- Historic Sites
Profile Of A Soldier: Matthew B. Ridgway
February 1976 | Volume 27, Issue 2
If morale in the officer corps at the Pentagon is still good … as contrasted with the spirit of the already demoralized State Department, it is because the top men have remained firm. What leadership the Army has received in the past few weeks is ascribed by its officer corps chiefly to Matthew B. Ridgway, its Chief of Staff. Ridgway … has kept his silence. But [he] has, almost alone, kept the Army stiff in its dignity without yielding to the temptation to strike back or furnishing the burnt offerings required by the Senator’s ambition. The cold Ridgway aloofness to politics … has served the Army well.
Another of his problems was an unpleasant relationship with Secretary of Defense Charles Wilson. He admired and got along well both with Wilson’s predecessor, Robert A. Lovett, and with Wilson’s deputy, Robert Anderson. As army representative on the Joint Chiefs of Staff he respected his fellow professionals, Admiral Carney, Air Force General Twining, and Admiral Radford, chairman, though he was sometimes inclined to agree with the navy man who remarked that Radford acted as if he were still commander of the Pacific Fleet instead of first among equals on a strategic planning staff. But with Mr. Wilson he found no basis for liking and little for respect beyond that officially owed to the civilian head of the military services. Ridgway feels that Wilson came from General Motors to Elsenhower’s Cabinet with a firm preconception that something was terribly wrong with the armed forces, particularly the Army, and that, whatever it might be, he would have to take steps to straighten it out. His attitude was reflected in his treatment of those under his authority, including the four service chiefs, whom he often addressed as “you men” and dismissed at meetings with the command to carry out orders as instructed. Wilson was given to long, rambling discussions that had little or nothing to do with the subject of the meeting and was disinclined to inform his military subordinates of the subject in advance, which could mean a series of questions for which no hard, up-to-date information had been gathered. In discussions and briefings he was, Ridgway says, often rudely inattentive, drumming his fingers on the table, gazing out the window at the Washington prospect, and ignoring the views a speaker was presenting.
The relationship was exacerbated by the fact that Wilson was under instruction to cut the military budget and that more than three fourths of the cuts were directed at the Army. Ridgway was asked to reduce his troop strength from 1,500,000 to 1,000,000 by the summer of 1956 and to cut army expenditures from $16.2 billion to $8.9 billion. “Wilson’s facile slogan, ‘More bang for a buck,’ ” he says, “sounded very much the same to me as Louis Johnson’s ‘trimming off the fat.’ In Secretary of State Dulles’ policy of containment we were offering military aid, alliances, and territorial guarantees to some forty nations ringing the globe. Our foreign commitments were going up, and our Army was going down. The country was beginning to be dangerously overextended.”
The cuts were ordered, and the commitments were made under what was called a New Look in military preparedness. Dulles described it in a famous sentence in January, 1954. The United States, he said, intended “to depend principally upon a great capacity to retaliate instantly by means and at places of our own choosing.” It was understood that he was referring to the use of atomic weapons.
Ridgway challenged that policy. He believed that to place primary reliance on atomic weapons was to put foreign policy in a strait jacket. It was quite possible, he said, that in any future war there would be a “common refusal” to use atomic weapons, including battlefield tactical bombs and shells. To depend on nuclear weapons would leave the United States incapable of dealing with emergency situations by more conventional means.
He was convinced, moreover, that massive retaliation by means and at places of our own choosing was morally as well as militarily wrong. “It is repugnant to the ideals of a Christian nation,” he said. “It is not compatible with what should be the basic aim of the United States in war, which is to win a just and durable peace.”
Ridgway opposed the new U.S. defense policy when he was called upon to testify before the Senate Military Appropriations Committee, which did not put him in the odor of sanctity with Secretary Wilson or President Eisenhower. Nor was it any recommendation that Adlai Stevenson and Senator Wayne Morse upheld his views. The President did not like “split papers” from his Joint Chiefs of Staff. General Ridgway’s “responsibility for national defense,” he said in pure Eisenhowerese, “is, you might say, a special one, or, in a sense, parochial.” This evidently was meant to explain Ridgway’s recalcitrance, and Wilson remarked to the press in the same vein that he was “a sincere and dedicated general who believes very strongly in the Army.” Ridgway was thus astonished at last to hear over the radio the President’s statement that the !955 military program had been “unanimously recommended” by the Joint Chiefs.