National Press Club

Sheehan Describes Start of Cold War

October 13, 2009 | By jJoseph Luchok |

“Without Bernard Schriever we might not be here this evening. We might be irradiated dust,” Pulitzer Prize-winning author Neil Sheehan told a Club audience Oct. 7.

Sheeham's new book, "A Fiery Peace in a Cold War," tells the story of the Cold war from its beginning.

After World War II, as the United States and the Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons, both sides had to decide on a delivery system for the bombs. Sheehan’s book recounts the arguments over a delivery system for the United States. Sheehan said that Gen. Curtis Lemay, who favored the B-52 bombers, and Gen.l Bernard Schriever, who favored the missiles (ICBM), each fought for their system.

Sheehan said that in the beginning the Cold War was pretty hot, and there was a real possibility that nuclear weapons would be used. The Soviets knew they could not match the bomber production of the United States, so they worked on a missile system to deliver their bombs. Schriever thought the Soviets would go the missile route and if they launched missiles the U.S. would have only 15 minutes warning, not enough time to get the bombers into the air. Schriever thought the only way to deter the Soviets was to build a missile delivery system in the United States.

In order to build a missile system, Schriever’s group had to develop an aerospace industry. Sheehan said the United States’ space program grew out of the work on the missile delivery system.

His talk took the audience on tour of the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Players included President Eisenhower, President Kennedy, the Minuteman missile, Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, spies and Schriever’s team.

According to Sheehan, when Schriever won the argument it lead to the creation of a nuclear stalemate which gave the United States time to wear down the Soviet Union.

John Clark of the Book and Author Committee introduced Sheehan.