A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon

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by Neil Sheehan

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From Neil Sheehan, author of the Pulitzer Prize—winning classic A Bright Shining Lie, comes this long-awaited, magnificent epic. Here is the never-before-told story of the nuclear arms race that changed history–and of the visionary American Air Force officer Bernard Schriever, who led the high-stakes effort. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is a masterly work…  See more details below


From Neil Sheehan, author of the Pulitzer Prize—winning classic A Bright Shining Lie, comes this long-awaited, magnificent epic. Here is the never-before-told story of the nuclear arms race that changed history–and of the visionary American Air Force officer Bernard Schriever, who led the high-stakes effort. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is a masterly work about Schriever’s quests to prevent the Soviet Union from acquiring nuclear superiority, to penetrate and exploit space for America, and to build the first weapons meant to deter an atomic holocaust rather than to be fired in anger.

Sheehan melds biography and history, politics and science, to create a sweeping narrative that transports the reader back and forth from individual drama to world stage. The narrative takes us from Schriever’s boyhood in Texas as a six-year-old immigrant from Germany in 1917 through his apprenticeship in the open-cockpit biplanes of the Army Air Corps in the 1930s and his participation in battles against the Japanese in the South Pacific during the Second World War. On his return, he finds a new postwar bipolar universe dominated by the antagonism between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Inspired by his technological vision, Schriever sets out in 1954 to create the one class of weapons that can enforce peace with the Russians–intercontinental ballistic missiles that are unstoppable and can destroy the Soviet Union in thirty minutes. In the course of his crusade, he encounters allies and enemies among some of the most intriguing figures of the century: John von Neumann, the Hungarian-born mathematician and mathematical physicist, who was second in genius only to Einstein; Colonel Edward Hall, who created the ultimate ICBM in the Minuteman missile, and his brother, Theodore Hall, who spied for the Russians at Los Alamos and hastened their acquisition of the atomic bomb; Curtis LeMay, the bomber general who tried to exile Schriever and who lost his grip on reality, amassing enough nuclear weapons in his Strategic Air Command to destroy the entire Northern Hemisphere; and Hitler’s former rocket maker, Wernher von Braun, who along with a colorful, riding-crop-wielding Army general named John Medaris tried to steal the ICBM program.

The most powerful men on earth are also put into astonishing relief: Joseph Stalin, the cruel, paranoid Soviet dictator who spurred his own scientists to build him the atomic bomb with threats of death; Dwight Eisenhower, who backed the ICBM program just in time to save it from the bureaucrats; Nikita Khrushchev, who brought the world to the edge of nuclear catastrophe during the Cuban Missile Crisis, and John Kennedy, who saved it.

Schriever and his comrades endured the heartbreak of watching missiles explode on the launching pads at Cape Canaveral and savored the triumph of seeing them soar into space. In the end, they accomplished more than achieving a fiery peace in a cold war. Their missiles became the vehicles that opened space for America.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Editorial Reviews

Michael Dobbs
Sheehan does an excellent job of describing, in terms that a layman can follow, the technical challenges involved in developing an ICBM and how they were overcome…Sheehan is also good at tracing the origins of the military industrial lobby and the twisting of intelligence for political (and commercial) purposes.
—The Washington Post
Michael Beschloss
A Fiery Peace in a Cold War, Neil Sheehan's deeply researched, compulsively readable and important book…reminds us that, as the founders warned, the survival of the United States depends on our ability not only to choose wise presidents, but also to maintain a federal government that attracts extraordinary talent at all levels. As Sheehan shows us almost cinematically, this was particularly true in the 1950s, when American leaders had to decide whether to keep resisting Soviet power mostly with strategic bombers, or to build an awe-inspiring force of nuclear-tipped missiles.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
The military-industrial complex proves an unlikely arena for plucky individualism in this history of the men who built America's intercontinental ballistic missile program in the 1950s and '60s. Sheehan paints air force Gen. Bernard Schriever and his colorful band of military aides, civilian patrons, defense intellectuals and aerospace entrepreneurs as a guerrilla insurgency fighting Pentagon red tape, and a hostile air force brass, led by Strategic Air Command honcho Curtis LeMay, who advocated megatonnage bomber planes over ICBMs. Sheehan gives a fascinating run-down of the engineering challenges posed by nuclear missiles, but the main action consists of bureaucratic intrigues, procurement innovations and epic briefings that catch the president's ear and open the funding spigots. Like the author's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning A Bright Shining Lie, this is a saga of underdog visionaries struggling to redirect a misguided military juggernaut, this time successfully: the author credits Schriever's missiles with keeping the peace and jump-starting the space program and satellite industry. Sheehan's focus on personal initiative and human-scale dramas lends an overly romantic cast to his study of cold war policy making and the arms race, but it makes for an engrossing read. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct. 6)
Library Journal
Air Force general Bernard Schriever's most important work was on the development of the inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM). The story of Schriever and the ICBM is as much about the rivalry between the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force as it is about the Cold War. At times it seems that Schriever and his air force associates feared the Soviets—but really hated the army. Schriever also had to navigate the rivalries between military contractors and superior officers within his own service branch. While a tale of bureaucratic wrangling could very easily be boring, Pulitzer Prize winner Sheehan (A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam) has made this work exciting by weaving in fascinating personal stories of the individuals involved as well as lucid snapshots of Cold War politics. The climax is his brief synopsis of the Cuban Missile Crisis, the closest the weapons Schriever helped develop came to being deployed. VERDICT Highly accessible to lay readers, this book is for anyone interested in learning how the military industrial complex worked during the Cold War. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/09.]—Michael Farrell, Reformed Theological Seminary, Oviedo, FL
Kirkus Reviews
A Pulitzer Prize-winning author chronicles the Soviet-American arms race through the life story of the man who was indispensable to the creation of the intercontinental ballistic missile. By 1951 Air Force legend Curtis LeMay's Strategic Air Command had encircled the Soviet empire and served as the centerpiece of America's military-defense strategy. Still, LeMay's bomber strike force was already being undermined by innovations spurred by the post-World War II vision of General Hap Arnold, who looked to a then-obscure colonel, Bernard Schriever, to carry forward his vision of an Air Force more reliant on science and brains than on combat courage. Sheehan (After the War Was Over: Hanoi and Saigon, 1993, etc.) charts Schriever's career from his Texas boyhood to his WWII service, where he specialized in maintenance and aeronautical engineering. Following the war and responding to Arnold's call, Schriever punched the tickets necessary for a fast-rising officer, all the while developing his expertise in radar, rocketry and nuclear weaponry. Just as with his Pulitzer- and National Book Award-winning A Bright Shining Lie (1988), Sheehan uses the career of one man as a window into a larger, more complex story, in this case the Cold War arms race. The wide-ranging narrative covers the postwar Allied scramble to gather up German rocket scientists, Stalin's A-bomb program, the pervasive espionage that helped speed up the Soviet push for parity, America's Cold War politics and diplomacy and many intriguing profiles of scientists, politicians, contractors and military men who played critical roles in helping, or occasionally hindering, Schriever fight the bureaucratic battles necessary to develop theICBM. With a reporter's respect for fact, a historian's care for context and a novelist's attention to narrative flow, Sheehan transforms an otherwise arcane topic into a must-read for any citizen interested in how and why the country assembled a deadly arsenal designed to prevent another Pearl Harbor and make nuclear war unthinkable. Simply outstanding.
A. C. Grayling
Nikita Khrushchev's Cuban gamble in 1962 was a product of the huge imbalance of nuclear weapon capability between the Cold War's adversaries. In that year the Soviet Union had a mere 20 unreliable intercontinental ballistic missiles compared to the U.S. arsenal of 150 ICBMs, 100 intermediate-range ballistic missiles located in Europe and Turkey, and 50 submarine-launched Polaris missiles. The Soviet Union had 58 Bison jet bombers, restricted to a one-way, Russia-to-America range, and 76 ponderous Tupolev turboprop bombers that were sitting ducks for American fighters and surface-to-air missiles. The U.S. had a fleet of nearly 2,000 heavy bombers which could drop their nuclear weapons on any point in Russia and then fly home again.

Khrushchev thought that placing nuclear-warhead missiles in Cuba would counter this disparity of threat. His gamble brought the world very close to a terrible event; U.S. military estimates of likely casualties in the event of an all-out exchange were that 175,000,000 people would die in a devastated Northern Hemisphere. That was probably an understatement.

But although the USSR's great lag in the arms race was what prompted that perilous moment, it was also what kept the peace, both then and for the rest of the USSR's short and inglorious history. The idea of an ultimate weapon to ensure peace by being unusable seems crazy, all the more so for involving tens of billions of dollars to develop and mount; but at least for the duration of the Cold War it was an idea that worked. One of its chief architects was a career U.S. Air Force pilot and engineer officer called Bernard Schriever, a man of organizational genius who presided over the difficult conception, gestation, and birth of the United States' ICBM force and rose to be a four-star general as a result. Neil Sheehan tells his story, which is also therefore the story of the U.S. Air Forces, its leading personalities, the origins and early history of the Cold War, and the vast technological, scientific, and military endeavor involved in equipping the United States with the its ultimate, all-powerful peacekeeping weapon.

Sheehan's book is not only a multifaceted history and a technological handbook but a multiple biography. Almost all the main players in the story of how America came by its ICBM arsenal have their life stories told by Sheehan. The cast is a glittering one, including "Hap" Arnold, whose prescient genius shaped the postwar Air Force, the fiery bombardier Curtis LeMay, such brilliant scientists and engineers as John von Neumann and Edward Hall, and a gaggle of civil servants, politicians, and presidents besides.

The main thread is provided by Schriever's life and work. He arrived in the U.S. as s six-year-old immigrant from Germany in 1917. His father died not long afterward, and his mother heroically raised him and his brother by running a sandwich stand and working as a domestic servant, though at one point she had to house her sons in an orphanage. By a lucky accident the sandwich stand was next to a golf course; Bennie Schriever became an outstanding player, which at various points in his career proved socially and professionally helpful. He trained as a military airman, learning to fly under the command of three of the most significant figures in the U.S. Air Force: "Hap" Arnold, Ira Eaker, and Tooey Spaatz. In the Pacific Theater during World War II, he was taken off combat missions to organize the repair and maintenance of bombers, and his remarkable talent for the task earned him decorations and repeated promotions -- and eventually, on Arnold's personal instruction, the task of developing the USAF missile capability.

It is easy to think that the U.S. was gung-ho in its defense spending from the beginning of the Cold War onward, not least because the handsome profits made by the defense industry during the war had created an appetite for more. Schriever himself recognized that some of the corporations who had done well out of the war were keen to hang on to contracts because their profits were guaranteed, whether or not their research and development work bore fruit. Schriever wanted the fruit, and he wanted it because he believed the safety of the U.S. and the NATO alliance depended on it. Sheehan makes a good case for showing that there was justification for the urgency that lay behind the imperatives of military innovation.

For one thing, U.S. fear of Soviet military power was real, and there was no appetite to underestimate what Moscow's scientists and engineers were capable of producing. Yet despite this, Schriever and his opposite numbers in other branches of the U.S. military had to struggle to get money for the weapons they regarded as necessary for deterrence and defense. Their battle was waged in part against administrations bent on curbing budgets -- Eisenhower, president during the first crucial years of technical innovation, was a particularly reluctant spender -- and in part against the senior officers who, in the way of these things, were intent on fighting the last war with the last war's weapons, and who could not see that the world and its technologies had changed.

This last point was especially true of Curtis LeMay, whose stature in the Air Force made him a huge obstacle to any development other than the invention of bigger, fast, higher-flying, more load-carrying versions of the bombers he had commanded over Japan in 1945. He was sceptical about missiles and saw the money allocated to their development as a diminution of the money he wanted for his bigger faster bombers. When Schriever received his fourth star, LeMay said to him, "If I'd had my way, you wouldn't have got any stars."

One of the fascinating aspects of Sheehan's exhaustively thorough account of the ICBM story is how many failures it experienced in the development stage, and how much persistence and determination was required to carry it through to operational status. Much of that determination flowed from Schriever, and much of the program's success is owed to his method of finding the right people for the many different jobs that needed doing, and letting them get on with their assignments -- a strategy that included letting them fail and try again. As Sheehan describes it, Schriever's leadership method was to "win the man's loyalty and then back him up while he does the job." It worked. Schriever also knew when to employ an individual and when not to. This applied especially in the case of Edward Hall, the man who made the solid-fuel, quickly deployable Minuteman missile a reality. Hall was outstanding as an engineer but incapable of relating to people effectively. He never forgave Schriever for taking him off the Minuteman project once it was under way, but Schriever knew that Hall would be no good at managing the production of what he had invented, and therefore removed him.

If you think that the story of making nuclear-warhead rockets could appeal only to geeks and military historians, think again. The history of how the Cold War started and developed in its early phases is a gripping one, and the personal stories of the men who -- in effect -- fought the Cold War and kept its fiery peace, is every bit as gripping. The arms race was genuinely a race, run in the half-dark of uncertainty and risk, with the recent memory of hot war and the presence of serious tensions making it a race for life. Sheehan provides copious details concerning everything germane, from the technology of rocketry to the men who developed it, championed it, opposed it, and eventually made it happen. The book is valuable too for the lessons, both intended and otherwise, that it teaches; and these perhaps will be its major contribution apart from memorializing the skill and determination of Bernard Schriever himself as the linchpin of the effort involved.

One of the lessons taught by Sheehan's book is that inadequate intelligence cost the United States a vast fortune. The impetus for the massive defense budgets of the 1950s was fear of the USSR, resulting from ignorance of Soviet capabilities and intentions. As Sheehan eloquently puts it, "Technology was in the saddle of a horse named Fear in a race of human folly." If the U.S. had possessed an accurate picture of Soviet military incapacities and weaknesses, it would not have needed to spend so many billions, and would not have driven itself, nor therefore by its vain attempt at emulation the USSR itself, to the arms escalation of those dangerous years. Just one warhead on a single Minuteman had the destructive power of nearly 100 Hiroshima bombs; the amount of overkill was so great that when John F. Kennedy looked at the budgets for the missile force, he was moved to wonder aloud how many times a human being can be killed, and wryly concluded that, surely, "three is enough." He might further have asked how many millions of dollars it was costing to make each such death possible. If it had been known that the USSR was far less a threat than the hawks feared, those many millions might have gone to something more constructive.

Sheehan is quite clear that advancing the technology of mass death and destruction is, at the very least, a morally equivocal matter. The book does not condone or applaud it. In showing how and why it happened, Sheehan does, however, applaud Schriever's determination to make the ultimate weapon a guarantee of peace: he reports Schriever telling an audience at the RAND Corporation that "the ICBM was not being built to be used as a weapon. Rather, as an instrument of war the ICBM would have 'the highest probability of NOT being used.' " For organizations like the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, such arguments would not wash; the proliferation of nuclear weapons into too many hands, some of them unreliable, makes Schriever's early and laudable optimism look shaky.

Another lesson of Sheehan's book is the way the complex political and bureaucratic machinery of a large democracy both inhibits and assists -- this latter in sometimes suspect ways -- the spending of huge military budgets. The least detailed aspect of the book is the political story behind the military one; only a small number of Sheehan's many pages take us into the White House or the committees of Congress where deals were brokered and decisions influenced and made. But when Sheehan takes us there, the narrative is compelling; how many people know that Eisenhower's vice president, Richard Nixon, was instrumental in expediting Schriever's work by asking, after a White House briefing, "Why haven't we started this sooner? What's been the hold-up?"

Although Schriever's work was over by the time the ICBM force was fully operational, the further consequences of what he had done were only beginning. Satellites and eventual manned space flight were implicit in the technologies whose development he had presided over, and he was an enthusiast for them. Advances in military technology often have major spin-offs for peaceful applications; in this story they range from computing to metal alloys, from types of fuel to the construction of turbofan jet engines, and much more. Schriever's achievement was accordingly not restricted to weapon systems of what he himself described as "the New Era" but to the whole domain of aerospace technology and beyond. The tale of his achievement is well worth the telling, because it is an integral part of the foundations of today's world, its good and bad all included. --A. C. Grayling

A. C. Grayling is an author, playwright, reviewer, cultural journalist, and professor of philosophy at London University. The most recent of his many books are Towards the Light of Liberty and The Choice of Hercules. His play Grace was recently performed in New York City.

From the Publisher
“Excellent. . . . Deeply researched, compulsively readable and important.”
The New York Times Book Review

“An important contribution to our understanding of those decades when the U.S. and U.S.S.R. held each other—and the world—in a balance of terror. . . . Engrossing.”
Los Angeles Times

“Utterly riveting reading. . . . Schriever is a fascinating person, and Sheehan [is] to be commended for his careful gathering of interviews and documents to put flesh on this most unexpected warrior.”
San Francisco Chronicle

“Even more thoroughly researched, bristling with facts and figures and faces, than A Bright Shining Lie.”
San Antonio Express-News

“A deep look at American defensive thinking in the Cold War. . . . Sheehan’s book is rich in cultural detail, beyond iconic moments of the Cold War as refracted through the lens of the missile race.”

“An ambitious story. Sheehan tells it well.”
Dallas Morning News

“Absorbing. . . . Sheehan is a terrific reporter and an excellent writer, capable of weaving multiple storylines into a seamless narrative. . . . Unforgettable. . . . More than a worthy successor to A Bright Shining Light. . . . It is hard to imagine a more accomplished and informative exposé of the deep gears grinding in the engine room of the Cold War.”
The Oregonian

“A success story, in which the military, or a part of it anyway, instead of becoming mired in a folly of its own creation, prevailed over bureaucracy and incompetence and probably averted catastrophe.”
The New York Times

“Fascinating. . . . Sheehan’s scope is vast, and the narrative proceeds with the measured beauty of a complex mathematical proof.”

“Neil Sheehan is a master of historical portraiture. His new book casts light on a critical but largely forgotten moment of the Cold War, with all the dazzling research and authority we have come to expect from him. Sheehan tells a fascinating story wonderfully vividly.”
—Sir Max Hastings

“Schriever is a charismatic figure, and the supporting characters are fascinating, too.”
The New Yorker

“Schriever’s part in the development of the ICBM is a story that needed to be told . . . and Sheehan tells it with enthusiasm.”
The Boston Globe

“Here, masterfully recounted, is the epic tale of the decisive scientific battle of the Cold War—for supremacy of the skies and space—told through the remarkable story of Air Force general Bennie Schriever. Once again, the legendary reporter Neil Sheehan has unearthed a hidden trove of the history of our time. . . . A stunning achievement.”
—Carl Bernstein

“Sheehan does an excellent job of describing, in terms that a layman can follow, the technical challenges involved in developing an ICBM and how they were overcome.”
—Michael Dobbs, The Washington Post

“A fascinating tale.”
The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)

“Neil Sheehan has triumphed again in this sweeping and absolutely fascinating book. . . . Sheehan takes on the epic tale of how science, the military, and politics became interwoven during the Cold War. It’s a crucially important topic, but also a colorful narrative tale filled with memorable characters such as Bennie Schriever and the geniuses he enlisted in his cause.”
—Walter Isaacson

“A story of many characters, and some of the major ones, such as mathematician John von Neumann and Gen. Curtis LeMay, are very colorful. . . . There is much to like in this book. . . . Sheehan’s book helps make sense of things we know.”
Seattle Times

“In this amazing book, Neil Sheehan shows us how the grand movements of history turn on the character of individuals. A Fiery Peace in a Cold War is the gripping account of the events, largely hidden until now, that saved the Cold War from turning into Armageddon.”
—Anthony Lewis

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The men in the Schriever family were venturesome types who immigrated to America to better themselves or took to the sea. Schriever's paternal grandfather, Bernhard, after whom he was named, had jumped ship as a young German sailor in the port of Norfolk, Virginia, in 1860 and volunteered for the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Afterward, he had made his way down to New Orleans and gone to work on the railroads, building watering towers for the steam locomotives of the time, before returning to Germany in 1870 to pursue the trade of a rigger for sailing ships.  

Schriever's mother, Elizabeth Milch, a pleasing dark brunette with bright blue eyes and a strong will, had left Germany as a teenager to work in the household of a German family who owned a pharmacy in lower Manhattan. She had initially dated Schriever's paternal uncle, George Schriever, who had immigrated to Union City, New Jersey, and become a prosperous baker and delicatessen owner there. But George was a bon vivant determined to remain a bachelor ("He played the field," his nephew recalled) and so he introduced Elizabeth to his brother, Adolph, a tall stalk of a man with blond hair and a neat mustache who was an engineering officer on the passenger liners of the North German Lloyd Company. They were married at a Lutheran church in Hoboken in 1908, when she was twenty-two. Adolph took her back to Germany. Her first son, Bernhard Adolph, was born in the north German city of Bremen on September 14, 1910, and her second boy, Gerhard, followed two years later just before Christmas. The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, while Adolph's ship, the George Washington, was in New York Harbor, suddenly separated the family, now living in his home port of nearby Bremerhaven. (The German line had apparently built the ship in 1909 for service to the United States and originally named it in honor of America's first president.) Adolph was stranded in New York, Britain's Royal Navy standing by to seize the vessel the moment the liner ventured out.  

By the end of 1916, Elizabeth had had enough of waiting for the war to end and her husband to come home. Holland was neutral during the First World War. She booked passage to New York for herself and her two boys out of Rotterdam. They left in January 1917 on the Dutch liner Noordam. The English Channel was closed to neutral shipping because of the war and they had to sail north around Scotland. It took them more than two weeks. The North Atlantic was rough sailing in this winter season. Looking at the heaving waves, Schriever remembered thinking that the ocean must be a series of mountains. His mother had a scare when a British gunboat hailed the ship and an inspection party came aboard. She was afraid they would be seized as German nationals and taken off, but fortunately Gerhard had the mumps, a dangerous disease for an adult. When the Dutch crew warned the British sailors, the boarding party avoided the Schrievers' cabin. The next fright came in the intimidating immensity of the Great Hall at Ellis Island. It was a cavernous structure, 189 feet long and 102 feet wide with a 60-foot-high vaulted ceiling. Thousands of immigrants off the ships lined up within it each day to be processed, either accepted as physically fit and freed to go ashore or rejected and sent back to wherever they had come from with now vanished hope. Elizabeth spoke English well, with merely a slight accent, but her boys had only German. Anti-German feeling was reaching war pitch in much of the United States. She feared that if the immigration officials overheard a word of German, she and the boys might be turned away. "Be quiet," Schriever remembered her whispering, taking them by the hand. "Don't say anything." They were cleared and released as landed immigrants on February 1, 1917. Elizabeth Schriever had given her sons an American future just in time. The United States declared war on Kaiser Wilhelm's Germany only two months later.  

Adolph was allowed to join his family. Before leaving the ship, he and the rest of his engineering crew, patriotic German men, had done their best to wreck the engines of the vessel they knew was soon to be confiscated. Schriever remembered learning of it because his father appeared with a bandaged thumb, injured while smashing machinery. (The wrecking was to no avail. The George Washington was repaired and converted into a troopship to haul American soldiers to France to kill Germans and, after the Armistice of November 11, 1918, had the honor of carrying President Woodrow Wilson to and from the peace conference at Versailles. It survived through the next two decades to again serve as a troop transport during the Second World War.)  

To escape the anti-German hysteria of the Northeast, the family moved to the Texas Hill Country between Austin and San Antonio on the advice of John Schriever, another of Adolph's brothers who had immigrated there years earlier and made his living at cattle ranching and speculating in land and oil properties. The region had been heavily settled by Germans since the wave of exiles created by the failure of the liberal revolutions in Germany in 1848. Adolph found work as superintendent of the machinery in the local brewery at New Braunfels, still a German-speaking community in 1917. School was taught in English and Bernhard and Gerhard learned the language quickly, but they had less trouble than they otherwise might have had because the teacher could always translate when they encountered a problem. With the United States now in the war and its industries going full bore, there was a demand for engineering talent. Adolph took a job as quality control engineer at a factory in San Antonio that was making large gasoline-driven engines. The Schrievers shifted to the city. One day in September 1918, Adolph had his head down inspecting an engine. Someone accidentally flipped the starter. The flywheel fractured his skull in two places. He never recovered consciousness and died on September 17, 1918, sixteen days after his thirty-fifth birthday.    


Elizabeth Schriever and her two boys suddenly confronted a stark existence. There was no compensation for an accident like this in those years and she was a widow with a modicum of education and no particular skills she could call upon to support her sons. They were taken in by an uncle of Bernhard's father, Magnus Klattenhoff, who had immigrated a generation earlier and gone into ranching at Slaton, near Lubbock in West Texas. Schriever got a start on a nickname and Americanization there. A Klattenhoff cousin of his age had been baptized with a good Texas first name-Ben. When another boy of the same age arrived at school with the Klattenhoffs, the teacher decided she was not going to be bothered addressing him by his German first name of Bernhard. She dubbed the cousin Ben One and the arrival Ben Two. The locals also had trouble pronouncing Gerhard for some reason, and so he gradually acquired the nickname of Gerry. Life was mostly outdoors and healthy-helping with the cattle, picking cotton-but the trauma of their father's loss was always with them and charity is not a livelihood. After a year they moved back to New Braunfels, where friends rented them a small house and their mother worked part-time in a butcher shop and at a minor housekeeping job.  

Neither brought in enough to sustain herself and her boys and so Elizabeth Schriever made a grim decision. She put her sons in an orphanage in San Antonio while she set about finding a housekeeping position in the city that paid a respectable wage. The next six months were desolate ones for her children. They were at an age, approximately ten and eight, when boys need their mother. In the span of just a few years, they had also been taken from a solid, familiar place to a strange land where they had lost their father and been repeatedly uprooted. "We never felt we'd been abandoned," Schriever said later, because Elizabeth visited often and explained why she'd had to put them in the orphanage. The staff also treated them well and the hardship was mitigated for Gerry because he had an older brother to give him support. But Schriever had no one to whom he could turn. Nothing could compensate for the loneliness. He did not complain. Ever since his father's death he had felt a sense of responsibility not to make things harder for his mother than they already were. In the end what sustained the boys' faith in their eventual rescue was, as Schriever put it, "the great confidence we had in our mother."  

Even after she found a job and took them out of the orphanage, there was still the bar to acceptance for two German boys when all things German were unpopular in the hangover animosity from the war. Felix McKnight, who grew up to become a prominent Texas newspaperman-co-publisher and editor of the Dallas Times Herald-met Schriever in the third grade. Elizabeth took to McKnight when Schriever brought him home to the house she had rented and became a kind of second mother to him. The two boys began a close and lifelong friendship. McKnight remembered how hard the other boys were on the German kid who spoke with a bit of a guttural accent. He was taller than his schoolmates and so they were afraid to take him on individually, but they would ring him around in a gang, ragging him and yelling that he was Kaiser Wilhelm. Most of the time he kept his temper and endured the taunts, but every once in a while he would make for a couple of the taunters and McKnight would restrain him, afraid that Schriever would get into deeper trouble by being blamed for fistfighting by a teacher who also had an animus toward Germans. His thirst to be adopted by this new land, however, gradually won over the other boys. Every day the class would stand at attention, put their right hands over their hearts, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Schriever recited the pledge with far more emotion than any of his schoolmates and it was not long before his voice was the one leading the daily recital. The German accent faded and so did the ragging.  

The job Elizabeth finally found also soon transformed their lives. A wealthy and elderly mortgage banker, Edward Chandler, and his wife had a three-story, sixteen-room, gray brick mansion on West French Place in Laurel Heights, at the time the most fashionable section of San Antonio. The mansion required a staff of about half a dozen. The Chandlers recognized in Elizabeth Schriever an efficient, take-charge woman who could run the place for them-supervising the other servants, making the household purchases, relieving them of any worries as head housekeeper.  

Within a year Chandler built her a home for herself in which to raise her boys on a lot he owned at 217 Terry Court on the edge of the Brackenridge Park Golf Course, then within the residential section of a San Antonio of roughly 160,000 persons and now at the center of a city of approximately 1,150,000. The house was a small but adequate wood-frame affair with a white clapboard exterior, set under the immense spreading branches of one of the lot's four antique live oak trees, said by local legend to date from the original Spanish settlement in the early eighteenth century. It had two bedrooms, a large dining-living room area, a kitchen and pantry, and a screened-in porch off to one side. Elizabeth occupied one of the bedrooms; her mother, who had come over from Germany to look after the boys while Elizabeth worked (they called her "Oma," the German equivalent of "Grandma" or "Granny"), slept in the other; and the two young men had their beds out on the porch. In winter they slept under heavy, old-fashioned eiderdown comforters from Germany, the sort that were common before central heating. Neither remembers ever being cold.  

The rear of the house lot bordered the green of the twelfth hole. Chandler, who had no children of his own, became a bighearted uncle to the Schriever boys. He had a refreshment stand built under the enveloping tent of the branches of another of the live oak trees so that they could earn pocket money by selling lemonade and Cokes and the like to passing golfers. When Chandler and his wife died in the early 1920s, Elizabeth struck out on her own. She transformed the soda pop stand at the twelfth green, which the boys had never made much of, into a business profitable enough to support her family. She had a small white structure built with serving windows on one side and in front set wooden benches next to picnic tables. She called her stand, appropriately, "The Oaks," in gratitude for the shade the venerable trees provided her little building and the bench seats and picnic tables, and she featured homemade sandwiches and cookies, along with lemonade and other soft drinks. She charged fifteen cents for a sandwich and a nickel for a glass of lemonade. Several nights a week she would bake hams to slice for the sandwiches. She soon had a flourishing business not only from the many golfers but also from other locals seeking a hearty bite and out-of-towners who had heard about her stand.  

Elizabeth Schriever kept her boys under a strict regimen. Even when in high school, they had their homework done and were in bed by 9:00 p.m. Yet she did so with persuasion and self-control. Schriever could not recall her ever striking them, nor did she shout when they crossed her. "She talked you into it," he said. "She reasoned with you." Without health one had nothing, she would tell them, and eating well and sleeping well were vital to maintaining health. Not that they caused her much trouble. They could see how hard she was working to give them a good life and the sense of responsibility that had descended on Schriever with his father's death never left him. Gerry later suspected that her total devotion to raising her sons was the principal reason she did not remarry until she was past sixty. She made certain that they went to catechism class at a church in the Lutheran faith of their father, Friedens Evangelical. She was not a churchgoer herself. She was a lapsed Catholic who had rebelled at harsh discipline from the nuns at a convent school in Germany as a girl. She also had no time for church, as weekends were her busiest days at the stand.    

From the Hardcover edition.

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A Fiery Peace in a Cold War: Bernard Schriever and the Ultimate Weapon 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 13 reviews.
Tybee_Tom More than 1 year ago
Neil Sheehan writes a marvelous history of the Cold War through the prism of Air Force General Bernard Schriever's unknown but utterly essential career. As Sheehan shines a light on this previously little known Air Force officer and his astounding contributions, he sets this person's efforts in the context of the US-Soviet Union Cold War. Sheehan depicts these nations as gigantic mastadons flailing at each other in joint incomprehension, both afflicted with bluster, fear, and ignorance. As Sheehan lays out the path to the ICBM, one is struck by the incredible application of brain power and resources used in developing this engineering marvel. One is also struck by the lack of a similar intelligence effort against the Soviet Union as the US raced against the Soviets to develop the first operational ICBM. The answer to that failure is not answered, but suggested by the financial rewards this national effort made possible to the emerging military-industrial complex. The rewards were for building a rocket, not for seeing if the opposition was truly as dangerous as he was made out to be. President Eisenhower emerges as a hero of the Republic, with his unique combination of military experience and profound scepticism of the emergening military-industrial complex. By the end of the book, the reader admires Schreiver for getting the US to the goal of an ICBM, and Eisenhower for understanding the potential costs of that goal. In this book, Sheehan has crafted a compelling account of post-WW II America as it accepts world leadership, and the individual qualities of two men whose contributions were crucial for us to reach the world we live in today.
NYMuseum More than 1 year ago
I read the book through since is a recap of some of the USA missile development history from a USA Air Force point of view. Schriever, the main character, gets lost in the read. Sure, buy the book and read it and you will get a good history of the USA Air Force Missile Command but do not expect an intriguing biography of General Schriever.
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AdvRider More than 1 year ago
The story, over 30 years, of how the U.S. nuclear missile program was developed is laid out in this book. Using some recently available materials from the former U.S.S.R., some insight is provided on what the Soviet's were thinking as we proceeded down this path in the U.S. The book is a good read but I would have liked more depth on the technological elements in coordination with the political story.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
After quite some time I'm still struggling to get through this book. I purchased this because I had very much enjoyed Sheehan's earlier book, A Bright Shining Lie", which I thought very interesting and readable. For me, "A Fiery Peace in a Cold War" is much slower.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Neil Sheehan does it again -- like his award winning "Bright Shining Lie" -- the definitive book about the Vietnam War -- "A Fiery Peace" is the definitive book about the history and development of the nuclear missle arsenals during the cold war. Neil Sheehan has to rank at the top amongst investigative-reporters and writers in the field of journalisim. The audio book is a must for anyone wanting to understand the present day world of mutual assured destruction posed by nuclear missles and the prolifieration of nuclear weaponry.