INT: It seems difficult to, in some ways, to cope with the idea that someone who'd been actively, you know, constructing weapons to use against Europe was almost, overnight, transformed into, if not an American citizen, a...
HY: (Interrupts) Yes. My age and life experience is such that I didn't like the idea of dealing with von Braun. I mean, I knew perfectly well who he was, I knew that he had built V-2 missiles for Hitler, that had been used on London and that he had done that because he saw that as a convenient way for carrying out his wishes to be involved in the development of the first big rockets for space flight. I felt von Braun was the kind of person who'd sell out to anyone who had enough money. As long as they would support him in his long-term goals, he'd do anything. So, I never did like dealing with von Braun. I mean, I grew up... I was a young adult during World War Two and a teenager during the formation of the Nazi state and I knew perfectly well what kind of people they were and what kind of ideas they had and the fact that they were good at technology didn't make me feel a lot better about them.
INT: Excellent answer.
INT: So, what, within days of Sputnik going up, the Gaither Report was presented to Eisenhower. What was the Gaither Report and what was your role in it?
HY: Well, the Gaither Report was the result of the work by a committee called the Gaither Committee, which had been established about a year before Sputnik, to study the question of where we stood vis a vis the Russians, with regard to the strategic nuclear situation. And that included a lot of factors. It included the development of missiles, the development of nuclear weapons for these missiles to carry and it included questions like civil defence. And it involved trying to reassess, make a fresh assessment of what the Russians were doing, what they were up to and what they could be doing in the near future. So it was a general assessment, both of where the Russians were, where they might be going, where we were and where we should go in order to match that or cope with it. And it, in those times and given those circumstances, it was written before Sputnik, but after the first Russian tests of a long-range missile. I mean, there had been a test entirely within the Soviet Union of a long-range missile during the time that the Gaither Report was being written and generally speaking... Well, I was a consultant to the group, it was a large enterprise with a cast of a hundred or more, there were members of the Gaither Committee and there were consultants and there were consultants to the consultants and I was one of the lower level people. I was there because of my experience as director of Livermore, the knowledge that I had as director of Livermore, and that I had as a member of the von Neumann Committee on Long-Range Missiles. And we, all of us, most of us, certainly including me, did arrive to some fairly stark conclusions about what the possibilities were and ultimately called for a lot of action on the part of the American government in the way of expanding programmes, putting more money into missiles and so forth, making sure that the worst didn't happen. Within a couple of years afterwards, when I came to know in greater detail what was going on both in Russia and the United States, I came to very different views. But my first high level look at this thing through the Gaither Panel, I concluded, as did nearly everyone, that the situation was bad and that we needed to respond more vigorously than we were. Now Eisenhower didn't like that, because as far as he was concerned, we were responding adequately, although even he was surprised by Sputnik, and he felt that the Pentagon was exaggerating the problem and he furthermore felt that there was a danger in over-spending. I mean, we could harm American security by spending more than was necessary, as much as by some other means. So Eisenhower took a cautious and conservative view and didn't like the tone of the Gaither Report, which was, you know, gee whiz, we'd better get our act together kind of a tone. So, he tried to suppress it, but people in the Congress, Lyndon Johnson and others - Lyndon Johnson was then the leader of the Senate - knew about it, there was no way you could possibly keep it secret, he wanted testimony on it, he wanted it to be released, Eisenhower was keeping it secret, and there was quite a battle that went on at the higher levels of the American government over this issue of whether the Gaither Report should or should not be released to the public generally. Eventually, it was released and one can get it and see what it has to say.
INT: It's very easy with hindsight to look back and say that there was quite a lot of over-reaction in the Gaither Report. But at the time, do you think it was a good and accurate, professional representation of the situation?
HY: Well, I would say that looking back, you know, Eisenhower was right and for the right reasons and that is that the Gaither Report went overboard with respect to estimating the Russian capabilities and with determining what it is, how we should answer. I and the others involved did the best we could with the information, but many of us were new to that sort of thing. Gaither himself was was a San Francisco lawyer, he was not a long-term expert on defence. His number two person was a man named Robert Sprague who was head of a electronic company in Cambridge that made condensers and other electronic components. Some of the people had had longer term experience. Nitze was part of that process. there were others who had had experience that went back further. But there was very little real expertise with respect to the question of either what the Russians are doing or what the American response should be. It was a quick study by a lot of bright people and Eisenhower's judgement that it was an over-reaction, I think, was right and was right for the right reasons. And I later came to appreciate how well he understood these things and became one of his strongest supporters within the American defence community when I was in Wash.
INT: Terrific. Was there a genuine belief, again trying to go back to what it was like in, certainly the late fifties, that the Russians were going to be coming?
HY: The question of whether the Russians were going to be coming or not, as we saw it in the late fifties, is very different from the way we saw it in the seor eighties, because you have to recall that in 1948 there was the Berlin blockade, in 1948 there was the coup in Czechoslovakia and the momentum that these things represented, the expansion that these things represented seemed quite real and then there was the fall of China, as we put it, to the Communists, the creation of the Sino-Soviet Bloc, the Korean War in the early fifties. So in the fifties, looking back even from the late fifties, what we saw is a lot of successes, or what seemed to be successes on the part of the Russians, including territorial expansion. Now, you know, later it became evident that essentially 1950 or '52 represented the high tide with a few exceptions. I mean, there was the war in Vietnam and so forth, but at least in Europe, there was no more expansion after the forties, but, you know, it took time for that to sink in and in the fifties with the Korean War still ringing in everybody's ears and with a lot of casualties that came out of that and with no settlement, a non-truce in Korea, the notion that the Russians were still on the march or that the Sino-Soviet bloc was still on the march was plausible. As I said, later, it became, you know, in retrospect we know that was the high water mark, but we didn't know it at the time.
INT: Good answer...