PPS files, lot 64 D 563, “Natl Sec (civil defense)”

Memorandum by Carlton Savage of the Policy Planning Staff

top secret

Continental Defense

During January 1953, three documents were placed before the Executive Branch of the Government which point up continental defense, civil and military, as the Achilles heel of our national security.

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The three documents are the NSC 141,1 the East River report,2 and the report of the Panel of Consultants on Disarmament.3 The first was prepared in the Government after months of deliberation and with widespread participation in State, Defense (including JCS), and MSA. The second was prepared for the Government by a large number of private citizens working over a period of almost two years. The third was prepared by two scientists, two educators, and the newly appointed director of CIA.

The impact of these three studies, taken together, is powerful. They treat of a number of subjects but they converge with striking unanimity on one: continental defense. They convincingly corroborate President Eisenhower’s statement that the United States stands in greater peril today than at any time in our history. They are not alarmist, yet they stand as a warning that if we do not heed the counsel they contain, we could eventually lose our existence as a free nation.

NSC 141 concludes that our present capability to defend continental United States from atomic attack is extremely limited; that probably 65–85 per cent of the atomic bombs launched by the Soviet Union could be delivered on targets in the United States; that the Soviet Union will possess in the period 1954–1955 a capability to make an air attack on the United States which could represent a blow of “critical proportions”; that a continuation of our continental defense programs, civil and military, at the level of present appropriations involves critical risks; and that basic to the attainment of our objectives is allocation of large “additional” resources to civil and military defense of the continent. The word “additional” is used to indicate that this assignment of resources should not be at the expense of other U.S. security programs.

The East River report emphasizes that an adequate U.S. civil defense program cannot be developed without the adoption of military measures sufficient to make it manageable; that means should be developed for detecting an airborne enemy attack at a distance of no less than 2,000 miles from U.S. continental limits; that we should establish interception and defense in depth in support of the outer warning network with the mission of essentially complete interception and kills so that local defense need deal only with leakage through the defensive net. The East River report estimates that thirty atomic bombs dropped without warning on the most inviting industrial targets in the United States could result in [Page 233] 25,000,000 casualties if the attack came at night, with losses much greater from a daytime attack. It sets out 246 recommendations of measures considered appropriate for the defense of continental United States.

The Panel of Consultants on Disarmament reported to the Secretary of State that in the course of their work no problem forced itself upon them more insistently and regularly than that of the defense of continental United States; that the intensive U.S. preoccupation with the development of massive capability of atomic attack is not matched by any corresponding concern for U.S. defense in case of a Soviet attack here; that there is an altogether insufficient emphasis on the importance of the atomic bomb as a Soviet weapon and upon the fact that no matter how many bombs we may be making, the Soviet Union may fairly soon have enough to threaten the destruction of our whole society. The Panel believes that this situation results partly from the pattern of our previous atomic decisions, partly from the natural impact of the sound military doctrine of the offensive, and partly from the simple but unpleasant fact that the atomic bomb works both ways. In summary, the Panel considers it plain that “there is every reason to proceed with greatly intensified efforts of continental defense.”

A careful study of these three documents prepared by civil and military authorities, by scientists and businessmen and educators, compels the conclusion that not only should something substantial be done about continental defense but it should be done as a matter of great urgency. Our Republic cannot survive if we do not protect our citizens and our industrial base from atomic blows of critical proportions. Time is in fact of the essence. And the urgency of the situation receives added emphasis when we look ahead to Soviet development of the hydrogen bomb and of inter-continental guided missiles.

Our vulnerability in this particular aspect of national security has especial meaning in our foreign relations. As long as continental United States is vulnerable to an atomic attack which could result in 25,000,000 or more civilian casualties and in crippling damage to our industrial plant, our choice of action in the conduct of foreign relations is drastically narrowed and our ability to act with vigor and decisiveness gravely reduced. This is the case even though we have the retaliatory capability of meting out terrible punishment in the homeland of the attacker.4

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The three documents mentioned in this memorandum are especially powerful in their persuasion when taken together. They point to the necessity of the Executive preparing a program for continental defense with vigor and urgency. Meanwhile, because the gravity of this situation is not generally realized on Capitol Hill, the Congress or at least its leadership should be briefed on the problem. There are several reasons for this: (1) it would be in line with the established procedure of Executive-Legislative cooperation in the development of policy; (2) it would enable the Executive to obtain sound counsel from the Congress; (3) it would amount to a sharing of constitutional responsibility in this matter of grave concern to the future of our Nation. The urgency for consultation with members of the Congress—even before an Executive program is fully developed—is that in fairness to them, they should be exposed to this danger in our national security before they go far in making commitments to antithetical propositions.

President Eisenhower has laid down in his inaugural address the attitude that should guide the National leadership as well as the rank and file in matters of this nature: “We must be willing, individually and as a nation, to accept whatever sacrifices may be required of us. A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”5

  1. For extracts from NSC 141, see p. 209.
  2. Regarding Project East River, see footnote 2, p. 20.
  3. For documentation on the establishment of the Panel of Consultants on Disarmament of the Department of State in April 1952, and the subsequent issuing of a report by this Panel, see pp. 845 ff.
  4. A handwritten notation on the source text following the close of this sentence reads: “On the other hand, a decrease in the vulnerability of the American bastion, through continental defense, would have a deterrent effect on the Soviet Union.”
  5. The inaugural address delivered by President Eisenhower on Jan. 20, 1953 is printed in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1953 (Government Printing Office, 1960), pp. 1–8.