May 24

This Day in History

Vietnam War

May 24, 1964:

Goldwater suggests using atomic weapons

Senator Barry Goldwater (R-Arizona), running for the Republican Party nomination in the upcoming presidential election, gives an interview in which he discusses the use of low-yield atomic bombs in North Vietnam to defoliate forests and destroy bridges, roads, and railroad lines bringing supplies from communist China. During the storm of criticism that followed, Goldwater tried to back away from these drastic actions, claiming that he did not mean to advocate the use of atomic bombs but was "repeating a suggestion made by competent military people." Democrats painted Goldwater as a warmonger who was overly eager to use nuclear weapons in Vietnam. Though he won his party's nomination, Goldwater was never able to shake his image as an extremist in Vietnam policies. This image was a key factor in his crushing defeat by opponent Lyndon B. Johnson, who took about 61 percent of the vote to Goldwater's 39 percent.

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