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AFGSC Continues Legacy of Deterrence

"We're going to bomb them back into the Stone Age." Gen. Curtis E. LeMay,  Air Force Chief of Staff in 1965, retired that same year and died Oct. 3, 1990.

Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, Air Force Chief of Staff in 1965, retired that same year and died Oct. 3, 1990.

Gen Curtis LeMay

Gen Curtis LeMay

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. -- Fifty years ago this week, the world watched and waited for thirteen days as the U.S. and the Soviet Union seemed on the brink of nuclear war during what came to be known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

In 1962, the Soviet Union began placing strategic missiles in Cuba which could reach the U.S. in less than four minutes. After an American U-2 spy plane secretly photographed nuclear missile sites being built by the Soviet Union on the island in October 1962, President John F. Kennedy met in secret with his advisors to discuss solutions to the problem.

After deciding to place a naval quarantine around Cuba, Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles already there, and the destruction of the missile sites. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev called the quarantine "an act of aggression propelling humankind into the abyss of a world nuclear-missile war."

However, after days of tense negotiations between Kennedy and Khrushchev, the Soviet Union agreed to dismantle and remove their offensive weapons in Cuba and bring them home in exchange for the removal of Jupiter missiles from Turkey and a public declaration never to invade Cuba.

On Dec. 5, 1962, General Curtis LeMay, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff, gave an address to members of the American Ordnance Association, at their annual industrial preparedness meeting.

Air Force Global Strike Command Historians recently obtained an original transcript of LeMay's speech, during which he spoke about the importance of strategic deterrence in support of the President's objectives. The full text of the speech can be found here: https://afpims.dma.mil/shared/media/document/AFD-121024-037.pdf

LeMay told the audience that in response to the President's orders, "Ready forces responded immediately. Mobile, highly-skilled military professionals moved into position under an umbrella of strategic deterrent power. Fortunately, we have superior deterrent forces. The President spoke from a position of strategic power confident we could establish a quarantine without the fear of retaliation that would leave 'ashes in our mouth.' We've talked for many years about the value of deterrence. At Cuba we saw deterrence in action. Our superior strategic delivery capability was not challenged."

LeMay also talked about the lessons learned from the crisis.

"...It seems to me Cuba proved that, short of guaranteed disarmament, there is no substitute for superior strength at the strategic level. The Cuban affair did not get out of hand. There wasn't a shooting war. In practical terms, and given the fact of our superior strategic strength, what point would there have been to heating up that potential conflict?

"You try to slip through the quarantine or fight your way through or even sink a few America warships - but then what? What do you do next if you haven't the power to raise the ante higher than your opponent can call? You don't do anything. Under that kind of protective screen, lesser military actions are possible. But again, in practical terms, how much of this lesser action is possible? Just how many alternate courses of action do you really have in this kind of a situation? The ace of spades in the deterrence deck is clearly superior strategic strength.

"As we move out into the future, we are going to have to do some hard thinking about the lessons of Cuba. Without a doubt, much of that hard thinking will have to center on the subject of modernizing our strategic strength. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: the consequences of losing strategic superiority on the earth stagger the imagination."

As the U.S. remembers the 50th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis this week, the men and women of Air Force Global Strike Command carry on the legacy of strategic deterrence. The more than 23,000 Airmen of the command dedicate themselves every day to developing and providing safe, secure and effective combat ready forces for nuclear deterrence and global strike operations in support of the President of the United States as, in the words of Gen LeMay, "we continue to search for a just and real peace."

General LeMay would be proud.

Editor's Note: Original speech was obtained from the Library of Congress.