271. Editorial Note

On January 17, 1962, Special Assistant for National Security Affairs Bundy sent the President a 7-page outline for a talk to the National Security Council on the following day. (Kennedy Library, National Security Files, NSC Meetings, 1962) In discussing Berlin Bundy presented two alternatives. In the first, after stressing that Berlin was the “greatest issue of all,” Bundy discussed the crisis as a conflict of wills and emphasized: “Our will is strong, and our will, not that of our Allies, is what counts.” In the second alternative Bundy wrote that he expected a long and difficult struggle ending in a compromise settlement. Under this scenario it was essential to prevent the Germans from blaming the United States for it. He concluded with the sentence: “At the moment the talks in Moscow are getting nowhere, but we think it wise to keep talking.”

At the NSC meeting at 10:15 a.m. on January 18, President Kennedy began with a general review of U.S. worldwide responsibilities before turning to West Irian, Vietnam, Laos, Cuba, and Berlin. A summary of the President’s remarks on Berlin reads as follows:

“There had been no progress in the negotiations up to this point. If that situation persisted, the Soviets could be expected to proceed with a separate peace treaty and there might be a direct test of nerves in the Spring. At such a point the responsibility on the military would be increasingly great. We have to control the developing situation from Washington and a heavy responsibility would rest on the President, the Secretaries of State and Defense, and the military commanders. The President believed it was important to have prompt and careful study of our contingency plans and to think hard about the ways and means of making decisions that might lead to nuclear war. If there were to be any such war, we must know what it is for, and know what other steps we can take before such war comes.” (Ibid.)