The 18th Airborne Corps Podcast

Episode 48: The Myth of the Missile Gap

July 27, 2021

October 4th, 1957: The Soviet launch of Sputnik 1, the world's first artificial Earth satellite, surprised many Americans. The mysterious Soviet Union, our adversaries in the growing Cold War, had beat us to space. Overnight, concerns developed throughout the US that the Soviet Union could also overtake the United States in futuristic technology.


The Sputnick launch, combined with a National Intelligence Estimate report later that year predicting the Soviets could soon outpace the United States in Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, gave rise to a concern that the Soviet Union was already ahead of us in missile technology. This concern, colloquially known as the "missile gap," drove national security decision making, military technology procurement, and some measure of American politics during the end of the Eisenhower presidency and the early moments of the Kennedy administration.

But it was all a lie. A lie that American leaders bought. You see, the Missile Gap never existed.


The Soviet military apparatus was, in fact, barely functioning. The Missile Gap was a myth developed through Soviet bluff and laughably ineffective American intelligence collection methods. In fact, it's one of America's most shockingly erroneous strategic miscalculations.


On Episode 48 of the 18th Airborne Corps podcast host Joe Buccino and guest host Pete Nguyen lay bare the politics, confusion, and American incompetence at the heart of The Missile Gap. They also explain what it should mean for the way we think about JFK's legacy. To steal Tennessee Senator Howard Baker's question about another American president during the Watergate hearings: What did Kennedy know and when did he know it? Our hosts answer that question. Finally, Joe and Pete describe insight leaders can gleam from The Missile Gap today.


This is an episode rife with insights into our past. Candidly, it's frightening how wrong the systems of American national security were on this issue. Also frightening: the lengths to which one Massachusetts senator went to use this misunderstanding to win the presidency.


The 18th Airborne Corps podcast is, well, the official podcast of the US Army's XVIII Airborne Corps. But, you should have figured that out from the title. It is hosted by Joe Buccino, a Soldier in the Corps, and recorded on Fort Bragg, North Carolina. We release a new episode every Tuesday.


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