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A proud moment for the Marines, 1962

Posted by Tom on Friday, December 30, 2011
General David Shoup, USMC, 1904-1983
Not every moment of valor involves combat. Sometimes, it is a matter of standing on principle and speaking truth to power. Moral courage is every bit as necessary in war and foreign affairs as physical bravery.
I came across a moment like this in re-reading Fred Kaplan's seminal book on the history of nuclear strategy, The Wizards of Armageddon. The first SIOP, or "single integrated operational plan," for nuclear war was briefed to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs in 1962, and it called for an appalling amount of damage.
In SIOP-62, a U.S. first-strike (launched in the face of imminent Soviet attack) in a nuclear war would mean the launch of over 3400 nuclear weapons, with a total firepower of nearly 8000 megatons. (A megaton is equal to 1 million tons of TNT; a single megaton over New York City would destroy everything out to the New Jersey and Long Island suburbs.)

1 Megaton on New York. Multiply by 8000 over all of Eurasia.
The attack would instantly kill 285 million (million) Soviets and Chinese, and injure another 40 million more. There was no estimate for the number who would be killed in Eastern Europe they were doomed anyway or the number who would die from fallout later.
SIOP-62 required striking China, no matter what the war was about, as a precaution should the U.S. and USSR destroy each other and leave 900 million Chinese communists to take over what was left. In other words, China would be annihilated no matter what started the conflict.

JFK with Curtis Lemay and Thomas Power. Even LeMay thought Power was nuts.
General David Shoup, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, asked if there were any options that spared China. General Tommy Power, the head of the Strategic Air Command who was, by many accounts, something of a loon squirmed in his seat and said: "Well, yeah, we could do that, but I hope nobody thinks of it, because it would really screw up the plan."
At that point, General Shoup, a Medal of Honor winner in World War II, stood up, turned to the Secretary of Defense, and said:
"Sir, any plan that kills millions of Chinese when it isn't even their war is not a good plan. This is not the American way."
The rest of the military signed off on SIOP-62, and it was briefed to President Kennedy who muttered, as he left the briefing: "And we call ourselves the human race."
Shoup retired 18 months later.