Cables show US was close to adding nuclear weapons to the Vietnam War

By On October 06, 2018

Cables show US was close to adding nuclear weapons to the Vietnam War

The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should U.S. forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.

WASHINGTON â€" In one of the darkest moments of the Vietnam War, the top U.S. military commander in Saigon activated a plan in 1968 to move nuclear weapons to South Vietnam until he was overruled by President Lyndon B. Johnson, according to recently declassified documents cited in a new history of wartime presidential decisions.

The documents reveal a long-secret set of preparations by the commander, Gen. William Westmoreland, to have nuclear weapons at hand should U.S. forces find themselves on the brink of defeat at Khe Sanh, one of the fiercest battles of the war.

With the app roval of the U.S. commander in the Pacific, Westmoreland had put together a secret operation, code-named Fracture Jaw, that included moving nuclear weapons into South Vietnam so they could be used on short notice against North Vietnamese troops.

Johnson’s national-security adviser, Walt Rostow, alerted the president in a memorandum on White House stationery.

The president rejected the plan and ordered a turnaround, according to Tom Johnson, then a young special assistant to the president and note taker at the meetings on the issue, which were held in the family dining room on the second floor of the White House.

“When he learned that the planning had been set in motion, he was extraordinarily upset and forcefully sent word through Rostow, and I think directly to Westmoreland, to shut it down,” Johnson said in an interview.

He said the president’s fear was “a wider war” in which the Chinese would enter the fray , as they had in Korea in 1950.

“Johnson never fully trusted his generals,” said Tom Johnson, who is not related to the president.

The story of how close the United States came to reaching for nuclear weapons in Vietnam, 23 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki forced Japan to surrender, is contained in “Presidents of War,” a coming book by presidential historian Michael Beschloss.

“Johnson certainly made serious mistakes in waging the Vietnam War,” said Beschloss, who found the documents during his research for the book. “But we have to thank him for making sure that there was no chance in early 1968 of that tragic conflict going nuclear.”

The new documents â€" some of which were quietly declassified two years ago â€" suggest it was moving in that direction.

With the Khe Sanh battle on the horizon, Johnson pressed his commanders to make sure the United States did not suffer an embarrassing defeat, one that woul d have proved to be a political disaster and a personal humiliation.

The North Vietnamese forces were using everything they had against two regiments of U.S. Marines and a comparatively small number of South Vietnamese troops.

While publicly expressing confidence in the outcome of the battle at Khe Sanh, Westmoreland was also privately organizing a group to meet in Okinawa to plan how to move nuclear weapons into the South â€" and how they might be used against the North Vietnamese forces.

“Oplan Fracture Jaw has been approved by me,” Westmoreland wrote to Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., the U.S. commander in the Pacific, on Feb. 10, 1968.

The plan did not last long.

That day, Rostow sent an “eyes only” memorandum to the president, his second in a week warning of the impending plan.

Two days later, Sharp sent an order to “discontinue all planning for Fracture Jaw” and to place all the planning material, “includ ing messages and correspondence relating thereto, under positive security.”

The incident has echoes for modern times. It was only 14 months ago that President Donald Trump was threatening the use of nuclear weapons against North Korea â€" which, unlike North Vietnam at the time, possesses its own small nuclear arsenal.

Beschloss’ book, which will be published Tuesday by Crown, examines challenges facing presidents from Thomas Jefferson to George W. Bush. It also reveals that at the same time the nuclear debate was underway, senators were outraged to discover that the president and his aides had misled them about progress in the Vietnam War.

The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, J. William Fulbright, D- Ark., told fellow senators, “We were just plain lied to” and the lying meant that the United States had lost “a form of democracy,” according to transcripts obtained by Beschloss.

There was even discussion of the possibility of impeaching the president for those lies. That discussion was terminated by Johnson’s decision, announced later that spring, not to seek re-election.

Source: Google News Vietnam | Netizen 24 Vietnam

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