After Terminating His Committee, President Lyndon B. Johnson Gives the Man Responsible For Assessing the Damage That a Nuclear War Might Inflict a Polite Farewell

General Leon W. Johnson - a Congressional medal of Honor winner - had prepared the nuclear war reports that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had considered crucial, but LBJ and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara dispensed with altogether

“I join with many others in acknowledging your important contribution over the years to the security of the United States…For the past three years you have served the President and the National Security Council as the leader of a group dealing with the foremost problems of national security. In this...

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After Terminating His Committee, President Lyndon B. Johnson Gives the Man Responsible For Assessing the Damage That a Nuclear War Might Inflict a Polite Farewell

General Leon W. Johnson - a Congressional medal of Honor winner - had prepared the nuclear war reports that Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had considered crucial, but LBJ and his Defense Secretary Robert McNamara dispensed with altogether

“I join with many others in acknowledging your important contribution over the years to the security of the United States…For the past three years you have served the President and the National Security Council as the leader of a group dealing with the foremost problems of national security. In this role you have added to your previous military contributions the important service of providing the President with a clear-sighted, objective, and penetrating analysis of the status of our national defenses.”

Air Force General Leon W. Johnson was one of the first four flying officers of the Eighth Air Force, and in World War II he assumed command of the 44th Bomb Group. He took the group to Africa to assist the Ninth Air Force in the attack on the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania, which had been described by British Prime Minister Winston Churchill as “the taproot of German mechanized power.” For his part in that raid, he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. On his return to England in September 1943, he organized the 14th Combat Wing and commanded it until the end of the war in Europe. In April 1947 he was assigned to Strategic Air Command as commanding general of the Fifteenth Air Force, and provided aircraft used in the Berlin Airlift. Continuing his rise to note, in 1953 he was appointed U.S. Air Force Representative to the United Nations, in addition to his duty as Continental Air Command commander. General Johnson next assumed duties in May 1958 as Air Deputy to the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe.

In 1961 he was named director of the Net Evaluation Subcommittee (NESC) of the National Security Council. The NESC was a small and highly secret organization that prepared annual reports analyzing the net impact of a U.S.-Soviet nuclear exchange, in terms of losses of people, military assets, and industrial resources. For Eisenhower such studies were essential; he came to believe that a U.S.-Soviet military conflict would quickly go nuclear and that as long as winning was what mattered, “one could not be meticulous as to the methods by which the force was brought to bear”. The 1962 report, prepared under Johnson’s auspices, concluded that in the two general war scenarios reviewed the “US strategic military posture would remain superior to that of the Soviet Union.” But the next year Johnson and the NESC reconsidered and found no advantage: “Neither the US nor the USSR can emerge from a full nuclear exchange without suffering very severe damage and high casualties.” That held true even if the United States launched first. Thus, President Kennedy concluded that Moscow and Washington had reached a nuclear stalemate that made any type of victory problematic. He sought and obtained a nuclear test ban treaty. The 1963 report was the last of the NESC’s annual assessments. Perhaps because the studies showed the same terrible consequences year after year, policymakers asked the NESC to look more closely at crisis management issues. A report in late 1963 focused on “The Management and Termination of War with the Soviet Union,” while one the following year examined a military crisis in Western Europe. By early 1965, at the instigation of a turf-conscious Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, the NESC no longer existed. McNamara argued for its abolition on grounds of organizational efficiencies, but a key problem was that the NESC had prepared a report that was not to his liking.

So General Johnson was out of a job, and he resigned from the service, effective April 30, 1965. President Johnson, who supported McNamara’s actions regarding the NESC, gave the General accolades as part of his send-off. Typed letter signed, as President, on White House Washington letterhead, Washington, March 11, 1965, to General Johnson. “On the occasion of your second retirement from active duty, I join with many others in acknowledging your important contribution over the years to the security of the United States. When called back to the service of your country by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, you had already earned our highest military valor, the Congressional Medal of Honor. For the past three years you have served the President and the National Security Council as the leader of a group dealing with the foremost problems of national security. In this role you have added to your previous military contributions the important service of providing the President with a clear-sighted, objective, and penetrating analysis of the status of our national defenses. Your lifetime of service to your country during a critical period in history has been outstanding. On behalf of your countrymen, I express deep appreciation for all you have done.”  Accompanied by the original envelope.

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