Monday, April 14, 2014

TWE Remembers: NSC-68

Here is an interesting interpretation of events in 1950:

The debate over NSC-68 might have sputtered out and the memo might have become nothing more than a historical footnote if not for North Korea’s invasion of South Korea on June 25, 1950The attack by Moscow’s ally seemed to confirm what NSC-68 had argued, the Soviet slave state was on the march and only American military might could stop it. Truman’s nearly immediate decision to order U.S. troops to come to South Korea’s aid guaranteed a major jump in U.S. defense spending. (Truman had proposed a $13 billion defense budget for FY 1951; it ended up ballooning to $58 billion.) With cost no longer an obstacle, NSC-68 became official policy. As Acheson later observed, “Korea saved us.”

Historians might debate Acheson’s claim—and some have. They might also debate whether NSC-68 correctly gauged Soviet intentions and actions, or exaggerated the Soviet threat and exposed the United States and the rest of the Free World to needless conflicts and crises. What isn’t in dispute is that the blandly named “United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” set the basic guidelines that would govern U.S. national security policy for four decades.

TWE Remembers: NSC-68

by James M. Lindsay
April 14, 2012
The cover of NSC-68. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)The cover of NSC-68. (Harry S. Truman Library and Museum)


“United States Objectives and Programs for National Security” is a rather bland title for a report. Especially one that turns out to help drive history. But that’s the formal name given to NSC-68, the foundational document for America’s Cold War strategy. It was issued by President Harry Truman’s National Security Council for review on April 14, 1950.*
To understand the origins of NSC-68, it helps first to know some background. The second half of 1949 had been a tough time for the Truman administration on the foreign policy front. In August, the Soviet Union detonated an atomic device for the first time, ending the U.S. nuclear monopoly far sooner than Washington thought would be the case. Then, in October, Mao Zedong declared the establishment of the communist People’s Republic of China. That set off a bitter debate in the United States over who “lost” China, a debate that helped set the stage for Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s famed Wheeling, West Virginia speech alleging that communists were running rampant at the State Department.
The Soviet A-bomb test and the victory of the Chinese communists helped prompt Truman to order a reevaluation of the country’s national security policy on January 31, 1950. The task of leading the review was handed over to a group of officials known officially as the State-Defense Policy Review Group. They were led by Paul Nitze, the director of the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, and supported by Secretary of State Dean Acheson.
The participants in the review believed that the United States needed a tougher foreign policy, and they set out to use their report to convince the rest of government that they were right. Robert Lovett, a consultant to the project, said that the memo should use “Hemingway sentences” to make its points. “If we can sell every useless article known to man in large quantities,” Lovett argued, “we should be able to sell our very fine story in larger quantities.” Acheson thought along the same lines. “The purpose of NSC-68,” he later wrote, “was to so bludgeon the mass mind of ‘top government’ that not only could the President make a decision but that the decision could be carried out.”
NSC-68’s authors took Lovett’s and Acheson’s advice. The report came packed with more rhetorical ammunition than most other government memos. The dramatic tone started in the introduction:
The issues that face us are momentous, involving the fulfillment or destruction not only of this Republic but of civilization itself. They are issues which will not await our deliberations. With conscience and resolution this Government and the people it represents must now take new and fateful decisions.
So what were the momentous issues? The Soviet Union (and its satellites) stood diametrically opposed to everything that the United States (and by extension the rest of the “free world”) stood for:
(Continued at the link below)

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