Richard Nixon thought a secret, worldwide nuclear alert would remain unknown to the American public, and he was right. But his strategyóto
threaten the Soviets into helping bring an end to the Vietnam warówas unsuccessful. They may not even have noticed.
In 1969 President Richard Nixon ordered a worldwide nuclear alertóone of the largest secret military operations in U.S. history. Only Nixon, his
special adviser for national security affairs Henry Kissinger, Kissingerís National Security Council aide Col. Alexander Haig, and White House chief
of staff H. R. ìBobî Haldeman, knew that the underlying purpose of the alert, known as the ìJoint Chiefs of Staff Readiness Test,î was to convince the
Soviets that helping to end the war in Vietnam was in their best interests.
The alert began on October 13, 1969, when U.S. tactical and strategic air forces in the United States, Europe, and East Asia began a stand-down of
training flights to raise operational readiness; Strategic Air Command (SAC) increased the numbers of bombers and tankers on ground alert; and the
readiness posture of selected overseas units was heightened. On October 25, SAC took the additional step of increasing the readiness of nuclear
bombers, and two days later SAC B-52s undertook a nuclear-armed ìShow of Forceî alert over Alaska, code-named ìGiant Lance.î Three days later, U.S.
intelligence detected Soviet awareness of the heightened nuclear alert and Defense Secretary Melvin Laird ordered commanders to terminate the test at
the end of the month.
The alert, along with Nixonís orders to launch it, remained secret from much of the government as well as the public until 1983, when journalist
Seymour Hersh reported on one of its phases and speculated about the reason behind it. Hersh suggested that it was a manifestation of Nixonís strategy
in Vietnam, related in some way to ìDuck Hookîóa massive mining and bombing operation Nixon had threatened to unleash against North Vietnam if Hanoi
did not yield to Washingtonís terms at the Paris peace negotiations.
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