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uring the late 20th century, the fear of nuclear armageddon was at its height. The Cold War created a climate where many citizens on both sides feared that their leaders might make a mistake that would put the world into an unrecoverable state.

For this reason, the procedure to launch a nuclear strike became very complicated to avoid mistakes. It would take multiple people in the chain of command to launch such an attack. This chain of command, in the case of the US, started with the president.

President Nixon

Richard Nixon’s presidency was filled with controversy. From dubious domestic policy decisions such as defunding NASA straight after their successful moon landing to the Watergate scandal, the US has never had such a president.

Brezhnev (left) and Nixon (right) during a Soviet diplomatic visit to the US 1973. Source: Wikimedia Commons

After his presidency and investigations, the public managed to find out much more about their old president, details that many might not have wanted to know. In our case, the detail which nearly led the world into nuclear armageddon was the fact that Nixon loved to drink, and being the president would not stop him from doing so.

The power which comes with being the president of the United States combined with being drunk does not bode well for world peace, especially during a time when any move could be considered an act of war. This would become apparent in 1969.

The “Hermit Kingdom”

North Korea, also known to many as the Hermit Kingdom, was quickly developing during the 1950s and 1960s due to the help of the USSR. This strained alliance was mutually beneficial, North Korea received economic development, and the USSR received another country in their communist sphere of influence.

Kim Il-sung, the founder and leader of North Korea at the time of this crisis. Although dead since 1994, he is still considered the eternal leader of North Korea. Source: Wikimedia Commons

As a result, any aggression toward North Korea was surely going to be met with retaliation from the USSR. This became problematic in 1969 when North Korea shot down a US spy plane. While the military leadership of the US decided on the best plan of action against such aggression, president Nixon had different ideas.

Upon hearing the news of the spy plane being shot down, fueled by alcohol and anger toward his enemies, the president contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Nixon gave the order for US nuclear planes in South Korea to be fueled, ready for a tactical nuclear strike on North Korea as retaliation for their aggression.

Fortunately for the world Henry Kissinger, the National Security Advisor for Nixon at the time, was used to dealing with these kinds of scenarios. He contacted the Joint Chiefs of Staff and told them to put off the nuclear strike until the next day, when the president hopefully was sober enough to make a rational decision.

A sober Nixon decided that risking nuclear armageddon over a spy plane was not worth it and decided not to nuke North Korea, postponing the destruction of humanity through nuclear war for at least another few years.

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