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General George Kenney

Retired Air Force General George Kenney talks to Wallace about the Soviet Earth Satellite, Sputnik, which had recently launched, and why he believed it would bring the nation very close to a third world war.

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Guest: General George Kenney
October 12, 1957

WALLACE: Good evening. What you're about to witness is a an unrehearsed, uncensored interview. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: Tonight we had planned to interview one of the great fighters of our time, Sugar Ray Robinson. But because of the alarming turn in world events this week, Sugar Ray has consented to a postponement of his interview so that tonight we can go after the story of the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for control of outer space. Our guest will be one of the great Air Force generals of the second World War, George Kenney, Douglas McArthur's Air Force boss in the Pacific. And we'll try to find out why General Kenney believes that the Soviet earth satellite brings us very close to a third world war. My guests' opinions are not necessarily mine, this station's, or my sponsor's Phillip Morris Incorporated but whether you agree or disagree, we feel that none will deny the right of these views to be broadcast, and we'll talk with General Kenney in just a moment.


WALLACE: And now to our story. Ostensibly, for security reasons, our military leaders have kept more or less mum about the Soviet earth satellite, the most important advance in science since the atomic bomb. Therefore, for tonight's interview, we have chosen retired Air Force General George Kenney, because of his reputation as a fearless military analyst. His World War II commander, General Douglas MacArthur, told us yesterday "General Kenney has no superior as an air commander. His creative imagination and his brilliant leadership mark him one of the unique figures in aviation. General Kenney, first let me ask you this, there seems to be a big question in the minds of most of us as to just how serious a threat the Soviet earth satellite is to our national security. Last Wednesday President Eisenhower said it did not raise his apprehensions not one iota. What is your reaction to the President's reactions?

KENNEY: Well I hated to hear that reaction because I think that it should raise the blood pressure of an awful lot of people, especially those people that are concerned with the defense of this country.

WALLACE: Well, what is the significance of the Soviet satellite? Why should we worry about the fact that the Soviet Union has beaten us by a few months in launching a satellite, something, a Sputnik that goes around the world?

KENNEY: The weapon that we're all after — and when I say all, I mean ourselves and the Russians, is the Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and the job of an inter — of — in making an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile is to get enough power back of that package so that you can drive it across the ocean. If you can shove this satellite up to five hundred and sixty miles, you have enough power back of that thing to drive it across the ocean so that they have the — the propulsion that is necessary to shove and Intercontinental Ballistic Missile.

WALLACE: But the satellite itself is not what worries you but the power that was able to put the satellite up there in the air.

KENNEY: Now that confirms what Khrushchev said some time ago. That they then had — oh I guess that was about a month ago, he claimed that the Russians had an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile and about a week later he said that there was no place on earth that was now safe from any — from a Russian missile.

WALLACE: Nikita Khrushchev said just this week — he said "It must be realized in the West that the Soviet Union is no longer a peasant country. It is dangerous to take this view." Do you think that this dangerous view that the Soviet Union is a peasant backward country may be partly responsible for our being caught napping?

KENNEY: Oh, I think we've been too complacent and too apathetic about the Russian ability to make weapons and produce them in quantity, now — oh ever since the end of World War II. You remember that people said they wouldn't make an atomic bomb for another fifteen years, well it was only about three years later that they made one.

WALLACE: Earl — earlier this week, General Kenney, I talked with a high ranking Air Force General who knows you quite well and he told me that in the past one of your favorite phrases was, quote "the Russians don't know the difference between borscht and lubricating oil" General Kenney. Now could it be that you sir have been guilty too of underestimating the Russians?

KENNEY: I don't remember saying that but if I did it's about time that I woke up and got up to date.

WALLACE: Uh ... Let's us say that the Soviet Union is somewhat ahead of us in rocket power but still I gather from what you say that your — that you fell that we may be in grave danger of attack. Now why should we be in this danger when we have the H bomb? President Eisenhower said back in 1954, General Kenney — he said "the Soviet Union faces no greater deterrent to war quote "than the retaliation that would certainly be visited upon them if they were to attack any of our nations or any part of our vital interests" end quote from President Eisenhower in 1954.

KENNEY: I think in 1954 that was a good statement but since 1954 they've had about three years to make some more hydrogen bombs and right now they have — they have a lot of hydrogen bombs as well as atomic bombs. Their stock pile is a good size stock pile. The only thing that they lack ... uh ... and I'm convinced they lack it or else they'd use this thing, is the means of delivery of those hydrogen bombs. They're building a — an — a good long range bomber right now, the Bison which is as good as our B-52 and when they get enough of them, then we'll have something else to worry about.

WALLACE: In other words, you believe that the Russians intend to attack us?

KENNEY: I think that the day that the political and military staffs get together in the Kremlin and talk this thing over and decide that they can win, they'll pull the trigger.

WALLACE: You genuinely believe that they're out to beat us to the ground — to knock us senseless?

KENNEY: All you have to do is to read their bible which is Lenin's "Selected Works' and you'll find that thing confirmed all the way through. And remember that still is their bible. They're still following the sacred teaching of Marx and Lenin. Khrushchev reiterates that point every time he makes a speech.

WALLACE: Well I know that you have no crystal ball General but how soon — how soon do you think, do you imagine that this might — that they might be ready to come after us?

KENNEY: They — a lot depends on the production of their airplanes; it depends on whether or not some new means of interception is developed, something that might scare them from an attack because they might be afraid they'd lose all their airplanes. But in a few years and by a few years, I don't mean getting up as far as ten, I'd say it's under five, they ought to have enough bombers to lug those hydrogen bombs across here.

WALLACE: Well, why do they need the bombers if they have the — if they have the rocket power to shove a satellite up five hundred and sixty miles. Why can't they send the H-bomb that way?

KENNEY: Well the — there's a little period that has to elapse between making one and getting into production. When you — when you shove up one of these things, you're not ready for production, turning out these things by the thousands.

WALLACE: Of course it could be, Sir, that you're painting too bleak a picture. Way back in 1950, May 1st, 1950, the Associated Press reported you as follows: AP said "Air Force General George Kenney said today he believed war with Russia was coming. He declared Russian leaders probably have gone so far as to set a year for the attack" end quote. Seven years have passed since then without a war with Russia. Is it possible that you're looking for skeletons under the bed, if I may mix a metaphor?

KENNEY: I think that prediction was justified then because remember at that time nobody had an H-bomb. As soon as the H-bomb came into the picture, which was a couple years later, the A-bomb was out of date, it was just the same as trying to declare war against somebody that had just invented the machine gun when you had a lot of very good bows and arrows so that if there was a date set and if at that time they did have enough A-bombs to start something, they immediately had to change their plans and get into production of the H-bomb.

WALLACE: Well, tell me this, Sir, what would you think of preventive war, of our attacking Russia before theoretically she attacks us first?

KENNEY: No, you can't sell a preventive war, whether anybody believed it or not, you can't — you couldn't sell it.

WALLACE: I'm not asking whether you can sell it, I'm asking whether you, George Kenney believes in preventive war?

KENNEY: No, I believe more in the same theory that kept a lot of this country straightened out several years ago when the sheriff didn't shoot the bandit as soon as he saw him. He notified him that he had so much time to get out of town, an hour or two, and if the bandit didn't want to get out of town and started reaching for his gun, the sheriff beat him to the draw. I think that what we've got to do is to — is to rationalize this thing to the point where we are ready to beat them to the draw but they take the first act in that case —

WALLACE: Well I know but — but is there any possibility of retaliation if they were to take the first act? Let's say that they were to send up their bombers or send via a rocket power or as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile a hydrogen bomb, isn't it perfectly possible that they could destroy us before we could get up off our backs to defend ourselves or to destroy us to such an extent that we would be to all intents and purposes out of business?

KENNEY: If this crisis waits until the Russians get oh say a thousand of these Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with hydrogen heads in them, and we haven't found some way of countering that thing, intercepting it and destroying it before it gets here, then an opening attack would destroy us. We'd be out of business, there wouldn't be any retaliation because we'd have a hundred million dead people in this country and you don't retaliate when you're dead.

WALLACE: Well, that's — that's the point. Mind you, I'm not — I'm not espousing preventative war but I'm just talking about it if you will, philosophically now. Under those circumstances, if it's just a question of two men in a room both armed with deadly weapons and one is going to get to the other as soon as he feels that he's ready, then isn't it just plain good common sense to go after them before they come after us?

KENNEY: No, it'd be very much like if you challenged me to a duel and I said alright I have the conditions so we'll both sit in a — in a grave that is six feet long and two feet wide and six feet deep and each have our loaded pistol and then each fire when somebody counts three. Well you know very well that you wouldn't fight a duel under those circumstances, neither would I so that we've got to get in the same position that we are so that if they push a button or a lot of buttons, we've got to be ready to push us some buttons and we aren't in that shape now and we've got to do something about it.

WALLACE: And that's enough of the questions. Why do you feel — why are we behind the Soviet Union in the race for earth satellites, rocket power, defensive or if necessary offensive strength?

KENNEY: Well, because we've neglected the problem. We didn't take this Intercontinental Missile or Intermediate Missile or any rocket driven missile very seriously. For several years after World War II was over and even today we've cut appropriations. This last budget cut appropriations on development of the guided missiles. Now this — we've let this thing go to the point where now it's an emergency situation and I hope that the advent of the satellite Sputnik has scared people or worried people enough so that we'll have some emergency appropriations and get ourselves back in the groove.

WALLACE: What — what I don't understand is this. Certainly you're not accusing or suggesting bad faith, lack of patriotism, stupidity or perhaps you are, of certain people who have been responsible for our defense and potential offense over the years supposedly, specifically in your mind who are responsible, what men are responsible for the fact that the United States is laggard?

KENNEY: The people of the United States. The people of the United States are the bosses of this country. They elect their Congressmen and the Congressmen will carry out the wishes of the people. They elect everybody from the President all the way up. If the people of this country really want defense they can have it. All they've got to do is demand it. That is that the feeling in Washington is that they wanted the budget balanced, want taxes reduced, they want bigger Social Security benefits, more pensions, better roads and all kind of things.

WALLACE: Well, you know as well as I do, Sir, however, that leadership is what is important. I'd like to ask you, quite seriously, and I hope you will not evade me, about some certain men. I would like your opinion, I'd like your opinion of Charlie Wilson as our Secretary of Defense, the man who has just left the job.

KENNEY: I think that he did a — a — pretty fair job there, but I think his estimate of the situation was wrong. Whether he was given a good estimate of the situation, I don't know, but assuming he was given all the information that was available, I think that his final conclusions were wrong on the necessity for spending some money on national defense.

WALLACE: And you're glad he's out of there?

KENNEY: Well, I don't know. I expect his successor will carry on his policies for a while, maybe he'll change his mind. The news out of Washington indicates in the last two or three days that they are going to do some emergency work on this thing.

WALLACE: When you say that a — "The information that he's been given, either he hasn't been given sufficient or correct information or else he's acted upon it incorrectly." Who was responsible for giving him the information, which would lead him to — to act, is it the Pentagon?

KENNEY: Oh there are all kinds of sources of information, Army and Navy and Air Force, all have sources of information, and then there is the Combined Intelligence Outfit.

WALLACE: There was an Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development who resigned back in February 3, 1956, Trevord Gardner, he resigned in disappointment of the way the Guided Missile program was being handled. Do you know this man?

KENNEY: I know of him. I've met him, I don't know him intimately, but I know the story.

WALLACE: Do you think that he was right in resigning?

KENNEY: Yes. He didn't agree with the department — so he resigned.

WALLACE: And you think that probably he was right and Wilson was wrong in this particular...

KENNEY: I think he was right.

WALLACE: Colonel John Nickerson who is senior officer at the Ballistic Missile Agency of the Redstone Arsenal, believed that the Army was doing a better job than the Air Force, and as a result, I gather, I hope I say this properly, leaked certain documents with a view to seeing that the Army had a chance to continue with their guided missile development, and a — he was in a sense anyway, broken. Are you sympathetic with Nickerson or...

KENNEY: No, not a bit.

WALLACE: Why not?

KENNEY: Because I don't agree that the army project was as good as the a — as the other, the Air Force Missile.

WALLACE: This couldn't just be old school tie, being and Air Force man?

KENNEY: No, I think I can look at the problem objectively.

WALLACE: In your opinion, General Kenney, how does this Soviet victory reflect on President Eisenhower? For instance columnist John O'Donnell, in the New York Daily News, wrote the following just a few days ago on October 9th. He said, "The national illusion of Eisenhower, as a great military leader, has gone down the political drain since the world learned that the Russians had beaten this nation to the punch with their earth satellite." How do you feel about that charge?

KENNEY: Oh, I don't think that makes too much sense. He still is an ex-military leader, he still knows as much as he did when he was running the show in Europe. He doesn't have to be an expert on guided missiles, and he might very easily have made a wrong estimate on the threat of the Russian missile.

WALLACE: You seem unwilling to fix the blame, and it is not our function here tonight to fix the blame and point the finger at anybody in particular. Do you say the blame is really — belongs with the American people?

KENNEY: I think so.

WALLACE: But sensibly doesn't the blame belong with the American people's leaders who are their elected representatives?

KENNEY: You're asking for a man on horseback in the White House. We've never had them.

WALLACE: I'm asking or — I'm not asking for anybody, I'm suggesting that our leadership has perhaps a — obscured from the American people, the seriousness of the situation, perhaps even obscured it from themselves and as a result we are in second place.

KENNEY: No, I don't think so. I think that all of the information has been in the newspapers from time to time, and the American people just haven't paid any attention to it.

WALLACE: Well, how, how now do the American people make their point of view felt?

KENNEY: I imagine there have been plenty of Congressmen that have gotten lots and lots of wires and postcards and telegrams and letters, and I hope they keep on getting them.

WALLACE: Time Magazine, October 14th, quotes Senator Styles Bridges as follows: Senator Bridges said, "The time has clearly come to be less concerned with the depth of pile on the new broadloom or the height of the tail fin on the new car and to be more prepared to shed blood sweat and tears. I gather you agree sir?

KENNEY: I certainly do. People don't like this guns or butter slogan, but it might not be a bad idea for us to think about the guns for awhile.

WALLACE: How about making things better, easier, more attractive for scientists

KENNEY: Well I don't know any reason why the scientists have anything to kick about. They've been treated all right.

WALLACE: The story goes that Secretary Wilson was not particularly interested in basic research and basic research is what led to the development for instance of the atom bomb. He was more interested in the production right now than in — than in going to the books and — and developing material which will lead to new and interesting developments in science which can be used eventually for defense or offense.

KENNEY: Well, I think there is some justification for that statement. I think he was interested in production more than research. That was his nature, he had been brought up doing that all his life.

WALLACE: What do you think about the government's making unavailable the work of Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer? They didn't say that he was disloyal but they said that possibly he was a poor security risk and as a result that one of the men most responsible for the development of the atom bomb was cut off from any possibility of working on defense ...ah... efforts.

KENNEY: Well, they had plenty of other scientists to pick up the work, and if there was the slightest question in regard to Oppenheimer or any other scientist, there was no necessity for fooling around with them. No the — the scientist that is kicking about this may be kicking because he has a guilty conscience. I know quite a lot of these scientists, and I don't get any kicks out of them.

WALLACE: I don't understand what you mean sir.

KENNEY: Well, the scientist that is complaining, I'm afraid, may have a guilty conscience back of his complaints.

WALLACE: General Kenney, in just a moment I'd like to ask you about your views on what the United Nations should do about Russia, views for which I am told the Soviet government newspaper Isvestia called you a "high ranking lunatic", and we'll get those views on the United Nations from General Kenney in just 60 seconds.


WALLACE: Now then, General Kenney, earlier this year the Soviet government newspaper Isvestia said that you were a "high ranking lunatic" adding, "Most lunatics are harmless but Kenney is a violent and dangerous lunatic who should be placed in a straight jacket because that's all that science can do for George Kenney at the present stage of its development." I understand that this stems from your idea of what the UN should do about Soviet Russia. What do you think it should do about Soviet Russia?

KENNEY: Well, that statement by Isvestia was made right after I made a speech in Chicago in which I offered a plan that was a possible solution to the mess that we're in, and in this I advocated that the United Free Nations get together and throw all the dictators out of the United Nations and as they went out through the door, tell them that they were through, and call for their resignation, immediate disarmament and that all of this — and free elections to be held, and that the free elections and the disarmament would be supervised by the United Nations teams, who would be sent into those countries.

WALLACE: Isn't this a naïve suggestion on your part, General Kenney, and you don't seem like a naïve man?

KENNEY: No, no I don't think it quite so naïve. Ah — it's a difficult thing to get the United Nations — the so called free nations —

WALLACE: Well isn't that going to be invasion — aren't we going — if you suggest sending inspection teams, let's say into Soviet Russia —

KENNEY: Yeah —

WALLACE: How in the world are we going to suggest they're going to let us in — we're going to fight our way in.

KENNEY: If they don't let them in, then they have declared war against the free world.

WALLACE: Throw the Soviet Union and various other —

KENNEY: Out of the United Nations — they don't belong in the United Nations — they haven't lived up to the charter from the very start, and it's about time they were expelled and then the a — well, you might call it an ultimatum, it's the same ultimatum, that the cop gives to the crook that is holed up in a warehouse when he says "Come on out with your hands up." If the crook wants to come out shooting, the cop shoots it out with him.

WALLACE: I see, in a way — in a sense that is kind of preventive war with a — with a twist, isn't it possible via at the same time that our inspection teams were starting to into Soviet Russia, their planes would be coming on over a — to hit us?

KENNEY: I'd notify them if those inspection teams were going in accompanied by fighters and bombers.

WALLACE: Well, now, even if the — U.S. let's say were to go along with this plan, do you think that countries like India, Great Britain, France would go along with us?

KENNEY: Well, in this — in this speech that I made, I said this would be the difficult job to get these nations to band together even for their own self preservation, but that simply because it was a difficult job was no reason for not trying it.

WALLACE: General Kenney, you retired from the Air Force several years ago. How come you haven't taken an executive job in private industry, where your influence would be valuable? Let's say an air craft company or an outfit that worked with guided missiles.

KENNEY: No, I wouldn't belong in that because any company that hired me would expect me to be down in Washington to help them to sell their stuff and a — I couldn't do that if one of the competitors of the company that I was working for had a better missile or a better engine or a better airplane.

WALLACE: You suggest that a — some top brass works for other air craft companies other defense companies — are you suggesting that they do less than the best thing for the country?

KENNEY: No, no it's just an idiosyncrasy that I have. I don't blame anybody else for not being a — the way that I was.

WALLACE: And you work with the Arthritis Foundation instead?


WALLACE: What do you know about arthritis?

KENNEY: A surprising amount for a non-medical person. I know enough to listen to the — a — lectures, the papers that are presented and understand what it's all about and a — talk intelligently or rather listen intelligently to a lot of these doctors when they discuss the problem.

WALLACE: And right now you are at the beginning of your fund raising campaign for the Arthritis Foundation?

KENNEY: Yeah — we start the first of November on our annual campaign.

WALLACE: General Kenney, I thank you for coming and talking to us tonight, I'm sorry we don't have more time, sir.

KENNEY: I wish we did.

WALLACE: The full significance of the Soviet Earth Satellite now whirling above us is a matter of conjecture and President Eisenhower has said he is not alarmed, General George Kenney, disagrees with the president, the purpose of this interview has been to throw some light on the minority point of view held by the general, so that Americans may consider and make up their minds. I'll bring you a run down on next week's interview the first lady of television in just thirty seconds.


WALLACE: Next week we go after the story of woman who has earned the title of the First Lady of Television, you see her behind me, she's Arlene Francis, a mother, a housewife, genuinely, as well as a seasoned "pro" in the mercurial business of television. If you're curious to know what Arlene Francis really thinks about television, about censorship and security, about ratings and sponsors, about working women and the so called man's world, we'll go after these stories next week. Until then for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night.