Week 3 :: Nixon’s Nuclear Specter: The Secret Alert of 1969, Madman Diplomacy, and the Vietnam War by Jeffrey P. Kimball and William Burr Chapter 2: The Madman Theory: Mr. Nixon, Dr. Kissinger, and Dr. Strangelove, 1945–1969
Response / Thought Quotes
- “I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war.”
- “How do you bring a war to a conclusion? I’ll tell you how Korea was ended. We got in there and had this messy war on our hands. Eisenhower … let the word go out diplomatically to the Chinese and the North [Koreans] that we would not tolerate this continual ground war of attrition. And within a matter of months, they negotiated. Well, as far as negotiation [in Vietnam] is concerned that should be our position. We’ll be militarily strong and diplomatically strong.”
- “In the fifties, I was a strong supporter of … brinkmanship … [or] massive retaliation.… It was a viable policy: that when the United States had enormous nuclear advantage … the United States could say to the world, if in any place in the world, one of our allies, or countries whose interest is similar to ours, is attacked, we will use, we will consider the use, and might very well use our nuclear superiority to deter the attack or to answer it.… Today the nuclear equation does not hold. “
- “‘the most brilliant world leader I have ever met’… because he nurtured a reputation for rashness, bellicosity, and instability. ‘He scared the hell out of people.’”
- “They’ll believe any threat of force that Nixon makes because it’s Nixon.… I call it the Madman Theory, Bob. I want the North Vietnamese to believe I’ve reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We’ll just slip the word to them that, “for God’s sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can’t restrain him when he’s angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button”… and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace.”
- “Kissinger … briefed me on what I should and should not do in my meetings with Soviet officials [in Moscow in July 1969].… If the chance comes your way, Kissinger told me, convey the impression that Nixon is somewhat “crazy”—immensely intelligent, well organized, and experienced, to be sure, but at moments of stress or personal challenge unpredictable and capable of the bloodiest brutality. Today, anyone familiar with Nixon’s foreign policy knows about the “madman” strategy.”
- “The increasing Soviet nuclear capability undermines our willingness to run the risk of a general war.… The destructiveness of strategic nuclear weapons has made them useless.… The Sino-Soviet bloc will consider it [that is, the threat of massive retaliation] a bluff and thus confront us again with the dilemma of Dienbienphu.”
- “consider the precedent-setting effects of initiating the use of nuclear weapons and … the impact upon allied and neutral nations of our having taken this fateful step.”
- “homosexuality, dope, and immorality are the basic enemies of a strong society, and that’s why the Russians are pushing it here, in order to destroy us.”
- “Kissinger believed, nuclear war might be controllable because neither side would take the horrible risk of launching “everything.””
- Describe Nixon’s version and reasoning behind the “Madman Theory”
- What conclusions did Nixon draw from the American experience in Korea?
- How was Nixon’s ability to project strength different from Eisenhower’s? In what ways did this impact Nixon’s ability to effect the conclusions he took from Korea?
- What conclusions did Nixon draw from the crises of the Kennedy years in general and from Khrushchev’s brinkmanship specifically?
- How did the dilemma of Dien Bien Phu impact Nixon and Kissinger’s thinking about nuclear weapons and escalation?
- How was Nixon’s ability to project strength different from Kennedy’s? In what ways did this impact Nixon’s ability to effect the conclusions he took from the Kennedy years?
- What new constraints on the use of power did Nixon and Kissinger face in 1969?
- Describe the uncertainty effect / principle
- Who was H. R. Haldeman and how did he impact Nixon’s madman projection?
- Explain and Expand: “Nixon’s faith in irrational unpredictability and excessive force”
- What reaction did Nixon hope to evoke generally from the Soviet Union and from China and specifically over the issue of Vietnam?
- What is the “McNamara syndrome”?
- React and Respond: “Ironically and paradoxically, the practitioners of nuclear deterrence also invoked madness in reference to the system.”
- React and Respond: “Reinforcing the meme of madness during the 1960s was “assured destruction” (AD), a strategic doctrine that Secretary McNamara formulated in late 1963 to describe “an actual and credible second-strike capability” (a retaliatory ability to destroy at least 50 percent of the Soviets’ industrial capacity, 30 percent of their population, and 150 of their cities).”
- Who was Henry Kissinger and what roles did he fill in the Nixon administration?
- Explain and Expand: ““deliberate ambiguity,” which combined “political, psychological, and military pressures to induce the greatest degree of uncertainty and hesitation in the minds of the opponent.” … “an unfavorable calculus of risks” by having the United States conduct military operations that at each stage forced the adversary to assess “risks and possibilities for settlement””
- What was “graduated deterrence” and compare and contrast it with the alternatives considered in the 1950-60s?
- What are the themes and conclusions in Kissinger’s work “Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy”?
- What are the themes and conclusions in Kissinger’s work “The Necessity for Choice”?
- How did Kissinger’s philosophy in his pre-1969 works influence his work in the Nixon administration?
- How did the experience of the Nixon administration impact Kissinger’s philosophy?
- What is the “uncertain retaliation” principle?
- Who is Daniel Ellsberg?
- Explain and Expand: “How can you conduct diplomacy without a threat of escalation? Without that there is no basis for negotiations.”
- How did Nixon see the culture wars of the 1960s as a part of the Cold War?
- React and Respond: “He was also worried that US nuclear war plans did not serve useful political purposes.”
- Why did Kissinger believe nuclear war would be “controllable”?
- Describe Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 movie Dr. Strangelove
- Who was C. Wright Mills and who were the “crackpot realists.”?
- Describe the role the social sciences assumed in the Post World War II western political world
- Compare and Contrast how social science effected international politics in post World War I Russia and international politics in the post World War II west
- What was the indoctrination film “The Power of Decision” and what was its purpose?
- Nuclear Weapons & Foreign Policy by Henry Kissinger
- The Necessity For Choice: Prospects of American Foreign Policy by Henry A. Kissinger
- Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb
- Red Alert by Peter Bryant
- Air Force Special Film Project 416,”Power of Decision”
Articles and References
- Brief Biography: H. R. Haldeman
- Brief Biography: Henry Kissinger
- Brief Biography: John Foster Dulles
- Brief Biography: Dean Acheson
- Brief Biography: Daniel Ellsberg
- Brief Biography: C. Wright Mills