Tactical Nuclear Weapons: How America Could Have Won the Vietnam War?

    Steve Weintz


    No way. Here’s why. 

    The Tet Offensive in 1968 demonstrated what Communist resolve and capacity could achieve with conventional forces. Had nuclear weapons been introduced into the conflict by both sides, the United States would have faced the JASONs’ worst-case scenario. Apparently some talk picked up again about using nukes to relieve the siege at Khe Sanh, but it went as far as similar talk in 1954 about Dien Bien Phu. Despite all the frustration with the war and the desire to pull out the big guns, the nuclear taboo held.

    By February 1966, frustration with the U.S. bombing campaign against North Vietnam rose high enough to spur talk of going nuclear. Throughout the Vietnam War, such talk was mostly just that, but in 1966, it worried certain people enough to gin up a classified study of tactical nuclear weapons use in Southeast Asia. The study’s authors—members of the JASONs, the Pentagon’s “wise men”—concluded that any way you looked at it, nukes in ‘Nam were a very bad idea.

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    The JASONs were and are highly respected within the Defense Department. Defense consultants drawn from the cream of academia, they had the Pentagon’s ear and the freedom to choose their research topics. Early in 1966 four of them—chemistry professor Robert Gomer, quantum physicist Steven Weinberg, particle physicist Courtenay Wright, and mathematician Freeman Dyson—decided to look into the the use of nukes in Vietnam for that summer’s study.

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