Nuclear Weapons and Aircraft Carriers by Jerry Miller, Smithsonian Institution Press, 296 pages, black & white photos, $32.95.
With its subtitle of “How the Bomb Saved Naval Aviation” no one is more qualified than Vice Admiral Gerald E. Miller, USN (Ret.) to lay out in simple and direct language the basis for the military employment of nuclear weapons, how the planning for their potential use during the cold war succeeded in deterring action by adversaries that could have resulted in a third world war, and what the future now holds for their use - or lack thereof - in the maintenance of a peaceful world in the 21st century.
Simply put, while it serves as a useful reference for those military professionals who have been closely involved in the implementation of our defensive strategy since the end of WWII, it also serves as the necessary primer for the vast number of civilians who grew up being conditioned by the media into thinking that we were always just one step from Armageddon with such a fearsome weapon in the hands of military leaders.
Quite the contrary, Jerry Miller makes clear that those who knew the weapon best were the ones who were least likely to use it except to deter its use by others. To accomplish this required increased reliability and accuracy in delivery of the weapon itself along with the security and flexibility of movement inherent in ships at sea as a launching base. It is here that the modern aircraft carrier best filled the role until the onset of the Polaris submarine and subsequently the Trident systems were brought on line. However, none of the foregoing would have been of any use without the toughness of mind and willing support on the part of our civilian leadership of every initiative required to keep this deterrent credible since its first use to end the Pacific war through the remainder of the 20th century.
In his introduction and throughout the text the author provides valuable insights on the character of the many military officers who devoted their lives to not only making the systems work but to planning the national security policies that recognized the variety of scenarios that came into being as a result of nuclear weapons. One very interesting story revolves around the early participation of Naval officers recruited by General Groves (who headed the “Manhattan Project”) to take advantage of their “special scientific skills.” While the Army Air Corps supplied the pilot and crew of the B-29’s, many readers may be surprised to learn that the first nuclear bombs used in anger (Hiroshima and Nagasaki) were armed and dropped on the command of two of those Naval officers - one of whom was a Naval aviator as well.
In the light of our present situation following the terrorist attack on the World Trade buildings and the Pentagon where four of our big carriers have been hastily deployed to support operations against the perpetrators in Afghanistan, Jerry Miller’s final summation is prophetic, to wit: While nuclear weapons continue to provide the security umbrella under which civilization can prosper despite the emerging problems of the 21st century, the aircraft carrier appears more attractive than ever in its relevance to national defense. It is a book that should be on everyone’s shelf.
The following book review is by ADM Thomas H. Moorer, USN (Ret.), ANA’s Chairman of the Board Emeritus, former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff and former Chief of Naval Operations.