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Johnson, Louis

Johnson, Louis (1891–1966), secretary of defense.As defense secretary from 28 March 1949 to 19 September 1950, Louis Johnson was best known for his controversial money‐saving measures. The most contentious was his decision in April 1949 to cancel the navy's experimental flush‐deck “supercarrier,” the United States, which was in the initial stages of construction. Johnson thought the supercarrier would duplicate strategic bombing functions performed by the air force, but his cancelation order outraged the navy and its partisans and provoked a congressional investigation. Johnson insisted he was only complying with PresidentHarry S. Truman's instructions to hold down defense spending. He was absolved of any wrongdoing, but some critics felt his economy drive went too far and weakened the armed forces.

Johnson's tempestuous tenure as secretary of defense came in the wake of earlier controversy surrounding his actions as assistant secretary of war (1937–40). At that time, Johnson had pressed vigorously for U.S. rearmament as war clouds gathered over Europe and the Far East, even though U.S. policy stressed neutrality and noninvolvement. During World War II, Johnson served briefly as U.S. representative to India.

As secretary of defense, Johnson favored a defense posture resting on strategic nuclear airpower, while his rival, Secretary of State Dean Acheson, wanted a more broadly based military that would allow greater diplomatic flexibility. Their differences came to a head in the spring of 1950 during deliberations over a paper (NSC 68) recommending a U.S. military buildup to counter recent increases in Soviet military power. President Truman sided with Acheson and decided to fire Johnson in the light of early U.S. reverses in the Korean War. Though Johnson had once aspired to the presidency, he felt disgraced and quietly returned to his West Virginia law practice.
[See also Carrier Warfare; Defense, Department of.]


Carl W. Borklund , Men of the Pentagon: From Forrestal to McNamara, 1966.
Steven L. Rearden , History of the Office of the Secretary of Defense: The Formative Years, 1947–1950, 1984.
Roger R. Trask , The Secretaries of Defense: A Brief History, 1947–1985, 1985.

Steven L. Rearden

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