Did the U.S. Consider Using Nuclear Weapons in Vietnam?


The brief reply is sure, although with essential {qualifications}.

Previous to 1968, the closest america got here to deploying nuclear weapons in Vietnam was in early 1954 when the French garrison at Dien Bien Phu was in peril of being overrun by an independence motion led by communist Viet Minh forces, the predecessor to the North Vietnamese Military. President Dwight D. Eisenhower and his advisers privately mentioned using tactical nuclear weapons to save lots of the fort. Eisenhower selected to not deploy nuclear weapons as a result of their use would generate a world outcry and never assure the French garrison’s survival.

Between 1963 and 1965, the U.S. Military performed a collection of struggle video games to look at using tactical nuclear weapons in land warfare. Although largely centered on a possible struggle towards the Soviet Union in Europe, the video games, code-named Oregon Path, additionally checked out eventualities pitting the U.S. towards communist China in Asia. The Military concluded that tactical nuclear weapons have been extremely efficient towards massed formations of enemy troops and autos however solely marginally efficient towards dispersed or dug-in enemy formations, similar to america confronted in South Vietnam.

The teachings of Dien Bien Phu and Oregon Path turned related in early 1968 when North Vietnamese forces surrounded the Khe Sanh Marine base close to the Demilitarized Zone separating North and South Vietnam. Prompted by President Lyndon B. Johnson’s anxiousness over the destiny of Khe Sanh, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Employees, Gen. Earle G. Wheeler, despatched a message on Feb. 1 to Gen. William Westmoreland, head of Navy Help Command, Vietnam, recommending that he examine the potential use of tactical nuclear weapons to interrupt the siege. Westmoreland had already initiated a secret research code-named Fracture Jaw to do exactly that. When Johnson discovered about it, he reacted with dismay and anger. The president ordered that Fracture Jaw be shut down, and all work on the research ceased on Feb. 12.

It isn’t solely clear whether or not Westmoreland supported the concept of utilizing nuclear weapons or was performing his due diligence as MACV commander and weighing all navy choices. Provided that Westmoreland by no means doubted that the garrison may very well be defended with typical means, one should conclude that Fracture Jaw represented due diligence relatively than a most well-liked tactic.

The ultimate episode of Vietnam’s nuclear weapons story got here in late 1969, when President Richard Nixon initiated a White Home planning group code-named Duck Hook that examined the doable use of nuclear weapons towards North Vietnam if Hanoi didn’t conform to U.S. phrases on the Paris peace talks. Like Eisenhower and Johnson earlier than him, Nixon determined that using nuclear weapons carried too nice a political threat with out guaranteeing the diplomatic or navy consequence he desired. V

Dr. Erik Villard is a Vietnam Warfare specialist on the U.S. Military Heart of Navy Historical past at Fort McNair in Washington D.C.

This text appeared within the February 2022 difficulty of Vietnam journal. For extra tales from Vietnam journal, subscribe and go to us on Fb.

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