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"When Richard Nixon Threatened to Nuke Vietnam" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP11 Jan 2019 9:37 p.m. PST

"Washington now sees nuclear weapons as a last ditch resort … but it hasn't always and the Pentagon has been more than happy come up with plans to lob the devastating bombs at America's enemies.

Sometimes, Washington used those plans to exert political pressure. In 1969, Pres. Richard Nixon did just that.

Nixon had promised to end the war in Vietnam during his campaign, but peace talks had stalled in Paris. Thanks to newly declassified documents, we now know that he asked U.S. military commanders to figure out how to scare North Vietnam and its Soviet allies into peace on America's terms…."
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Legion 412 Jan 2019 9:31 a.m. PST

The fallout would have been a real problem …

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP12 Jan 2019 11:18 a.m. PST

You bet… (smile)


Virginia Tory13 Jan 2019 6:00 p.m. PST

Nukes in the context of Vietnam aren't new. There was contingency planning even in 1968, but it obviously didn't go anywhere.

Highly unlikely they would have been used.

GRothwell13 Jan 2019 6:08 p.m. PST

There was even a suggestion to use a nuclear weapon in support of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Hard to imagine how that could have worked.

Legion 414 Jan 2019 8:10 a.m. PST

Yes, I had read somewhere, there were B-29s in the PI being painted with French markings. But those could have been used with standard ordinance, not just Nukes…

But again, dropping WMDs on SE Asia, would have caused many more problems than it could have solved, IMO …

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP14 Jan 2019 7:59 p.m. PST

The false threat(s) were used as a negotiating ploy, and were never very serious, though Nixon didn't want his opponents to know that.

Legion 416 Jan 2019 7:11 a.m. PST

Sun Tzu paraphrase … "Warfare is deception" …

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP16 Jan 2019 12:11 p.m. PST



Virginia Tory22 Jan 2019 10:32 a.m. PST

There was a contingency to use WMD at Dien Bien Phu, but it was in the context of Operation Vulture, which was more just a big strategic bombing mission(s).


Legion 422 Jan 2019 3:35 p.m. PST

Yes, I remember reading something about that. But even 3 small Nukes would have been quite a major event, IMO.

Of coarse 98 or so B-29s with HE, Incendiary/Napalm could have certainly done some damage to the Viet Minh. Could have been a game changer possibly ? At least may have bought French more time …

Pyrate Captain06 Jun 2019 4:33 p.m. PST

If only….

Skarper07 Jun 2019 11:13 p.m. PST

At that time tactical nuclear weapons were still part of the overall range of options. It was thought they could be used without escalation to a full scale nuclear war.

Small weapons are not much more destructive than a large raid by conventional HE or incendiaries and no more inhumane anyway. Nuclear fallout and casualties due to radiation are an extra layer of nastiness, but being burned alive in a firestorm is not much better.

My question when this comes up is what would you target in the context of the wars in South East Asia? Hanoi? Some area of mountain rainforest thought to be occupied by large scale ground forces?

They could easily have destroyed Hanoi without nuclear weapons It just would have been a huge PR disaster and may have brought China in.

That was the worry Chinese troops were in North Vietnam freeing up Vietnamese troops for use against the US and GVN forces.

Anyway. It's important to remember, the 2nd Indochina War was never about defeating the North or saving the South. It was about preventing Indonesia and The Philippines becoming left leaning independent states. By 1968 that was already no longer on the cards.

It simply wasn't worth the risk to go 'all in'. The fighting rumbled on for a few more years with half the US casualties coming AFTER Nixon's decision to withdraw and the only war aim by then was saving face.

Would they had supported Ho Chi Minh in 1945.

Legion 426 Aug 2019 7:19 a.m. PST

It was about preventing Indonesia and The Philippines becoming left leaning independent states.
It was about stopping the spread of Communism in SE Asia and elsewhere in the region. For better or worse …

uglyfatbloke26 Aug 2019 8:25 a.m. PST

The war was mostly seen is a fairly positive light in Malaysia and Singapore c 1966-70 as I recall and of course Thailand sent troops.

Legion 426 Aug 2019 3:49 p.m. PST

Yes, you are correct.

Skarper26 Aug 2019 9:15 p.m. PST

@ Legion – We seem to disagree on this. You are entitled to your opinion of course.

The Pentagon papers blew the lid on this in 1971 so it's hardly news.

Malaysia is not and was not in the 1960s a beacon of political freedom so it's hard to know what the Malaysian people thought about anything. Singapore is still virtually a one party state with opposition heavily suppressed so the same goes for them.

Thailand didn't even begin toying with democracy until the 1970s and was under military dictatorship in the 1960s, so sending troops is hardly an indication of popular support. South Korea which provided the largest contingent was also under military rule by Park Chung-Hee from 1961 until his assassination in 1979.

Anyway – I'm not going to get into an argument about it on here. Just felt I should point out these details for other readers.

Legion 427 Aug 2019 7:37 a.m. PST

You are correct … again … we disagree …

Yes, those nations in the region you mentioned were not beacons of political freedom, etc. … but they were not Communists. So at that time that is all that counted. And we didn't want them to go or even toy with Communism …

SEATO was formed basically for that reason. It was the PTO version of NATO. It consisted of nations who were in the region or had interests there. [*Nations who sent forces to Vietnam]

United States*
United Kingdom
New Zealand*

Of course the Forces of South Vietnam, e.g. ARVN, Montagnards link etc. fought against the Communists there as well, i.e. VC, NVA, etc.

South Vietnam was backed by anti-communist countries and members of the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) which included:

United States
South Korea
the Philippines
New Zealand
Khmer Republic (later overthrown by Khmer Rouge)
Kingdom of Laos
Republic of China (Taiwan).

North Vietnam was backed by the communist allies which included People's Republic of China, Soviet Union, Pathet Lao (Laotian Communist insurgents), Khmer Rouge (Cambodian Communist insurgents) and North Korea.

Plus 30,000 Canadians jointed the US Forces and served in SE Asia/Vietnam. Albeit it was considered to be illegal. AFAIK none were charged with any crime from their home nation of Canada.

It was a fight against Communism … Basically a proxy war with the US and it's allies vs. the PRC, Russia, etc.

I too thought I should point out these details/facts for other readers. To give another side of the story/POV so to speak …

Virginia Tory27 Aug 2019 10:08 a.m. PST

There was a serious communist insurgency in Indonesia--people forget that. And we all know what happened to "neutral" Laos and Cambodia, which were infested with North Vietnamese troops, who supported the Pathet Lao and Khmer Rouge.

Legion 427 Aug 2019 10:40 a.m. PST

Yes, and that had some Communist influence as well … link

Skarper27 Aug 2019 11:20 a.m. PST

This topic is a bit too political for TMP. If we argue it won't end well for anyone. I've made my points and will leave it at that.

Legion 427 Aug 2019 3:48 p.m. PST

Ditto …

Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP30 Aug 2019 4:17 a.m. PST

I believe the implied threat was also against the USSR as well, with B-52s circling in holding areas near their borders, in order to get their "attention".

I suspect that was effective, given the number of powerful nukes these could carry, as well as the poor Soviet Air Defenses of the day vs. low-level bomber attacks.

They really didn't solve this issue until they got the Mig-25 and Mig-31, with effective look-down, shoot-down radar. Even the Mig-23, which supposedly had a LD/SD radar was rather limited in capability to perform that task.

Skarper30 Aug 2019 6:57 a.m. PST

I don't think any US president would have wanted to take the adverse publicity for another unprovoked nuclear attack. The Soviets all being good chess players probably were well aware of this.

Nukes were discussed..we have that on record, but never seriously. Nixon was at his wits' end by then.

Legion 430 Aug 2019 8:03 a.m. PST

I too doubt the US would have launched nukes or any weapons at the USSR. Save for possibly killing some "advisors" on the ground and/or in the air in SE Asia ? If in fact there were any there at all, like the PRC ?

E.g. on the Son Tay Raid it was reported by the US SF on the ground. They killed more Chinese than NVA.

But again I was not there and only relaying what I had read and heard. That being said, I would not doubt the PRC had "advisors" in SE Asia/Vietnam. And the US killed some of them.

Skarper30 Aug 2019 9:00 a.m. PST

A very large number of Chinese were in North Vietnam freeing up Vietnamese forces. Hundreds of thousands. I don't think many Soviets were there, but there were Czechoslovakians and Cubans in small numbers too.

And of course North Koreans – some of whom are buried there. There was some speculation whether the North Korean leader would visit their graves. In the end he didn't.

An older Korean man I met was in the South Korean contingent sent to Vietnam. He told me about North Korean psyops officers broadcasting propaganda over speakers.

Quite a tangled web.

Virginia Tory30 Aug 2019 12:39 p.m. PST

Definitely Soviets. They were helping with the SAM system and some of the training in how to use the MiG-21.

Legion 431 Aug 2019 8:23 a.m. PST

That is an interesting "rogue's gallery" of advisors. I had thought similar in some cases. And in Korea the Norks did make a number of attacks along the DMZ, along the coast, etc.

To support their "communist" brothers in Vietnam. IIRC about 43 US service members lost their lives in the mid '60s. Some referred to this as the 2d Korean War.

I heard about the Cubans and some other WP there "advising".

I remember back in '84-'85 on the DMZ. One of our patrols or units spotted a blonde haired non-Asian in a Grey(?) uniform with the Norks. Somewhere a long the DMZ … old fart

In '85 after my second tour of the "Z". Our replacement Bn's QRF got into a fire fight. When a USSR civilian IT guy working with the Norks. Ran across the line at Pan Mun Jom and requested sanctuary. One ROK was killed, one GI WIA. Plus 3 Nork KIAs and about a squad was cut off and surrounded on the South side of the line/DMZ. The US CG commanding the 2ID ordered the GIs to let the Norks take their dead and go back to the North. Said we are not going to start up the war again today.

I felt it was a win for us. We had a USSR defector and 3 enemy KIAs vs. one ROK KIA and one GI WIA.

Wolfhag31 Aug 2019 7:55 p.m. PST

FWIW: I met a former USAF guy that claimed that while in Thailand (did not get the date or airfield) they had a jet on the flight line with a centerline nuke ready to go.

Nukes are best for deterrents and not to actually use. Personally, I'd like to see someone in each administration in the State Dept or DoD that is conducting a psyop claiming first use of nukes as a foreign policy solution (Bolden?). Of course, everyone claims he's "crazy" but crazy scares your enemy.


Legion 401 Sep 2019 10:57 a.m. PST

thumbs up

Virginia Tory03 Sep 2019 7:33 a.m. PST

"FWIW: I met a former USAF guy that claimed that while in Thailand (did not get the date or airfield) they had a jet on the flight line with a centerline nuke ready to go."

There were some F-105s on Guam, nuke armed, ready to go in 1968 after the Pueblo was seized. But nobody was going to launch them. That was one botched operation, with really dumb decision making at higher levels--then they tried to blame the Captain for trying to follow their orders.

We had almost no conventional capability "on call" for some reason when that happened in range of the ship.

This book on the topic is excellent.


Thresher01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Sep 2019 9:07 p.m. PST

I agree with you that Nixon wasn't serious about nuking the USSR, but he certainly did want to put on a good show for them, to keep their interest.

Wouldn't be surprised to hear that about the nuke(s) being prepped and ready.

I suspect the US carriers were able to be "loaded for bear" in short order too, especially with tactical jets like the Vigilante, etc.. Rumor has it that their rear, slide-out bomb dropping system worked a bit too well, and one actually fell out onto the tarmac in a rather shocking incident.

Legion 409 Sep 2019 7:33 a.m. PST

Yes I had heard similar that both the USAF and USN had nukes available … just in case. But it was not well known or in the media.

I don't think those were so much to use on Indochina. As much of it was still pretty feral, etc. But if the Bleeped text hit the fan with the USSR and/or the PRC. You don't want to go to a gun fight only carrying a knife.

Virginia Tory10 Sep 2019 6:35 a.m. PST

Nuclear deterrence was all about making the other guy believe you were serious and even if they pre-empted you, they'd still take a pounding.

That's why it worked.

Legion 410 Sep 2019 12:56 p.m. PST

Yep ! E.g. Un and Iran knows they may get the first shot … but after that – game over, schools out …

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