Mary Baldwin College, Staunton VA 24401
by Prof. Gordon L. Bowen, Ph.D.
Question: In pursuing global ends, shall our means be limited? US Foreign Policy, 1950-1961
Background: The National Security Council (NSC), in position paper #68 (April 14, 1950), expressed a view which emphasized putting no limits on the new means to be used in conducting US foreign policy. It said that "the integrity of our system will not be jeopardized by any measures, covert or overt, violent or non-violent, which serve the purposes of frustrating the Kremlin design" (in Foreign Relations of the US, 1950, v. 1, p. 244). It called for the US to use "all means short of war" to "foster the seeds of destruction within the Soviet system...[and] roll back the Kremlin's drive for world domination" (p. 284).
Months later we entered a hot (but limited) war in Korea. Korean War commander Douglas MacArthur, before his removal by President Truman, had advocated broadening our goal, and the means used in that limited conflict. He wrote US Representative Joseph Martin (March 8, 1951; read to Congress on April 5, 1951) saying that: "if we lose the war to communism in Asia, the fall of Europe is inevitable; win it, and Europe most probably would avoid war and yet preserve freedom. As you pointed out, there is no substitute for victory." MacArthur was fired, but his idea for a more ambitious U.S. policy to reverse communist gains grew in popularity. "Liberation" from communism would challenge the less ambitious "containment" goal as the central aim of U.S. foreign policy.
In the next (Republican) administration of retired General Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961), these "liberation" goals and NSC-68's unlimited means would take on a life in policy. Secret studies called "Project Solarium" and the "Hoover Report" again calculated current and future costs of World War III. Though neither advocated a nuclear attack, both urged that Soviet interests be counteracted without regard to moral limits on US actions. In Iran and Guatemala, CIA covert operations led to the fall of anti-US elected governments.
Kennedy Era Policy: Central was the belief that all aggression was interconnected, tied to Moscow. This view reverberated ten years later, in President John F. Kennedy's 1961 inaugural speech. He stated:
"Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, to assure the survival and success of liberty." Later that year, when Berlin was again menaced by communist forces (who erected the notorious Berlin Wall), Kennedy stated that that "outpost is not an isolated problem. The threat is worldwide...[in] our own hemisphere [and] wherever else the freedom of human beings is at stake" (Public Papers, pp. 553, 540).
The Taylor Report. New scholarship has demonstrated that lack of close concern for the means-end relationship continued well into the journey toward Kennedy's "New Frontier." One key bit of evidence which sustains this interpretation was found in the Summer 1961 "Taylor Report," written by Gen. Maxwell Taylor (and others), Special Military Advisor to the President. This Top Secret/Eyes Only analysis was commissioned by JFK to explain why US policies had failed at the Cuban "Bay of Pigs" (April 1961), and to instruct him as to how next we should respond. The "Taylor Report" echoed Project Solarium, the Hoover Report, and NSC 68. It began:
"We feel that we are losing today on many fronts and that the trend can be reversed only by a whole hearted union of effort..." It then analyzed the Cuban fiasco and concluded by saying: "the occasion offers the President the opportunity to express... the need of a changed attitude on the part of the government and of the people toward the emergency which confronts us. The first requirement of such a change is to recognize that we are in a life and death struggle which we may be losing, and will lose unless we change our ways and marshall our resources with an intensity associated in the past only with times of war" (emphasis added; Memorandum No. 4 of Taylor Report, June 13, 1961, p. 7).
The Taylor Report was not idle rhetoric; it so clearly summarized perceptions in the Kennedy White House that it remained secret for 16 years. Its influence on Kennedy was direct: Gen. Taylor's next assignment was in Southeast Asia, where President Kennedy sent him to advise the administration about how to respond to communist aggression in southern Vietnam. Soon, on Taylor's advice, thousands of US military advisors would join the 600 Eisenhower had posted there. Eventually, more than two million US combat soldiers would join them, though never more than 570,000 at any one time.
For more on the Taylor Report and related documents on U.S. foreign policy in the early 1960's, visit this related website.
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