Ike's Plan to Let Business Leaders Take Over the Country in the Event of a Catastrophic Attack

Roundup: Talking About History

Hope Ye, for the Associated Press (March 20, 2004):

A few weeks after the Soviets launched the first manmade satellite in 1957, shattering America's sense of security, CBS President Frank Stanton was summoned to the White House to see President Eisenhower.

Stanton knew his friend was agonizing over how to respond to Sputnik and the terrorizing thought that permeated America: Had the Soviets gained a huge first-strike advantage in the nuclear arms race?

But Stanton learned Eisenhower also was wrestling with how best to ensure the U.S. government could function if a Soviet attack wiped out many American leaders.

Stanton, who had no experience or ambitions in government, was taken aback when the president asked if he would be willing to oversee a federal communications agency after such an attack.

"I was surprised and startled by the breadth of the assignment," said the 96-year-old Stanton, who lives in Boston.

Nervous about the awesome task of keeping the nation's telephone, radio and television systems operating after an attack, Stanton said he nevertheless"agreed to do my chore."

Stanton was one of six private citizens secretly recruited and granted authority by Eisenhower to run major components of the government in an emergency. No public announcement of the appointments was made. Their existence was confirmed by recently publicized Eisenhower administration letters.

"The president was planning for the unthinkable," said retired Army Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster, Eisenhower's staff secretary."He wanted to bring in the wisdom and competence to reinforce whatever elements of the government survived and provide some assurance that our government could not be decapitated."

Presidents are granted vast powers under the Constitution to lead the nation in times of war or enemy attack.

Shortly after the 2001 terrorist attacks, President Bush ( news - web sites ) created a shadow government of 75 to 150 officials who worked in mountainside bunkers outside Washington to ensure the government would function if the capital came under attack.

All those officials already were in government when they were given the assignment. Eisenhower is believed to be the first president to go outside government to look for leaders in a crisis.

"Eisenhower went beyond the normal lines of succession, which I think was a reflection of the widespread paralyzing fear that swept the country in the 1950s," said Peter Kuznick, a history professor and director of the Nuclear Studies Institute at American University. ...

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