Arthur William Radford
Chairman from Aug. 15, 1953 — Aug. 15, 1957
Arthur Radford was born in Chicago, Illinois, on 27 February 1896. After growing up in Illinois and Iowa, he entered the US Naval Academy in 1912. Following graduation in 1916, he served during World War I on the battleship USS South Carolina in the Atlantic Fleet. Radford realized a boyhood dream to fly when he entered Navy flight training in 1920. He earned his wings the following year. For the next twenty years, he alternated among assignments with the fleet, naval air stations, and the Navy’s Bureau of Aeronautics in Washington, rising from lieutenant to captain.
Shortly before the United States entered World War II, Radford became Chief of the Navy’s Aviation Training Division. Here he oversaw the expansion of the training program to meet the greatly increased requirements for Navy pilots during the early stages of the war. Promoted to rear admiral, he commanded a carrier division in the Pacific during 1943. After a brief assignment at the Navy Department, he returned to the Pacific in November 1944 to command another carrier division. For the remainder of the war, he directed carrier attacks against Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and Tokyo.
After a series of staff and command assignments in the immediate postwar period, Radford, now a vice admiral, became Vice Chief of Naval Operations in January 1948. In April 1949, as that tour was ending, the “revolt of the admirals” erupted in Washington. Senior naval officers objected strenuously to the Secretary of Defense’s cancellation of a new “super” carrier. The Navy wanted the new carrier, which could carry larger planes, to establish its role in strategic nuclear warfare. The ensuing controversy led to a congressional investigation, and Admiral Radford was called to testify. He supported the Navy’s position and, in discussing future operations, argued that the threat of an atomic blitz would neither deter nor win a war. In retrospect, Radford’s argument appears ironic, since, as Chairman, he would become a champion of “massive retaliation.”
Upon being promoted to admiral in April 1949, Radford returned to the Pacific as Commander in Chief of the Pacific Command (CINCPAC). Forces under his command provided air and naval gunfire support to UN forces in the Korean War. Radford’s command also sent US military advisers to assist the French in Indochina in the war against the communist Viet Minh.
Impressed with Radford’s performance as CINCPAC, President Eisenhower appointed him Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Admiral Radford assumed his duties on 15 August 1953. During Radford’s tenure, President Eisenhower adopted the “New Look,” a national security policy that emphasized Air Force and Navy forces over Army ground forces and provided for massive atomic retaliation in the event of general war. Radford vigorously supported the new policy and convinced a majority of his reluctant JCS colleagues to accept it as well.
In one controversial initiative related to the “New Look” and force planning, Admiral Radford did not succeed. During 1956 Radford proposed to the Chiefs drastic cuts in Army forces as a means of staying within the President’s stringent fiscal ceiling. Units overseas would be reduced to small atomic-armed task forces, and the Marines, with atomic weapons, would have responsibility for limited war operations. Leaked to the press, this proposal aroused so much opposition in Congress and among the NATO allies that it was abandoned.
Under Radford’s leadership, plans drawn up by the JCS resulted in the establishment of a new unified Continental Air Defense Command (CONAD) in 1954. The Joint Chiefs also undertook planning with the Canadian military for a North American Air Defense Command (NORAD), which was established in 1957.
While Radford was Chairman, the Joint Chiefs of Staff dealt with a series of regional crises around the world, and Admiral Radford was always quick to advocate a strong US response. In late March 1954, when the French faced defeat at Dien Bien Phu, Radford on his own initiative convened a JCS meeting to consider a massive air strike in Vietnam. All the other JCS members opposed the idea, and President Eisenhower was unwilling to intervene unless important political conditions were met; they never were.
In the Formosa Straits crisis in early 1955, when Communist China seemed ready to attack the nationalist-held islands of Quemoy and Matsu and then assault Formosa, Admiral Radford concluded that the situation could not be stabilized “without the Chinese Communists getting a bloody nose.” He favored a pre-emptive attack unless they ceased their buildup. If war came, Radford argued before the National Security Council, all the advantages would rest with the United States. President Eisenhower, however, chose a more restrained, flexible approach, and the Chinese communists backed away from military threats.
When President Gamal Abdel Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal Company, triggering the Suez Crisis of 1956, Admiral Radford led a united JCS in recommending military action. Nasser must be stopped, they said, by military intervention if necessary. President Eisenhower disagreed and later took strong action to stop the invasion of Egypt launched by Britain, France, and Israel.
Admiral Radford retired from military service on 15 August 1957 but remained active in national security matters. President Eisenhower and Secretary of Defense Neil McElroy continued to call on him for advice, and during the next several years he conducted studies for the government. He strongly supported President Eisenhower’s call for reorganizing the Department of Defense in 1958 and urged Congress to strengthen the authority of the Chairman. In retirement, he served as a consultant for the Bankers’ Trust Company and as a director of several other firms. Admiral Radford died at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center on 17 August 1973.