#Reviewing The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster: Best Practices in National Security Affairs


In the past year, nuclear command and control has captured the attention of policymakers and the public. Concern about the president’s sole authority to order a nuclear strike is accompanied by a curiosity, perhaps not seen since the Cold War, as to how the order to launch a nuclear attack is carried out. Of particular interest is the briefcase containing documents outlining nuclear strike options. The briefcase is carried by a military aide who accompanies the president at all times. Called the Presidential Emergency Satchel, it is typically thought to have originated after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis called attention to how, exactly, the president would issue a nuclear strike command. It is more commonly known as the “Football” a reference to an early nuclear war plan codenamed “Dropkick.”

Yet the idea of toting nuclear war plans around in a briefcase predates the Kennedy administration. In 1954, Eisenhower approved the creation of a “very thorough plan for presidential actions in the event of a nuclear attack.” Gordon Gray, head of the Office of Defense Mobilization, worked with Eisenhower’s staff secretary, Andrew Goodpaster, to develop a comprehensive set of documents outlining the president’s options and actions for responding to a nuclear strike against the United States. The resulting papers were “put in a briefcase and carried around by a presidential aide, often Goodpaster himself.”[1] This collection later formed the basis of the Football, and many of the original Eisenhower documents, marked on their lower corners with Eisenhower’s initials, remained part of the packet used by several subsequent presidents.[2]

Goodpaster, when he is remembered, is celebrated as a self-effacing public servant and a quintessential soldier-scholar.

Scholars concerned with Cold War national security have long overlooked the “man with the briefcase.” Andrew Jackson Goodpaster, Jr. graduated second in his West Point class, earned a doctorate in international relations from Princeton while serving in the Army, helped develop some of the earliest military plans for the use of atomic weapons, and participated in establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO). His military service spanned the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam. Even after retiring, Goodpaster returned to West Point as superintendent and continued advising policymakers through the post-Cold War transition. Goodpaster, when he is remembered, is celebrated as a self-effacing public servant and a quintessential soldier-scholar.

C. Richard Nelson’s recent book, The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster is not the only Goodpaster biography he has been involved with. Nelson, who served under Goodpaster as director of the Atlantic Council’s International Security Program, supported an earlier effort by the council to produce a Goodpaster biography that did not pan out. He implies that he also supported biographical efforts by the Eisenhower Institute, which culminated in Robert Jordan’s An Unsung Soldier: The Life of Gen. Andrew J. Goodpaster. The only other publication focused on Goodpaster seems to be Josiah T. Grover’s master’s thesis, “Andrew J. Goodpaster, Jr., 1915-1947: The Making of a Political-Military Officer.”[3]

In supporting the biography projects and working with Goodpaster for almost a decade, Nelson concluded that Goodpaster “had much of value to pass on to future generations and well beyond the army.”[4] He decided to publish a second biography, this time emphasizing the general’s insights into conducting national security affairs.[5] Pointing to Goodpaster’s influence over the course of seven presidential administrations and his broad policy experience and technical expertise, Nelson argues that Goodpaster developed the “National Security Council process,” a collaborative style of addressing national security problems through reasoned consensus-building.[6]

General Goodpaster receiving the Distinguished Service Cross from General Dwight Eisenhower with his wife and daughter. (Petaluma International Military Research Center)

Nelson’s biography takes place over three parts organized chronologically. Part one spans thirty-five years and discusses Goodpaster’s upbringing, education, and military career through World War II up to 1950. Goodpaster rose from unremarkable beginnings on an Illinois farm to become a significant, if behind-the-scenes, participant in forming the postwar national security state. Nelson describes in minute details each phase of his subject’s life, from Goodpaster’s coursework at West Point to the unpleasant experience of bunking on a transatlantic troop ship. The young Goodpaster emerges from every challenge having taken to heart a lesson, although these lessons, as they are presented, are not always clear, and Goodpaster often comes across as a blank slate rather than the active and engaged man he almost certainly was. Still, Nelson accomplishes his task for this section, which is to show the breadth of accomplishments on which Goodpaster’s sterling reputation was based.

Part two tells of Goodpaster’s work in the inner circles of the emerging national security community. By 1951 Goodpaster was a major in the Army and helping to establish NATO’s Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers, the alliance’s operational heart. Goodpaster served as President Eisenhower’s Defense Liaison Officer and Staff Secretary, General Maxwell Taylor’s assistant while Taylor was Army Chief of Staff, and was finally appointed Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) of NATO, one of the highest assignments available in the Army. These chapters will likely be the most interesting for readers interested in Cold War national security. Chapter eight, which considers Goodpaster’s position in the Eisenhower White House, is perhaps the strongest. Following the untimely death of Eisenhower’s first Staff Secretary, the president tapped Goodpaster for the job. Goodpaster briefed the president every day, making sure Eisenhower was “well informed on all important national security issues and foreign intelligence.” He attended National Security Council meetings and channeled “all the intelligence, diplomatic, and military papers” to the president. Given Nelson’s emphasis on Goodpaster’s pioneering of a “collaborative approach” to national security, it seems that Goodpaster’s emphasis on making sure all key voices were heard, thereby ensuring a spectrum of reasoned policy options, may have been his most significant contribution to policy during the turbulent years of the early Cold War.[7]

Part three focuses on Goodpaster’s post-retirement work. In Goodpaster’s case, “retirement” actually meant a second career in a policy think-tank before returning to duty as superintendent of West Point. During a three-year stint as a senior fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center, Goodpaster published For the Common Defense,[8] a consideration of how American military power could contribute to national security following the Vietnam War. In November 1976, Bernard Rogers, Chief of Staff of the Army, invited Goodpaster to return to active duty as superintendent of West Point. Under his leadership, the school survived the infamous 1976 cheating scandal and opened its doors to women. After retiring for the second time in 1981, Goodpaster devoted substantial time to advisory work, participating on Blue Ribbon panels and advisory committees on issues ranging from strategic interests to nuclear arms control.

National security officials who want to know more about the formation of the American national security state or who are searching for a role model in conducting public service may be interested in this book. In his effort to pass on Goodpaster’s insights regarding national security affairs to subsequent generations of officials, Nelson strikes the tone of a how-to guide: how to become Goodpaster, or at least emulate this thoughtfulness and charisma. Chapter eighteen (“What Would Andy Do?”) summarizes Goodpaster’s approach to analysis and decision-making, italicizing the most important of his qualities. If a nine-page digest is too much of a trudge, Nelson distills the summary even further in a list of “Seven Principles of Leadership.”[9] Military history buffs who enjoy detailed accounts of campaigns and logistics will appreciate the chapters on Goodpaster’s command of the 11th Engineers in Panama and the 48th Engineering Corps in Italy during the Second World War.

As a history, The Life and Work of Andrew J. Goodpaster takes a heavy-handed narrative approach at the cost of meaningful interpretation and analysis. In biographical storytelling, strict adherence to chronology can make it difficult to extract themes, which are often more interesting and informative. For instance, how did Goodpaster deal with failure at different points in his life? Nelson devotes just one paragraph to evaluating Goodpaster’s shortcomings, and even these are qualified and excused: “Goodpaster did not always get the results he sought” on U.S.-Soviet relations, nuclear weapons, or reducing interservice rivalry.[10] Rather than analyzing why Goodpaster failed, Nelson simply concludes that “had he not failed occasionally, Goodpaster would believe he had not challenged himself sufficiently.”[11] This statement and the numerous vague observations about lessons learned are not enough to convey how Goodpaster gained his remarkable integrity, a process that surely requires insight and reflection in defeat as well as success.

Nelson’s biography is comprehensive when it comes to Goodpaster’s education and roles. He strikes a good balance between describing Goodpaster the Army officer and public servant and Goodpaster the family man. But a more critical––that is, an interpretive and analytical––examination of Goodpaster’s life will better get to the heart of why he, as opposed to so many other Cold War officials, should be celebrated and why his collaborative approach to national security was novel and necessary. Goodpaster may well have been every bit as capable and exceptional as existing biographies suggest, but one suspects he was man as well as myth.


Annie Adams holds an M.A. in history from Cornell University, where she was a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellow. Her thesis focused on the United States’ neutron bomb program under the Eisenhower and Kennedy administrations.


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Notes:

[1] C. Richard Nelson, The Life and Work of General Andrew J. Goodpaster: Best Practices in National Security Affairs (United States: Rowman & Littlefield, 2016): 122-123.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Grover’s thesis is available at https://cdr.lib.unc.edu/indexablecontent/uuid:f5b1dbe5-b7f7-4887-92bc-37082041b768.

[4] Nelson, Goodpaster, x.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Nelson, Goodpaster, x, 236.

[7] Nelson, Goodpaster, 117-118.

[8] This text is out of print.

[9] Nelson, Goodpaster, 292.

[10] Nelson, Goodpaster, 291.

[11] Ibid.