The Top American General In Vietnam Considered Using Nukes During The Siege Of Khe Sanh, New Documents Reveal

Bullet Points
U.S. President Lyndon Johnson talks with Gen. William Westmoreland, U.S. Military Commander in Vietnam, Defense Secretary Robert McNamara and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Earle Wheeler, left,in the sitting room in the White House, July 13, 1967. After their meeting the chief executive announced "we have reached a meeting of the minds" on troop increases in Vietnam.
Associated Press photo

The top commander of U.S. military forces in Vietnam readied nuclear weapons for use on the battlefield in the early months of the brutal 1968 battle at Khe Sanh, according to recently declassified documents obtained by the New York Times.


  • A series of memos, declassified in 2014 and first discovered by historian Michael Beschloss, reveals that Gen. William C. Westmoreland had in February 1968 activated Fracture Jaw, a secret plan to move nuclear warheads into South Vietnam "so that they could be used on short notice" should U.S. troops face imminent defeat at Khe Sanh.
  • Westmoreland, who had previously touted the North Vietnamese advanced on Khe Sanh as “the main event" of the Communist advance, put Fracture Jaw together with the approval of the then-U.S. Pacific Command chief Adm. Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr. so that, "should the situation in the DMZ area change dramatically, we should be prepared to introduce weapons of greater effectiveness against massed forces."

  • President Lyndon B. Johnson quickly quashed the contingency plan out of fear of “a wider war," the Times reports. "There are no nuclear weapons in South Vietnam," White House national security advisory Walt W. Rostow wrote to Johnson in a February 10, 1968, memo alerting him to Fracture Jaw. "Presidential authority would be required to put them there."
  • The idea of throwing nukes into Vietnam wasn't unprecedented, but it was still terrible. As the National Interest notes, a classified 1967 study conducted by members of the Pentagon's JASON brain trust of scientist and researchers had previously determined that a tactical nuclear bombing campaign in Southeast Asia would require a significant investment to ramp up bomb production with minimal impact on the war effort.
  • More importantly, JASON researchers concluded that the introduction of nukes to Vietnam would have had dire long-term consequences on global warfare writ large. Historian Alex Wallerstein put it best: "Since World War II, the U.S. has the strongest interest in not breaking the 'nuclear taboo' because once nukes start becoming normalized, the U.S. usually stands to lose the most, or at least a lot."
  • President Johnson "certainly made serious mistakes in waging the Vietnam War,” Bechloss, the historian, told the Times. “But we have to thank him for making sure that there was no chance in early 1968 of that tragic conflict going nuclear.”

The entire report from the Times is fascinating — and eerily familiar. Read the whole thing here.

WATCH NEXT:

No motive is yet known for last week's Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard shooting tragedy, which appears to have been a random act of violence in which the sailor who fatally shot two civilian workers and himself did not know them and did not plan his actions ahead of time, shipyard commander Capt. Greg Burton said in an "All Hands" message sent out Friday.

Machinist's Mate Auxiliary Fireman Gabriel Antonio Romero of San Antonio, an armed watch-stander on the attack submarine USS Columbia, shot three civilian workers Dec. 4 and then turned a gun on himself while the sub rested in dry dock 2 for a major overhaul, the Navy said.

"The investigation continues, but there is currently no known motive and no information to indicate the sailor knew any of the victims," Burton said.

Read More Show Less
A projectile is fired during North Korea's missile tests in this undated picture released by North Korea's Central News Agency (KCNA) on November 28, 2019. (KCNA via Reuters)

SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it had successfully conducted another test at a satellite launch site, the latest in a string of developments aimed at "restraining and overpowering the nuclear threat of the U.S.", state news agency KCNA reported on Saturday.

The test was conducted on Friday at the Sohae satellite launch site, KCNA said, citing a spokesman for North Korea's Academy of Defence Science, without specifying what sort of testing occurred.

Read More Show Less

Since the Washington Post first published the "Afghanistan papers," I have been reminded of a scene from "Apocalypse Now Redux" in which Army Col. Walter Kurtz reads to the soldier assigned to kill him two Time magazine articles showing how the American people had been lied to about Vietnam by both the Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon administrations.

In one of the articles, a British counterinsurgency expert tells Nixon that "things felt much better and smelled much better" during his visit to Vietnam.

"How do they smell to you, soldier?" Kurtz asks.

Read More Show Less
Erik Prince arrives for the New York Young Republican Club Gala at The Yale Club of New York City in Manhattan in New York City, New York, U.S., November 7, 2019. (REUTERS/Jeenah Moon)

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Erik Prince, the controversial private security executive and prominent supporter of U.S. President Donald Trump, made a secret visit to Venezuela last month and met Vice President Delcy Rodriguez, one of socialist leader Nicolas Maduro's closest and most outspoken allies, according to five sources familiar with the matter.

Read More Show Less
Soldiers with 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, walk in what could be mistaken for another planet. Kandahar, Afghanistan, Dec. 25, 2011 (Army photo/Sgt. Ruth Pagan)

(Reuters Health) - While army suicides have historically decreased during wartime, that trend appears to have reversed in recent decades, a new study of U.S. records finds.

Researchers poring over nearly 200 years of data found that unlike earlier times when there was a decline in suicide rates among U.S. Army soldiers during and just after wars, the rate has risen significantly since 2004, according to the report in JAMA Network Open.

Read More Show Less