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Imagining a Nuclear World War Two in Europe: Preparing US Troops for the Battlefield Use of Nuclear Weapons

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During the Cold War, it was widely acknowledged that the advent of nuclear weaponry had fundamentally altered the nature of war between nuclear armed nations. However, while strategic nuclear war planning was being carried out and implemented in
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  166 !"#$%&%&$ # ()*+,#- ./-+0 .#- 12/ %& 3)-/4, 5-,4#-%&$ 67 1-//48 9/- :;, <#::+,  ! ,+0 68, /9 ()*+,#- .,#4/&8 !"#$%& () *+,"#- During the Cold War, it was widely acknowledged that the advent of nuclear weaponry had fundamentally altered the nature of war between nuclear armed nations. However, while strategic nuclear war planning was being carried out and implemented in deployed weaponry and per-sonnel by the United States, parallel to this was the continued embrace of military strategies that had been elemental to the conduct and vic-tory in Europe during World War Two. T is article argues that at the same time while nuclear weapons dramatically altered the war planning of the United States during the Cold War, for Army battle 󿬁 eld com-manders there was little departure from pre-existing doctrines regard-ing the defence of Central Europe. For these battle 󿬁 eld commanders, the manufacture of tactical nuclear weapons was largely overlaid upon existing strategies to repel an imagined Soviet incursion. Focusing on discussions of battle 󿬁 eld nuclear tactics by Army strategists, the paper demonstrates that such planning persisted and was even embedded into training throughout the 󿬁 rst half of the Cold War, and far beyond the entry of thermonuclear weaponry into the U.S. arsenal. T e paper speci 󿬁 cally looks at the training and participation of ground forces in nuclear weapon testing to acclimate them to the “atomic battle 󿬁 eld.” T rough an examination of the indoctrination that these forces received about nuclear weapon e ff  ects, and speci 󿬁 cally around the dangers posed by radiation, it becomes clear that the realities of nuclear weaponry had little e ff  ect on the preparation, training and strategies of American mili-tary leaders tasked with the military defence of Central Europe against Soviet incursion.  167Imagining a Nuclear World WarTwo in Europe Immediately a f er the surrender of Japan in World War Two, the United States military conducted extensive studies of the impact of the two nuclear attacks on Japan that were carried out in the 󿬁 nal weeks of the war. “[A]tomic weapons will not have eliminated the need for ground troops, for surface vessels, for air weapons, or for the full coordination among them, the supporting services and the civilian e ff  ort, but will have changed the context in which they are employed to such a degree that radically changed equipment, training and tactics will be required,” declared the report. 1  But did it? To what degree, and how quickly did the advent of nuclear weapons alter the war planning and preparations of the United States from their military posture during World War Two?In August of 1945 most Americans, including many political and military leaders, believed that nuclear weapons compelled the Japanese to surrender and ended World War Two. T e initial discourse around nuclear weaponry presented to the American public stressed the revolu-tionary nature of the new weapon. President Harry Truman, in announc-ing the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and introducing the world to the atomic bomb described it in quasi-religious language, saying that it har-nessed the “basic power of the universe” and was given to America by God, while banner headlines across the United States heralded the use of these atomic weapons as dealing a “knockout blow” to Japan, or of being a “super weapon” capable of undreamed of destruction, compelling an entrenched Japan to surrender. 2 1  United States Strategic Bombing Survey, Summary Report (  T e Paci  󿬁 c War)  (Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing O ffi  ce, 1946): 30. 2  “Text of Statements by Truman, Stimson on Development of Atomic Bombs,” New York Times , 7 August 1945, 4. T ere is copious literature around the use of nuclear weapons in Japan, and on the subsequent development and deployment of nuclear weapons by the United States throughout the Cold War. Classic works on the use of the bomb in Japan include, Gar Alp-erovitz,  Atomic Diplomacy: Hiroshima and Potsdam  (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1965); Martin J. Sherwin,  A World Destroyed: T e atomic bomb and the grand alliance  (New York: Ran-dom House, 1973); and more recently, Tsuyoshi Hasegawa, Racing the Enemy: Stalin, Truman and the surrender of Japan  (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005). On nuclear weapons as cultural signi 󿬁 ers in the United States see, Paul Boyer, By the Bomb’s Early Light: Ameri-can thought and culture at the dawn of the atomic age  (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985); Ira Chernus, Dr. Strangegod: On the symbolic meaning of nuclear weapons  (Columbia, SC: Uni- versity of South Carolina Press, 1986); Robert Jacobs, T e Dragon’s Tail: Americans face the  168Robert A. Jacobs Nuclear weapons were imagined to be a civilization altering tech-nology. Renowned CBS war correspondent William L. Shirer was among those on the air reporting on the use of the bomb a f er the o ffi  -cial announcement about Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Shaken by the description of the power of the new weapon, and cognizant of the devas-tations of warfare, Shirer asked his nationwide radio audience, in a world with nuclear weapons: “Is there any hope for mankind?” 3  Military analyst Major George Fielding Eliot claimed in the New York Herald Tribune  that “Mankind stands at the crossroads of destiny… T e decisions which now confront the mind of man are the most important in his history. Upon these decisions hangs his continued existence on this planet.” 4 However, while this apocalyptic and transformational rhetoric typi- 󿬁 ed representations of nuclear weapons in the American press, the inte-gration of the new weapons into military doctrine lagged behind popular discourse. T is trajectory was explicitly outlined in one of the 󿬁 rst books to consider the impact of nuclear weapons on international relations and military strategy, T e Absolute Weapon  published in 1946. Writing in T e  Absolute Weapon , editor Bernard Brodie outlined the then common wis-dom, “It is already known to us all that a war with atomic bombs would be immeasurably more destructive and horrible than any the world has yet known. T at fact is portentous, and to many it is overwhelming. But as a datum for the formulation of policy it is in itself of strictly limited utility.” 5   T is statement would prove more prescient than Brodie him-self intended. Even as the destructive capacity of nuclear weaponry and atomic age  (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2010). As for the primacy of nuclear weapons in the Cold War see, Gregg Herken, T e Winning Weapon: T e atomic bomb in the Cold War, 1945–1950  (New York: Random House, 1981); Campbell Craig and Fredrik Logevall,  America’s Cold War: T e politics of insecurity   (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012). Essential work is also being conducted by the National Security Archive at George Washington University. 3  William L. Shirer on CBS Radio, 6 Aug. 1945, quoted in Wilber M. Smith, T e Atomic Bomb and the Word of God   (Chicago: Moody Press, 1945), 8. 4  George Fielding Eliot, “Atomic Bomb Said to Overthrow Basic Tenets of Military Science,” New York Herald Tribune , quoted in Donald Porter Geddes, ed., T e Atomic Age Opens  (New York: Pocket Books, 1945), 166. 5  Bernard Brodie (ed.), T e Absolute Weapon: Atomic power and world order   (New York: Har-court, Brace and Company, 1946), 21.  169Imagining a Nuclear World WarTwo in Europe the complexity of nuclear delivery systems progressed far beyond any-thing imagined in 1945, aspects of American military planning remained trapped in e ff  orts to insert the new weapons into existing war 󿬁 ghting doctrines 󿬁 xated on the battles of World War Two.Brodie argued in 1946 that World War Two and the atomic bomb in particular had shown the primacy of strategic bombing. He argued against understanding nuclear weapons as inherently transformative, asserting that they could accomplish essentially the same goals as previously exist-ing strategic bombing simply in a more condensed timeline. Nonethe-less, military planners began in the late 1940s to prepare for a possible Soviet invasion of Western Europe, and a long drawn out land war in Germany. T is imagined war mirrored the European theatre of World War Two, with nuclear weapons added, not as a radical or transforma-tive component, but as simply a new weapon in the arsenal. A top secret memo prepared by the sta ff   of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee of the National Security Council entitled “A Study of the Management and Ter-mination of War with the Soviet Union,” prepared in 1963, included a sce-nario titled “War in Europe.” In this scenario, a communist move to take over the government of Italy results in a military confrontation between the Soviet Union and NATO. As the situation escalates the United States decides to use tactical nuclear weapons against Soviet forces in Eastern Europe. “ T e Presidential decision to authorize the use of tactical nuclear weapons resulted from the belief that not only would this action reverse the local military situation but would put serious pressure on the Soviets to close out the war.” 6   T e scenario did eventuate in the further use of limited numbers of nuclear weapons in the Soviet Union itself, this lim-ited use ultimately compelled the Soviet Union to withdraw entirely from Eastern Europe and from operating in any manner in Western Europe.Even as thermonuclear weapons and missiles came to dominate Amer-ican nuclear strategizing, it took decades for the US to loosen its grip on the idea of Germany as a nuclear battle 󿬁 eld in a World War T ree ground war. In 1956, the Chief of Sta ff   of the Army Maxwell Taylor approved the 6  Net Evaluation Subcommittee, “A Study of the Management and Termination of War with the Soviet Union,” (November 15, 1963): 23–24.  170Robert A. Jacobs PENTANA concept as discussed in the 1955 report titled, “Doctrinal and Organizational Concepts for Atomic-Nonatomic Army During the Period 1960–1970”. Taylor was seeking a means of organizationally formalizing the capacity to integrate tactical nuclear weapons into combat groups. Completed in December 1955, the Army War College study called for a completely air transportable 8,600-man division to replace infantry, air-borne, and armoured divisions. T e new division was to be built around 󿬁  ve small, self-su ffi  cient battle groups that would include their own artil-lery. T e battle groups were to meet the tactical requirements for dispersion of forces, operations in depth, and increased 󿬂 exibility and mobility on the atomic battle 󿬁 eld. Organic division artillery, although meagre, included the Honest John, a surface-to-surface rocket with a nuclear warhead. 7 T e “Flexible Response” doctrine adopted during the Kennedy administration moved the United States towards planning for a range of possible scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons beyond the Eisen-hower administrations emphasis on massive retaliation. Speaking at the Tactical Nuclear Wea pons Symposium convened by the United States’ Atomic Energy Commission and Department of Defense at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1969, Colonel Stanley D. Fair of th e US Army Combat Developments Command told attendees, “ T e need for the tac-t ical nuclear option was most obvious in those situations that portrayed such numerically superior enemy strength that US and Allied Forces were inadequate to achieve a favourable outcome. In addition, the sce-narios suggest that a tactical nuclear capability is needed to terminate conventional aggression before the con 󿬂 ict can expand to involve other areas or other combatants and to avoid a prolonged nonnuclear war.” 8 A f er the initial use of nuclear weapons during World War Two, the United States not only put the model of nuclear weapon used in Nagasaki into mass production (the Hiroshima and Nagasaki weapons were of com-pletely di ff  erent design and used di ff  erent nuclear material to generate the 7  John B. Wilson,  Maneuver and Firepower: T e evolution of divisions and separate brigades  (Washington DC: United States Army Center of Military History, 1998), 271. 8  Stanley D. Fair, “Tactical Concepts in T eater Operations,” Proceedings of the Tactical Nuclear Weapons Symposium  (Los Alamos Scienti 󿬁 c Laboratory, 3–5 September 1969), LA-4350-LS: 30.
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