Marcus Raskin: Nuclear Watchdog

President John F. Kennedy and his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tried to create a nuclear policy more flexible than the initial U.S. policy of massive retaliation. (Photo: AlternateHistory.com)

President John F. Kennedy and his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara tried to create a nuclear policy more flexible than the initial U.S. policy of massive retaliation. (Photo: AlternateHistory.com)

Prior to founding the Institute for Policy Studies along with Richard Barnet, Marcus Raskin was a member of the special staff of the National Security Council in President Kennedy’s administration. I recently re-read Fred Kaplan’s 1983 book, The Wizards of Armageddon, a history of how the Rand Corporation developed and drove U.S. nuclear weapons strategy for decades. In case you’re wondering, yes, there is definitely something wrong with people who can spend their days for years on end contemplating the deaths of tens of millions.

In any event, in 1962 President John F. Kennedy and his Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara were trying to create a nuclear policy more flexible than the initial U.S. policy of massive retaliation. McNamara’s staff produced a memoir showing how a counterforce first strike could be carried out. Kaplan wrote:

Ted Sorensen, the chief White House counsel and speech writer who had been with Kennedy since his earliest Senate days, was outraged when [told] about the study, shouting, “You’re crazy? We shouldn’t let guys like you around here.” Even more appalled was [an NSC staff member] named Marcus Raskin. Raskin had served as foreign policy adviser to a few liberal Democratic Senators and had been hired by Bundy as the token leftist. Raskin was horrified by the very existence of such a study. “How does this make us any better than those who measured the gas ovens or the engineers who built the tracks for the death trains in Nazi Germany?” he hollered at one point.

Apparently neither of them were aware of the extent to which RAND gamed out these scenarios. To actually see it in action was probably just as shocking as massive retaliation. Also this:

By this time, Bundy had given two of his assistants, Cark Kaysen and Marc Raskin, the task of reviewing [a national] civil-defense proposal.

… Raskin was fervently opposed. He thought that a major civil-defense program would require a major federal propaganda effort to get public support, and he worried that such a campaign would engender a “garrison-state” mentality and transform the free and open nature of American democracy into an “authoritarian and regimented” society. He also thought that such a program would appear to the Soviets as a sign of first-strike intentions, thus accelerating the arms race and further heightening the chances of nuclear war. [Emphasis added.]

The highlighted sentence reveals Raskin’s prescience. He viewed civil defense as later arms-control and disarmament advocates viewed missile defense — as a sign that the state implementing it was contemplating a nuclear first strike.