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Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev Washington, June 10, 1961. - History

Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman Khrushchev Washington, June 10, 1961. - History

Letter From President Kennedy to Chairman KhrushchevWashington, June 10, 1961..

Dear Mr. Chairman: Many thanks for your kindness in presenting me with a case of beverages during our recent meeting in Vienna./1/ I would also like to express my appreciation to the Soviet Government for the gold cigar chest, caviar and records. For these courtesies I am very grateful.

John F. Kennedy

Draft Letter from President Kennedy to President Diem

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Letter from President Obama to Chairmen Edward M. Kennedy and Max Baucus

The meeting that we held today was very productive and I want to commend you for your leadership -- and the hard work your Committees are doing on health care reform, one of the most urgent and important challenges confronting us as a Nation.

In 2009, health care reform is not a luxury. It's a necessity we cannot defer. Soaring health care costs make our current course unsustainable. It is unsustainable for our families, whose spiraling premiums and out-of-pocket expenses are pushing them into bankruptcy and forcing them to go without the checkups and prescriptions they need. It is unsustainable for businesses, forcing more and more of them to choose between keeping their doors open or covering their workers. And the ever-increasing cost of Medicare and Medicaid are among the main drivers of enormous budget deficits that are threatening our economic future.

In short, the status quo is broken, and pouring money into a broken system only perpetuates its inefficiencies. Doing nothing would only put our entire health care system at risk. Without meaningful reform, one fifth of our economy is projected to be tied up in our health care system in 10 years millions more Americans are expected to go without insurance and outside of what they are receiving for health care, workers are projected to see their take-home pay actually fall over time.

We simply cannot afford to postpone health care reform any longer. This recognition has led an unprecedented coalition to emerge on behalf of reform -- hospitals, physicians, and health insurers, labor and business, Democrats and Republicans. These groups, adversaries in past efforts, are now standing as partners on the same side of this debate.

At this historic juncture, we share the goal of quality, affordable health care for all Americans. But I want to stress that reform cannot mean focusing on expanded coverage alone. Indeed, without a serious, sustained effort to reduce the growth rate of health care costs, affordable health care coverage will remain out of reach. So we must attack the root causes of the inflation in health care. That means promoting the best practices, not simply the most expensive. We should ask why places like the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, and other institutions can offer the highest quality care at costs well below the national norm. We need to learn from their successes and replicate those best practices across our country. That's how we can achieve reform that preserves and strengthens what's best about our health care system, while fixing what is broken.

The plans you are discussing embody my core belief that Americans should have better choices for health insurance, building on the principle that if they like the coverage they have now, they can keep it, while seeing their costs lowered as our reforms take hold. But for those who don't have such options, I agree that we should create a health insurance exchange -- a market where Americans can one-stop shop for a health care plan, compare benefits and prices, and choose the plan that's best for them, in the same way that Members of Congress and their families can. None of these plans should deny coverage on the basis of a preexisting condition, and all of these plans should include an affordable basic benefit package that includes prevention, and protection against catastrophic costs. I strongly believe that Americans should have the choice of a public health insurance option operating alongside private plans. This will give them a better range of choices, make the health care market more competitive, and keep insurance companies honest.

I understand the Committees are moving towards a principle of shared responsibility -- making every American responsible for having health insurance coverage, and asking that employers share in the cost. I share the goal of ending lapses and gaps in coverage that make us less healthy and drive up everyone's costs, and I am open to your ideas on shared responsibility. But I believe if we are going to make people responsible for owning health insurance, we must make health care affordable. If we do end up with a system where people are responsible for their own insurance, we need to provide a hardship waiver to exempt Americans who cannot afford it. In addition, while I believe that employers have a responsibility to support health insurance for their employees, small businesses face a number of special challenges in affording health benefits and should be exempted.

Health care reform must not add to our deficits over the next 10 years -- it must be at least deficit neutral and put America on a path to reducing its deficit over time. To fulfill this promise, I have set aside $635 billion in a health reserve fund as a down payment on reform. This reserve fund includes a number of proposals to cut spending by $309 billion over 10 years --reducing overpayments to Medicare Advantage private insurers strengthening Medicare and Medicaid payment accuracy by cutting waste, fraud and abuse improving care for Medicare patients after hospitalizations and encouraging physicians to form "accountable care organizations" to improve the quality of care for Medicare patients. The reserve fund also includes a proposal to limit the tax rate at which high-income taxpayers can take itemized deductions to 28 percent, which, together with other steps to close loopholes, would raise $326 billion over 10 years.

I am committed to working with the Congress to fully offset the cost of health care reform by reducing Medicare and Medicaid spending by another $200 to $300 billion over the next 10 years, and by enacting appropriate proposals to generate additional revenues. These savings will come not only by adopting new technologies and addressing the vastly different costs of care, but from going after the key drivers of skyrocketing health care costs, including unmanaged chronic diseases, duplicated tests, and unnecessary hospital readmissions.

To identify and achieve additional savings, I am also open to your ideas about giving special consideration to the recommendations of the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission (MedPAC), a commission created by a Republican Congress. Under this approach, MedPAC's recommendations on cost reductions would be adopted unless opposed by a joint resolution of the Congress. This is similar to a process that has been used effectively by a commission charged with closing military bases, and could be a valuable tool to help achieve health care reform in a fiscally responsible way.
These are some of the issues I look forward to discussing with you in greater detail in the weeks and months ahead. But this year, we must do more than discuss. We must act. The American people and America's future demand it.

I know that you have reached out to Republican colleagues, as I have, and that you have worked hard to reach a bipartisan consensus about many of these issues. I remain hopeful that many Republicans will join us in enacting this historic legislation that will lower health care costs for families, businesses, and governments, and improve the lives of millions of Americans. So, I appreciate your efforts, and look forward to working with you so that the Congress can complete health care reform by October.

Camp David

The presidential retreat on Maryland’s Catoctin Mountain may have been established by President Franklin Roosevelt, but it was President Dwight D. Eisenhower who made it a household name.

Eisenhower planned to close the Catoctin compound and divest the government of other "needless luxuries" when he took office in 1953. However, a Justice Department inspection trip to the site led by Attorney General Herbert Brownell so enthralled the AG that he filed a mock "Petition for Executive Clemency" on its behalf. In defense of his "client," Brownell wrote "Petitioner states that she was convicted without a hearing in the White House. and was sentenced to embarrassment, ignominy, and possible transfer or obliteration."

Brownell’s petition and a trip by Ike to the camp in May 1953 changed the hideaway’s fate. The mountaintop retreat would survive with one significant change. While FDR and President Truman called the compound "Shangri-La," Ike re-named it "Camp David" in honor of his grandson David Eisenhower.

The name change rankled Democrats. Representative Michael J. Kirwan of Ohio derisively noted that renaming the camp was the only thing the "Eisenhower Administration accomplished without Democratic help" during the new president’s first year in office. There was talk of the name reverting to "Shangri-La" after Eisenhower’s presidency, but President Kennedy vetoed the idea and Camp David it remained.

Extensive redecorating and building took place at Camp David on Ike’s watch. Picnic tables, an outdoor cooking area, a bomb shelter and a projection booth were added during the remodeling. Perhaps the most prominent new feature was a three-hole golf course modeled after greens at Augusta National and Burning Tree, two of the president’s favorite courses. In addition to golf, Ike also enjoyed oil painting at the expanded retreat.

Ike valued Camp David as a place to relax, but he also conducted official business there. Recuperating from a heart attack in late 1955, Eisenhower held Cabinet meetings and four meetings of the National Security Council at the camp. In July 1957 he flew to Camp David by helicopter as part of the civil defense exercise "Operation Alert." Ike was the first president to travel to Camp David by chopper. The helicopter cut the commute from Washington, DC, down from two hours to just thirty minutes.

Eisenhower also used Camp David to entertain foreign leaders. Presidents Charles De Gaulle of France, Lopez Mateos of Mexico, and Alberto Lleras of Colombia visited Camp David during the Eisenhower Administration. British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan arrived at the camp in March 1959 to discuss Soviet actions in Berlin. Macmillan was happy to see his old World War II comrade but came to dread the "inconceivably banal" (in his words) nightly movies which were usually westerns Ike had already seen several times.

Perhaps the most famous head-of-state visit was made by Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev in September 1959. Khrushchev was initially suspicious of the meeting site because Camp David was not yet a world renowned weekend and holiday retreat of American presidents. He thought it sounded like a place where "stray dogs were sent to die."

Although Eisenhower thought Khrushchev’s visit accomplished little in terms of improving international relations, a new phrase entered the political lexicon as a result of the meeting: the "Spirit of Camp David." Ike later admitted he wasn't sure what the phrase meant. When asked, he remarked "I must say I have never used it" but surmised that it "must mean simply that it looks like we can talk together without being mutually abusive." The Soviets had their own use for the phrase. They denounced any Western action they disliked as "violating the Spirit of Camp David," a sanction they never applied to their own actions. Whatever the true meaning, the phrase has endured as a useful if contested expression of unofficial diplomatic cooperation tinged with cautious optimism.

Foreign affairs would bring President Eisenhower back to Camp David for a fiftieth and last time in April 1961 when he met President Kennedy there to review the failed Bay of Pigs operation. Eisenhower’s many trips up the mountain, combined with his renaming of the compound and his highly publicized use of it for recreation and official business, helped make "Camp David" synonymous with the modern American presidency and international diplomacy.

Memo regarding naming of Aspen Lodge, November 17, 1958 [Evan P. Aurand Papers, Box 7, Reading File Oct. 2, 1958 - Nov. 19, 1958 NAID #12023031]

Guidebook to Camp David [Neil McElroy Papers, Box 2, Personal Letters 1959 (1) NAID #12023032]

Materials Included in the Exhibition

Case 1. Among Friends: Sidney Cox and Cornelius Weygandt

Robert Frost’s correspondence files, which make up the bulk of Dartmouth’s 27-box Robert Frost Collection [now 39 boxes, MS-11178], contain tens of thousands of Frost’s incoming letters. Because Frost was not one to keep copies of most of what he sent, the files have far fewer of his outgoing letters. But, with two personal relationships—those with Sidney Cox and Cornelius Weygandt—we are lucky enough to have both sides of the exchanges.

Frost was teaching at Plymouth Normal School when he first met Sidney Cox, a recent college graduate and high school teacher. The two struck up a friendship that would last forty years. Some of the richest letters in our collection, those that reveal Frost’s working and personal life, are ones he wrote when in England to Cox, then a graduate student at the University of Illinois.

Cox went on to the University of Montana, where he was fired from his position in 1926 for allowing students to include the phrase “son-of-a-bitch” in a college publication. With Frost’s ringing endorsement, Cox was immediately hired by Dartmouth, where he remained for the rest of his teaching career. Frost’s relationship with Cornelius Weygandt began professionally, but quickly grew into a deep friendship. The two shared a literary sensibility and admired many of the same writers. They also both appreciated and wrote about New Hampshire’s rural character.

  1. Cornelius Weygandt. New Hampshire Neighbors: Country Folks and Things in the White Hills. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1937. Rauner White Mountains F39 .W47 1937
  2. Robert Frost. Mountain Interval. New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1916. We have many copies: ask for Rauner Alumni F9296mo3 (Author's autograph presentation copy, inscribed to [Harold] Rugg. 7 pages of verse (on flyleaves) in Frost's handwriting. In dust jacket. c.3) or Rauner Frost PS3511.R94 M6 1916 (Gift of Harriet Barry in memory of her father, John L. Cooley. Author's autograph presentation copy, inscribed to Cooley, with lines from "The road not taken," on flyleaf. With dust jacket. c.4).
    1. Frost draws on local usage to justify his title: “The Interval, it may be of interest, is that of the South Branch of the Ammonoosuc River, just under the Franconia Notch.”
    1. Frost bristled at their mutual friend George Browne’s suggestion that he had misused the word “Interval” in the title of his book. After a paragraph defense, he writes off the criticism with “But I guess it’s foolish to be bothered with him any further.”
    1. In one of the most moving letters in the collection, Frost tells Weygandt that fellow poet and close friend Edward Thomas had died that week in battle. The letter serves to introduce Weygandt to the poet he would never meet: “And he wasn’t in love with death. He went to death because he didn’t like going. I meant to have you know him.”
    1. In this reply to Weygandt’s request for the text of a lecture, Frost included a draft of the poem “Blue Ribbons at Amesbury,” originally published the next year in the Atlantic Monthly, then collected in A Further Range.
    1. The “Interval” Frost refers is on the South Branch of the Ammonoosuc River just under Franconia Notch.
    1. Frost took tremendous delight in Cox’s appointment at Dartmouth. “Dartmouth is one of my favorite colleges, though unfortunately I can’t say I have its yell at my tongue’s end for this great occasion. And that’s a large hearted lot you are going to find around you—all men and none of them an old woman—not one of them cursed with fastidiosity.”
    1. “I can think of nothing but how glad I am you are at Hanover safely unhanged. You were too many hours ahead of your time out there on Rocky Mountain Time and there was always danger of its giving you an exaggerated sense of your own importance and so getting you into trouble with the Kew Clucks. Be at peace now and like your opportunities as much as in you lies to like anything human.”
    1. “I get your story and I am sorry for you. The only thing I don’t understand is the philosophical not to say weak way in which you take your luck. You attribute it to your lack of self confidence. What that would mean I wonder. Are you any less sure of yourself than are others at your age?”
    1. “We are now in the country, the cider country, where we have to keep a barrel of cider for our visitors and our hired help or we will have no visitors nor hired help. So we are in the way of adding drink to cigarette smoking in the record of our sins. Even Elinor gets drawn in since the only kind of ladies we know over here are all smokers.”

    Case 2. Strange Bedfellows

    If politics makes strange bedfellows, poetry—when combined with politics—can foster even stranger relationships. Robert Frost met Ezra Pound at a bookstore party in London in 1913. Pound took Frost under his wing (somewhat reluctantly on Frost’s part), introducing him to other American poets living in England at the time, and to luminaries such as William Butler Yeats. While Frost benefitted from Pound’s patronage at first, later correspondence attests to a disintegrating relationship as the two went their separate ways, philosophically, stylistically, and politically.

    After a period of estrangement, Frost joined—and later helped to lead—an effort to have Pound released from St. Elizabeths Hospital in Washington, DC, where Pound had been confined to avoid prosecution for treason. Despite Pound’s pro-fascist radio broadcasts from Italy during the Second World War, his poetry had long been admired in literary circles. In 1949, while still in Saint Elizabeths, he won the inaugural Bollingen Prize for Poetry awarded by the Library of Congress. In 1957, Frost joined with poet and former Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish to tap into their literary network to persuade the Assistant Attorney General to drop the charges. Supporters included such writers and public figures as Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, and Frank Lloyd Wright. Their successful campaign resulted in Pound’s release to the care of his wife and daughter.

    1. Ezra Pound, Map showing location of William Butler Yeats’s residence, given to Robert Frost, 1913.
      1. Frost and Pound had dinner at Yeats’s London flat on March 31, 1913, shortly before the publication of Frost’s first book, A Boy’s Will.
      1. As Frost began working on the poems that would comprise his second book, North of Boston, he shared them with Pound. Here, Pound remarks, “I think the ‘Death [of the Hired Man]’ dam good. And the only things did [sic] alter are minutae—only one or two which escaped me—hardly more than a letter or so.”
      1. Frost and his family returned to the United States after the outbreak of the First World War. Pound’s letter discusses wartime censorship and free verse, and suggests Frost “look up Bill [William Carlos] Williams” in New York.
      1. Pound’s “candid” and typo-filled letter is likely in reaction to hearing about a lecture on imagism given by Frost at Harvard: “When you dont know, kepp your trap shut, and when you do know, dont lie to the young. You always were dominated by envy, but you shdn’t let it get the better of you on the edge of the grave. I recognized your limitations [as] a writer, but had hitherto considered you a man, not a shit.”
      1. Hemingway clearly saw great artists as semi-independent of cultural mores. After he lists the transgressions of many poets and notes that “if Walt Whitman were alive today, Confidential would have been framing him,” he endorses Pound’s release with, “No one says poets are not to be punished like any other people, but great poets are very rare and they should be extended a measure of understanding and mercy.”
      1. Somewhat less enthusiastic than Hemingway, the more guarded T. S. Eliot dismissed the charges against Pound with “Ezra Pound is not a politician or a political agitator by profession: he is a poet.”
      1. Writing of Eliot, MacLeish commented, “He apparently thinks Ezra is nuttier than he is,” then remarked, “Does Eliot strike you as a bit timid?”
      1. In a bizarre twist, Pound’s publisher, J. Laughlin, wrote to tell Frost that Frank Lloyd Wright might be willing to take Pound into his home. The move would have put two towering artistic egos under the same roof.
      1. Frost’s response to Laughlin is priceless: “I can hardly resist the temptation of putting Ezra and Frank Lloyd Wright in the same gun turret but we must be serious where so much is at stake for poor Ezra.”
      1. Even as Frost worked to free him, Pound’s caustic personality continued to dominate: here his appreciation of Frost’s work on his behalf is undermined by his suggestion that Frost was no longer capable of serious conversation.
      1. Just weeks before his death, Frost received this New Year’s greeting from Pound. Pound would live another nine years, dying in Venice in 1972.

      Case 3. Inaugurating Kennedy

      In the late 1950s, Frost had been appointed Honorary Consultant in the Humanities at the Library of Congress. By this time, Frost’s reputation as a poet and public intellectual was firmly established. Frost spoke publicly of his support for then-Senator John F. Kennedy in the 1960 election. According to several biographies, Kennedy had ended many campaign speeches alluding to Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”—“miles to go before I sleep.” Given their relationship of mutual respect, it is no surprise that Kennedy chose Frost to speak at his Inauguration in 1961.

      Frost planned to read his 1941 poem “The Gift Outright.” He intended to open with a few remarks on religious liberty to acknowledge Kennedy’s election as the nation’s first Catholic president. In subsequent drafts, he transformed his preface into a poem: “Dedication.” The morning of January 20, 1961, was cold and the sun burned brightly. Frost, then in his late eighties, was not able to see the page on which he had written “Dedication,” and so instead, to the nation’s delight, recited “The Gift Outright” from memory. He changed the last line from “Such as she was, such as she would become” to the more positive “such as she will become,” as Kennedy had earlier suggested.

      Roosevelt, Franklin D.

      FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT. President. Partly printed Document Signed, one page, narrow oblong quarto, November 4, 1932. Franklin D Roosevelt signs a “Return Receipt” acknowledging that the candidate’s name is correctly placed on the ballot: “To Burt E. Burnett, County Clerk for the County of Jackson / I hereby acknowledge receipt by registered mail, of proof &hellip [ Read More ]

      An Open Letter to the President and the President-Elect

      I write to respectfully and urgently request that President Obama immediately use the power vested in the office to help the most vulnerable veterans in our country by pardoning all Post-9/11 veterans who were administratively separated, resulting in a less-than-honorable discharge without the due process of a court-martial and to request that President-elect Trump commit the full support of his incoming administration for this executive action.

      On January 21, 1977, President Jimmy Carter issued full pardons to Americans who had avoided the draft. Through an executive order, President Carter erased the felony-level offense of draft-dodging for thousands of men who refused to serve their country during the Vietnam War. We believe that veterans who have done their duty and served their country deserve similar consideration before President Obama leaves office.

      As a result of the systemic under-diagnosis of Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), and other service-related illnesses and injuries such as Military Sexual Trauma (MST), many veterans have been unjustly discharged from our Armed Forces in a manner that makes them ineligible for veterans’ benefits. Due to untreated physical and psychological symptoms and the nature of their separation from the military, veterans with less-than-honorable discharges are often socially isolated from the military and veterans community. They are more likely to suffer with self-medication and substance abuse, to become homeless, or incarcerated, or to die by suicide. For many injured and ill veterans, these administrative separations and the denial of critical veterans’ benefits is a life-sentence.

      Because PTSD was not entered into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980, countless Vietnam veterans were discharged unfairly, with “bad paper” administrative discharges. Despite their need for treatment of mental-health issues, they were denied access to critical benefits, simply because the science regarding the effects of war had not yet evolved enough for commanders to interpret their symptoms accurately. Many of our newest veterans who show symptoms of PTSD suffer the same fate, having been discharged for alleged misconduct or preexisting conditions such as personality disorder or adjustment disorder, despite years of honorable service.

      President Obama and his staff have long been aware of this situation, which is why as Senator and during his first presidential campaign, President Obama introduced the bipartisan S.1817 in the 110th Congress. This bill would have prohibited the military’s use of personality disorder discharges for combat veterans, and would have required the military to review such discharges. President-elect Trump made his support for veterans a core tenet of his campaign, promising to take care of veterans who were often forgotten. Together, they can work through the transition period to fulfill America’s promise to the veterans who have served their country and suffered for it.

      Over the last 15 years of continuous warfare, our government has failed to respond appropriately to multiple, comprehensive reports of veterans being inappropriately discharged from the military. While it is unconscionable that many Vietnam veterans have been denied access to care for half a century, there is no excuse for the broken administrative-discharge system to continue to discard today’s veterans like trash, considering the current state of diagnostic science. As you know, Mr. President and Mr. President-elect, VVA’s founding principle is, “Never again will one generation of veterans abandon another.” While it would be righteous for you to pardon Vietnam veterans with administrative discharges as well, we implore you to at least save the current generation of America’s warriors an unfairly marginal life as outcasts in the nation they have so faithfully served.

      Earlier this year, The New York Times reported that as many as 13% of Post-9/11 veterans have received less-than-honorable discharges. Swords to Plowshares reported that combat Marines with PTSD are 11 times more likely than their peers to receive a misconduct discharge and 8 times more likely to be discharged for substance abuse. Last year, NPR reported that the Army had issued bad paper to more than 22, 000 combat soldiers afflicted with PTSD or TBI. Department of Defense studies and the Government Accountability Office reports uncovered significant racial disparities in the denial of benefits to minority veterans. Human Rights Watch revealed that men and women who reported being raped while in the service were significantly more likely to be forced out of the military with records branding them with preexisting conditions. While there has been virtually no change in the rate of punitive discharges for troops actually convicted of crimes since WWII, the rate of veterans denied access to VA health care and benefits has more than tripled. More than 500, 000 Vietnam-era veterans received “bad paper, ” as compared to over 300, 000 Post-9/11 vets in a much smaller military.

      Although some avenues of relief for veterans with “bad paper” do exist, it is nearly impossible for veterans suffering from a service-related condition such as PTSD to successfully appeal for a discharge upgrade on their own. For those denied access to VA health care, this is a process that can cost the individual veteran tens of thousands of dollars to pay private doctors for treatment and documentation of their conditions—or years struggling without care for their service-related injuries. Furthermore, the complicated process of fact-finding and case-building typically requires hundreds of hours of work by an attorney. Because the federal government stopped sponsoring discharge-upgrade centers in the early 1980s, veterans are typically stuck on waiting lists for years before they can even begin to receive services from attorneys familiar with the legal strategies needed to assist increasingly desperate clients.

      We cannot allow our country to forget the many tens of thousands of veterans who suffered physical and mental wounds yet were cast aside. This could be rectified if, prior to leaving office, President Obama simply upgraded them all to Honorable Discharges, and instructed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to immediately grant access to PTSD and TBI screening at the VA for all veterans, regardless of discharge status. So as not to overwhelm the already-strained VA system, the President should call on the medical community to assist in these efforts.

      President Obama should start working now with President-elect Trump to ensure that this program extends as long as it takes for every applicable veteran to be properly screened and granted the appropriate pardon. This action has the potential to save lives, and it is not without legal precedent. We ask that President-elect Trump support this initiative and make this pardoning program’s success a top-priority for his transition team.

      We would like to ask for similar action for Vietnam-era vets, but for many of them it is too late. Let’s ensure that their children and/or grandchildren do not suffer the same fate. This period of transition between administrations offers the opportunity for you to work together to use the power of the office to bring thousands of injured veterans in from the cold and finally get them the care that they need. Your cooperation and focus on veterans will help to bring this country together and heal some of the festering wounds of war.

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      About Rod Adams

      Rod Adams is an atomic energy expert with small nuclear plant operating and design experience, now serving as a Managing Partner at Nucleation Capital, an emerging climate-focused fund. Rod, a former submarine Engineer Officer and founder of Adams Atomic Engines, Inc., one of the earliest advanced nuclear ventures, has engaged in technical, strategic, political, historic and financial discussion and analysis of the nuclear industry, its technology and policies for several decades. He is the founder of Atomic Insights and host and producer of The Atomic Show Podcast.

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      Primary Sources: Permissive Action Links and the Threat of Nuclear War

      _In his post “Almost Everything in ‘Dr. Strangelove’ Was True,” Eric Schlosser describes how closely the events in Stanley Kubrick’s movie mirrored what could have actually happened to America’s nuclear arsenal. See his comments on clips from “Dr. Strangelove” and from a little-seen film about nuclear-weapon safety. In this post, he looks at the long-secret documents that help explain the risks America took with its weapons.

      Permissive action links (PALs) are the coded switches installed in nuclear weapons to prevent them from being used by rogue officers, madmen, terrorists, and saboteurs. Until the mid-nineteen-sixties, few of America’s nuclear weapons contained a locking device. Anyone who got hold of a weapon might be able to detonate it. The introduction of PALs was intended, among other things, to reinforce Presidential control over the nuclear arsenal of the United States. The documents below were obtained through a variety of means: my own Freedom of Information Act searches public archives the Web site of Steven M. Bellovin, a professor in the Computer Science department at Columbia University and the National Security Archive, based at George Washington University, which for decades has been obtaining important government documents and making them available to the public.

      1. This 1961 letter from a State Department legal adviser addresses the issue of whether to put permissive action links in NATO’s nuclear weapons. The letter refers to a study by Dr. Marvin Stern, a Pentagon scientist, who’d urged the adoption of some sort of locking mechanism. The State Department strongly supported such a move, while the Joint Chiefs opposed it.

      State Department on PALs (PDF) State Department on PALs (Text)

      “Subject: Atomic Stockpile, Letter, From John H. Pender, Legal Adviser, Department of State, to Abram J. Chayes, Legal Adviser, Department of State,” July 16, 1961 (TOP SECRET/declassified), National Security Archive.

      1. President John F. Kennedy’s science adviser, Jerome Wiesner, was a strong proponent of PALs. In a memo to the President dated May 29, 1962, Wiesner advocates the use of PALs—but warns that they can be easily disabled and won’t entirely solve the problem of unauthorized use.

      Wiesner to J.F.K. (PDF) Wiesner to J.F.K. (Text)

      Appendix A, NSAM-160 and Wiesner Memorandum, in “PAL Control of Theater Nuclear Weapons,” Mark E. Bleck and Paul R. Souder, Command and Control Division, Sandia National Laboratories, SAND82-2436, March, 1984 (SECRET/FORMERLY RESTRICTED DATA/declassified).

      1. One week after receiving Wiesner’s letter, President Kennedy issues a National Security Action Memorandum ordering the use of permissive action links in all NATO nuclear weapons.

      J.F.K. NSAM (PDF) J.F.K. NSAM (Text)

      National Security Memorandum No. 160, “Permissive Links for Nuclear Weapons in NATO,” June 6, 1962 (SECRET/RESTRICTED DATA/declassified), John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

      1. A year before the release of “Dr. Strangelove,” at a meeting of top Pentagon and State Department officials, Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara admits to being extremely concerned about the risk of accidental nuclear detonations and even an accidental nuclear war. The Berlin Crisis and the Cuban Missile Crisis have persuaded him that the President of the United States should be the only person with the authority to order the use of nuclear weapons. McNamara opposes delegating that power to military commanders, under any circumstances. Secretary of State Dean Rusk seems equally worried about the possibility of an accidental or unintentional nuclear detonation. But others at the meeting think that military commanders should retain the authority to use nuclear weapons delegated to them a few years earlier by President Eisenhower.

      State-Defense meeting (PDF) State-Defense meeting (Text)

      “Memorandum of Conversation (Uncleared), Subject: State-Defense Meeting on Group I, II, and IV Papers,” January 26, 1963 (TOP SECRET/declassified), National Security Archive.

      1. In May, 1964, months after “Dr. Strangelove” first appeared in theatres, the Air Force was still battling Secretary of Defense McNamara’s efforts to install mechanical devices to prevent the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons, and thereby regain civilian control of the America’s nuclear arsenal. In this telegram, General Thomas Power, the head of the Strategic Air Command, argues that putting a PAL-type coded switch on his Minuteman missiles will gravely threaten America’s national security.

      Thomas Power telegram (PDF) Thomas Power telegram (Text)

      “Cable, To General Curtis E. LeMay, From General Thomas S. Power, February 17, 1964 (SECRET/declassified), National Security Archive.

      1. This is an official history of permissive action links and other nuclear-weapon command devices that I obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. This is the first time the document has been made publicly available. Written by engineers at the Sandia National Laboratories, it gives a reasonably clear explanation of how the various PALs work and includes some photographs of them.

      History of PAL (PDF) History of PAL (Text)

      “Command and Control Systems for Nuclear Weapons: History and Current Status,” Systems Development Department I, Sandia Laboratories, SLA-73-0415, September, 1973 (SECRET/RESTRICTED DATA/declassified).

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      JFK once said of the holiday, "For uncounted millions, Christmas expresses the deepest hopes for a world of peace where love rather than mistrust will flourish between neighbors."

      The president, too, had an interest in assuring the safety of Rudolph - and the rest of the world.


      "I share your concern about the atmospheric testing of the Soviet Union," his letter continued, "not only for the North Pole but for countries throughout the world not only for Santa Claus but for people throughout the world."

      Luckily, being the leader of the free world comes with certain privileges. Evidently, one of them is a direct line to the Kringle residence.

      "You must not worry about Santa Claus," Kennedy assured Michelle. "I talked with him yesterday and he is fine. He will be making his rounds again this Christmas."

      He signed the letter "Sincerely, John Kennedy."

      It was mailed back to Michigan, and a carbon copy was preserved in the president's papers. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston showcases the letter around Christmas each year.

      The original quickly turned 8-year-old Michelle into a national sensation. She was interviewed by the Associated Press and other outlets.


      "Michelle told newsmen she was happy to get the President's letter and felt better about Santa Claus," the wire service reported.

      But two days after Kennedy wrote his letter, the hydrogen bomb Michelle had heard her parents discussing - known as the "Tsar Bomba" or "King of Bombs" in Russian - was detonated.

      In an effort to showcase the power of the Soviet's arsenal, the bomb was dropped over Novaya Zemlya, a remote group of islands in the Arctic Ocean. It weighed 59,525 pounds and was 26 feet long. The resulting blast - which shattered windows as far away as Norway and Finland - was 1,570 times more powerful that the nuclear weapons dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

      The event is still considered to be the most powerful man-made explosion in history.

      Kennedy and other world leaders were quick to condemn the testing. They did not, in their official proclamations, however, give an update on the fate of Santa.

      But that year, Christmas came as usual in Michigan. Michelle, now known as Michelle Phillips, told the Boston Globe in 2014 that she received letters from Santa Clauses around the world, thanking her for her concern.


      "I don't know why it didn't hit me that there were all these different Santa Clauses. I just figured it was all the one Santa Claus," she said. "I had proof there was a Santa Claus. The United States told me they talked to Santa Claus, and he was fine."

      It appears Santa made his way to the Kennedy residence, too. The family spent the holiday in Palm Beach, Florida, each year. On Christmas Day 1961, 4-year-old Caroline received a dress, a rocking horse and a trampoline for the White House lawn.

      Watch the video: President John F. Kennedy Report to the Nation, Berlin Crisis, 25 July 1961 (January 2022).