Q: NSC 68. How would you define its importance? How important a document was it, and how was it acted upon?
A: (false s)
A: During that year when everything began to go badly for us, when the Russians tested their atomic bombs and, and the Chinese fled to Formosa and this happened and the other thing happened, the President - no, I guess the wit happened was that I in particular wrote a memorandum in the form of a Directive from the President to the Secretaries of State and, and Defense to provide him with a basic review of US policy, in particular US defense policy in light of all the things that had happened during the last few years. And Acheson was Secretary of State and he assigned his role, or deputized me to carry the ball for him, but Louis Johnson was Secretary of Defense and he didn't want the study to be done at all.
Q: Why didn't Mr. Johnson want the study to be done at all?
A: Because he thought the recommendation would be for an increase in Department of Defense expenditures, which he didn't want to have. He had promised Mr. Truman when he accepted the job that he would see to it that there was no increase in the defense budget from the level at which it had been at the time that he took the office, and he thought this was a subversive plot organized by me and some of the generals to cause him to put the, to in effect break his commitment. And it was. We knew perfectly well that he was the real problem involved here and there wasn't anybody in the Defense Department that could do anything about it, and the only people who could do anything about it were the Joint Chiefs of Staff and they were all on, all on my side and they appointed somebody to represent them who worked very carefully with me and between us we got NSC 68 drafted.
Q: Were you surprised at its impact and importance and success?
A: When we got the signatures of the Secretary of Army, the Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Airforce, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and each one of the services, of each, each one of the, yes, of the Airforce, the Navy, the Army, Marine Corps: we had nine signatures of approval as I remember it, to the document, and more than nine, twelve or thirteen I guess. And then we sent it up to Johnson for his action and, now here he was faced with twelve or thirteen signatures of all, of all the military services and the, and the civilian Secretaries, etc., etc. and didn't know what to do with all that. And he finally decided the best course for him to do was also to sign it. So he finally signed it, it became a unanimous document, but it didn't in effect answer the question of who was going to buy what with what and so forth and so on. It didn't get into enough detail. I think he thought that it could be disrupted in detail even though I'd signed the document as a whole. And it did turn out we had a lot of further work to do and on to, get it all massaged and worked out so it got done what it was supposed to get done....
Q: Just four more...
A: Let me just conclude the thought. The thing that really brought it fully into implementation was the attack by the North Koreans into South Korea. The moment that happened, which we'd more or less predicted might happen, we'd talked about the correlation of forces and that the Russians might act on the basis of their evaluation of that, when that happened everybody became unanimous that we needed to increase the defense budget and the defense budget was increased, not to the forty billion that we'd recommended, but to fifty billion within a week. And so the battle was won.
Q: Sputnik. What was the impact of Sputnik on basic defense policy? Did that really make things into an arms race? Was there ever such a thing as an arms race at that time?
A: It would have been easy for the Navy in particular to have launched an object into synchronous orbit earlier in the game than Sputnik. So, there wasn't much to it technically, we could have done it on the back of our hands if we'd wanted to, but the, it wasn't thought a very useful thing to do. But when the Russians launched Sputnik it became one of the great wonders of the world and obviously everybody began protesting, "Why the hell didn't the US Navy or somebody else do it earlier?" and "Why shouldn't one do it now?" Well of course we did do right quick. But we didn't play it enough from the public relations standpoint.
Q: Was the arms...
A: I mean earlier, we'd been insensitive...
Q: Was the Cold War necessary?
A: I've often asked myself two questions: one, was the Cold War necessary, and were, was there any opportunity earlier than it transcribed (sic) to work out some kind of a understanding with the Russians which would have been easier for them and for us? And having thought carefully about those two questions I've come to the conclusion that the answer is no to both, or no to the second and, and yes to the first, it was necessary. I can't imagine any circumstances under which we could have gotten along with Uncle Jo Stalin. I can imagine no circumstances under which we could have worked out our problems with Russia earlier than we did, or in a different way. I've come to the conclusion we did it pretty goddamn well.
Q: What was the worst moment in the long Cold War?
A: I thought the period of the Berlin blockade and just prior to the Berlin blockade. During those years the political situation was dangerous in Italy and in Germany and many of the other European countries and in France, and there was a real danger that the Communists would win through propaganda, through agitation, through their political schemes, plus their continuing pressure through the threat of military action. It began to clear up. In about '59 I felt better about it, and by '61 at the time of the Cuban missile crisis I was wholly confident that we had, if anything, overestimated Russian capabilities, that they were not as strong as we thought they were economically, socially or even militarily, and that they couldn't succeed and we had in fact won.
Q: Do you think there ever really was a real danger of nuclear war? Could it have happened?
A: It could have happened but I don't think either side wanted it to happen. Really it's the last thing in the world that we wanted, and I also think it was not at any time to the interests of the Soviet Union to have it degenerate into a nuclear, into a nuclear exchange. What could they possibly gain from that? Nothing.
Q: Nobody can gain anything from it. How come it was so important to everybody?
A: It was under the shield of the, of the overhanging threat of a nuclear war that all these other things took place. And they've rather got their importance, they were all overshadowed by this nuclear danger which was in everybody's mind.
Q: What did the Cold War achieve?
A: The Cold War achieved the eventual triumph of freedom over tyranny, and that was a very important triumph. Thank God for the Cold War, and thank God that it turned out the right way.