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Curtis Lemay

I was working for General Lemay as a B-47 bomber pilot supposed to be carrying H-bombs to prevent war. That’s about the time both of these photographs were taken, around 1960.

Scamahorn as jet pilot.

Scamahorn as jet pilot.

Yes, that’s me when a bit younger, and even more full of it. No wonder the girls had a lot of trouble. I am older, and more wizened now, but not much of either. How I came to be a bomber pilot is rather sad because that was absolutely the last thing on earth that I wanted to be. Silly me, I rather fancied myself as a fighter jock shooting down enemy bombers coming over here to the Free World to blast our good people into some ill begotten hell. I had done extremely well in every way in flight school except for my instructor’s evaluation of my officer-like qualities. I think he thought I was a smart ass because of my spectacular success on all the other things so he claimed I wasn’t trying hard enough, and rated me dead last of our entire squadron. Because of the details of our assignment system I was forced into B-47s. (An overview movie of the B-47. Short B-47 movie. Another B-47 movie. Yet another, a little longer, B-47 movie about the Cuba missile crisis.) After Survival School at Reno, Nevada, where I had a good time, I found myself in McConnell Air Force Base training to annihilate humanity.

One day, while on break drinking coffee in the bomb room, and looking over an assortment of H-bombs I thought through to the obvious conclusion that my blowing up a couple of these things wasn’t going to improve the world a whole lot. After thinking about this for a few days I sent in a letter of resignation to my immediate superior officer. It was given back to me the next day privately, and he recommended that I never mention it to anyone ever again. The next day I gave him an upgrade of the same letter. Seven times I wrote that letter, and it came back, but each time it went up the chain of command another step with a refusal coming back in a week or so but on my seventh resignation they let me go. A General Discharge (under honorable conditions) on grounds of incompatible goals or some such thing. Actually, our stated goals were not all that different — world peace — I just didn’t think exploding H-bombs over people’s cities was a peaceable thing to be doing, and would create more problems than it cured, and they apparently thought it would. The hypocrisy of the Strategic Air Command‘s slogan “Peace is our profession” plastered on all of our table linens didn’t help me adapt to my unchosen profession either.

Although Curtis Lemay was in the chain of command above me, I never saw him, and General Thomas D. White back in Washington was the chief dude that was usually talked about. I got out of the Air Force just before John F. Kennedy was elected president, and he soon got us into the Cuba Missile Crisis, and that silly fiasco came within an hour of Doomsday. I was out of it but most of my friends of that era were sleeping for a couple of weeks on the runways beside, or in, their planes loaded with H-bombs. Had I known more about Lemay I might have gotten out of the Air Force even sooner under less principled mental constructs, because this guy was a real killer. At the time he was revered as a hero in the Air Force for his conduct in Germany, and Japan where he led the killing of hundreds of thousands of people. But, in my time he had his finger on or very near the Doomsday button, and you can almost hear him muttering under his breath, Clint Eastwood’s famous words, “Go ahead, make my day“. It was always strange to me back then, but a lot of people said they felt that way.

What would Curtis Lemay offer in way of advice on this Doomsday problem? In 1968 he was the Independent Party’s Vice Presidential candidate, and so his views on a Doomsday scenario are on public record, and as radical as his proposals were, his third party, in a two party system, managed to pull 13.5 percent of the national vote. This was a couple of years after the Cuba Missile crisis where he was in charge of taking out USSR’s missiles located on the island of Cuba. He was eager to do so even though it was known that many of these missiles were nuclear armed, and it was probable that many of them would not be found, and destroyed with a pre-emptive strike, and would be fired at the United States. Furthermore, an attack upon Cuba would probably have been met with force from the Soviet Union because they were then known to be transporting more atomic missiles to Cuba, and would have been annoyed at our having sunk those Soviet ships even if it was an obviously reasonable thing to do. Lemay must have known the exact minute which Kennedy had set for Doomsday to begin. It was when the tankers carrying the bombs crossed a certain line in the ocean. They came within an hour of crossing that invisible line. Had they done so it would have been all out thermonuclear war initiated by John F. Kennedy, and the Doomsday scenario would not be something you are reading about right now. Probably most people will read this blog with the vague notion of, “This is silly, and it can’t happen here.” In any case Lemay was so hyped up that he wanted to attack Cuba even after the Soviets ships turned back.

This is the man who was as in charge of those bombs for some 20 years. He was the one who after President Truman’s okay actually chose the targets, and sent the bombers to Hiroshima, and Nagasaki, Japan with the A-bombs.

Knowing Lemay’s proclivities it is almost surprising that the bombs were never used. General MacArthur who was also in a position of great power, and responsibility during much the same time period was also an attack dog on the prowl with H-bombs clenched in both fists. It’s amazing we are still here! So my take on Curtis Lemay’s input into this problem is to scare us into the realization that it can happen here. With some ten different nations now in possession of these weapons it is more than ten times as likely that they will be used, and it will happen here. Some of the people currently in charge of these weapons may be even more bloodthirsty than Curtis Lemay. We need a back up plan for humanity because our good luck can’t hold out forever.

Now is the time to start building Lifehavens.



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