The Limits of Air Power: The American Bombing of North Vietnam
The Genesis of Graduated Thunder. An Extended Application of Force. Restraints and Results Nixon Turns to Air Power. From Unconditional Surrender to Flexible Response. Planning, including the selection of individual targets, was determined not at an operational level, but rather by the President and his advisors in Washington, resulting in a limited numbers of sorties being flown against targets of increasingly marginal value.
Four years later, President Nixon was able to successfully employ air power in Vietnam, largely due to changed geopolitical conditions in , including a radically different positive political objective: By , the Soviets and the Chinese had become hostile to each other, and both sought better relationships with the United States as a buffer against the other. For the air generals, the gloves had finally come off. In addition, the North Vietnamese had shifted their tactics on the ground.
The Tet Offensive of , while a serious propaganda blow to the American military, wrecked the offensive capability of the indigenous Viet Cong guerillas; from this point on, the conventional North Vietnamese army would carry the burden in Vietnam. This change from guerilla to conventional tactics also greatly increased the dependence of communist ground forces on logistics, supply chains and heavy military hardware, all of which is susceptible to air attack. They were so successful that later analysis would incorrectly suggest that had Linebacker I been initiated three years earlier, the war might have been won.
Clodfelter, a professor of military history at the National War College in Washington, has written a clear, easy-to-read analysis of the use of applied air power in Vietnam. By synthesizing political with military objectives and restraints , he presents a valuable lesson in real world limitations for this critical manifestation of military might; this is especially instructive in the 21 st century, where American aversion to casualties dictates an increasing dependence on air power to achieve military objectives. Clodfelter addresses these issues in his Epilogue, where he examines both positive and negative policy objectives in Afghanistan and Iraq and the appropriateness of applied air power.
The Limits of Air Power is heavily end noted, and makes effective use of primary and secondary sources, including The Pentagon Papers , which seems to be a treasure trove of information on the private policy debates within the American military establishment.
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- Til death do us part.
- Dover Beach.
Many of the primary sources are interviews or memoirs, which provide tremendous insight into the personalities at play during the decision making process. This work proves to be of significant value for the student of the Vietnam War, as it helps to answer the critical question of that conflict: As it answers that question, it highlights the complications that are often inherent in the world of international diplomacy and geopolitics, and brings greater appreciation to the constraints that powerful nations often find themselves acting under in limited warfare.
The Limits of Air Power also provides a service in that it introduces the reader to the political and military leaders and the decision-making process by which they directed the Vietnam War.
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