Nixon drunkenly threatens nuclear war
And, finally, there’s a prime example of what might have been. As the past incidents have shown, alcohol and power don’t always go well together. They’re an especially bad combination when the drinker in question holds the most powerful position on the planet and is capable of starting a nuclear war. According to several of his biographers, President Richard Nixon came close to nuking his enemies in a drunken rage. Thankfully, his aides were wise to his booze-fueled moods and all-out war was averted.
Henry Kissinger, a key figure in Nixon’s White House, long ago revealed that his boss at the time was partial to heavy liquor. Moreover, the President also had a tendency to overreact. “If the President had his way, there would be a nuclear war every week,” Kissinger famously recalled. In one infamous incident in 1969, North Korea shot down an American spy plane. Nixon, fueled by alcohol, summoned the Joint Chiefs. He ordered them to draw up a list of possible targets for a nuclear bomb. Kissinger, who was asked to relay the message, urged the Joint Chiefs to stall. The tactic worked. The morning after, Nixon had sobered up and calmed down.
But this was by no means a lone incident. When he was drunk, Nixon would regularly get aggressive and seek to use the full extent of his powers as Commander-in-Chief. On one occasion, even a conversation about Cambodia led him to get on his phone and demand the Asian country be bombed. Nixon’s staff became even more worried as his Presidency wore on. As their boss became depressed and withdrawn, there were fears that he would reach for the big red button.
Tellingly, in his memoirs, Nixon’s Defense Secretary James Schlesinger revealed that he ordered all military commanders to question any nuclear launch order that came from the President himself. Nixon’s increasing dependence on alcohol was the prime reason for such extreme caution. In the end, Nixon was forced out of office as a result of the Watergate scandal. As a nice footnote to history, in his final hours as President, he was barred from carrying the nation’s nuclear launch codes. Instead, they remained safe in the White House while he boarded a chopper out of DC.