The General Public Did Not Know All Of These Details During The Vietnam War
The General Public Did Not Know All Of These Details During The Vietnam War

The General Public Did Not Know All Of These Details During The Vietnam War

Khalid Elhassan - February 7, 2023

The General Public Did Not Know All Of These Details During The Vietnam War
General Westmoreland and President Johnson in Vietnam on Christmas Day, December 25th, 1967. The Atlantic

A Nutty Proposed Operation

Westmoreland’s contingency plan to save the Marines at Khe Sanh was codenamed Operation FRACTURE JAW. It called for the secret movement of nuclear weapons to South Vietnam, so they would be at hand to be used at short notice against North Vietnam if needed. On February 10th, 1968, Westmoreland sent a top secret message to Admiral Grant Sharp, Commander in Chief, Pacific, to inform him that “Oplan FRACTURE JAW has been approved by me“. Westmoreland also informed other military commanders, such as the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Earle Wheeler, and discussed with them how to execute FRACTURE JAW.

However, a key figure who was not informed of the plans to introduce nukes to the Vietnam War was President Johnson. Then Walter Rostow, the president’s National Security Adviser, found out and told his boss. LBJ was seriously ticked off at what seemed like his chief general in Vietnam having lost his marbles. As a presidential aide who took notes at a White House meeting about the issue put it: “When [the president] learned that planning had been set in motion, he was extraordinarily upset and forcefully sent word through Rostow, and I think directly to Westmoreland, to shut it down“.

The General Public Did Not Know All Of These Details During The Vietnam War
General Westmoreland informing CINCPAC of Operation Fracture Jaw. New York Times

When the President Finally Lost Confidence in His top General in Vietnam

FRACTURE JAW never went beyond the planning stage. As things turned out, fears of an American Dien Bien Phu at Khe Sanh proved to be overblown. The French debacle in the earlier siege was caused by France’s inability to resupply its beleaguered garrison from the air. However, America had an ace in the hole that France did not: the US Air Force, whose capabilities were orders of magnitude greater than that of the French air force. American aerial assets managed to sustain the US garrison at Khe Sanh with adequate resupplies of men and materiel. Simultaneously, American air power severely pounded the North Vietnamese besiegers until they gave up and retreated in the summer of 1968.

As to General Westmoreland, after years of LBJ acquiescence to his requests for more and more troops, the president finally drew a line in 1968. That year, the American buildup in Vietnam reached a peak of 535,000 men. When Westmoreland asked for 200,000 more men, the president had enough. The general was already on thin ice because of his insatiable appetite for troops and materials. The attempt to keep secret from the White House a plan to nuke North Vietnam, and overall dissatisfaction with the war’s direction and prospects, soured LBJ on him even more. So Johnson decided to get a new commander. Westmoreland was sacked with a promotion upstairs to Army Chief of Staff. He was replaced with his deputy, Creighton Abrams, who began a steady troop draw down.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

All That is Interesting – Newly Declassified Documents Reveal That a Top US General Planned For Nuclear Attack During the Vietnam War

Angers, Trent – The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story, Revised Edition (2014)

Beschloss, Michael – Presidents of War (2018)

Big Think – Project 100,000: The Vietnam War’s Cruel Experiment on American Soldiers

Davidson, Phillip – Vietnam at War: The History, 1946-1975 (1988)

Dickinson College, History 118 – Best Kept Secrets of the Vietnam War

Encyclopedia Britannica – My Lai Massacre

Encyclopedia dot Com – Vietnam: Drug Use In

Fall, Bernard B. – Hell in a Very Small Place: The Siege of Dien Bien Phu (1967)

History Collection – Here is the Intense Training Soldiers Went Through During the Vietnam War

History Net – He Was the First US Soldier Killed in Ground Combat in Vietnam

Jacobs, Seth – Cold War Mandarin: Ngo Dinh Diem and the Origins of America’s War in Vietnam, 1950-1963 (2006)

Kamienski, Lucasz – Shooting Up: A Short History of Drugs and War (2016)

Le Gro, William E. – Vietnam From Cease-Fire to Capitulation (2006)

Nalty, Bernard – The Vietnam War (1998)

Naval History Magazine, Volume 34, Number 5, October 2020 – Invading North Vietnam

Naval War College Review, Vol. 44, No. 2, Spring 1991 – Strategic Reassessment in Vietnam: The Westmoreland “Alternate Strategy” of 1967-1968

New York Times, July 3rd, 1972 – Rainmaking is Used as Weapon by US: Cloud Seeding in Indochina is Said to be Aimed at Hindering Troop Movements and Suppressing Antiaircraft Fire

New York Times, October 6th, 2018 – US General Considered Nuclear Response in Vietnam, Cables Show

NPR, January 2nd, 2012 – What Vietnam Taught Us About Breaking Bad Habits

Salon – McNamara’s “Moron Corps”

Seattle Times, October 6th, 2018 – Cables Show US Was Close to Adding Nuclear Weapons to Vietnam War

Summers, Harry G. – On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (1995)

Time Magazine – Malcolm Browne: The Story Behind the Burning Monk

Tucker, Spencer T., Ed. The Encyclopedia of the Vietnam War: A Political, Social, & Military History (2000)

War History Online – Crazy: General Westmoreland Initiated Plan to Use Nukes in Vietnam

Warrant Officer History – The Forgotten Hero of My Lai: The Hugh Thompson Story