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Panetta Sparks Debate Over U.S. Nuclear Strike on North Korea


 It's a prospect so apocalyptic that American officials have rarely articulated exactly what would trigger their use of weapons that could instantly kill millions and make the entire peninsula uninhabitable for decades.

In a memoir published last week, however, former CIA chief and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta reopened the prickly issue, recalling a chilling, 2010 briefing in Seoul by General Walter L. "Skip" Sharp, the commander of U.S. forces in South Korea, who told him just such a nightmare could come true should communist forces pour across the DMZ as they did in 1950.

"If North Korea moved across the border, our war plans called for the senior American general on the peninsula to take command of all U.S. and South Korea forces and defend South Korea— including by the use of nuclear weapons, if necessary," Panetta writes in "Worthy Fights: A Memoir of Leadership in War and Peace."

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