book was written by a then obscure (at least to Europeans) Harvard
professor in 1957. I read it in the summer of 1960.
This was a time when we all feared that nuclear holocaust might
be imminent. Any hopes of a lasting peace after WW 2 based on the
U.S. monopoly on nuclear weapons turned out to be shortlived indeed,
when the Soviet Union acquired the atomic bomb in 1949 and the much
more powerful fusion bomb in 1953, just months after the U.S. In
1957 the Soviet Union demonstrated its capability to deliver those
weapons to any point on the globe, by launching the first artificial
satellites. There was much concern over a possible "missile
gap" in the United States.
Apocalyptic visions were common. Many films were based on the theme
of a world after a nuclear exchange. Nevil Shute's "On the
Beach" was made into a movie in 1958. There was a Belafonte
film in 1959 called "The World, The Flesh, and the Devil"
with a similar scenario. There were lots of advice on how to construct
a fallout shelter in your own backyard, what supplies to stock etc.
When I first visited the U.S. in 1961, I was shocked to see signs
everywhere in Washington D.C. and New York pointing to public radioactive
Kissinger's central thesis was that the threat of nuclear annihilation
was nearly useless as an instrument of foreign policy because of
its lack of credibility. The U. S. needed to improve its capability
to fight limited wars, and accept that total victory in a limited
war might not be necessary.
This may sound very obvious today, but at the time it was a controversial
view. It might be argued (and was!) that a reduced emphasis on "strategic
bombing" (and later "mutual assured destruction"),
would just lead to a further erosion of the credibility that the
U. S. would actually go to war over a feared invasion of West Berlin
or indeed western Europe. The U. S. would then have to engage the
enemy on the enemy's terms, perhaps in land wars in Europe or Asia.
All of these points were examined and, I thought, very competently
analysed by professor Kissinger. Just months later, the incoming
president John Kennedy de facto endorsed Kissinger's views, being
very concerned at the Soviet Union's openly announced intent to
support "national wars of liberation", where the threat
of a nuclear response would be particularly inappropriate. - Of
course, Kissinger was not alone in advocating these views, and I
have no idea whether Kissinger's book made a direct impression on
"Henry the K" later became extremely influential and
powerful as Nixon's foreign secretary and security advisor. His
views are still sought, especially in times of crisis.
His recent views on nuclear proliferation can be found in a 2005