In one sense, not much had changed [by 1986] in the quarter
century since my last West German tour. When I had first arrived
in Gelnhausen [2nd Bde, 3rd Armored Div.] in December 1958 as
a twenty-one-year-old second lieutenant, Dwight D. Eisenhower
was President of the United States and Nikita Khrushchev the
Soviet premier. Twenty divisions of Soviet and communist-bloc
troops faced five U.S. divisions, plus our Allies' forces, across
the border between East and West Germany. Two years before, the
Soviets had crushed the freedom fighters in Hungary. One year
after my departure, they had put up the Berlin Wall, and subsequently
they stamped out bids for freedom in Czechoslovakia and Poland.
East and West then stood virtually warhead to warhead.
... As I took over V Corps, in 1986, four American divisions
[including the U.S. VII Corps] and nineteen Soviet divisions
still confronted each other over a border bristling with even
deadlier weaponry. On our side, we had replaced old M-60A3 tanks
with sophisticated M-1s, obsolete M-113 personnel carriers with
new Bradley Fighting Vehicles, and aging tactical nukes with
more accurate and devastating models.
Yet, much had changed. For the past two years, Mikhail Gorbachev,
a new Soviet man, age fifty-four, energetic, dynamic, preaching
the openness of glasnost and the reforms of perestroika, had
ruled the Soviet Union. Margaret Thatcher, no pushover, had said
that Gorbachev was a chap we could do business with. The previous
November, President Reagan and the Soviets had held their first
summit at Geneva. Reagan had annoyed Gorbachev by insisting on
pressing ahead with SDI ["Star Wars"] Still, they were
negotiating arms reductions and trying to reduce the possibility
of nuclear annihilation.
I was, however, a soldier, not a politician, and my present
mission was to be prepared to engage Soviet forces the instant
they advanced across that weave of valleys forming the Fulda
Gap, the same role I had had as a young lieutenant a quarter
of a century before [with the 3AD].
... As I moved into my new office, a Gothic cavern, the first
thing I did was set on my desk a photograph of a man in his mid-forties
with a broad smiling face and wavy hair, wearing army fatigues.
He looked like a steelworker, the kind of guy you might want
to have a beer with in a Pittsburgh tavern. I wanted his picture
before me because this man was my opponent. General Colonel Vladislav
A. Achalov, commander of the Red Army's 80,000-man 8th Guards
Army, positioned across the Fulda Gap.
... I can still recall how proud I felt back in 1958 when
Captain Tom Miller assigned me to guard that 280mm atomic cannon
until I lost my .45 pistol in the course of the mission. In those
days, at my pay grade, I gave no thought to the wisdom of using
nuclear weapons in the field. It was simply "Yes, sir!"
Twenty-eight years later, I was in the command center with my
senior officers war-gaming an 8th Guards Army attack. My G-3,
Colonel Jerry Rutherford [future 3rd Armored Division Commander
and later V Corps Commander], was at the map board with a pointer
explaining that if the enemy crossed the Haune and the Fulda
rivers heading toward the Vogelsberg mountains, they would then
be into the valley of the Main River. From there the terrain
was flat, giving them a clear shot all the way to Wiesbaden and
the bridges over the Rhine River. NATO forces would be cut in
half, and the enemy could swing north all the way to the English
Channel. "So our last defensible position is the Vogelsberg
range," Rutherford explained, "and at that time it
may be necessary to ask for release of nukes ... We'll hit 'em
with Lances and ... artillery-fired atomic projectiles. The radius
of effect will be just enough to close the roads without affecting
our own troop movements."
We were not talking simply about dropping a few artillery
shells at a crossroad. No matter how small these nuclear payloads
were, we would be crossing a threshold. Using nukes at this point
would mark one of the most significant political and military
decisions since Hiroshima. The Russians would certainly retaliate,
maybe escalate. At that moment, the world's heart was going to
skip a beat. From that day on, I began rethinking the practicality
of these small nuclear weapons. And a few years later, when I
became Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, I would have some
ideas about what to do with tactical nukes.
In the early fall of 1986, we were visited by a congressional
delegation [at V Corps Headquarters in Frankfurt -- the "Abrams
Comnplex," formerly known as the I.G. Farben Complex]. I
had a fairly standard pitch for such visiting firemen. This particular
group included a forty-five-year-old four-term Republican congressman
from Wyoming whom I had never met before, Richard B. Cheney,
then a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
I was aware that Cheney, when he was only thirty-four, had served
as White House Chief of Staff under President Gerald Ford.
Rather than put on the usual dog-and-pony show, I took the
group into my private office. I picked up the photograph of General
Achalov from my desk. "This man is the reason V Corps is
here," I began. Achalov, I explained, had started out as
a paratrooper, smashed his legs in a jump a few years ago, and
switched to heavy infantry. "He is younger than I am,"
I went on. "He has had more training." The man was
a military thinker who had written a half-dozen articles on European
land warfare. I had read them all. He commanded eighty thousand
troops, more men than I had, and his soldiers were just as well
trained and armed as mine. They were just sixty-six miles from
where we were sitting. "The forces I command, nevertheless,
can stop them," I said. "We might not be able to hold
back successive divisions, which are backed up practically to
Moscow. But we can stop Achalov."
Congressman Cheney was reticent and asked few questions. What
he did ask, however, knifed to the heart of the issue, and I
recognized that I was in the presence of an exceptional mind.
I could not have known then that in the years to come the two
of us would be bound closely, facing not potential but real enemies.