No Armament Race: A Reply to Thomas K. Finletter

Editor and publisher of the Arizona Daily Star, WILLIAM R. MATHEWS is a spokesman for that body of Americans who feel that a race in rearmament will defeat its purpose. Mr. Mathews has visited the Orient four times and the Soviet Union three times, his most recent trip being last spring; he has crossed Siberia once, and has covered Indonesia from end to end. That he is no stargazer is evidenced by the fact that on November 28, 1941, he published in his paper an editorial forecasting the Japanese attack: on Pearl Harbor.



THOMAS K. FINLETTER’S article in the September Atlantic, “When Russia Is Ready,” raises a fundamental issue affecting the future of our country. That issue is whether the threat from the Soviet Union constitutes such a potent danger that we must engage in an ever-increasing armament race, or whether it can be met in a more moderate way.

An armament race in which we try to secure ascendancy over the Soviet Union, while it reciprocates by trying to exceed us, can have but one end: war and revolution. When has there ever been an exception to this rule of history? An armament race will make larger and larger deficit-financing mandatory. This in turn will generate an everexpanding inflation which will necessitate economic controls. Gradually we would grow into a regimented state and defeat the historic purpose of American life: the maintenance of a free society.

Surely there is a way of moderation that can give us reasonable security. At least we should search for it before we commit ourselves to a policy fraught with ominous dangers of another kind.

Freedom implies taking risks. It also implies faith in the spiritual and intellectual strength that comes when souls and minds can express themselves without undue restraint. We must be prudent, but we should not allow ourselves to be stampeded by undue fears into exaggerated positions.

I do not question Mr. Finletter’s sincerity. He has made one of the best arguments for an isolated Fortress America I have read anywhere. He reflects the views of the Air Force high command, which fears, now that the Korean War is over, relaxation in support for its needs.

Mr. Finletter says that by 1956 the Russians will have enough atomic bombs and aircraft to make a sneak attack on the United States “which will destroy our major cities and most of our industries,” and, as a part of the same assault, knockout enough of our retaliatory power to make it possible for Russia to survive “our enfeebled counterattack.” This is an appraisal of Russian air power and Russian intentions which minimizes our own strength.

For instance, such a widespread “sneak attack” would compel the Russians to attack simultaneously our allies, on whose territory we have bases and planes. Would the Soviet Union precipitate war with most of the world at one stroke? Does Air. Finletter mean to say that the Russians will have sufficient aircraft to carry out such a sweeping attack simultaneously — which, presumably, is what a sneak attack would require?

For many years to come the Soviets will lack the air power to do this, because they lack the industry to produce planes in such numbers. Of course they have aircraft factories, and they produce good planes, but they will scarcely produce them on any such grand scale as Mr. Finletter indicates.

An attack of such magnitude would require an enormous number of bases with 10,000-foot runways to handle jet bombers. Of course the Russians have scores, if not hundreds, of bases —many of them for fighters—located along the subpolar line from Kola in the west to Kamchatka in the Pacific. They undoubtedly have bombers that can reach some of our great cities; but to assume that they have facilities and planes sufficient to “destroy our major cities and most of our industry” in one sneak attack credits them with a military recklessness they have never shown and air power that borders on the incredible. Their nearest bases to New York are 5000 miles distant, while we have bases within 2000 miles of the Leningrad-Moseow-Odessa line and within 3000 milos of the Ural industrial district.

We have already made it plain to the Russians that it will be national suicide to attempt such an attack. We have round-the-world bases; we have the planes ready to take off; we have the atomic weapons to deter an attack and to retaliate effeclively if “our major cities are destroyed.”

What we can bear in mind is that a sneak attack will give us full reason to counterattack from out air bases in Canada, Britain, France, Africa, Grecce, Turkey, the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan. If they attack our overseas bases, they at lack our allies — and take on the world. The Soviets are not so foolish as that. It is foreign to their creed. Stalin preached that the capitalistic nalions must first go to war. In the chaos that would follow, the communist nations would win control by infiltration and sabotage. The masters of the Kremlin will confidently wait for this to happen, rather than provoke a world war by attacking us.

Certainly we must retain our deterrent air power and in the future maintain it as an alert, powerful force, but to do so does not mean an increase in current armament procurement and obligational authority. As President Eisenhower said, if 120 wings cannot defend our country, neither can 137 wings.

An annual expenditure of $12 billion for planes, bases, and equipment can keep our Air Force and aviation industry strong enough to do their part.

The $18 billion suggested by Mr. Finletter as a minimum annual expenditure would promote the same waste that went on — some of it before my eyes here in Tucson — prior to the election in 1952. After the election it was refreshing to see the Air Force and local aviation industry tighten up their operations. Once the aviation industry and the Air Force know that they will have no more than $12 billion a year to spend, competition for the business will probably produce nearly as much as Mr. Finletter’s proposed $18 billion.

We should never allow our aviation industry to shut down, as we did after World War II; nor should we let ourselves be frightened into producing a vast number of planes that would become relatively outmoded within a few years. We should set a standard of production that the nation can afford that we can pay for on a pav-as-we-go basis. We should set a production level that can be maintained indefinitely.


MR. FINLETTER takes little account of the fact that the Soviet Union is going to exist for many, many years, and that whatever we do to meet its threat must be done in a way that will fit in with our normal way of life. This is not a temporary situation. It is one that will last for generations. The Russians have been expanding for several centuries. For the past century and a half they have been an active influence in Eastern and Middle Europe, the Orient, and the Middle Fast. They will continue in that role, whether they have a capitalistic or a communist government.

They have been contained in the past, although they have expanded. They must be contained in the future, although their frontiers will move back and forth in a minor way from time to time. They will not conquer all of Europe, let alone the world. We face an everlasting job — not one that can be finished in 1956 or 1960 —of containing Russian imperialism, which would continue to exist as a threat even if communism were magically brought to an end. There will be periods of tranquillity, periods of unrest, and periods of political aggressiveness, just as there have been for centuries.

As one who as recently as last April was in the Soviet Union, I insist that the fears Mr. Finletter expresses are alarmist. I was in Russia in 1935 and 1937, so I could compare conditions and attitudes of today with those of the pre-war period.

We have been making the fundamental mistake of failing to distinguish between the Soviet power of defense and its power to lake the offensive. 1 he Soviet Union can be battered and bruised, but it cannot be conquered. On the other hand, it lacks the resources, the industries, the railroads and lines of communication, the food supply, to sustain a war of conquest against another great power.

Aloseow will not for a long time dare risk a war with the United States. The Russian people will fight to defend themselves as they did against Napoleon and Hitler, but I doubt that any Russian government could successfully drag them into a war of aggression.

The Russian people speak of war with horror. They wonder why we want war. All that the Soviet government has to do to prove that the United States wants war is to quote verbatim the many public statements of our generals and admirals, our newspapers, magazines, and radio commentators.

The coming of committee rule, with the death of Stalin and the rise of Malenkov, marks an historic change. Committee rule, as distinguished from one-man rule, will prevent the Russian government from marching in any direction for many years. The members ol the commit lee, the nineman Polilburo, deliberately champion their domestic and international peace program lor a very good political reason. It makes them popular with the people. The people will support any government that gives them peace.

In addition, the Russian government must step up its production ol consumer goods. The big increase in the birth rate forecasts enormous increases in the needs of the people. No government that pours too great an excess of capital expenditures into armaments can meet the indispensable minimum needs of the people.

In view of their lack of industrial and military strength to sustain a war of conquest, their awareness of our existing strength, and the curb that their own philosophy puts on any ambition to provoke a world war at this time, I doubt whether they will risk the destruction of their country in any air force duel that entails such consequences. Instead of making war, they will continue the operations of the Communist Party everywhere, support their allies, and let them make trouble for the West.

There is no danger of a Russian war of conquest, until we see the rise of another Stalin-Hitler type of rabble-rouser. The glorification of committee rule that now exists in the Soviet Union contrasts vividly with the worship of Stalin I saw in Moscow in 1937.

Unfortunately, Mr. Finletter’s article plays into the hands of our war hawks. They are the politically active individuals, in and out of office, Republicans, Democrats, and our lecturing admirals and generals. Most of them are good, sincere American citizens. Some of them are advocates of a preventive war. They reason that we can get the upper hand of the Soviet Union by an intensive armament drive.

Their ideas fit in with the demands of members or advocates of various refugee groups who see war as their only way to achieve their ambitions. Still others are articulate publicists, professional lobbyists associated with America’s biggest industry — war. Mr. Finletter’s argument adds to the din of their war drums and thereby creates a feeling of futility among a growing number of people, with their fatalistic acceptance of “If this is true, we might as well go to war now and settle things once and for all.”

A well-financed and well-organized lobby has been operating out of New York and Washington that seeks to promote vastly increased armaments. It helped to promote the notorious “Operation Candor” of 1953 which came within an eyelash of winning presidential support.

This operation represented an organized effort that brought, together the Department of Defense, Department of State, important leaders of Congress, and the White House to carry on a program of fear and terror.

The President was to take the lead and, in a series of seven weekly television programs, add his voice and prestige to the clamor. The aid of the Advertising Council of America was enlisted to give technical perfection to the publicity, the advertising, and the television and radio programs. “Operation Candor” got under way, but it failed when President Eisenhower refused to join in the movement, refused to frighten the American people. Nevertheless, the lobby has continued to work.

The campaign reached a climax last May when, in the course of one week, I received three articles. One was by Fred Sparks, of the Newspaper Enterprise Association Service in Washington, with a lead sentence, “A plan to bleed Red China until it can no longer expand . . .”

Mr. Sparies went on to explain how the Chinese Nationalists are going to initiate a series of commando raids. He described our American interest in such a plan by saying: “It is 19 days to Moscow by the Comrade Express. If need be, our carrier boys, become expert railroad wreckers in Korea, could clobber the timetable.”Those words suggest acts that mean war with the Soviet Union, although Mr. Sparks writes as though it were a kind of sporting event.

The second story was by William H. Gregory and Donald B. Jones, prepared for North American Newspaper Alliance. It. presents a shockingly distorted comparison of the Soviet, U.S., and British navies. It builds the Soviet navy up as a serious menace. The authors compare obsolete Soviet battleships with our four Iowa class battleships. They take no account of our enormous reserve strength in ships, and compare the American and British carriers in active service without describing the overwhelming power those carriers can exercise. The article creates more fear by showing how defenseless we are; whereas in fact we have the greatest naval power history has known.

The third story is an unsigned one from the Washington bureau of the Associated Press. Instead of leading off with the more reassuring news sent out from Congressman Scrivner, chairman of the subcommittee that handled Air Force appropriations, the Associated Press quoted “informed diplomatic officials who may not be identified otherwise.”

It is an old story about the Red army in Germany being poised for attack; how within thirty days the Soviet Union and its satellites could muster 400 divisions. Not a word of qualification was used to explain how those 400 divisions, scattered from Kamchatka to the Elbe, from the White Sea to the Black Sea, could be transported rapidly to the west and supported in action against the NATO forces.

Any discussion of armaments should include some thought about diplomatic policy. The purpose of armament is to support and advance our foreign policy. If there is any one great objective of American life, if there is any one great reason for America’s existence, it is the creation and growth of our free society. Our ideals of a free society exercise such a revolutionary influence that many parts of the world ring down an iron curtain to keep us from corrupting their tyrannies.

We should be as strong militarily as our normal peacetime financial strongth permits, and still maintain a healthy freedom. As President Eisenhower suggested to the meeting of the American Legion in Washington, we should devote more attention to the organization of our reserve strength in our industries and our military forces. We should not allow our fears to trap us into changing into a garrison state.