The Cold War Through The Looking Glass

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The history of the so-called global missile was similar. The project called for lifting a nuclear warhead into earth orbit. Upon a command from earth, it would explode over an enemy on a trajectory that couldn’t be predicted by an (as yet hypothetical) antimissile defense system. The organization where I worked, which was located in a carefully guarded area, had several even more secret rooms equipped for planning this global missile, and we worked there on this new superweapon. Suddenly, just a few months after we started work, Father joyfully informed journalists at a press conference that the Soviet Union would soon possess a global missile, a weapon against which no defense existed. I was profoundly upset and thought of his loquaciousness as a betrayal of the country’s national interests. During a walk that evening I expressed my complaints to Father.

“Don’t tell me you thought the government would actually allow someone to launch a nuclear warhead into orbit,” he retorted with amazement. “What if something happened to it in orbit, in space? We would be hostages to our own thoughtlessness. The global missile is a propaganda weapon. Let the Americans rack their brains over what I said.”

Such statements by Father were in fact received with enthusiasm on the other side of the ocean, since they made it easier for the American military to receive additional funds, and so the missile race was born and gained strength, bringing President John F. Kennedy to the White House. The race, which never existed, or rather in which only America took part, was the United States’s internal competition to see who could grab more funds from the budget. Insofar as there was a real race, the United States always led. For example, only beginning in 1967 were large numbers of the UR-100 (SS-11) light ballistic missile deployed in the Soviet Union, five years later than the analogous American Minuteman I. The CIA must have known this, but the myth of Soviet missile superiority was useful, or seemed to be useful, not so much to Father as to the American military-industrial complex.

President Eisenhower understood this very well. He and Father held meetings at Camp David in September of 1959. As they were taking a walk one day, Eisenhower brought up the subject of relations with the military and asked Father how he coped with his generals. Father reacted cautiously. He was not prepared to discuss such a subject with the American President.

“Then I’ll start,” said Eisenhower, smiling. “My military leaders come to me several times a year and ask for additional appropriations for new types of weapons. When I reply that the budget has been approved and printed and there’s no place to find the money, they begin frightening me by saying that the Soviet Union is already developing such ‘toys’ and I’ll be responsible if the United States is defeated in a future war. Naturally I have to give them the money.”

Father replied that he was often subjected to such pressure from his own military-industrial complex.

“Maybe we should make a secret agreement between us to curb our military,” proposed the President.

“That would be good,” responded Father. “But the time has not yet come.”

The time for confidential relations between Soviet and American leaders had truly not yet come, but, by 1959, a great deal had changed since 1955. Eisenhower and Father had learned to talk with each other, and the first signs of mutual confidence had appeared. A foundation was built for all of Father’s future negotiations with Kennedy, Leonid Brezhnev’s with a whole series of American Presidents, and Mikhail Gorbachev’s with Ronald Reagan. In 1959 there was no longer talk of an inevitable and imminent war. Leaders of the two countries were working out the conditions for peaceful coexistence on our planet.