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'67 Study Discouraged Use of Nuclear Weapons in Vietnam War
Published on Sunday, March 9, 2003 by the Washington Post
'67 Study Discouraged Use of Nuclear Weapons in Vietnam War
by Walter Pincus

A secret 1967 government study on the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in the Vietnam War that was declassified and released yesterday found that the political cost of using such devices far outweighed its military benefits.

"The use of tactical nuclear weapons [TNW] in Southeast Asia would offer the U.S. no decisive military advantage if the use remained unilateral," say the four scientists who carried out the study. And "the political effects of U.S. first use of TNW in Vietnam would be uniformly bad and could be catastrophic."

Freeman Dyson, professor emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University and one of the study participants, said recently that the study concluded "that the United States offers any likely adversary much better targets for nuclear weapons than these adversaries offer to the United States."

Relating the study to today's events, Dyson said, "This is even more true in the fight against terrorism than it was in Vietnam," and "the danger of terrorist use of nuclear weapons will remain serious for the foreseeable future, no matter what we do in Iraq."

Peter Hayes, executive director of the Nautilus Institute, a California research group that got the study declassified, said yesterday, "We hope there are advisers in the current government with the wisdom and courage of these scientists, willing to stand up and speak the truth about nuclear weapons." Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld recently knocked down rumors the Pentagon was preparing to use nuclear weapons in Iraq.

The study was undertaken after nuclear scientists working on governmental scientific analyses as part of the so-called Jason Group heard informal remarks by senior military officers about possible use of tactical nuclear weapons.

The 36-year-old study also disclosed the United States was trying to develop a "research earth borer," an air-dropped nuclear bomb that could dig into the ground to a certain depth before exploding.

Designed to create a crater twice the size of a surface burst, the earth borer was described as "a useful weapon for dealing with the deep Viet Cong tunnel systems" that were resistant to conventional bombing.

The United States has a low-yield earth-penetrating bomb in its current nuclear arsenal and is seeking to develop a high-yield "robust earth penetrator" designed to go after deeply buried nuclear or missile production facilities such as those North Korea has in hills and mountains.

Dyson said "the adversary could easily counter their effectiveness by digging a little deeper underground."

© 2003 The Washington Post Company


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