November 7

This Day in History

Cold War

Nov 7, 1957:

Gaither Report calls for more U.S. missiles and fallout shelters

The final report from a special committee called by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to review the nation's defense readiness indicates that the United States is falling far behind the Soviets in missile capabilities, and urges a vigorous campaign to build fallout shelters to protect American citizens.

The special committee had been called together shortly after the stunning news of the success of the Soviet Sputnik I in October 1957. Headed by Ford Foundation Chairman H. Rowan Gaither, the committee concluded that the United States was in danger of losing a war against the Soviets. Only massive increases in the military budget, particularly an accelerated program of missile construction, could hope to deter Soviet aggression. It also suggested that American citizens were completely unprotected from nuclear attack and proposed a $30 billion program to construct nationwide fallout shelters.

Although the committee's report was supposed to be secret, many of its conclusions soon leaked out to the press, causing a minor panic among the American people. President Eisenhower was less impressed. Intelligence provided by U-2 spy plane flights over Russia indicated that the Soviets were not the mortal threat suggested by the Gaither Report. Eisenhower, a fiscal conservative, was also reluctant to commit to the tremendously increased military budget called for by the committee. He did increase funding for the development of intercontinental ballistic missiles and for civil defense programs, but ignored most of the other recommendations made in the report. Democrats instantly went on the attack, charging that Eisenhower was leaving the United States open to Soviet attack. By 1960, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kennedy was still hammering away at the supposed "missile gap" between the United States and much stronger Soviet stockpiles.

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