July 1, 2015
The Limits of Airpower or the Limits of Strategy: The Air Wars in Vietnam and Their Legacies
For most of the world’s population, America’s air wars in Vietnam are now ancient history. The first U.S. bombing raids against North Vietnam, conducted in response to attacks by North Vietnamese patrol boats on the destroyer USS Maddox in the Tonkin Gulf, occurred a half-century ago this August. Seven months later, America began its longest sustained “strategic bombing” campaign, Operation Rolling Thunder, against the North. That effort, and the Linebacker campaigns that followed, dropped a million tons of bombs on North Vietnam. Three million more tons fell on Laos and Cambodia—supposedly “neutral” countries in the conflict. Four million tons fell on South Vietnam—America’s ally in the war against communist aggression. When the last raid by B-52s over Cambodia on August 15, 1973, culminated American bombing in Southeast Asia, the United States had dropped more than 8 million tons of bombs in 9 years. Less than 2 years later, Cambodia, Laos, and South Vietnam were communist countries.