Know your BFEE: Nixon Threatened to NUKE Vietnam
It wasn’t completely the crook’s fault, though.
Ya see, the Soviets were having a border dispute with Red China and they were getting ready for war....
The short version:
In 1969, after a half a year as president (and with no real peace plan he had told the nation he had to get elected), Richard M. Nixon wanted to drive the North Vietnamese to the bargaining table.
So, Tricky Dick ordered Henry Kissinger to spread the word among the North Vietnamese that he, Richard Milhous Nixon, was a “madman.” To “pretend” the president was crazy, Nixon ordered the Air Force on nuclear alert.
To Nixon, acting like a rightwing nutjob was just his way to make a point. Unfortunately, while the Ho Chi Minh and the government of North Vietnam thought he was seriously coo-coo, the Soviets could’ve thought otherwise.
At that very moment, the Soviets had problems – and plans – of their own. Locked in a border dispute with China, the Russian commies were preparing to nuke China first.
Imagine what would happen if the Soviets thought all the U.S. bombers in the air were meant for THEM?
Wonder if some comrade colonel would’ve said, “Gee. We’re gonna get hit. We better hit first.” And pressed the button.
As the Mean Drunk Cheney would say, “That’d be a real bummer.”
The Long Version
For his catalyst, Tricky Dick told Henry Kissinger to spread the word amongst the North Vietnamese that he, Richard Milhous Nixon, was certifiably insane and was so hopping mad he was itching to push the button.
Nixon's Madman Strategy
by James Carroll
The Boston Globe
June 14, 2005
"I call it the madman theory, Bob," Richard Nixon said to Robert Haldeman. With the recent revelation of the identity of ''Deep Throat," the nation's memory has been cast back to the Watergate crisis, which began with a burglary 33 years ago this week. Nixon is remembered as having threatened the US Constitution, but his presidency represented a far graver threat than that. Various published tapes have put on display his vulgarity, pettiness, and prejudice and his regular drunkenness. But what has generated insufficient alarm is Nixon's insane flirtation with the actual use of nuclear weapons.
''I want the North Vietnamese to believe," he went on, ''that I've reached the point that I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry, and he has his hand on the nuclear button, and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace." Six months into his presidency, Nixon's frustration with Hanoi's refusal to budge in its demands at the Paris peace talks was extreme, and he put his madman ploy into gear. For this account, I depend on the political scientists Scott D. Sagan and Jeremi Suir, whose 2003 article in the journal International Security brought the incident to light.
So to “pretend” the president was crazy, Nixon ordered Operation GIANT LANCE. SAC stood down training missions and sent up nuclear-armed alert missions. Nice way to make a point, hah?
From Oct. 10, 1969, through the rest of the month the US military was ordered to full global war readiness alert, without any provocation, and with no explanation to US commanders as to the alert's purpose. Nuclear armed fighter planes were dispersed to civilian airports, missile countdown procedures were initiated, missile-bearing submarines were dispersed, long-range bombers were launched, targeting was begun. On Oct. 27, in the climactic action designed to make it seem the madman was loose, the Strategic Air Command was ordered to dispatch B-52 bombers, loaded with thermonuclear weapons, toward the Soviet Union. Eighteen of the bombers took off from bases in the United States in an operation named Giant Lance. ''The bombers crossed Alaska," Sagan and Suri wrote, ''were refueled in midair by KC-135 tanker aircraft, and then flew in oval patterns toward the Soviet Union and back, on 18-hour vigils over the northern polar ice cap." The ominous flight of these H-bombers to, and then at, the edge of Soviet territory continued for three days. This was all done in total secrecy -- not from the Soviets, of course, since they knew quite well what was happening, but from the American people.
Unbeknownst to Nixon, his ''madman" gamble coincided with a border dispute simmering just then between China and the Soviet Union. The two communist rivals were themselves approaching war footing, and Moscow already had reasons to be wary of America's tilt toward Beijing. Thus, when signals of an American nuclear countdown were picked up, Moscow would have had every reason to assume that the United States was preparing to attack in support of Beijing, perhaps launching a preemption of Moscow's own contemplated attack against China. The Soviets could have seen the American threat not as ''irrational," as Nixon intended, but as consistent with a reasonable strategic purpose.
As if such accidental complications were not unsettling enough, as Sagan and Suir point out, the entire ''madman theory" of coercion was flawed in its essence, depending as it did on twisted logic that assumed an adversary would respond to a calculated show of irrationality with something other than irrationality of its own. Presumably, Nixon wanted a frightened Moscow to convince a frightened Hanoi to change its behavior in Paris as a way of heading off Washington's insanity. Rational Russians would save the world from crazy Americans. Come again?
Some more details and links
The madman nuclear alert: secrecy, signaling, and safety in October 1969 Scott D Sagan & Jeremi Suri International Security
On 27 Oct 1969, President Nixon ordered a nuclear alert codenamed GIANT LANCE, which was carefully concealed from the US public and from US allies, but was intended to frighten Vietnam and the USSR into to agreeing to end the Vietnam War. "This article has four parts. First, we briefly discuss the historiography and alternative explanations that exist about the October 1969 alert. Second, the body of the article is an analytical narrative, not only showing what happened but also demonstrating the different motives of various actors and the outcome that their interaction eventually produced. Third, we discuss nuclear safety problems and crisis diplomacy counterfactuals that provide a sense of the risks involved in the nuclear alert. Finally, the article concludes with observations about the significance of the October 1969 alert for understanding the role of nuclear weapons today. The fact that Richard Nixon placed US nuclear forces on a high state of alert to support his madman theory has major implications for how scholars and practitioners should think about democratic control of nuclear weapons. It also has important implications for how they should think about the consequences of nuclear proliferation" (p155).
Sagan is professor of political science and co-director of the Center for International Security and Co-operation (CISAC), Stanford University; Suri is assistant professor of history, University of Wisconsin at Madison.
PDF of above.
And a little more detail.
Nixon's nuclear ploy
Richard Nixon thought a secret, worldwide nuclear alert would remain unknown to the American public, and he was right. But his strategy--to threaten the Soviets into helping bring an end to the Vietnam war--was unsuccessful. They may not even have noticed.
By William Burr and Jeffrey Kimball
January/February 2003 pp. 28-37, 72-73 (vol. 59, no. 1 © 2003 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists
"Going for broke"
Nixon wrote in his post-war memoirs that he emerged from a July 7 meeting with Kissinger on the presidential yacht Sequoia intending to "'go for broke' in the sense that I would attempt to end the war one way or the other--either by negotiated agreement or by an increased use of force." He could either escalate the war to force a favorable negotiated agreement or he could accelerate the withdrawal and do what was necessary to protect American forces while they were leaving. In either case, he said, "We'll bomb the bastards."
Kissinger flew to Paris, where he held his first secret meeting with the North Vietnamese, during which he reminded Xuan Thuy of the letter to Ho. At another meeting on the same day, he told French Foreign Ministry officials that "it was important that [the United States] not be confounded by a fifth-rate agricultural power."
On August 30, Nixon received Ho Chi Minh's reply to his July 15 letter. Ho rejected Nixon's negotiating terms, put forward his own plan for a negotiated solution to the war, and brushed aside Nixon's threats.
His warnings having failed to intimidate either Hanoi or Moscow, Nixon knew that he would soon have to make a decision about which alternative to pursue--military escalation or accelerated Vietnamization.
Later in October, Kissinger reminded Nixon that in a forthcoming meeting with Dobrynin, [i]"your basic purpose[/i] will be to keep the Soviets concerned about what we might do around November 1" and also to "make clear that . . . unless there is real progress in Vietnam, U.S.-Soviet relations will continue to be adversely affected."
So, what’s this got to do with the price of beef today? Well, Nixon’s boss’s son, Poppy, has his own spawn occupyin’ the Oval Office. And Smirko wants to update “tactical” nukes for his own war on whatever. Now that’s crazy.
US seeks tactical nukes
By Steve Schifferes
BBC News Online in Washington
Even as the US Senate approved a new nuclear disarmament treaty with Russia, the Pentagon was asking Congress for authority to develop a new generation of tactical nuclear weapons.
The US military believes that the new tactical nuclear weapons are essential to meet to threat of terrorism and weapons of mass destruction, and says they could be used against chemical or biological weapons facilities and nuclear bunkers buried deep underground.
But arms controls advocates say that the plans could undermine US efforts to limit nuclear proliferation at a time when North Korea, among others, seems intent on developing nuclear weapons.
"I don't see how we can look all the nuclear wannabes in the face... when we are going to now launch ourselves into a whole series of new weapons," said Congresswoman Ellen Tauscher, a member of the House of Representatives Armed Services Committee.
The new weapons under consideration include low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, which were banned by Congress in 1993, and a "robust nuclear earth penetrator", designed to bury deep into the ground before exploding.
It’s almost ironic. Nixon pretended to be a “madman.” Even if it was the only time he told the truth as president, he'd be doing better than Poppy and Smirko ever did.
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