Heather Purcell

Recent Articles

Did the U.S. Military Plan a Nuclear First Strike for 1963?

Recently declassified information shows that the military presented President Kennedy with a plan for a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union in the early 1960s.

During the early 1960s the intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) introduced the world to the possibility of instant total war. Thirty years later, no nation has yet fired any nuclear missile at a real target. Orthodox history holds that a succession of defensive nuclear doctrines and strategies -- from "massive retaliation" to "mutual assured destruction" -- worked, almost seamlessly, to deter Soviet aggression against the United States and to prevent the use of nuclear weapons. The possibility of U.S. aggression in nuclear conflict is seldom considered. And why should it be? Virtually nothing in the public record suggests that high U.S. authorities ever contemplated a first strike against the Soviet Union, except in response to a Soviet invasion of Western Europe, or that they doubted the deterrent power of Soviet nuclear forces. The main documented exception was the Air Force Chief of Staff in the early 1960s, Curtis LeMay, a seemingly idiosyncratic case. But beginning in 1957...