15. Editorial Note

In a series of conversations on March 6 and 7, the President and the Secretary of State discussed the importance of educating the public on the distinction between “atomic missiles for tactical purposes and the big bomb with huge radioactive fall-outs.” According to Secretary Dulles, “the President felt strongly that we must get acceptance of the use of atomic weapons as ‘conventional’” and thought that a reference to atomic missiles might usefully be inserted “in an incidental way” in the Secretary’s forthcoming report to the nation on his 2-week [Page 61] trip to Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific to indicate that these tactical weapons, as opposed to weapons of mass destruction, would be used interchangeably with conventional weaponry. (Dulles’ memoranda of conversation are in the Eisenhower Library, Dulles Papers, Meetings with the President)

Accordingly, in his radio and television address on March 8, the Secretary, in the course of his discussion of allied defense power in the Far East, stated that “the United States in particular has sea and air forces now equipped with new and powerful weapons of precision which can utterly destroy military targets without endangering unrelated civilian centers.” (Department of State Bulletin, March 21, 1955, pages 459–464)

In response to a question at his news conference on March 15, Secretary Dulles elaborated on this statement. According to press acounts of the conference (a complete transcript has not been found in Department of State files), the Secretary expounded a policy of “lessthan-massive retaliation” by the United States anywhere in the world based on the use of small nuclear weapons against military targets rather than full-scale, city-destroying hydrogen bombs. According to the Secretary, the likelihood that weapons of mass destruction would be used would decrease with the increased availability of tactical nuclear weapons. Dulles went on to say that unlike the situation in World War II, these new weapons offered a chance for battlefield victory without harming civilians and he indicated that in the event of a major assault against Formosa, the United States might well intervene with forces so equipped. (The New York Times, March 16, 1955, pages 1–2)

On March 16, Lewis Strauss informed Hagerty that Dulles had checked with him before making this statement and that “he [Strauss]was all for it,” telling Hagerty that “we wanted to show our enemies that we now deal with A-bombs as conventional weapons.” (Eisenhower Library, Hagerty Papers, Diary Series)

At his news conference that day, President Eisenhower said he could see no reason why, in a combat situation where they could be used on strictly military targets, tactical nuclear weapons should not be used “just exactly as you would use a bullet or anything else. I believe that the great question about these things comes when you begin to get into those areas where you cannot make sure that you are operating merely against military targets. But with that one qualification, I would say, yes, of course they would be used.” (Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1955, page 332)