Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Madman Strategy

President Richard M. Nixon's plan to bluff the government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (DRV, North Vietnam) into ending the Vietnam War. Nixon had been vice president under President Dwight D. Eisenhower and as president sought to utilize Eisenhower's 1953 tactic in Korea. Shortly after he had become president, Eisenhower had let it be known that if the Korean stalemate continued, he would seek to win the war militarily, even with nuclear weapons. An armistice was concluded three months later.

Nixon ignored other factors leading to the armistice, including the death of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Nixon believed that Eisenhower's bluff, which he called the Madman Theory, had been instrumental in the armistice. As he told his aide Bob Haldeman, "I want the North Vietnamese to believe I've reached the point where I might do anything to stop the war. We'll just slip the word to them that, 'for God's sake, you know Nixon is obsessed about communism. We can't restrain him when he's angry—and he has his hand on the nuclear button'—and Ho Chi Minh himself will be in Paris in two days begging for peace."

Nixon's strategy did not work with Hanoi, and ultimately Nixon fell back on, and intensified, the same failed policies of President Lyndon Johnson's administration, especially the use of airpower. As Nixon's national security advisor, later secretary of state, Henry Kissinger noted in his book, White House Years, "unfortunately, alternatives to bombing the North were hard to come by."

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Kissinger, Henry A. The White House Years. Boston: Little, Brown, 1979.
 

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