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Chapter Sixteen A New Military Force In the business of running the federal government Truman faced no more vexing problem than that of organizing a new military force suitable for the postwar years. The easy part of the task-though it was in no sense a task he could accomplish in a few moments, for it took intense negotiations with the generals and admirals and their civilian superiors-was to set up the formal organization. At the end of two years, in the Defense Act of 1947, that work was essentially accomplished. To the traditional services, the US. Army and US. Navy, the act added a third service, the US. Air Force. The third service had become necessary because during World War II the US. Army Air Forces had been autonomous, and it was perfectly clear that air power would playa large role in any future war. The Defense Act placed over the three services the National Military Establishment (NME), the name of which was changed to department of defense in 1949. Presiding over the new department was a secretary of defense, whose importance was visible through removal of service secretaries from cabinet meetings. After the formal changes the president expected great results, and here he was to be sadly disappointed. He expected the services to present unified budget requests that took account of possible duplication of missions. He was much concerned that the services save money by avoiding unessential expenditures . A balanced national budget including a surplus seemed necessary to keep the postwar economy on an even keel, to prevent inflation, and to avoid depressions or recessions, and reasonable defense expenditures would have helped very much to accomplish that important purpose. Instead he found the services fighting over the budget, fighting each other and, of course, the president himself, not caring a whit for unification, each doing what seemed right in its own eyes. He also had to consider the place of nuclear weapons in any future war. He had to decide whether to share knowledge of how to make nuclear weapons with the British government and, more important, with the Soviets; in any 337 338 / Harry S. Truman event, he had to try to obtain an agreement with the USSR to limit or even abolish these weapons. He had to decide whether the American military should have custody of U.S. weapons. In 1949-1950 it fell to him to make the decision to go ahead with the H-bomb. All the while the services busied themselves with plans for using nuclear weapons, which disturbed Truman, for it was a dangerous albeit momentarily pointless exercise. The plans were several years ahead of their time. It is a curious fact that in 1945-1950-with all the talk about presidential decisions on sharing nuclear weapons, limitation, abolition, custody, and the H-bombthe actual weapons available to the military were few; indeed, there were none in 1947 because the new Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) had no technician teams to assemble bomb components. Moreover, until the Korean War the Strategic Air Command was incapable of dropping nuclear weapons anywhere near targets in the Soviet Union. After June 1950, the president and the military services turned to more conventional calculations, such as putting ground forces into Western Europe to protect NATO against Soviet attack. The Korean War called attention to NATO's vulnerability. Moreover, because of that war three times as much money was available as had been in 1945-1950, and that made the assignment of expensive army divisions to the continent, with all of their supporting troops, much easier. 1 The president had counted on the NME to help him reduce the national debt. Compared to the $26 billion debt after World War I, the government's debt after World War II was mountainous: over ten times as much, $280 billion. The president wrote a friend in New York, with whom he enjoyed corresponding about budget problems, that the debt was his "principal worry." He knew the federal budget intimately. The comptroller of the defense department, Wilfred J. McNeil, once related that Truman was "familiar with it, particularly up until the Korean war started. He was quite familiar, even with some of the details in major programs. He had done his homework."l His several budget directors saw him in regular, standing appointments. Webb, with whom he established a considerable rapport, saw him almost every day. With the result, one might add, that Truman was one of the least spendthrifty...


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