Richard Nixon spent much of his life trying to become the president of the United States and he finally succeeded with the 1968 election. Not long into his tenure, the Republican lawmaker was challenged by frequent agitator, North Korea. When this specific incident happened, he wasn’t really in the proper state of mind, resulting in one of the wilder “what-ifs” of American history.
Richard Nixon and Communism
Richard Nixon won the US presidency in 1968. At first, it was expected he would take on Lyndon B. Johnson, but the then-president decided against seeking re-election. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was also considered a strong candidate, but was assassinated by Sirhan B. Sirhan in June of that year.
Nixon had promised voters many things. He wanted to end the Vietnam War, but do so in a way that would prevent the US from losing face. He also promised to control the young people who were taking to the streets for a number of different reasons and wanted to take a hard-line against Communism. This included the burgeoning threat emerging from North Korea.
Richard Nixon had a drinking problem
While it wasn’t known to the general public at the time, Richard Nixon frequently drank while in the White House – and, according to those close to him, it didn’t take much at all to get US president drunk.
There are a number of stories of strange happenings occurring when Nixon was drunk. During the 1973 Yom Kippur War, British Prime Minister Edward Heath called Nixon to devise a strategy. He was told by US National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger that the president was too drunk to talk. During another incident, some of Nixon’s drinking buddies brought a stripper to the property at 2:00 AM, but were stopped by Secret Service agents.
However, the worst story of Nixon being drunk while being the most powerful man in the world concerns a near-miss with North Korea.
The incident with North Korea
North Korea has long been a thorn in the side of the US. In the late 1960s, the Communist regime was largely funded (and protected) by the Soviet Union and, as a result, leader Kim Il-Sung could take provocative measures knowing he had the power of Russia on his side.
One of those acts occurred in April 1969, when a North Korean-flown Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 shot down a US Navy Lockheed EC-121M Warning Star spy aircraft over the Sea of Japan. Everyone onboard the aircraft – 30 Navy sailors and one US Marine – were killed, constituting the largest single loss of a US aircrew during the Cold War.
When Richard Nixon, who’d only been in office for a few months, heard the news about the reconnaissance team, he was irate.
Richard Nixon had outlandish plans for North Korea
On the night Richard Nixon was told about the downing of the EC-121M, he’d already begun drinking and wasn’t willing to take the attack laying down.
According to those who were in the White House that night, the US president ordered a nuclear strike against North Korea. The attack would feature the use of a 330-kiloton nuclear device on a North Korean airstrip. Kissinger got together with other high-ups from the administration and the decision was made to ignore the command until the morning. The hope was Nixon wouldn’t call for such an aggressive maneuver once he’d had the opportunity to sober up.
Instead of launching a nuclear strike, the US ended up activating Task Force 71 (TF-71). Featuring a number of cruisers, destroyers, aircraft carriers and one battleship, the deployment was one of the largest shows of force since the Korean War. After a few days in the Sea of Japan, the ships were removed.
The 25th Amendment comes to mind
On this night, and during many other, Kissinger was able to reign in Nixon’s worst instincts. The protocol it seemed, when Nixon wanted to do something drastic like start a war or fire an important staffer, was to let him sleep it off.
The situations involving Nixon certainly bring to mind the use of the 25th Amendment, which states that a president can be temporarily replaced if they are acting irrationally. That being said, its use doesn’t only have to be during times of rash behavior. In 2007, for example, Vice President Dick Cheney was temporarily promoted to president while President George W. Bush underwent a routine colonoscopy.
To this day, however, there is little protocol for what to do when a president is too drunk to do their job.