Russell E. Hershey,
GRED: But Linebacker 2 was that time in December when, with considerable losses early on, we opened up Hanoi and Haiphong to bombing and we got the North Vietnamese back to the negotiating table ready to negotiate and we got our prisoners out of there. Now we stopped very quickly when all that happened and maybe even stopped too quickly. But for the first time, the wisdom of what the Joint Chiefs of Staff had recommended in '64 became apparent. That if you're going to attack the snake, you attack the head and don't try to hold it with the tail and let it bite you. and you go quickly to the head. If General LeMay has one pillar to his wisdom, it was: the first thing you do in war is stomp the head of the snake. And that we could've done any time, any week, from the day we first fought in Vietnam until the last, but we didn't do that. Now there are a lot of other things and I've over-simplified the problem but these are the kinds of things that that caused great angst between the military and Mr. McNamara, even while there was great respect for many of the things that he was doing.
INT: How did he get on with General Power?
GRED: How did he get along with General Power? I don't think very well. General Power was a disciple of General LeMay but he was entirely different from General LeMay. General LeMay was tough but you always knew where General LeMay was coming from. General Power was also tough, but sometimes he was vindictive and his toughness never mellowed. that's the way we saw him. Now, how Mr. McNamara saw him I think is a man that was almost beyond reason with his requirements, with his demands for more, with his demands for different, and with his demands for control. and that was not good. There were a lot of people who disagreed with General Power because of the intensity of his insistence on building his force. He wanted to build a force that was beyond any doubt capable and credible. he didn't wanna take a chance. He thought that the any nuclear conflict was too much and I agree with that. but his way to solve it was to be so strong that nobody would dare touch him. You couldn't afford that, so Mr. McNamara said, and not without good cause. So I think maybe some of Mr. General Power's requirements were excessive and some of his arguments were abrasive and (noise in background) so I think that it's fair to say that there was not a good relationship there.
INT: That's an excellent answer. So one of the first policies of the..
INT: One of the early projects or policies that McNamara brought in, his whiz kids brought in, was what came to be known as the 'counter-force no cities' policy. Could you explain to me (a) what that was and (b) what SAC's response to it was?
GRED: counter-force was always the concept as espoused by the military. Because the military considered that its bounden duty was to eliminate the military force of an enemy - not to kill people and not to destroy cities, but to make them impotent. kill the military force and kill the things that are supporting the military force and that make it able to fight. So counter-force is a military doctrine. People says counter-force is too expensive, you can't afford counter-force. The military says you can't afford not to have counter-force because it isn't the cities that destroy you and it isn't the technology in their universities. It's the men with guns and planes that are produced by the universities and the technology. So you want to operate first on the military forces. Now that was not (inaudible) and counter-force became a word that we were told 'don't even use the word because it's a red flag to the third floor', you know, the third floor being the office of the Secretary of Defense. We quite using the word cforce. Now, in time there was a counter-force rubric that became acceptable and in fact I think a lot of people on the third floor think they invented it and that's fine. We don't care who the father of this thing is. It became 'damage limiting'. So 'damage limitation' was good, 'counter-force' was bad. But what was damage limitation? Get the force,so you can limit the damage. So you know, and damage limitation was the I guess the bumper-sticker answer to the inability to talk about counter-force. You have to talk about counter-force! That's where the enemy's ability to hurt you is.
INT: Good answer. So what.. was the reasoning then for McNamara to go onto what was known as a 'short destruction' and eventually as MAD?
GRED: Well, all of this, in my judgement, is technology-driven and the eight, nine years during the McNamara time, as I mentioned to you in an earlier answer, there was a real upward vector in the technology of nuclear weapons, of nuclear guidance, of nuclear delivery systems. we were on a real upward tangent with the technology of weaponry. And this was enabling us to do things much better, much smaller with much more control. The war planning capabilities which used to be done on yellow tablets with sharpened pencils and we used to sit around with a battery of pencils and a battery of tablets to do war planning and everybody with a computer, with the old round circular or the slip rule, the slide rule, and we can all do that now so much faster and so much better and we begin to be able to do things we could not do. We could destroy things with finite smaller weapons rather than large weapons. The accuracy was better. All of this was happening and this was making many people assured that we were not going to do wanton damage, that we were not going to attack targets wantonly and we began too do a lot better job. We began to think that it's possible that maybe we could use nuclear weapons in a limited response capability and this cheered on NATO because it fit the NATO problem. We could've done that. Now, a lot of people -- and I think Mr. McNamara is one of them -- became convinced that any nuclear use would, ipso facto, escalate to full-scale nuclear use. Nobody knows whether that's true or not. But we tried in the military to plan on the possibility of doing limited nuclear use and to try to control the escalatory effect of it because we thought it was our bounden duty to do that. We didn't want to be impotent in the face of lesser attacks because of the possibility that escalation would take over. Now I think the people who didn't live during that time have to recognize that the fear of escalation is very great and that fear is not bad because that's one of the fears that made nuclear deterrents work. So we tried to do two things. We tried to prepare to use nuclear weapons in a limited sense against a limited set of targets -- maybe geographically, maybe size-wise, maybe target-wise. We never had to do that so nobody knows whether nuclear weapons would automatically escalate or not. I'm glad we never found out. I hope we never have to.
INT: Can I just ask you.. so what was meant, as far as you were aware and SAC was aware, by McNamara's requirement for 'assured destruction'? What was that...
GRED: (slight overlap) Assured destruction is almost a get-it-on-the-cheap. This assured destruction means a lot of things to a lot of people. In its sense that I ascribe to it, assured destruction means there isn't anything you can do that you will succeed. My approach to my command was 'I wanna make sure that there is nothing they could do that would succeed'. So if that's assured destruction, then that's what I want. But the other connotation of assured destruction is 'I have a finite number in my mind and if I can hit him and cause that kind of damage, you know, he won't attack or if he is attacking, he'll stop.' that's too precise and that's phony in my judgement. I don't think you can calculate that. If you can calculate that, you could you could keep any war contained but we've never been able to do that. assured destruction was proved.. that connotation was proved phony in Vietnam. There was plenty of destruction to cause any reasonable enemy to stop a dozen different times. He didn't stop because the calculation of assured destruction is not that accurate.
INT: Excellent answer. How did you view the Russians during the Sixties? Both in terms of.. as a direct enemy in their capabilities and in the Soviet scheme. Did you regard them as an expansionist regime?
GRED: I saw the Soviets in.. many different lights. As a political philosophy I thought Communism was a phony but on the other hand, it has a tremendous appeal because it appeals to people who don't have things and who've never had anything and they don't understand property rights, and it has great appeal. It's almost a.. political viva-the-rice-bowl, you know it appeals in your gut when you're hungry. You don't get it free because there's.. the idea of Communism is somebody's gonna pick up the tab but you don't have to worry about that because you don't know who that is. and I think it's a disastrous political.. (trails off). On the other hand, I recognize the appeal over the years of extreme Socialism or Communism had. So I thought that in time it would collapse of its own phoniness. But at that meantime, it developed a military structure that was awesome. They were very good technologically, they did things different from the way we would do them but they succeeded. Their metallurgy was great their hardening of their silos, their was fantastic. The ruggedness of their aircraft, the simplicity of their communications system. For years, you know, I said 'if we can get the communication system, we possibly can disenable their whole force.' But you couldn't get their communication system because they didn't use micro-switches and things that were very vulnerable. They had a backup system of old high frequency that's so hard buried in the ground you can't get it. So you know, you have to.. reluctantly admire people who are rugged and who are effective. I think that the Soviets did some things that that would water the eyes of our so-called experts. I remember when they hardened their silos to where we couldn't get them. People said 'oh, they can't do that' but then they started analyzing and they did do that, you know. And when their accuracy was so good, they'd say 'oh, well, that's.. we haven't been able to achieve that order of accuracy so that can't be right.' But it was right. We had that feeling of.. since we hadn't done it and we can't do it, nobody else can do it and that's wrong. And we had to hedge our bets. That's why we tried to adopt a stance with our command that was second to none. We can't afford a delicate distinction of where the break point is so we've got to make sure we're not second. And we're gonna have to do that sometimes with quantity, do that other times with tactics and do that other times with skilful capability of our crews. And we tried to play all of those aspects of the thing. You remember the old saying 'there's a great quality to quantity' and the Soviets had quite a quantity and any time we thought that there was a quality gap, we saw them make up for it in quantity.
INT: Excellent answer. So.. we've called this series the Cold War. Was there a sense there at the time, particularly for you and your crews, that this was a real war and...?
GRED: (overlap) Well there was a real war for us in Vietnam. Now you can decry what kind of war it was, you can decry the fact that we bombed the jungle or the jungle canopy, we didn't do that indiscriminately. Underneath that canopy we had some indication that there were forces or communications or headquarters there, so we didn't just go bomb the jungle. So, yes, there was a hot war but it done with non-nuclear weapons. We had a capability with non-nuclear weapons that was (inaudible) incredible. If you've ever seen one B-52 lay down five hundred pounders in a pattern, you recognize that this is one helluva and that something that's right under it is gonna take a real beating. We kept getting echoes from the North in Vietnam that the instrument they were most fearful of was the B-52. But we used it in a tactical role. We never used it except in the Linebacker role that we mentioned earlier to go after Haiphong and the harbor and the and the rail hubs in Hanoi. Now this is what you use bombers for. But you can use them for other things. Are youfamiliar with the use of the B-52 as the most effective close-air support weapon that's probably ever been used. In Caisson...
GRED: ....we used B-52s to bomb within three hundred yards of our own forces. It was an extremist situation and we had to do what we had to do, but the B-52s came in and put bombs down within three hundred yards of our own forces and prevented them from being overrun.