19. Memorandum From the Director of the United States Information Agency (Murrow) to the Deputy Secretary of Defense (Gilpatric) and the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy)1


  • U.S. Public Position on our Defense Capability

It is basically important to us that people overseas—enemies, allies and neutrals—think the United States is strong. We should, therefore, do as much as we can to reverse the recent trend of overseas opinion saying the U.S. is weak and to build an image of superior and growing strength. This task will require a long-term effort, since substantial numbers of opinion leaders abroad believe the U.S. is behind.

The immediate problem is the tone and tenor of the President’s upcoming report to Congress on the state of our defenses,2 based on the four Task Force studies now being completed. The crucial question, more basic than the “missile gap,” is: Does the defense review show that the U.S. is ahead or behind the USSR in military strength?

We recommend that, no matter what substantive facts the review may reveal, a public posture be adopted which would avoid any implication that overall U.S. military strength is below that of the Soviet Union.

Assuming the facts warrant it, we would like to see the President and the Department of Defense stress these points:

1. The United States has a measurable margin of superiority over the Soviet Union or any other country in overall military strength, including:

(a) U.S. primacy by a wide margin in both quantity and quality of nuclear warheads for a variety of offensive and defensive weapons.

(b) U.S. overall preponderance in the means of delivery of nuclear warheads, the chief types being planes, missiles, ships and guns.

(c) Substantial U.S. lead over all other nations in nuclear-propelled ships, notably the Polaris submarines.

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2. Specific areas of deficiency, some serious, require urgent improvement. These deficiencies do not, however, destroy the validity of our claim of primacy. But they should be overcome for two reasons:

(a) To make the overall margin of our preponderance even wider and more secure;

(b) To ensure that we are not faced with a special military situation, such as a limited war or a request for help from an ally, for which we might not be fully prepared.

3. The “missile gap,” in light of our overall superiority, is a matter of limited significance although obviously important. It relates to “means of delivery” in one category only. Our bombers, for example, are available in greater quantities and can carry more and larger warheads.

4. Efforts to preserve our military strength have not diverted us from our main goal—the preservation of peace. We must be strong to keep the peace. We look upon our weapons as a sacred trust.

Edward R. Murrow3
  1. Source: Kennedy Library, National Security Files, Departments and Agencies Series, Box 290, United States Information Agency: General, 1/61–6/61. Confidential. A copy was sent to Sylvester.
  2. Presumable reference to the President’s March 28 special message to the Congress on the defense budget; for the text, see Public Papers: Kennedy, 1961, pp. 229–240.
  3. Printed from a copy that bears this typed signature.