General Curtis LeMay was one of the most interesting figures of the first half of the cold war. He was the inspiration for George C. Scott
's 'General Buck Turgidson' of Dr. Strangelove
, with a bit of 'Major T J 'King' Kong' and 'General Ripper' thrown in.
In World War Two he commanded bomber groups in both the European and Japanese theatres, where he pioneered low-altitude incendiary attacks against cities. Over half a million Japanese lost their lives in LeMay's bombing raids; ironically, had he been more successful, the US would not have had to drop atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. He was, as noted above, a pragmatist - he ordered his bomber pilots to take no evasive action against enemy aircraft and artillery, figuring that, in the long run, the increased accuracy of careful initial bomb runs would cause fewer casualties than having to go back and bomb the target repeatedly.
In 1948 he was put in charge of Strategic Air Command - in the pre-ICBM era, America's bomber force was its primary deterrent, and the Soviet Union had not yet closed the 'warhead gap'. LeMay was therefore in favour of a pre-emptive strike against the Soviet Union, applying the same logic as General MacArthur during the Korean War. The President held ultimate control over SAC's nuclear strike capability, but LeMay believed that control should be shared with the Air Force - arguing that, in the event of a surprise attack on Washington, the President would probably be indisposed. During the Cuban missile crisis he was in favour of bombing the Cuban missiles (unaware that they were nuclear-equipped, and that the Soviets would probably be very upset at such a course of action).
LeMay was bullishly confident in the ability of SAC's bomber force to obliterate the Soviet Union - during a lecture in 1956 he claimed with some pride that, in the aftermath of a strike, 'dawn might break over a nation infinitely poorer than China, less populated than the United States, and condemned to an agrarian existence perhaps for generations to come'.
In 1957 he was replaced by General Thomas Power who was, if anything, even more extreme. But with the rise of ICBM's, SAC's role was greatly diminished.
LeMay went off into the lecture circuit, reappearing in 1968 as George Wallace's running-mate - the George Wallace - in the 1968 election, losing to Richard Nixon and Spiro T. Agnew. He retired from the public eye and died in 1990.