Tag Archives: Nixon’s Madman Theory

Avoiding Needless Wars, Part 4: Nixon’s Madman Nuclear Alert

The first three installments in this series of posts drew on irrefutable evidence – formerly classified top secret documents and a recording of a presidential phone call – to show that the public needs to critically question government claims before going to war. Those posts showed that the Gulf of Tonkin incidents, which became the legal basis for the Vietnam War via Congress’ Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, were incorrectly portrayed by the Johnson Administration as unprovoked North Vietnamese aggression. The second incident never happened and the first incident was, in the words of CIA Director John McCone, a defensive reaction “to our attacks on their off-shore islands.” While the loss of over 58,000 Americans and approximately 2,000,000 Vietnamese is reason enough to avoid future such mistakes, the Vietnam War also added little-known nuclear risks. This post deals with the most bizarre of these, an event that has been dubbed Nixon’s “Madman Nuclear Alert.” In a 2003 paper, Stanford Prof. Scott Sagan and University of Wisconsin Prof. Jeremi Suri describe the origins and trajectory of this dangerous ploy: Continue reading

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How Logical is Nuclear Deterrence? Part 4

The previous installment in this series quoted President Nixon as advocating “unpredictable, even rash” presidential behavior in order to “win another hand” at nuclear poker. He employed exactly that approach during his first year in office in what has become known as the “Madman Nuclear Alert.” Continue reading

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