Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965

By Timothy J. Botti | Go to book overview

21
STRATEGIC INCOMPETENCE

For it's 1, 2, 3 what are we fighting for? Don't ask me I don't give a damn; next stop is Vietnam. And its 5, 6, 7 open up the pearly gates. Ain't no time to wonder why; we're all a'gonna die!"

-- Vietnam war protest song

Leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether Southeast Asia was vital to the U.S. and the longer-term repercussions of employing nuclear weapons a second time anywhere in the world, the question arises whether Eisenhower, with foreknowledge of the full course of American involvement in Vietnam over the next twenty years, would have changed his mind in spring 1954 and dropped atomic bombs on the Vietminh besieging the French at Dienbienphu. At first blush, such an action might seem a deus ex machina. The French position in Indochina would have been reinvigorated, the Vietminh leadership would have been dismayed to say the least, and Peking would have been intimidated from intervening for fear that the next target of Washington's wrath would be Chinese cities. Then the U.S. would never have had to pour hundreds of millions of dollars in military and economic aid into the region to abate Communist insurgencies, Kennedy would never have had to deploy thousands of American military advisors to buck up a weak South Vietnamese government, and Johnson never would have taken the next logical step of opening a conventional bombing campaign against North Vietnam, supplemented by a landing of 8,000 Marines at Da Nang.

Even had atomic bombs had the desired military effect, they would not have solved Southeast Asia's political, economic, and social problems. An overthrow of French colonialism would have been delayed, not destroyed. However, American leaders might well have been tempted to overreach again and again until conflict with Moscow or Peking would have resulted. A situation might have developed wherein the Soviets would have used nuclear weapons in some

-230-

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Ace in the Hole: Why the United States Did Not Use Nuclear Weapons in the Cold War, 1945 to 1965
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Recent Titles in Contributions in Military Studies ii
  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Abbreviations ix
  • 1 - Sayonara Sanity? 1
  • 2 - War Scare 7
  • 3 - The Soviets Draw an Ace 17
  • 4 - Strategic Error 23
  • 5 - First Forbearance 31
  • 6 - The Cart Before the Horse 44
  • 7 - French Chestnuts in the Fire 55
  • 8 - The President Vacillates 66
  • 9 - Muscling Up 78
  • 10 - Sword of Damocles 95
  • 11 - The Last Sideshow 102
  • 12 - The Autobahn to Armageddon 109
  • 13 - Cocked Gun 121
  • 14 - Amateur Hour 138
  • 15 - Harebrained Schemes 151
  • 16 - Muddling Through 163
  • 17 - Multilateral Folly 171
  • 18 - High Noon 185
  • 19 - Two Bluffs 201
  • 20 - Best-Laid Plans 216
  • 21 - Strategic Incompetence 230
  • 22 - Unplayable Card? 243
  • Notes 253
  • Index 301
  • About the Author 313
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