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Mayday: Eisenhower, Khrushchev, and the U-2 Affair Hardcover – March 1, 1988
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From Library Journal
Reflecting the growing revisionist inter est in the Eisenhower presidency, MAYDAY is a comprehensive account of the CIA's U-2 program, which be came public knowledge only after the downing of Francis Gary Powers over Soviet airspace in 1960. Though a bit long, MAYDAY is an engaging, often exciting narrative that relies heavily on manuscript sources and interviews with key survivors of the Eisenhower ad ministration. Beschloss presents a bal anced picture and never fails to weigh the public debacle of the Powers inci dent against the virtual intelligence bo nanza produced by the previous four years of U-2 flights. His portraits of both Khrushchev and Eisenhower are excellent, as are briefer sketches of oth er key figures. A solid work certain to spark further interest in the diplomacy of the Cold War. Suitable for most aca demic and larger public libraries. Jo seph W. Constance, Jr., Georgia State Univ. Lib., Atlanta
Copyright 1986 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Beschloss conducted interviews with Richard Bissell, Ray Cline, Douglas Dillon, John & Milton Eisenhower, Sen. Fulbright, Andy Goodpaster, Richard Helms, and Robert Amory Jr.
President Eisenhower was concerned about the growing political power of the military, and the greed of generals who prospered from the Cold War. He complained, "God help the nation when it has a President who doesn't know as much about the military as I do." Ike wanted the CIA to fly the planes to keep the military from having direct involvement. Generals Twining and LeMay weren't happy about this, feeling that the CIA couldn't handle such an operation.
The father of the program, Richard Bissell, recalled that by 1959 it was bringing back 90% of "our hard intelligence information about the Soviet Union." Ike used this knowledge to assure himself that the Soviets did not have an advantage in missiles and bombers, and therefore the US did not need a giant military buildup. But Ike worried that the constant flyovers would irritate the Russians and perhaps cause a war.
Bissell would later claim that U-2 pilots were "exhorted but not ordered" to kill themselves if they were shot down over Communist territory. Congress knew almost nothing about the U-2 when the shootdown happened; Sen. Fulbright had never even heard of the program. Ike refused to let Congressional leaders in on the secret of the U-2, fearing they "will inevitably spill the beans."
Allen Dulles and Bissell worried that Congress would turn its attention on the CIA. But Ike made it clear that each U-2 flight would occur only with his permission; this disappointed Dulles. U-2s were used during the Suez crisis 9-10/1956 to figure out what the British, French and Israelis were up to. It showed that the French were arming the Israelis, which violated the Tripartite Pact of 1950. After the crisis ended, Dulles and Bissell pushed for more overflights of the USSR, but Ike refused. He finally approved only two shallow penetrations into Soviet airspace 11/1956. Ike grew increasingly reluctant to allow more U-2 overflights, fearing that at the least it could embarrass the US, at most could lead to war. By 8/1958 the U-2 showed the Russians had built only six ICBMs, and were having complications and delays in their missile program. Ike could prove there was no Bomber Gap or Missile Gap, but didn't want to let the Congress or public know about the U-2.
The major conclusion I came to was that it is probable both Eisenhower and Khrushchev wanted a period of at least limited détente. Because of their own miscalculations about each other's behavior, that moment was lost. -Michael Beschloss
In the Spring of 1960, as President Eisenhower neared the end of his successful but uneventful presidency, he devoutly wished to cap off his career with a successful summit with the Soviet Union. Having met with Khrushchev the previous year and established the "Spirit of Camp David", he envisioned forging a sort of détente and entering into some kind of arms treaty, perhaps a test ban, at a May meeting with the Soviet Premier in Paris. But on May 1, 1960--celebrated as May Day in Europe and a holiday of great import in the Soviet Union--American pilot Francis Gary Powers and his U-2 spy plane were shot down over Russian territory. The plane, on it's way from Peshawar, Pakistan to Bodo, Norway, would have been flying at an altitude of about 70,000 feet. Russian SAMs had been steadily improving their range, and the danger of a shootdown was well understood at the highest levels of American government, in fact the President had ordered that he be given the right of final approval for each flight, but in that pre satellite era the spy planes were providing nearly all U.S. intelligence on the state of Russia's military, so Ike concluded that were worth the very high risk. Moreover, the flights were done under CIA command, not the military, pilots had orders to commit suicide if shot down and neither they nor identifiable portions of the planes were expected to survive anyway, so the U.S. expected to maintain deniability. The Eisenhower Administration did in fact initially deny that the U-2 was a spy plane, claiming it was a weather flight that blew off course. In the event, Powers survived and Khrushchev, struggling to hold off "hard-liners" at home, chose to inflate the incident into a major provocation and, although the two sides went ahead with the Paris summit, it quickly degenerated into a diplomatic mess and the opportunity for a reduction in Cold War tensions was lost for a generation.
Michael Beschloss, who is a national treasure as regards study of the presidency, has done a masterful job of reconstructing the events surrounding the U-2 Affair. He really brings the period and it's tensions to life, particularly the internal functioning of the Eisenhower administration. To me, the most significant aspect of the book is Beschloss's argument that it was thanks to the spying of the U-2 that Eisenhower understood how weak the Soviets actually were and that Ike and Khrushchev basically had an implicit understanding that if the Soviet did not make a real effort to upgrade their sorry military capacity, the U.S. would act as if the Soviets posed a threat. This allowed Ike to reign in the Military-Industrial Complex and balance the Federal budget, while at the same time permitting Khrushchev to swagger around the world stage as if the Soviets were our military equals. True or not, this portrait comports with the image which has emerged in recent years of Eisenhower as a much more deft and nuanced leader than was previously understood to be the case.
Since this book was written before the fall of the Soviet Union, it is likely that someone taking a fresh look at the affair, particularly someone with access to Soviet archives, will have much detail to add to the Russian side of the story. But it is hard to imagine someone producing any more readable an account of the whole incident. If I have one reservation with the book, it is that Beschloss does not consider the broader question of whether detente was a good idea in and of itself. Few would any longer argue that the final demise of the Evil Empire came only after they had stretched themselves to the limit. A fuller discussion of what detente might have meant for the internal situation in Russia would have been helpful. I'd be interested to know whether Beschloss thinks it would have weakened Communist control, which I doubt, or enabled them to devote more resources to productive domestic industries and thereby strenthened the regime's long term prospects.
At any rate, it's an excellent book and a really fascinating look at the Eisenhower presidency. This one is most recommended. Unfortunately, it's also out of print, so by all means take advantage of the out of print service above or try your your library, but it's worth tracking down.
The author begins with the development of the U-2 program and its necessity, and then the covert efforts by the CIA to evaluate what capabilities really did exist in the USSR for nuclear war. The level of involvement on the part of President Eisenhower did suprise me a little, especially the way in which the flights before the shootdown were somewhat routine, with Soviet complaints being easily dismissed. It is the shootdown, and the results both immediate and long-term, that dominate the majority of the book.
The timing could nothave been worse- it was the last scheduled flight before a summit between the two superpowers, and Khruschev was at the Moscow U.S. Embassy for an Independence Day celebration as the shootdown unfolded. The repercussions were potentially enormous, as the U.S. lost prestige, leverage, and the ability to continue to operate the program once it came to light.
Beschloss writes very well, and this early effort of his is certainly worth the time it will take to find it and read it.