Bernard Adolph Schriever

In his book A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon (2010) author Neil Sheehan describes the life and work of Bernard Schriever, who is considered to be the father of the American nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

Schriever and his military and civilian colleagues believed firmly that if both the United States and the Soviet Union possessed these weapons of mass destruction the probability of them being used actually would be decreased. Schriever had to overcome strong institutional resistance within the U.S. Air Force whose leadership was convinced that manned aircraft﹣strategic long-range bombers﹣was the only way to maintain a credible deterrent against the Soviet Union.

Through telling the story of Bernard Schriever and the development of the American ballistic missile program from the end of Second World War up to the mid-1960s Sheehan tells the history of the Cold War, which would last up until the 1990s with the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the unification of West and East Germany, the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union, and the freedom of Eastern Europe from Russian domination.

Generals unwilling to accept lost war

In a 2010 television interview (Booknotes on C-SPAN) Sheehan contrasted Schriever with his American-born military colleagues, Generals Paul Harkins and William Westmoreland, both who had overall command of U.S. forces in the Vietnam War.

Sheehan had been a young war correspondent in Vietnam for United Press International (UPI), later with the New York Times. As told in his book A Bright Shining Lie (1988), which won both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, the American generalship during the Vietnam War was unwilling to accept that America was losing that war.

Solve the problems at hand

General Schriever, according to Sheehan‘s research, made clear time and again to the members of this organization, whether military or civilian, that he wanted timely and accurate reports on the problems the program was experiencing, and was far less interested in the progress made. So-called progress reports had become common within the U.S. military after the Second World War, and according to Sheehan, symptomatic for an institution unwilling to face what was not working.

Schriever would tell his subordinates that he would never fire anyone for failing, but instead for failing to inform him immediately of problems. For Schriever, as stated by Sheehan, success would take care of itself if one focused on solving the problems at hand.

Bernard Adolph Schriever was born in 1910 in the German port city of Bremen. His father was an engineer. They immigrated to the U.S. only months before the U.S. entered the First World War in 1917.

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