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• John F. Kennedy
Letter from Senator John F. Kennedy To Col. John T. Carlton, Executive Director, ROA
October 19, 1960

Washington, D.C., October 19, 1960.

Executive Director, Reserve Officers Association,
Washington, D.C.

DEAR COLONEL CARLTON: Thank you for writing to me and requesting a brief statement regarding the chief ways in which I feel we must recast our military program and systems during the next years.

Not only must the American people be given the facts about our declining relative strength, but the next President must do everything he can to reverse this trend. Our security and that of the free world depends upon our facing up to the Communist challenge and taking prompt action to increase the strength of our country in every possible respect.

It is no secret that our defense effort has lagged in recent years. The Killian report, the Gaither report, and the Rockefeller Brothers report, all stressed the importance of greater progress. Robert A. Lovett, a former Secretary of Defense, summed up the matter: "We are doing something short of our best."

Something short of our best is not good enough.

Three steps should be taken iminediately.

First, we must reduce the vulnerability of our retaliatory power during the deterrent gap. For the present we can provide an adequate nuclear deterrent by enabling SAC to fly an airborne alert whenever, and for as long as, the President deems necessary. This may require somewhat more money for the planes, for the spare parts and for trained personnel. It requires pressing the development of every means of making SAC capable of penetrating Soviet defenses. It means accelerating the development of the ballistic missile early warning system. We could be aided quickly by the dispersal of SAC aircraft. We must take the steps necessary to prevent further delay in the construction of Atlas bases.

Second, we must, at forced draft, provide ourselves with the new missile systems - Polaris submarines and the solid fuel Minuteman missiles. These missiles would be difficult or impossible to destroy. The length of the deterrent gap will be completely closed when enough of them are operational. In the case of Polaris, the problem is mainly one of money, management, and production. In the case of Minuteman, there are development problems that deserve increased technical effort. Both programs should have a round-the-clock, top national priority. We should be prepared to pay whatever this costs.

Third, our forces for carrying on limited warfare with conventional weapons must be modernized and given adequate mobility. We cannot afford to get into a position where Soviet aggression on a limited scale with conventional weapons forces us to choose between retreat and starting nuclear warfare. We would face fewer threats if we were prepared to meet force with force in the event of this kind of aggression. To achieve this capability we must modernize the Army and Navy. Not only by giving it new weapons, but by forming commands suited to modern warfare. We must provide a modern and expanded airlift and sea transport sufficient to back up initial airborne forces.

Fourth, we must organize the Defense Establishment in order to revive the capacity for decision. There are too many committees and layers of negative authority to permit the rapid exploitation of breakthroughs in weapons technology.

Our purpose is not war but peace - peace and security. We will never abandon the high hope of successful negotiations for arms control backed by a tight system of inspection, but we know that there can be no fruitful negotiations unless we have built up our own military power. Let us remember what Gibbon said of the Romans:

They kept the peace - by a constant preparation for war; and by making clear to their neighbors that they were as little disposed to offer as to endure injury.
The Reserve Officers Association of the United States has always taken an active and effective role in helping our Nation to chart new courses of military policy. Your organization and your membership provide one of the important sources of experience and practical wisdom on the difficult decisions which we must make in the months ahead.

With every good wish, I am,



Citation: John F. Kennedy: "Letter from Senator John F. Kennedy To Col. John T. Carlton, Executive Director, ROA", October 19, 1960. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project.
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