1976 Democratic presidential nomination. Though he is now revered for it by many, Jackson’s effort was a spectacular failure. Thanks to Kissinger’s diplomacy, the Soviet Union had allowed increases in Jewish emigration from a trickle in 1970 to 34,733 by 1973. But Jackson insisted on a public Soviet commitment of 60,000 exit visas a year in order to qualify for Most Favored Nation trade status. The Russians would guarantee no specific number but they assured Kissinger privately that the visa denial rate would be 1.6 percent; if 100,000 Jews applied to leave, about 98,400 would succeed.

Jackson then held a press conference to trumpet a victory for his hardball tactics, and announced the figure of 60,000 as a ” benchmark.” The Russians, angered at the notion that they had modified their domestic laws under US pressure, reneged on any agreement and Jewish emigration dropped back to a trickle. “Jackson was rubbing their noses in it,” a former State Department official involved in those negotiations told me. “We had a good private deal, but a private deal didn’t suit his purposes. By that time [1973], he was running for president.”

Jackson had first tried for the Democratic nomination in 1972 but was somewhat more successful in 1976. He won the Massachusetts and New York primaries in 1976, but he failed to win New York by the landslide he had predicted. By the curious standards of politics, this victory became a “failure to live up to expectations,” and the Jackson candidacy petered out.

Jackson appears to have been genuinely concerned about the plight of oppressed Jews, particularly following his visit to Buchenwald shortly after it was liberated in 1945. But it is also true that he cashed in on his efforts on behalf of Jewish emigration, working the Jewish community so strenuously for campaign contributions in 1976 that one of the reporters assigned to cover him said he would entitle his memoir of the Jackson campaign “Eighteen Weeks in a Yarmulke.” Jackson established excellent relations with Jewish organizations and raised a good deal of money—but tens of thousands of Soviet Jews languished in Russia for years because of his overreaching.

Kaufman, whose book was funded in part by the Henry M. Jackson Foundation and published by the University of Washington Press, has written a sympathetic biography that gives Jackson’s version of virtually all of the controversies I have mentioned. The author also inserts here and there his own extraneous political prejudices, such as his opposition to affirmative action. Descriptions, where they appear, of Jackson’s failings, including what Kaufman agrees to be his demagoguery, are written in an unscholarly tone of sorrow. In this book, the Henry M. Jackson Foundation has gotten what it paid for.

A dispassionate assessment of Jackson awaits more dispassionate times, although Strobe Talbott’s exemplary 1988 biography of Jackson’s equally controversial mentor, Paul Nitze,2 shows what can be done even when the subject is still alive and, as Nitze is, kicking. Kaufman’s effusive final assessment seems overblown, when we consider the reality of the man’s career: “Jackson himself and former Jackson Democrats devised many of the major initiatives of President Reagan that, confounding the fears of his critics, contributed mightily to winning the Cold War,” Kaufman writes. “The benign security environment the United States now enjoys owes much to the sanity of Henry Jackson’s vision and his deftness at implementing it.”

There is some truth in this. Jackson defended Navy Admiral Hyman Rickover and pushed for the expansion of the Navy’s nuclear submarine fleet, the most invulnerable form of nuclear deterrent. In addition, Jackson’s personal honesty seems beyond question. He gave much of his income away and lived relatively modestly, though by the end of his life he owned two fine houses, one in northwest Washington, D.C., the other in Everett, his home town. He died suddenly in 1983 of a ruptured aorta, at the age of 71.

Though Jackson is gone, his methods survive in the debate over an anti-ballistic missile system, a classic example of the continued power of the military-industrial-congressional complex. ABM was originally put forth as a defense against Soviet missiles. When the Soviet Union collapsed, another version was put forth as a defense against a wayward missile from North Korea. Now that North Korea is seeking closer ties with the United States, a new rationale will have to be found—most likely that an ABM system would protect against an accidental missile launch. There has been some recent talk about a sea-based ABM system permanently stationed off the coast of Iraq in the event that Saddam Hussein one day acquires a nuclear missile (though it is not clear how the United States would make this ship invulnerable to Iraqi attack).

No argument for missile defense seems too goofy; the Reagan administration once claimed that Star Wars research had led to progress in the treatment of AIDS. The world and its threats may be changing, but the military-industrial-congressional complex remains with us, warning of perils that it must know in its heart are exaggerated. In this method of hyperbolic, ever-shifting, disingenuous, worst-case argument, Jackson lives.

This Issue

December 21, 2000