Russell E. Hershey,
INT: Can we pick up on that, your meeting with General Powers. There's a story I've heard associated with that where you have quite a strident conversation with him where he effectively told you that you shouldn't be trying to restrain things, the whole job was to kill the bastards. Is that a true story?
WK: , the story deals with General Power and my one major meeting with him. , I had been asked by the Airforce Chief of Staff to go brief him in Omaha at his command headquarters and I had my charts and got up and started to introduce it and he said, "Do you mind if I interrupt?" he was sitting in the front row with all his generals in back of him, and I said no, that was fine with me and I'd much rather chat back and forth. , and, I don't think I got more than a few minutes into explaining this notion of no cities and trying to introduce options and more control kind of attacks than were in the war plan at that time and he interrupted me almost immediately and said that that was just insane and that was no way to treat the Russians that were just miserable people and deserved to get blown up and that... as far as he was concerned, we should engage in this all-out unloading of every weapon that we had and I don't remember the details, but at some point he positively enthused with the thought that he was going to kill not only a lot of Russians, but Indians, Chinese, God knows who else. And I said, well, you know, that's no way to win a war, is just blowing everybody up and getting blown up yourself, and he said, he didn't care... about winning, so long as there were at least two Americans and only one Russian left and... this I rather facetiously said, well, I hope that at least one of the Americans would be a woman and the briefing just broke down and several hours later, as I was licking my wounds in the bachelor officers' quarters, three generals came by and they didn't quite apologize, but they let me know that they were rather appalled by the general's behavior and it was odd and other people have thought that General Power was a rather strange individual, especially to have that particular command, which, after all, controlled a large numbof megatons.
INT: How much power did General Power have?
WK: General Power's power [laughs] was very substantial in the sense thawhile... the President in principle ordered an attack and only he or his designated successor could order any use of nuclear weapons, there were - although this has never been generally discussed - there were arrangements that if somehow or other the word could not be got to, say, Power or his deputies or whoever remained, that he or his deputies would be free to go ahead and proceed with the planned attacks. In all my experience, I think senior officers who really faced this kind of responsibility were extremely sensitive to what was at stake, one did sort of worry about General Power.
INT: What did MacNamara first ask his whiz kids to do? I'm thinking particularly here of what became known as the ninety-six trombones? Can you explain to me why that was called that and what they were?
WK: The ninety six trombones were ninety six different studies that he commissioned in one way or another, but there were really three that were, well four I guess, that were most important from his standpoint. One was reviewing our strategic nuclear plans and programs. a second was the non-nuclear capabilities and what we should do about them. The third was with respect to the... so-called tactical nuclear capabilities and the fourth had to do with our airlift and sealift. those were the four that he concentrated on most and the only one that he was really satisfied with was the strategic nuclear and the other three got dealt with gradually over a period of years....
INT: One of the things that you were one of the principal authors of was a thing that became known as the Counter-force No Cities policy. Could you explain to me what that was?
WK: The Counter-force No Cities... strategy, if you want to call it that - there is no nuclear strategy, there's nothing very fancy about it - but the idea was that... in order to enhance to deterrents, and as I indicated earlier, in order to try to satisfy our allies that the United States was not chickening out on them, that one could even with these tremendously powerful weapons, be somewhat discriminating in what one did and while people would always say, well, you know, it's... there's no real distinction between this kind of attack, which would avoid cities and go after military targets,... there was a distinction, at least in so far as we could tell given the kind of data available to us. furthermore, the argument that I kept making with General Power and many others was, look, you're just signing your death warrant if you go through with this tremendous spasm attack, which does not ensure that you really limit the ability of say the Russians to reply in kind. Whereas, even if you cannot guarantee, as nobody could, that the Russians would follow suit in avoiding cities, although as far as I know in their subsequent planning they began to do precisely that, but why sign that death warrant? You would have a reserve force primarily in your submarines that could do all that kind of damage if they simply started blowing up cities in the United States. But why initiate that? Why not withhold that and see whether you couldn't stop this thing in some way or other?
INT: That's very interesting. Apart from people like Powers, what was the other attitude from the navy and army? Did they believe that this was a... It's an interesting concept that a nuclear war can be stopped once it's started. Was this the first time it had been put forward?
WK: Yes. I mean, and to this day, I mean, very little thought it still given to stopping the damn thing if it gets started. And what you really want to do is so phase your attacks so that there are significant intervals in which the possibility of at least saying, look, enough is enough and trying to communicate that. But very little thought is given to that and very little thought, in fact, I would say to the best of my knowledge at the time, no thought was being given to it. It was just sort of the good old wham, bam, thank you ma'am blow everything up and to hell with the consequences.
INT: That's so important. Can I just ask you to state that for me, to phrase the question, that if you say, to the best of your recollection, that no thought was given to the idea of stopping the war once it was started. Just to help me put it together.
WK: Well, to the best of my recollection and knowledge, no thought was being given to stopping the war. It just was to sort of unleash these forces and somehow or other, who knew what was going to happen. It was just kind of a blank and really, to this day, it's kind of a blank. It may no longer one hopes be terribly important, I would say, all during the Cold War, and certainly in my personal experience over twenty years, very little thought was ever given to this and you had to push this in order to get anybody to think about it at all. It was always somehow or other you engage in these exchanges, which were relatively easy to calculate, and then, you know, somebody would say, well they've got a hundred missiles remaining and we have only ten, they've won or something and you'd get these kind of absurd answers to the notion of how to end this thing. It didn't really have an end.
INT: Did you and the other whiz kids and MacNamara feel this incredible sense of responsibility that you had?
WK: [Sighs], you get used to the sense of dealing with these issues that maybe one takes them too much for granted and so on, but a lot of people during the Cuban Missile Crisis, became very perturbed and some people just couldn't stand the kind of pressure because although my own view at the time was that this was not going to get out of hand, an awful lot of people, including some of the people in the White House, felt that the odds were one in three that this would end in a nuclear exchange, and those are not very happy odds.... so I think at that point, a lot of people became very aware of what was at stake.
INT: Good answer. Was the threat of a nuclear war a credible deterrent? By that I mean, Cuba, Hungary and Poland had fallen to Communist expansion, it was...
WK: (Interrupts) Czechoslovakia...
INT: Czechoslovakia. I mean, could it be used as a deterrent in that respect?
WK: I guess on the basis of some things I was told, the Cuban Missile Crisis, there was a war game that a number of us participated in, including British, French, German, people from the embassies in Washington, that took place up in Camp David over... I think it was a four-day period, in which the game involved Berlin, which was of course the hottest topic of these early years. And the chairmanship of the allied side rotated each of the four days, so there was an American, a British, a French and German sort of chairman of the allied group and the game was run by a chap named Thomas Shelling, who did all sorts of horrible things on the access to Berlin, and no matter who was chairman of the allied side, managed somehow or other to avoid doing anything that would entail or suggest any use of nuclear weapons. And then - I'm not quite sure about the dates, but I think it was the autumn of '61, after the Berlin Wall, Paul Nitze, who was then the Assistant Secretary of Defense for international security affairs, that's the Pentagon's State Department, who was directed by President Kennedy to negotiate with the Germans, the British and the French, contingency plans in the event of another blockade of Berlin, and we worked on that for several months and finally the ambassadors and Nitze agreed on three phases of action that the allies would take in the event of a blockade, all of them non-nuclear, and then there was a fourth contingency, which was nuclear. All the ambassadors signed off on the first three, on the fourth, everyone said, we have to refer that to our governments and we'll deal with that if it arises. And it just became, I think, absolutely clear that nobody, at least on our side, and it didn't seem to matter what nationality, had the slightest interest in initiating any use of nuclear weapons. It was at that point that I became very strongconvinced that we really had to beef up our non-nuclear capabilities.