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Alexander de Seversky

Alexander de Seversky, Russian-born World War I flying ace who served as a consultant to the U.S. government and helped revolutionize aerial warfare in World War II, talks to Wallace about the United States military, the Soviet military, and the possibility of nuclear war.

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Guest: Alexander de Seversky

WALLACE: Good evening. Tonight we go after the story of a military prophet, who warns that unless we junk our present military system, one out of three Americans will be killed in a hydrogen war within three years. He is Major Alexander de Seversky, Russian born air ace, who lost a leg flying in World War I, founded the Republic Aviation Corporation, now lectures in the US War College. And he still flies jet planes.

Major de Seversky, in just a moment I shall ask you why you foresee war within three years and whether you believe it can be prevented. My guest's opinions are not necessarily mine, the station's or my sponsor's. My name is Mike Wallace, the cigarette is Philip Morris.


WALLACE: We'll talk with Major de Seversky in just a moment.


WALLACE: And now to our story. Major Alexander de Seversky has been hailed as a great military strategist by such men as Air Force General Nathan Twining, and former President Harry Truman. A frequent consultant to the government, he helped to revolutionize aerial warfare in World War II. Tonight, as we face a new year that holds uncertain hope and unknown terrors, we'll try to get some positive answers from Major de Seversky.

Major, first of all let me ask you this, recently on Ed Murrow's Person to Person program you said this, you said "Unless we immediately make fundamental changes in our national setup, one out of every three Americans will not be living within three years." Now, that's an alarming prediction, and I'd like to know what you meant.

DE SEVERSKY: Well, this is a product of plain arithmetics: by late 1961 Russians will have a non-alterational intercontinental ballistic missile to blow this nation off the face of the earth by pushing a button. It will have about five times more jet, er... by long-range bombers and air strategic air command. Now, American people will have a choice, unless as I say we make fundamental changes: either submit to tyranny or fight. And American people will fight!

WALLACE: I gather...

DE SEVERSKY: Even if they... Even if they are weaker than the enemy, if they are poorly prepared by our government, they'll fight, and in that case, naturally due to the atomic attack, one out of three Americans would be dead.

WALLACE: Well, of course, we would fight if we were attacked. Are you saying that you expect an attack within the next three years?

DE SEVERSKY: Within next... Yes, er... unless we prepare ourselves. It will match Russia and its ballistic missile effort, it'll match them in an intercontinental bomber effort, and will protect our nation with adequate defense against such attack, we will still maintain a parity, we still will maintain a balance of terror, and in that case, Russia may not attack us for a long time.

WALLACE: Was your phrase, a balance of terror?

DE SEVERSKY: A balance of terror. That's what it is today.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

DE SEVERSKY: But it's not going to be everlasting, because the science makes terrific strides, and the interception of all these missiles and planes become every day more efficient, and very soon will reach the situation where destruction can be caused only at the terrific sacrifice of your own force and will be reached then in another condition which I could call a balance of power.

WALLACE: Well, let's stay with first things first. I gather that you are suggesting that unless we are prepared, you believe Russia will attack; and if we are properly prepared Russia will not attack because of this balance of terror.

DE SEVERSKY: That's right.

WALLACE: Is that correct?


WALLACE: Well now since the first Soviet Sputnik, er... Major, President Eisenhower has called for increased scientific research, more scientists, more engineers; the Caither Report, though still unreleased, has probed our weaknesses, and we hear a good deal about it; the next session of Congress is expected to approve forty billion dollars for national defense. Are you dissatisfied with all that, you feel that we are still not doing enough?

DE SEVERSKY: We certainly do not. With all this, er... measures are all to the good... good, but I don't think it will stave off disaster. We must completely revamp our military setup in Washington because the present military setup was convinced, er... con... er... conceived in 1947, it is product of World War II mentality, it's based on the premises of any other war we are going to fight along the methods of the last war. It's forever congealed the roles and mission of our forces to the same status as they were in the last war.

WALLACE: Major de Seversky...

DE SEVERSKY: Er... I just... I'd like to give you just an example.

WALLACE: Oh, surely.

DE SEVERSKY: By law, the reconnaissance overseas belongs to the Navy. It means that the Navy can bar Air Force from the air over the oceans; and if, by some chance, the airmen of the Air Force will sink the submarine, which again is the explicit prerogative of the Navy by law, he actually can be court-martialed for doing this. If there is a plant in Siberia that manufactures periscopes and propellers and washbasins for submarines, Air Force cannot attack it, that's a Navy target -- only Navy can attack this target. How ridiculous can you get?! That's kind of a law we have in our books. And that's kind of a law...

WALLACE: Wait, wait, wait. There's a law in our books to the effect that the Navy can only attack certain objectives in enemy territory?

DE SEVERSKY: Yes, indeed.

WALLACE: Well, how come...?

DE SEVERSKY: Navy... Navy, has exclusive, er... er... role in submarine warfare. That's why they're building these aircraft carriers; that's why they won't attack Russia because certain targets in Russia exclusively belong to Navy.

WALLACE: Well, certainly, Air Force, Army Air Force, during World War II attacked all kind of targets within Germany?

DE SEVERSKY: Well, that's all right. But we have a new law in the books 1909 to 1947, and this Key West Conference also after that, that conjured to all these visions and there are services.

WALLACE: Major de Seversky, President Eisenhower was first of all a five-star General, a military man, who has made military study his life. Are you suggesting that you, Major Alexander de Seversky, know more than five-star General Dwight Eisenhower, about the military er... program that should be set up for this country?

DE SEVERSKY: I'm sure President Eisenhower will admit that in air matters I know more. You must remember that it takes a lifetime to make a good soldier, it takes a lifetime to get a good sailor, and it takes a lifetime to make a good airman. You have to devote your entire life from your childhood virtually to this art in order to understand it, to be at home with it, and be able to project in advance what is required. And I'm sure General Eisenhower, is not... er... will not claim that he is an expert on this brand new strategy, which is based on new technological facts.

WALLACE: Well, a man that... Well, who in the world... who in the United States is qualified to understand these new technological facts?

DE SEVERSKY: United States Air Force.

WALLACE: Granted... United States Air Force. Only the United States Air Force can understand how properly to defend this country?

DE SEVERSKY: Exactly, because it is an air age, because the war is going to be fought through the air, and there is space above. And that's Air Force the main air power is the king space power, and Air Force has been trained for years to fight that kind of a war.

WALLACE: Major, for a long time you've been champion of the Air Force, and you have called to the attention of the country, over a period of some years, our inadequacies in certain areas, particularly in the air. Now apparently, though, we have something better than planes, we have the ICBM. According to an article in Look Magazine just October 1st, last, quote, "The once all-powerful Air Force is in a fight for its life." The article quotes Air Force Major General John B. Medaris as saying this, quote, "The time has arrived to consider missiles as the most advanced, the most efficient delivery system, which can be predicted." Doesn't it indicate that perhaps even Major Alexander de Seversky is thinking in the past too, and that Major... and that General Eisenhower, President Eisenhower, is in possession of certain facts which you are not in possession of too, and certain understanding?

DE SEVERSKY: I don't think so. In the first place missiles are extension of aeronautical art. The faster you fly, less wind you have, and when you fly really fast at sixteen thousand miles you don't need any wings, you become ballistic missile. General John B. Medaris is very fine man, but he's on the wrong team. He should change his uniform and put on an Air Force... and compete, not with Air Force, but with Kruschev and his people over there. That's why I think that we have to revamp our military defense establishment. In the next war, anything on the surface of the earth will not... will not survive. The Army will have to go under ground, Air Force will have to remain airborne, and Navy has to go under water. They'll get there anyway in case of hostilities, why not to plan it that way and become the submarine force, which is important because the surface navy are finished. They will never survive attack. And...

WALLACE: And there are people...

DE SEVERSKY: I think Admiral Rickover is right.

WALLACE: Admiral Hyman G. Rickover suggests that most of our... I don't want to misquote the gentleman. I heard him talk fairly recently at the Overseas Press Club here in New York, and he suggested that we will have undersea, underwater missile bases that can use the intermediate ballistic missiles, not the intercontinental, but the intermediate ballistic missiles, which can... can be propelled from submarines under water, and which cannot be detected for that reason, and can reach most closely and most effectively the bases of the enemy, much more effectively than the Air Force or the ICBM's, which I believe you are espousing.

DE SEVERSKY: No, it will never be able to get there as effectively: in the first place intermediate range is entirely too short; further, it's funny the way it always works in our favor and not in favor of the enemy. We are told all the time by the same Navy that they are going to take care of their ocean submarines, but by some miracle our submarines will operate undetected. This works the same way, and we must not forget that mostly any day there will be a breakthrough, which water for all practical purposes will be made transparent, the submarine may lose, er... they... the fact of concealment and become just another target; but in the meantime I agree, that's the mission of the Navy. We... Navy has to go under water because the surface navy will never survive. And if I were the President, I think I would make Admiral Rickover Chief of Naval Operation as of tomorrow, because I think he has a proper grasp of what Navy's mission is.

WALLACE: I put this question to you, very earnestly sir: you say if you were President you would make Rickover Chief of Naval Operations. If you were President how would you reorganize the defense of the United States?

DE SEVERSKY: Well, it's very simple, and before I say how, I say the reason why. The Navy are already ninety percent Air Force; it projects... intends to project its power through the air and through space above with planes and missiles. Army abandoning artillery and wants to project its power through the air and space above with planes and missiles. So now we come to the position of three services want to fight the war exactly the same way with the same weapons systems, with the same tactics, so what's next to do?

To combine them and integrate them in one military force of United States because the strategies are already crystal clear. We have... The main contest will be through the air and through the space, and our greatest competitor is USSR and we have integrated, er... er... services, have unity of purpose, a single strategy, so we can get... and concentrate on the job. I know that this cuts through tradition.

WALLACE: Well, what's holding it up? Just the fact that it would cut through tradition...?

DE SEVERSKY: Because tradition...

WALLACE: Is it stupidity? Is it ignorance? Is it self-interest? Is it lack of patriotism? What is it that is holding it up, if what you say is so crystal clear to you, why is it not so crystal clear to men who have been trained in military science for their lifetimes?

DE SEVERSKY: For simple reason. (CLEARS THROAT) That again, under our present setup, the military men are put in an impossible position, and the reorganization cannot come from military men. Reorganization of our armed forces ought to come from the American people, from Congress, from outside, because they themselves cannot... the Chief of United States, the Chief of Staff of the Army, he cannot tell, er... er... in front of his own men... that now, my service's becoming auxiliary because he would lose the respect of his own men. Same thing with the Chief of Naval Activities.

WALLACE: Why would he lose the respect of his own men? If he can... if he can understand what you're saying that we need a truly integrated service, he would... he might... well, I cant believe that...


WALLACE: ...that he would lose the respect of his own men, but he would certainly gain the respect of the country.

DE SEVERSKY: Yes, actually a lot of these people right now, at the top of our military high-ranking are for it, but under the present setup they cannot speak for simple reason, they cannot talk about these things with impunity.

WALLACE: Well, who's against it?

DE SEVERSKY: Because we had, we had the trouble. Now take for example, er... incident with Albert Danfield, which remember when we didn't want to build aircraft carriers, he come out for aircraft carriers. Now, his case was wrong I admit but, nevertheless, he spoke and said what he believed, and he's been thrown out from the position as Chief of Staff, right, er... as the Chief of Naval Operation immediately.

WALLACE: I gather that you feel that the United States is probably in the gravest crisis in its history.

DE SEVERSKY: B... b... but, definitely.

WALLACE: Well, still the Administration expresses confidence. Earlier this, er... just this month, Vice President Nixon said, quote in United States News and World Report, "Militarily the United States and the free world overall are stronger than any potential aggressor." I gather you disagree with it?

DE SEVERSKY: I definitely disagree. The only way we are stronger, I think, as of the moment, in efficiency of our strategic Air Command. But this again, it's not going to last for long because we are building only very few of these aeroplanes; and according to information received we are going to have something like thirty-three squadrons, fifteen aeroplanes each, which means about four hundred and fifty bombers.

WALLACE: Uh-huh.

DE SEVERSKY: But I... according to information was submitted to Symington and according to information I was able to gather, the enemy by 1960 is going to have about four or five times as many bombers. So, regardless how wonderful our skills in Strategic Air Command, these skills can overcome by mass and it is unjust for this wonderful, dedicated man to send them into battle with such terrific disadvantage.

WALLACE: All right. You say first of all we need an integrated service?

DE SERVERSKY: Absolutely.

WALLACE: That will be, I gather, about ninety percent air service -- missile service.

DE SEVERSKY: Exactly! Is going to be primarily the Department of Air; we are going to have the Bureau of Ships, Bureau of Ground Forces. But there's some things we can do immediately, for example, er... administratively. For example, the... all the defensive forces that employ planes and missiles ought to be under single command, under Strategic Air Command, even the aircraft carriers, and even submarines. All defensive forces supposed to strike at the enemy ought to be under single command because we have to have a unified command that war has to be fought with precision of split seconds.

WALLACE: I still don't understand. If it's so crystal clear to you, and you suggest that even some people in the service in positions of command, feel this way, what is holding this up? Why does this not happen, if it is...?

DE SEVERSKY: You know why?


DE SEVERSKY: I tell you why. Because in our republic nothing of that sort can happen until people, and unless people, are informed. Only through debate of the question like this can we arrive at the right decision. And for twenty years American people kept ignorant, and are being kept ignorant, on the subject of national defense both by Democrats and by Republicans.

WALLACE: What... who is keeping them ignorant, and for what reason?

DE SEVERSKY: One administration after another.


DE SEVERSKY: For a simple reason, today for example they are more interested to... to elect Republican Congress next week. That's why they started to dismember our aviation industry, our missile industry, dismember our engineering and scientific teams, because they wanted to cut down expenses, cut down the taxes, and sell American people bill of goods and elect Republican Congress next... next week.

WALLACE: That's a very serious accusation.

DE SEVERSKY: But, I cannot, I... I...

WALLACE: But, what you are suggesting, what you are really saying is, that for the simple purpose of getting reelected the Administration is being less than honest about the defense of the United States, and, I can't believe that.

DE SEVERSKY: But listen, I can give you some quotation on this thing, on this fact, if I properly remember. I remember, after Russia exploded, er... atomic bomb ahead of time, Korean War showed that Russia has all kinds of jets and aircrafts, which we thought Russia doesn't have. Admiral Radford stated in Washington before the Press Club that he's against any fundamental changes; and if such changes will come, they'll come gradually through process of evolution. I attacked his statement right then and there, and I said the trouble with his philosophy is that while we evolve at leisure enemy can overtake us and destroy us.

Well, enemy has already overtaken us. And look at Mr. Wilson, after that Russia exploded hydrogen bomb six months ahead of United States, overtaking us in production of our intercontinental bombers, put in production ballistic missiles, and was unaware of intercontinental missile, and the last year Mr. Wilson, commenting on 1957 budget said, "Nothing happened in the past year for us to change our concept, and our national defense."

Now do you... and he has this information, from the... our department of intelligence, Central Intelligence Department. I leave it to them, whether they are silly, shortsighted, or they are playing ball with the Party. They have to choose, to choose themselves, the category where they belong.

WALLACE: You believe that, unless we really arm ourselves to the teeth and do it quickly, Russia will take advantage of our weakness and attack us?

DE SEVERSKY: Definitely. And first thing...

WALLACE: Tell me this...

DE SEVERSKY: ...the Administration must do, is to tell the truth to American people exactly where we stand. American people can only go and work as a... a nation, only when they understand the problem, and we have a lot of unhealthy undertones. Now for example, Mr. Dulles the other day said that we might have to forfeit some of our marginal liberties, er... and some people chide us for high standards of living, for our two-toned convertibles; well, I'll tell you something, that unless we show the world that we can be invincibly strong, and yet maintain our high standards of living from which our very strength flows, we're never going to sell to the world the freedom and our way of life.

WALLACE: And you think we can have both guns and butter?

DE SEVERSKY: We can, and we must, and that is the only way we can take the upper hand over communism. If we reduce the American people to the standard of Russian peasant and Chinese coolie, what do we have to sell to the world?

WALLACE: Major, we've been talking almost exclusively about war. In a moment I'd like to talk to you, if I may, about peace, and by peace I don't mean suppressed hostility but the kind of peace that we like to think about at this period of the year. You, I believe, are pessimistic about it because you told our reporter earlier this week, you said, "Force is the final arbiter in this world; everything changes except human nature. We are still savages." In a moment I'd like to ask you what you mean by that. We'll go after the answer to that question in just sixty seconds.


WALLACE: Now then Major, you said it last week, on the day before Christmas. You said, "Force is the final arbiter in this world; everything changes except human nature We are still savages," and you've said similar things in the past. What do you mean?

DE SEVERSKY: Well, I do mean that this world, er... with the modern communication... transportation became too small, and two diametrically opposing ideologies can no longer exist. One or another will have to perish from this earth. It will perish either through virility of one or another ideology, or if that will not take place then military shutdown is inevitable. So, while we ought to strive for peace by, (CLEARS THROAT) as I say, by imparting our way of life to the people of the world and, as I say, show them that we can be strong because the force is the still final arbiter and yet also retain our high standards of living, I think that the showdown is absolutely inevitable.

WALLACE: It will probably take instead of one shift a day, three shifts of work a day...

DE SEVERSKY: We have to...

WALLACE: ...three eight-hour shifts just to keep both guns and butter...

DE SEVERSKY: That's it. Now, for example, our Strategic Air Force Command planes ought to be produced, not what we produce on seven-day three shifts. You see, Russian's and our scientific analogies are the same. The only difference, they work seven days a week three shifts, we work only five days a week. So naturally they've overtaken us.

WALLACE: Major, the Canadian statesman Lester Pearson had this in mind, I think, when he won the Nobel Peace Prize this year and said this, "The grim fact is that we prepare for war like precocious giants and for peace like retarded pigmies." He said, "Our policy and diplomacy is becoming as rigid and defensive as the trench warfare of forty years ago, when two sides dug in, dug deeper, and lived in their trenches. It's essential that we avoid this kind of dangerous stalemate. The time has come," he said, "for us to make a move not only from strength but from wisdom." Doesn't that seem to make perhaps more sense than the sabre rattling which you advocate?

DE SEVERSKY: It sounds wonderful, I wish it could be true; but as I say it again, the human nature as it is, we ought to strive for this ideological solution of our troubles, but I am afraid not in our generation, and we must be prepared for the worst. And to be prepared again, I said, in our republic American people ought to have the truth, and that's why I think the Caither Report ought to be released immediately so American people know exactly where they stand, and you will see fireworks when the Congress will assemble.

WALLACE: One final question sir, and just a yes or a no. Do you think the free western world can survive against Soviet communism or communism in general?

DE SEVERSKY: Yes. I definitely believe it can, because as I say, we again... we're still the greatest industrial group of peoples in the world. The United States is the greatest industrial nation on earth; we still have more scientists and engineers than the USSR. If we put our house in order, if we know the problem at hand, we will again... we will get the upper hand, and our way of life will not perish from this Earth I am sure.

WALLACE: Thank you very much Major for spending this half hour.

Tonight we've heard some straight-forward talk from one of the world's leading military analysts, Major Alexander de Seversky. He presents the opinion of one man; he speaks, however, for a significant and widely held point of view. For that reason, his words merit our sober consideration. In a moment I'll bring you a rundown on next week's guest, a young actress whose career hangs in the balance with her controversial new motion picture.


WALLACE: Next week we go after a Hollywood Cinderella story that doesn't have a happy ending yet. Our guest will be Jean Seberg, the nineteen-year-old girl who was plucked from a small Iowa town last year to star in her first film, St. Joan, and was roundly panned by the critics. Now Miss Seberg is taking her career under a new film, Bonjour Tristesse, the story of an immoral French school girl. If you are curious to know what sudden fame and fortune do to a young actress, how they change her values, her goals, and her friends, we'll go after those stories next week. Till then, for Philip Morris, Mike Wallace, good night.