After the in-your-face Fourth of July "gift" that North Korea delivered to President Trump in the form of an intercontinental ballistic missile test, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see President Trump and the Pentagon retaliate by bombing North Korea. The reason goes not only to Trump's erratic behavior, especially when teased or taunted, but also because a bombing attack would reflect the Cold War mentality that unfortunately still holds the Pentagon in its grip.
I'll bet that most Americans today do not realize that during the Kennedy administration, the Joint Chiefs of Staff were recommending that the president initiate a surprise nuclear attack on the Soviet Union, much like the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Why no congressional declaration of war against the Soviet Union first, as the U.S. Constitution requires?
The Pentagon's reasoning was that a surprise attack was necessary to knock out the Soviet Union's nuclear first-strike capability and most of its retaliatory capability. If they were forewarned that such an attack was coming, such as with a congressional declaration of war, that would enable them to strike first with a nuclear attack on the United States.
Why was the Pentagon recommending nuclear war against the Soviet Union?
Remember: This was the Cold War, the era in which the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA — the three principal components of the U.S. national-security state — were telling Americans that peaceful coexistence with the communist world was impossible. This was going to be a war to the finish, they firmly believed, with only one side standing at the end.
In the early 1960s, the Pentagon knew that the United States had vast nuclear superiority over the Soviets, notwithstanding Pentagon and CIA public statements to the American people to the contrary. But they also knew that it was just a matter of time before the Soviets increased their nuclear weapons to such an extent that U.S. superiority wouldn't make any difference. After all, if 100 nuclear bombs can wipe out a nation, who cares if one side has 100 and the other side has 1,000?
The Pentagon's argument was this: Since war with the Russians was going to happen anyway at some point in the future, it would be in the interests of the United States to initiate the war now, before the Soviets had time to acquire more nuclear weapons and even achieve parity. In this way, the United States could wipe out most of the Soviet nuclear capability and win the war.
The operative word was "most." When President Kennedy asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff how many Soviet nuclear bombs would be likely to hit the United States in a retaliatory strike, they responded that it might be enough to kill only 40 million Americans. Since the entire Soviet Union, including all the communists in the country, would be wiped out with a nuclear carpet-bombing campaign and since the U.S. would have lost only 40 million Americans in a retaliatory strike, the U.S. would be considered the winner of the war.
As President Kennedy departed from a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff in which their first-strike recommendation was discussed, he remarked indignantly to an aide, "And we call ourselves the human race."