That Time A Drunk Richard Nixon Ordered A Nuclear Strike On North Korea

Culture | March 17, 2020

President Richard Nixon and Egyptian president Anwar Sadat (not pictured) share a laugh during Nixon's visit to Egypt. (Photo by © Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

President Richard Nixon and North Korea had a tense relationship, and a few cocktails didn't help Nixon manage it any better. Kim Il Sung, founder of North Korea, had the same appetite for provoking the U.S. that his son Kim Jong Il, has today. When North Korean aggression caused a classic Cold-War incident, Nixon happened to be tipsy, and he summoned the Dutch courage to make those commie bastards (as they are called) pay. Fortunately, cooler heads prevailed and we were not dragged into World War III over a Tricky Dick mood swing.

President Nixon, one of the most controversial Presidents in American history (nixonfoundation)

The Queen of England owns the martial power to declare war on any country without the permission of Parliament. Now, that’s an incredible amount of power for anyone to wield. Thankfully, the modern Kings and Queens of England have never used that mighty influence. However, it does make one question how long you might last before drunkenly declaring war on a country that drew one’s ire.

The Presidents of the United States hold an even more terrifying capability of unleashing a nuclear holocaust at the push of a button that never leaves their side. Well, in the case of President Richard Nixon, the United States came within one drunken night of nuking North Korea.

A Downed Spy Plane

North Korea likely has no idea how close they were to destruction (youtube)

In the Spring of ‘69, just months into his first term, President Nixon faced his first test of restraint. North Korea, at the height of their powers thanks to Russian backing, shot down a EC-121 US spy plane over the Sea of Japan. President Nixon was absolutely irate. Not long after, Bruce Charles, a South Korea based Airforce pilot, was put on alert to prepare for a Single Integrated Operational Plan. That translates into English as a nuclear strike against the North Korean Communists. 

Sabre Rattling?

Thanks to Henry Kissenger and the Joint Chief of Staffs no nuclear strike occurred (democracynow)

President Nixon’s time in office was fraught with issues but was he really contemplating bombing North Korea and potentially starting World War III? Or was the President merely showing strength against communist aggression, letting the Russians know America wouldn’t be pushed around? As it turned out, neither was true.  

President Nixon Scrambled The Jets

Probably how President Nixon saw himself after a few martinis (knowyourmeme)

Thanks to the book written by Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan, we know that President Nixon wasn’t giving the Russians an eyeful of his capabilities or thinking about the potentiality of World War III. Apparently, “Red Hunter” Nixon was drunk, and not on power -- just actually drunk.

Despite his inebriated state, jets were scrambled and the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered plans for a tactical nuclear strike and counsel on potential targets. Thankfully, Henry Kissinger also got on the phone with the Joint Chiefs and told them to stand down until President Nixon’s liquid courage wore off. The Joint Chiefs “agreed not to do anything until Nixon sobered up in the morning." 

President Nixon’s Druthers

Cheers to not starting World War III (scottcalonico)

We can all thank Henry Kissinger and the cooler heads surrounding President Nixon for avoiding a devastating war. However, it appears that this wasn’t the only time that Nixon flew off the handle and demanded a carpet bombing. Once, at Key Biscayne, he became infuriated over a conversation about Cambodia.

According to Secret Service sources, "He just got pissed," the agent quoted eyewitnesses as saying. "They were half in the tank, sitting around the pool drinking. And Nixon got on the phone and said: 'Bomb the shit out of them!’” Kissinger also said in Summers and Swan’s book The Arrogance Of Power: The Secret World Of Richard Nixon, “that if the President had his way, there would have been a new nuclear war every week!” 

Tags: Richard Nixon | The Cold War | Henry Kissinger

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Kellar Ellsworth


Kellar Ellsworth was born and raised in Hawaii. He is an avid traveler, surfer and lover of NBA basketball. He wishes he could have grown up in the free love era!