Destroying the Village: Eisenhower and Thermonuclear War -Craig Campbell

The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945-1960 -David Rosenberg

About the Author:

Campbell: ?

Rosenberg: ?


Campbell’s book examines the Eisenhower administration's nuclear strategy by starting the discussion with the end of WWII and the Truman administration and concluding with the Kennedy administration. Campbell’s story includes numerous attempts by other members of the administration and the US military to get Eisenhower to shift his defense policy, but Eisenhower’s refusal to do so. He seems to spend his entire presidency trying to convince both the international community and his constituency that he refuses to go to war with the USSR unless it is full scale nuclear war…thereby hoping to avoid war with the USSR altogether.

Rosenberg’s article expresses the burgeoning of the US nuclear arms capability, particularly during the Eisenhower administration. He describes the effects of interservice rivalry, political leadership, and military strategy on the major expansion of nuclear arms.

Main argument:

Campbell’s main argument is that Eisenhower was a genius because he manipulated everyone’s uncertainty by forcing them to wonder whether or not he would launch nuclear war. He was able to prevent war with the Soviets primarily because they believed it was possible that he would launch the first wave if they threatened US interests.

Rosenberg’s main argument seems to be that the defense establishment got out of control like a child without clear parental guidance; and DoD’s nearly exclusive focus on trying to “win” a nuclear exchange resulted in much wasteful and unnecessary spending.

Evidence used:

Both author’s create their arguments using numerous primary and secondary sources.


According to Dr. Hughes, Campbell’s argument cannot be falsified…and therefore it is problematic. The idea here seems to be that Eisenhower’s success at avoiding war with the Soviets cannot be challenged; however, there is really no way to attribute this success to any particular thing (e.g. was it Soviet intentions? Was it other circumstances?). We are essentially left with no way to disprove Campbell’s argument. Further, we can never know for sure under what circumstances Eisenhower would have launched the nukes or how much other members of his organization knew about his “actual” line in the sand. Additionally, Campbell’s argument is succinct and well-supported and not full of fluffy words and extraneous background information.

Rosenberg’s article is also succinct and it does a good job explaining his reasoning behind his theory of how the US nuclear arsenal expanded so greatly under Eisenhower. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer an alternative solution that would have prevented this situation and the reader is left wondering if there was a way to avoid such frivolity for the benefit of the nation.


Campbell’s book ties Eisenhower’s military force strategy in nicely with Schelling and Waltz. His ability to manipulate uncertainty through brinksmanship (Schelling) and his seemingly clear understanding of the usefulness of force vs. its usability (Waltz) appear nearly masterful when compared against his success at avoiding war and compared to the next administration’s difficulties deviating from his defense policies. Further, as Campbell illustrates near the beginning of his book, Eisenhower’s views of war and their grounding in Clausewitz appear to bear themselves out in his policies as he didn’t really believe in the possibility of limiting war.

Rosenberg’s article ties in nicely by suggesting the “domestic” results of Eisenhower’s policies as revealed in a “nearly out-of-control” defense establishment bent on conducting and winning total nuclear war and the infighting within the services regarding the roles/missions/capabilities of each of the services.

In the end, both of these articles force the reader to contemplate what might be done to deter an adversary while still maintaining some kind of control on our own defense spending.

Overall impression:

Both of these pieces reveal succinct arguments rooted in facts and well-constructed to highlight problems and results of defense policy. Both are worthy of revisiting if seeking precedent regarding nuclear strategy and defense spending policies/issues.


See above.

Class Notes:

Crux of Craig's argument is in pp. 60-70.

Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.