Russell E. Hershey,
INT: Fair enough. Did you think that a nuclear war was winnable or even survivable?
VAJW: I didn't know that. I don't think that...
INT: Did you think that a nuclear war was winnable?
VAJW: I was never sure whether a nuclear war was winnable or not. You could make a case that it.. but no one knew. You didn't know how it was going to grow. If you conducted a first strike against him you could predict but you were never certain that you could get as many of his missiles as you needed to do. Everybody comes out a loser. When you say win.. everybody has to come out a loser. Now you're talking about who lost the least. Nobody wins. It would've been terrible and we just.. you don't know.
INT: Just leaping back slightly to the beginning of the Sixties, how did the Navy get on with McNamara and his whiz kids?
VAJW: Well, with the strategic system we got along marvelously well. See, I was commanding officer of...
INT: Could I ask you that question again? How did the Navy get on with McNamara and his whiz kids?
VAJW: The Navy got along extremely well with McNamara and his whiz kids insofar as the strategic systems were concerned. We were supported fully by those people in the production of the Polaris and the Poseidon program and the follow-on Trident program that we have today. With respect to conventional weapons, they were more difficult and then particularly with submarines. The group that they had in really didn't see a great deal of use for attack submarines and they considered them to be intelligence-collecting platforms only, but we stuck to our guns. We insisted on what we needed and eventually, primarily because of the clout of Admiral Rickor with Congress, we always ended up getting what we needed. Not always what we wanted but, in the main, what we needed. And today we have an absolutely, as a result of that ..(inaudible), we have the finest submarine force ever to put to sea. It's formidable.
INT: Did you, at that time I'm thinking of, understand and agree with what became known as McNamara's 'assured destruction' policy?
VAJW: It served us well in the Navy.
VAJW: No, McNamara's assured destruction policy served us well in the Navy because it did not put us in direct competition with the Air Force for scarce funding. We knew that.. as time when on and we became.. wour systems became better and our missiles more accurate and our weapon.. and our navigation systems more accurate, that we had at least the modicum of a first-strike capability. But we chose to always cover ourselves with the cloak of assudestruction because, one thing, it amounted to a possibility of instability between us and the Soviets. If we said that Polaris Poseidon had a first-strike capability, they would have had to react to it technologically some way. I don't know how they would've done it. Would it have been like they finally did when Reagan said he's gonna build Star Wars that, you know, we can go no further, we can't spend any money to counter that? Or would they've said, if he thinks he has a first-strike capability, let's strike now? And I don't think he would've done that because our force was too survivable. Sometimes people don't think about that survivability as including the fact that if you moved your missiles to sea, (engine sounds) there would be no reason for the Soviets to launch missile strikes, nuclear missile strikes against the United States other than as a city..
INT: Could you just repeat to me.. that people don't seem to realize that if you move your missiles to sea.
VAJW: Yes. People don't think that when you talk about the survivability of the Polaris Poseidon system see, that if you moved all of your land-based missiles to sea, a survival force, that there would.. then would be no motivation for the Soviets to launch a nuclear weapons against.. the country, be.. their motivation, with the minuteman in existence was to destroy the minutemen. And of course in doing so, they'd also hit a lot of cities. But otherwise they would've had no motivation and no reason that they could sustain to have launched an attack.
INT: So what do you think.. the...
INT: So.. I mean, it might be a naive question. Why were there a thousand-minute men? Why was not that money put into just increasing.. the nuclear submarine force?
VAJW: Well... there was a body of opinion that said you don't want to put all your eggs in one basket. I didn't agree with that. There were a lot of analysts in McNamara's time that did. Some of those were Air Force supporters. There were a lot of Congressmen that were Air Force supporters. Goldberg, for example.. was Senator Goldberg, the rest of those, and so it was not a practical thing, either politically or from the standpoint of a lot of analysts of to do that. They wanted that first-strike capability which I thought was not necessary and I think that in the Poseidon system you would've had it anyway. I never did believe that it took as much power to destroy a land-based hard site as the Air Force contended that it did. I think that was a fudged figure, but who's to say? That's my own opinion and I'm not an analyst. I just, you know, I'm a practical guy.
INT: Final three questions.. There've been a lot of films been made throughout the Cold War and the threat of someone in command going crazy -- Dr Strangelove and.. the submarine film as well. Could a Polaris captain have set off a series of nuclear missiles at his own volition?
VAJW: That it would've been impossible for a Polaris captain to set off or to fire nuclear missiles in the absence of direction from command authority. There were too many people involved that had the responsibility to make sure that that message that came in was accurate, that it was interpreted properly, that the target list were properly entered and before that firing key was pushed that command had come through. And if a commanding officer had've lost his head and tried to do it, there'd've been an executive officer and a weapons officer that had had him on the floor before he could've turned around, you know? Nonsense. You'd've had to had three people go crazy and.. you know...
INT: So what was the worst moment of the Cold War for you?
VAJW: (long pause) I think the worst moment of the Cold War for me was when I realized that.. and I was not at sea at the time, but when I realized that the forces of the Holy Loch had put to sea in response to Khrushchev's move toward Cuba with missiles. And that bothered me, you know. It bothered me partly 'cos I wasn't out there, I guess, partly, you know, and doing my share and making sure it was done right because, you know, nobody else could do it any better, right. That's kind of the attitude you had to have, but that was a bad week, I think. And the rest of the time I didn't have any bad nights. When I was commander of submarine force I had very good people.. I had squadrons in the Mediterranean (engine sounds) and ..(inaudible).. Spain and all over and I had good people around.. I had tremendous skippers and I had great confidence in their ability to do what we had asked them to do.
INT: Two more final questions then. Do you think that the Cold War was necessary?
VAJW: I think if the Cold War had not occurred, we'd have a hot war! (laugh) Yes, it was necessary. It was necessary to deter the Soviet aggression. The Cold War was necessary to ensure that a lot of his resources went into building weapon systems instead of building consumer products and building up his economy. And that's what we finally did to him. We drove him bankrupt. Now I must admit that we scratched the bottom of our till also in doing that, and that's largely in great.. part responsible for the deficits that the Western world runs today. But it's worth it. The price we would've paid otherwise I think would've been a hot war.
INT: Excellent answer. I just wanted to make sure that we're clean of any of the extraneous noise we've had, could you just tell me the story of Admiral Kidd again, just in sort of simple terms. If you just start it off with 'Admiral Kidd..'
VAJW: The intensity of the Cold War is...
VAJW: The intensity of the Cold War is demonstrated.. I think very well by an incident that occurred in the Mediterranean in the late Sixties. Admiral Isaac Kidd, who was the son of the famous Isaac Kidd that was the ..(inaudible)... when it hit Pearl Harbor was the commander of the battle line, had command of the 6th Fleet and he was exercising the fleet and the Russian fleet was tailing along, making a nuisance of themselves, and one morning the Soviet admiral had the flagship go to the battle stations, his flagship, and they were waving their guns and mounts around, their missile mounts, and they trained some of them toward Ike Kidd's flagship and Ike sent his own task force to battle stations and he trained the flagship's guns on the flagship of the Soviet admiral. The Soviet admiral sent him a message, it said 'do you intend to start World War Three?'. Admiral Kidd sent a message back that said 'you'll be the first to know.'
INT: For you and your crew, when you set off at sea, everyone else back in the United States and in Europe, there was nothing much going on, there was no sense of immediate confrontation, but how was it for you to go off to sea like that?
VAJW: You expected it from the time you cleared..
INT: Expected what?
VAJW: I'm sorry, when we set off on patrol in so far as there being an expectation of a conflict you expected a conflict every time you poked your nose out of the Clyde and dove your submarine. You were vulnerable right then, until the time you exited the Hebrides Sea or wherever you exited the area right on through your patrol until the time that you surfaced and were safely inside the Clyde, did you dare consider that you were not vulnerable and not subject to attack. Because we had a figure in those days. We said 'if they can destroy fifty per cent of our submarines on patrol, nuclear submarines on patrol, then we have to conclude in that event that they have really decreased our capability with sure destruction to a point that we no longer can claim, that we can hold him at bay. And so you could've been one of that fifty per cent the minute you poked your nose out ...(inaudible)... 'Course we were pretty confident too that we would know whether or not he was going to dthat, so..
INT: How quickly did you consider that a Cold War would become a hot war?
VAJW: Well, I think a Cold War could've become a hot war or.. within a matter of hours. I think the first time one of his submarines had fired torpedoes at one of our submarines, his submarine would've been sunk and that's probably.. would'veignited it.
INT: Did you expect that to happen in your career?
VAJW: You always expected it to happen. If you didn't, you couldn't be ready. You expected it to happen. You expected to have trouble. That's ..(inaudible).. it was such an intense thing for our people. And it got to where it was such old hat that you forgot it was intense. For reflecting back on it, there were, you know, two and a half decades of very intense.
INT: Admiral.. excellent.
END OF INTERVIEW