Two Cultures of Massive Retaliation
In 1984, asked what “Massive Retaliation” meant, Curtis LeMay said there were “as many answers to that question as there are people around.” He thought it meant nothing more than what had been U.S. policy all along: have “overwhelming strength so that nobody would dare attack us.”1 This simple statement of deterrence was not, though, how John Foster Dulles presented it at the time. Coming on the heels of the Korean War, Dulles’s Council on Foreign Relations speech in January 1954 was associated with an attempt to differentiate the New Look from its predecessors’.The war showed, Dulles’s said, that “a potential aggressor, who is glutted with manpower, might be tempted to attack in confidence that resistance would be confined to manpower.” The way to “deter aggression is for the free community to be willing to respond vigorously at places and with means of its own choosing.”The United States should “depend primarily upon a great capacity to retaliate, instantly, by means and places of our own choosing.”The word was “instantly” not massively, and Dulles’s later clarification in Foreign Affairs even suggested that a thermonuclear spasm was “not the kind of power that could most usefully be evoked under all circumstances.”The United States would not turn “every local war into a world war.” Even so, Dulles was both criticized for his inflexibility and lauded for stating what was self-evident.2
KeywordsForeign Policy Nuclear Weapon Nuclear Deterrence Nuclear Threat American Nationalism
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