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Commander in Chief

December 2023
4min read

The courage of a President with a military background stabilized a world situation that the Communists hoped they could control, says the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

Commander in Chief, by ADMIRAL ARTHUR W. RADFORD
Admiral Arthur W. Radford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff during most of Eisenhower's first term as President, took a leading role in shaping the defense policies of the Eisenhower Administration. Here he writes of the close professional, and personal, relationship he had with the President.
Any man who has been elected and re-elected as President of the United States is bound to have left his mark on the history of the world. With considerable prejudice in President Eisenhower’s favor—for I served as his Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for four years—I wish to tell the story of what history may record as his most important decision.
I could well start by going back to 1917 and the Bolshevik revolution, when the Communists took over the government in Russia and started the buildup of what has become in our day a monolithic military power, and then relate how in the years between 1917 and 1965, with intervals of setbacks and internal trouble, communism continued to grow in influence.
I choose to start my story in May of 1953—on the evening of the fifteenth to be exact—at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, where I was stationed at the time as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command. That evening the late Assistant Secretary of Defense Frank Nash stopped at Honolulu en route to the Far East. Secretary Nash, a close and warm friend, was my house guest. When I met him he took me aside and informed me that at about seven o'clock the next morning my telephone at home would start to ring because newsmen in Honolulu would want comments from the next Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. He explained that at noon the next day, Washington time, the White House was to announce that the President was nominating me as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to succeed General Bradley. This would be seven A.M. Hawaiian time, and I could expect to be called first by local newsmen who would see it on the ticker. To my complete surprise he turned out to be right. Confirmation accomplished, I was ordered to Washington, after being relieved of my command at Pearl Harbor, and I arrived in the Capital on July 15.
I found other new members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff already in Washington: General Twining, Admiral Carney, and General Ridgway. I called on President Eisenhower as soon as he could see me. I had seen General Eisenhower only once, and then briefly, since the time he had served as Chief of Staff of the Army in President Truman's Administration—the time, indeed, when I happened to be opposing his plans for the unification of the services. At our first meeting the President asked me whether I would like to see him every Monday morning at nine thirty. I told him I did not know what demands there would be in my new position and whether or not I would have anything to talk to him about. "That's all right," the President said. "If you don't have anything to talk about, maybe I will. Then, if something comes up, I can usually save it for a week—and, if you are coming here regularly, no particular attention will be drawn to your visits." I recall many times, in those weekly meetings, when the President would ask me if I had anything to discuss, and if I had not, he would pace around the room and talk about whatever came to his mind.
In our first several meetings, the President outlined in considerable detail what he wanted me to do in the interval before I took over. He said that historically the military forces in the United States had experienced either a feast or a famine. Faced with a crisis, nothing was too good for them. Postwar, the economizers took over, and our regular military establishment withered on the vine until the next crisis occurred. He traced the history of the last three of our wars, and said he doubted that any one of them would have been fought if the United States had had, before the war started, an adequate military posture—well-balanced Army-Navy forces in being known to be well trained and well equipped. As President he had decided, he said, that with the settlement of the Korean War he was not again going to enfeeble our armed strength. He felt that the world situation required balanced United States armed forces that were strong enough to deter a challenge by any nation and particularly by the Soviet Union.
He directed that the new Chiefs of Staff meet together, without staff assistance, and work up in outline the military structure we thought the country should have to insure the peace he envisaged. Traditionally, he told the chiefs, military men were supposedly concerned only with the force requirements—not costs. While he was not putting a ceiling on costs, he wanted us as chiefs to look at our total national strength in connection with our planning, economic as well as military. He was thinking in such long-range terms—twenty, forty, fifty years, as long as the threat to peace remained—that obviously our total expenditures had to bear a satisfactory relationship to total income over the whole time period. He wanted a "pay-as-you-go" system if it were at all possible. He reasoned that it was essential that our allies have confidence in the long-range fiscal policies of this country as well as in its military strength. Such confidence was further necessary because he wanted allied military forces included in the free world strength. We would help those who needed help to generate military forces which in turn would reduce some of our own requirements.
In order that we could be alone to work out a plan, the new Chiefs boarded the Secretary of the Navy's yacht on the Potomac in early August. A draft was given to the President that same month, and by the end of August the basis of what later was to be called the New Look had been approved by the President after favorable consideration by the National Security Council. Later that fall the Joint Chiefs of Staff appointed a special committee to work up a detailed force structure; costs were estimated to be in the thirty-three to thirty-five billion range for new money in each fiscal year. It was a far cry from the ten- to twelve-billion limit of post-World War II, which left our defenses so dangerously weakened and, undoubtedly, encouraged the Communists to enter Korea in 1950 with the expectation of victory.
A defense appropriation of this magnitude for the indefinite future was unheard of in the history of our country. Only a strong President would dare to commit himself and his party to such a program.
This was the fall of 1953. In every year since then, the defense appropriation has approximated 50 per cent or more of the national budget. Unquestionably, the military strength of the United States has prevented World War III and has so far maintained the confidence of our allies. The courage and foresight of a President with a military background stabilized a world situation that the Communists hoped for a while they could control. We must pray that President Eisenhower's successors will be as wise as he, and as courageous.

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