• U.S.

ARMED FORCES: The Incorrigible & Indomitable

7 minute read

The defense of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Air Force against attacks made on them by a rebellious group of Navy officers had reached its climax.

Hard-bitten General Omar Bradley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had taken the witness stand before the tense audience in the House Armed Services Committee room. Infantryman Bradley began to read his statement, which he had handwritten without help from public-relations experts, in his quarters at Fort Myer.

“The real issue to which we should devote our attention,” he said, was “whether or not we are providing for the security of this country with the least expense to our economy.” What were the requirements? Before the committee and the world, he repeated the U.S. military strategy agreed upon by the J.C.S.

“We are never going to start the war,” he said. Therefore the strategy of the Joint Chiefs of Staff was premised on the assumption that the U.S. would be attacked. “We will have to carry the war back to the enemy by all means at our disposal. I am convinced that this will include strategic air bombardment and large-scale land operations.” There would be little need for Pacific island-hopping after the early phases, he thought, or any need for such amphibious operations as the Normandy invasion.

“If We Lose the War.” Navymen had said strategic “mass” bombing by the Air Force’s B-36 was militarily unsound, even immoral. Bradley gave them a direct unequivocal reply. Strategic bombing, he said, “is our first-priority retaliatory weapon,” and the B-36 is the best heavy bomber in the U.S. arsenal.

“I find some comfort in the fact,” he continued in his characteristic high-pitched voice, “that we have a long-range bomber that can fly from any base in the world, attack targets in the range of 4,000 miles and return home.” It was obvious that “workers live near factories and that if you bomb the factories, you may bomb the people . . . Any great injury you can inflict upon the morale of that nation,” he added, “contributes to the victory . . . We are all aware of the awful penalty if we lose the war.” As for morality—”war itself is immoral.”

Distaste for Disloyalty. For weeks, Bradley had been watching the Navy’s admirals wage what he considered to be a reckless, unruly and dangerous campaign against this concept. Now, his anger up, he indignantly denied that as J.C.S. chairman he had been prejudiced against the Navy. When he stood against the Navy it was because, as he saw it, the Navy was wrong. He had been against building the Navy’s supercarrier, the keel of which was laid early this year, then abandoned.

He thought the funds could be better employed elsewhere. The only enemy in sight was a great land force which had negligible naval strength outside of its submarines.

The admirals had insinuated that the J.C.S. did not know how a war should be fought and Bradley’s heavy brows lowered behind his spectacles as he made scornful reply: “Even if I were not personally involved, I would harbor a distaste for such lack of loyalty.”

He knew the combat records of the members of the J.C.S.: himself, General Hoyt Vandenberg, who had commanded the Ninth Air Force in Europe, the Army’s General J. Lawton Collins, who had commanded the VII Corps at Normandy. Then he got in a low blow: “I was not associated with Admiral Denfeld during the war. I am not familiar with his experiences . . . [Denfeld, by order of his superiors, spent most of the war in Washington as Assistant Chief of Naval Personnel]. Undoubtedly it was because of this record that he was appointed Chief of Naval Operations.”

“Fancy Dans.” The admirals had said that the Navy’s power and prestige were being “nibbled to death” and that their service’s morale was being wrecked. Replied Bradley sharply: “Senior officers decrying the low morale of their forces evidently do not realize that the esprit of the men is but a mirror of their confidence in their leadership.” As for admirals risking their careers to carry their case to the public, Bradley snapped: “I would like to offer some impartial advice to all aspiring martyrs: to be successful in a sacrifice, he must be 100% right . . . His sacrifice must be for the good of the entire nation . . .”

The crux of the whole matter, as he saw it, was: many in the Navy were “completely against unity of command and planning . . . Despite protestations to the contrary, I believe that the Navy has opposed unification from the beginning . . . This is no time,” he went on sternly, “for ‘fancy Dans’ who won’t hit the line with all they have on every play, unless they can call the signals … I believe that the public hearing of the grievances of a few officers who will not accept the decisions of the authorities established by law . . . have done infinite harm to our national defense.”

The Balance of the Bomb. When Omar Bradley finished his biting, indignant statement there was stunned silence in the committee room. In charging head down into the middle of the scrimmage he had given a final, climactic exhibition of the unseemly personal antagonisms which had split the nation’s military chiefs. From a military standpoint he had all but blasted the Navy admirals’ case. And before the week was out, torpedoed by the testimony of other non-Navy men, the Navy’s arguments were little more than just afloat.

Was it true that the Air Force, with its $1.4 billion B-36 program, was “putting all its eggs in one basket?” General Hoyt Vandenberg, Air Force chief, answered with figures. B-36s, he said, comprised only 5% (four groups) of the total of regular military aircraft. The Air Force also had eleven groups of other bombers (about 330 B-29s and B-50s), and some 33 groups of heavy and medium reconnaissance, fighter, troop carrier and other miscellaneous aircraft.

Said Vandenberg: the nation had to “counterbalance the potential enemy’s masses of ground troops . . . No such balancing factor exists other than strategic bombing, including the atomic bomb.”

The Air Force’s Secretary W. Stuart Symington backed up Vandenberg, and deplored the whole public airing of the country’s military doctrines. “Lightning Joe” Collins denied any Army plot to swallow up the Navy’s Marine Corps as had been charged in the Navy’s case.

“A Grand Lot.” After these witnesses, all of whom had been personally involved in the Navy’s accusations, voices began to tone down. To the witness stand came Herbert Hoover to say sadly: “It requires a year for newly wedded couples to get used to each other … I suppose one of the requirements of maintaining freedom is the public washing of linen.” Came George Marshall to recall how he had to go out of his way during World War II to keep the proud and sensitive Navy happy, how he had to exercise “great restraint on the air fellows” because “I was opposed to overstatement of power and understatement of limitations.”

The final witness was Defense Secretary Louis Johnson. He was expected to clash noisily with the House Committee’s Chairman Carl Vinson, who had characterized Johnson’s recent order to cut $800 million from defense expenditures as “grandstanding.” Johnson was in his most ingratiating mood, and so was Vinson. He was just trying to keep everybody within the President’s budget, Johnson said. He believed in the Marine Corps, the admirals were “a grand lot.” Vinson congratulated him on “a very fine statement.”

Time for a Chew. At week’s end, the committee had nothing to do but take Vinson’s advice and go home. Chairman Vinson would go down to his Georgia cotton farm and ruminate over a cud of tobacco. In January his committee would write its report.

The hearings had proved one thing: that unification, willed by Congress, begun by a harried James Forrestal and rushed on by an imperious Louis Johnson, had not gotten very far. The incorrigible and indomitable admirals and generals were still squared off. The hearings were over, but the atmosphere remained: electric and unhealthy. It was obviously time for everybody to ruminate.

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