The Atlantic Report on the World Today: Washington

DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER, Washington long ago decided, doesn’t like a fuss and abhors a fight. And his record in the White House has supported that view of the soldier-statesman. Hence it was only natural that the skeptics were in the vast majority when this spring he asked Congress to let him “’modernize" the vast and complex entity called the Pentagon.

But some of the skeptics began to waver when the President declared that he meant to fight, and some of them were almost convinced lie meant it when in his speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors he took on the powerful Democratic chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Georgia’s 74-year-old Carl Vinson, long the Navy’s hero in the halls of Congress.

When the President decided to do that, he knew he was also up against a coalition of senior and ranking members of his own party, men like Senator Styles Bridges, the ranking Republican in the Senate, and Representative Leslie C. Arends, the GOP whip in the House. And he knew they had not only Vinson but Senate Democratic whip Mike Mansfield on their side. Mansfield has served in the Navy, the Army, and the Marines, but his partiality runs to the Marine Corps, and he is always wary lest any reorganization swallow up that proud service.

In the view of the overwhelming number of Washington observers who have no special service ax to grind, the President was correct in saying that “the waging of war by separate ground, sea, and air forces is gone forever” and that unity in planning, in Pentagon command, and in field combat command can be rejected only “at deadly peril.”

The Air Force is essentially behind the Eisenhower proposals; the Army is generally behind them; the Navy is the source of most of the service opposition; and the Marines are technically part of the Navy. But despite the rather severe clamp Defense Secretary McElroy had put on civilian or uniformed service leaders who would oppose the modernization proposals, the fact is that it is in Congress, not in the Pentagon, that the opposition is most fierce.

The central theme of this opposition is that the President would destroy the one real control that Congress has over the military establishment, its constitutional power of the purse. If this were indeed true, the reorganization should be rejected, for the military labyrinth is so vast and self-contained that only through the annual appropriation battles can the Congress catch a glimpse of what is going on and exert a measure of control.

But this issue is largely phony. The President has asked only the right to switch a fragment of the massive Pentagon budget from one service to another, or from one activity to another. And even here he managed, in a rather clever move, to head off some of the opposition by leaving until next year a showdown on just what percentage of Pentagon funds he could switch, doing so by saying that he would wait until the fiscal 1960 budget is presented next January.

The chain of command

The battle this year, then, will swirl around the chain-of-command issue. In the field, as the President has said, unity of command is in many cases a reality already, though sometimes more in name than in spirit. The controversy is likely to center on the proposal to turn the three one-time cabinet secretaries for Army, Navy, and Air Force into housekeeping bosses, transferring all command functions from them and their staffs to the defense secretary and the joint chiefs of staff alone. They would then operate directly by orders to the seven geographic commands plus the world-wide Strategic Air Command and the special weapons command.

It is difficult from outside the Pentagon to judge the efficacy of some of the provisions in the President’s plan. Without doubt the success or failure of some of the changes, if made, will depend far less on the Pentagon organization chart than on the personalities of those in authority.

The Pentagon modernization in Congress is clearly one of the major issues this year. But it is only a beginning. The revamped Pentagon chart at best will be only the framework for something far more vital: a revamped American politico-military policy.

The basic need is to create a new military strategy and new political objectives and tactics in tune with the ever-changing nuclear age and the Communist version of peaceful competition with the democracies.

Nuclear testing

Edward Teller, the brilliant and eloquent scientist who has been battling against any halt to nuclear weapons testing, said not long ago that in the face of the nuclear standoff, the Administration’s massive retaliation policy has become “more and more unrealistic.” Teller was arguing that testing must go on to perfect the small, so-called “clean” tactical nuclear weapons, to give the a United States a limited nuclear war capability.

In this argument more is involved besides mutations of bone cancer or leukemia caused by radioactive fallout from nuclear testing. What is at stake is our national security and the survival of the democracies. And in the argument, the political lines in Washington and elsewhere are thoroughly mixed.

One of the best cases for the Administration policy of continued testing has been made by Louis J. Halle, a University of Virginia professor who served under Dean Acheson on the State Department’s policy planning staff. In his Choice for Survival, Halle argues that each of the two major powers has everything to gain in preventing an all-out nuclear war and that a totalitarian regime, being uninfluenced by the play of emotional public opinion and the survival of the MacArthurian “no substitute for victory” thesis, is more able than are the democracies to fight limited nuclear war.

Halle’s argument is — like Acheson’s and Secretary Dulles’ as well — that we must get away from unobtainable objectives of an unlimited nature, from Roosevelt’s “unconditional surrender,” to the initial Korean War aim of restoring the status quo ante. He suggests that man’s view of atomic weapons might be far different from today’s cringing fear and hysteria had small “clean” tactical weapons been available and used by the Western allies in 1939 to break up the Nazi blitzkrieg against France and the Low Countries.

Halle’s book is another example of the heartening number of nongovernment thinkers trying to help form a politico-military policy for America today. Neil McElroy’s task will be to create such a policy, given the Pentagon framework in which to make the military side of it operate successfully.

McElroy and Dulles are a far more harmonious team than were Dulles and Charles E. Wilson. But the time now irretrievably lost has seen the erosion of America’s political position in almost every area of the free world, and this will make the hammering out of a Pentagon-State Department joint policy all the more difficult. Whether it can be done is far from certain, given Eisenhower’s reluctance to plunge into the problem himself and given Dulles’ refusal to delegate any substantial part of his own massive authority. Still, it is a remarkable fact that it was the Secretary of State, not a Pentagon official, who first publicly advanced — in an October, 1957, article in Foreign Affairs — the doctrine of limited war based on the still uncreated small nuclear weapons.

Greatly inhibiting the development of such a doctrine is the Soviet propaganda pressure to end nuclear tests. The problem is compounded by the emotions aroused over the effects of testing and is further confused by the Administration’s reluctance to make public the scientific facts.

The role of the scientist

Here, too, the role of the scientists has become vital. For the leading scientists have strayed far from their own well-ordered laboratories into the confused world of international political reality, a venture into the sunlight which has blinded many of them. In a single week, Washington heard Teller on the one side and Hans Bethe, the equally worldfamous physicist, on the other side of the nuclear testing argument.

Bethe, incidentally, was the first scientist favoring suspension of the tests who could speak with the authority of having been on the inside of the Administration’s examination of that issue. He was the chairman of the panel called together by James R. Killian, Jr., to ascertain the facts involved in the inspection and control problem of the test suspension and other aspects of any possible East-West arms agreement.

Both Teller and Bethe, and many other of their colleagues on both sides of the test argument, have extrapolated from their own scientific knowledge to make political judgments. The result is that the politicians and the public at large have been thoroughly confused.

The first task, then, assuming the Pentagon modernization battle is won to any considerable degree, will be for McElroy, Dulles, and their associates to call on the scientists for the scientific facts and the scientific extrapolations. Then they must make their own judgments, and explain them publicly, in terms of the real world of international affairs based on the sound scientific facts of the nuclear age.

Lower taxes?

When members of Congress found, while they were back home during the Easter recess, that there was no overwhelming pressure on them for an immediate tax cut — the prevailing sentiments they reported were apathy and uncertainty — the magic tax date on the Capitol calendar became June 30. That is the date when the present corporate income tax rate and existing excise levies on just about everything will revert to the lower pre-Korea figures or disappear entirely, unless there is affirmative action by Congress with the President’s signature as well.

More and more one hears at the Capitol the phrase, “I’m an excise tax cut man myself.” This comes not only from those who represent Michigan or other hard-hit manufacturing areas. It comes also from men deeply troubled over the continued reluctance of the economy to bottom out, as the economists say; men who feel that a cut in withholding taxes is less an incentive to increased buying of automobiles or television sets or a thousand other major items than would be a cut or even abolition of excise taxes. And the more this kind of talk is heard, the more reluctant is the prospective auto purchaser to buy a new car, for he realizes that there is the possibility of a 5 or even a 10 per cent saving a few months from now.

In fact, a case can be made for the belief that too much such talk and too much delay in a decision one way or the other helps feed the recession and negates the housing, highway, public works, unemployment insurance, and other measures which have already been passed or are in the works.

Mood of the Capital

The Democrats have grown increasingly confident, as spring turned into summer, that they will benefit immensely at the polls in November from the long economic slide, and there are few Republicans in Washington who will deny it.

The President’s repeatedly expressed worry lest too much pump priming bring on a new dose of inflation has some support from the professional economists but practically none from the politicians in either party, especially from those who must face the voters this year.

This is why, of course, Senate Democratic Leader Lyndon Johnson has taken the tack that there is an “equal obligation to keep a bridle on recession before it runs away,” and why he needles the President by calling for “confident action, not just confident talk.”